Monday, 31 October 2011


Walked the seawall at Maydays farm on Sunday 30th following a call from Martin Cock who had just seen the glossy ibis flying over the fields and landing at the back of Maydays. I managed to see the bird for myself which is the first time I've been able to catch up with one of these ibises on the Island. Although two birds were seen a few times about 3 weeks ago, there's only a single glossy ibis still being seen infrequently on the north side of the Island. The bird was last seen four days ago when it flew onto Reeveshall.

A ringtail hen harrier was seen quartering this corner of game cover crop at Maydays. Martin had seen the bird a couple of hours earlier - the first hen harrier sighting of this winter period on the Island. There was also a flypast of a female merlin as it headed west over the Maydays saltings. Only one marsh harrier was seen over Reeveshall with a further three birds over Langenhoe marsh to the north.

The tide was low along the Pyefleet with the usual variety of waders scattered along the mud. Three green sandpipers were seen at the back of Maydays, while other birds noted included 25 linnets, 3 yellowhammers and a flock of 20 collared doves. A common seal swam up the Pyefleet as the tide came in.

Andy Field and Richard Hull during their visit to the Langenhoe ranges on Sunday noted 3 stonechats, 3 Cetti's warblers and a peregrine.

A walk along the Strood seawall on Saturday 29th proved more productive than expected. At least three lapland buntings were seen flying around the fields calling as they flew from one field to another. Along with up to 20 skylarks and one or two meadow pipits, the laplands circled in the air before landing back down and disappearing either in the winter wheat crop or in the rape crop. There's no weedy field for them to enjoy this year so it will be interesting to see how long they stay around this winter.

Other small birds noted on the walk were corn bunting, 3 reed bunting with a yellowhammer flying over as were 6 siskin and lesser redpoll. A marsh harrier quartered the fields for prey before crossing the channel to Ray Island. A sparrowhawk was seen near the Strood Hill, while 2 kestrels were also noted.

The main birds in the Strood Channel were 400 brent geese waiting for the right moment to return to grazing the winter wheat crop nearby. Thirty knot, 100 grey plover, 100 dunlin, 200 golden plover as well as 2 greenshank were some of the waders noted. Ten little grebes were amongst the boat moorings.

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Andy Field was certainly delighted when he found five twite feeding amongst 25 linnets at the East Mersea Point on Friday 28th. The birds were obliging enough that he was able to take this photo of one of the birds, as well as seeing coloured rings on the legs of another of the twite. Previous colour-ringed birds in past winters on Mersea have shown the birds originated in the Pennine moors of Yorkshire / Lancashire.

I met up with Andy on the Saturday to see if we could re-locate the birds but without any luck.
Twite used to be a regular winter sight at the Point twenty years ago but numbers dwindled here and then gradually from the Pyefleet too so that last winter was the first one when no twite wintered on the Island.

A big high tide early in the afternoon seemed a good time to check the saltmarsh for twite as the water rose up to cover the plants. The small flock of 25 linnets were still feeding in the area but no twite. Two rock pipits flew past calling, 5 reed buntings at the Point, a wheatear flew from the seawall onto the field and a late common tern was flying over the water. A nice group of 21 eider drifted to the mouth of the Colne with 9 neatly marked adult males showing up well. Another male eider was close to the saltmarsh by Ivy Farm as was a great crested grebe and a common seal was seen in the Colne too. A male marsh harrier flew down-river towards Colne Point.

On the fields the jack snipe was bobbing nicely as it walked across one of the pools. There was the familiar gathering of 500+ waders and wildfowl on the pools during the high tide with teal, wigeon, snipe, black-tailed godwits, redshank being the main birds.
In conifers by the clifftop 2 goldcrests flitted through the branches while a small white butterfly by the car park was a late sighting and a silver Y moth was noted on the seawall.

For the last hour of daylight a quick visit was made to the Shop Lane seawall on Saturday. Four marsh harriers were seen gathering over Langenhoe, one of the birds crossing from Reeveshall.
By Langenhoe Point 100 avocets were feeding around the mud while the most numerous wader scattered along the Pyefleet were several hundred dunlin.

Only two mute swans and a brent goose were on the Reeveshall pool although 300 brent fed in the nearby grass field. A goldcrest and a grey partridge were heard calling by the Shop Lane wood.

This giant puffball was seen on Friday in the rape field looking down on the Strood Channel in the background in the photo above. Birds noted during a brief visit to the Strood seawall were 15+ skylarks flying around the fields, 200 brent geese feeding in the winter wheat field and 4 little egrets noted on the Ray Island.

Saturday, 29 October 2011


There were several rainbows seen at the park on a squally Wednesday 26th. The Island seemed to be in the firing line for a variety of weather during the day with hail, thunder, rain, sun and blustery wind. The squalls were brief but torrential with everything getting a good soaking.

On the pools in the park fields at least one jack snipe was still present, and a female pintail early on while a green sandpiper flew west over the pools and pond. At high tide a good roost of 250+ redshank was one of the largest seen here, along with the usual 25+ black-tailed godwits and 15+ snipe.
A chiffchaff called from bushes above the path near the pond, a goldcrest was also heard and a sparrowhawk was seen over a nearby field. Along the hedgerows 300 noisy starlings fed on many of the berries and a fieldfare perched up in a tree. In the morning a male marsh harrier flew up river to Langenhoe while 3 red-breasted mergansers were seen flying out of the estuary later in the day.

Martin Cock saw a great skua fly east over the sea from West Mersea on Wednesday but not much else noted offshore. The glossy ibis was also seen flying onto Reeveshall, so at least one is still around. Two had also been reported being seen by wildfowlers over Maydays four days earlier. Martin saw a peregrine and buzzard during his visit to Maydays farm. David Nicholls has seen the goldfinch flock in his West Mersea garden increase in recent days to 24 birds.

The moth trap operated during Tuesday night with 20 moths of 7 species seen including this species of November moth - one of a handful of individuals.

The chestnut moth slightly paler than the dark chestnut moth, is an annual visitor to the trap in the autumn but only one or two individuals.
Other moths included streak, yellow-line quaker, large wainscot, green-brindled crescent and dark chestnut.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


A big juvenile female saker falcon dropped into the country park on the morning of 24th October and terrorised the local birds for about an hour and a half. This big buzzard-sized falcon was first seen from the hide by the pond as it flew low over the nearby pools in the grazing field. After a few minutes of watching the bird flying around and perching on a tree, the bird was obviously hanging around the area. Andy Field, Martin Cock and Adrian Kettle all managed to dash to the hide and see the bird continue to put on a display.
Tim Mendham who just happened to be on site, took these two photos above and below. The picture above shows it amongst the pools where the grey phalarope and many other waders and wildfowl had been present first thing in the morning.

Several times the bird perched on an oak tree looking over the pools, towering over the much smaller magpies and carrion crows trying to mob it. Even a male sparrowhawk passing nearby seemed tiny in comparison. The bird made one low pass over the pond, nearly snatching a mallard and certainly frightening the wits out of the other ducks, cowering close to the bushes.
Several sorties by the bird above the pond saw it hang in the wind for a few seconds eyeing up the wildfowl below. Another memorable flight saw the bird heading hide-height towards us and then banking away just 15 metres from us.

Andy Field took these two digiscoped photos above and below of the saker, taken from the hide. The only view of the bird on the ground was this occasion captured by Andy above and by Tim from a different angle in the first photo above.
It appears that this bird is the same bird matching a description of one seen at Abberton reservoir five days earlier, which was also photographed.

The big debate concerning saker falcons in the UK is that none seen here have been proved to be wild birds, having flown from their breeding grounds in Eastern Europe stretching eastwards into Russia. Many sakers are kept in this country by falconers and some of these birds escape into the wild. It appears that in recent years roughly one saker a year is spotted in the wild in Essex and each year as in the rest of the UK, its origin whether captive-bred or wild remains unproven.
There is some fascinating research currently being carried out in Hungary with radio-tracking saker falcons. See;
Whilst watching this bird perform in front of us, we couldn't see any rings, jesses, or wires from transmitters, so it didn't show features of an escaped bird.
It would be great to think that we were watching a wild bird and not an escapee but we will never know. Either way it was an impressive display by a hugely powerful bird of prey.

Most birds had long departed the pools in the grazing fields except for just one or two common snipe. One jack snipe was seen flying away while the saker was flying about and then later one was seen feeding and bobbing on the spot by one of the pools. A swallow flew past the pond and 30 chaffinches were also feeding near here.

Bird news from the park for Tuesday included no sightings of the grey phalarope although a jack snipe was still present along with 10+ common snipe and a high tide roost of 150 redshank. A red-throated diver and a male red-breasted merganser flew out of the Colne in the morning. A lapland bunting was reported over some mudflat pools while brambling, a few siskins and a redwing were seen, while 40 goldfinches flew over the car park. Martin Cock saw four redwings near the Golfhouse and a pale bellied brent goose with a brent flock near Shop Lane.

The moth trap operated through a windy Sunday night and out of the small catch of six species noted, this dark chestnut was one of them. Others noted included silver Y, November moth sp, brick and lunar underwing.

Eleven green-brindled crescents were noted with one of them being the dark form capucina, on the right in the above photo, which hasn't been seen here before but apparently is more frequent in built up areas.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


Birders were still coming to see the grey phalarope on the pools in the grazing fields over the weekend. The phalarope has now been present for ten days and feeding well although it's starting to show signs of slowing down its rate of spinning on the water. On Saturday it was lucky to escape the attentions of a peregrine which stooped down on another part of the pools scattering all the other waders and wildfowl in the process.

Two jack snipe were watched on both Saturday and the Sunday on the same pools and at times providing good views in the sunshine. Richard Brown took both these photos of a jack snipe feeding along the muddy edge. At times this bird did the characteristic bobbing up and down, which was a bit of a contrast to the phalarope going round and round!

This jack snipe (next to a male teal), at times walked into the marshy vegetation where it was tricky to see. Also around the pools were 15+ common snipe which helped to confuse the situation.
Although there are good numbers of common snipe in these fields each winter, these are the first records of jack snipe here.

Amongst the 220 brent geese in the fields on Sunday afternoon were 40 juvenile brent geese and also a pale-bellied brent goose seen by Andy Field. There was the usual mix over the weekend on the pools of wigeon, teal, mallard, shoveler, greylag geese, black-tailed godwit, redshank, lapwing and little egret with a green sandpiper noted only on Saturday. Also seen nearby were 20 fieldfares, sparrowhawk and a swallow flying west on Sunday morning. At the park pond a water rail briefly fed around the base of a reedmace clump and a rock pipit at the Point where 10 sanderling were also seen on Saturday.
Andy Field noted 50 corn buntings by the Strood on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday was the warmer day of the weekend and a small white and red admiral butterfly were seen at the park.

Richard Brown passed me these two photos he managed to take of the glossy ibis that was at the park pond last Sunday 16th. The last sighting on the Island was on Tuesday 18th when two were seen flying over the pond and the grazing fields as they headed east.

Friday, 21 October 2011


The grey phalarope was still spinning relentlessly on the pools in the grazing fields at the country park throughout Friday 20th. Both these pictures here were taken a few days ago by Alan Reynolds. The bird has now been present for its 8th day and has hardly stopped spinning since it arrived. Occasionally it flies to another part of the pool and promptly restarts spinning again. The Howard Vaughan and his birding group saw the bird briefly on a saltmarsh pool before it returned to the fields.
Andy Field noted a green sandpiper on the pools in the fields on Friday afternoon.

The glossy ibis have not been seen since Tuesday but Richard Brown managed to photograph them last Sunday at the park pond, see;

A juvenile Arctic tern was seen fishing in the river Colne this morning by the Point for the second day running. The bird showing its very distinctive white secondary feathers and thin black line along the primary tips was happily flying back and forwards and regularly diving into the water close to the Point. This is the first record for the country park.

The tide was going out during the morning with a good variety of waders and brent geese on show. The main waders of interest were the 150+ avocets and the recent influx of dunlin with 1000 birds feeding. The first shelduck appear to have come back recently from their moulting grounds in Germany with 18 birds near the Point. Ten little egrets were noted in the area too as were 2 rock pipits in the saltmarsh. A common seal swam out of the river in the morning.

Amongst a few of the small migrants that passed were 10 siskin and 4 lesser redpolls, while 4 fieldfares and 10 blackbirds were seen at the back of the grazing fields. A sparrowhawk was mobbed by crows near the Golfhouse while the previous day a male sparrowhawk presumably on passage crossed over from Brightlingsea heading west. A marsh harrier was also on the move along the coast yesterday. A little owl flew beside Bromans Lane near the park at night-fall.

The sunshine during the day brought out 3 red admirals and a common darter at the park. Last night a November moth was resting on a lit window at the park.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


This grey phalarope was obliging enough to hang around for several days at the country park waiting until I returned from my autumn travels. (Apologies for the lack of Island updates during the last 3 weeks!).
Andy Field found the phalarope on the pools in the grazing fields on Friday 14th and it was still present up to dusk today. Stuart Read took this photograph above of the bird yesterday. It was an easy bird to spot and not just because it was a whitish- grey colour but because it didn't stop spinning round and round like some mad swirling dervish!

Andy Cook also visited the park yesterday afternoon and took this photo above and the one below. The spinning round and round helped to bring water bugs up to the surface and the bird seemed to be constantly picking at the water's surface. Very occasionally the bird would swim a short distance and restart spinning again on a different bit of water. At one point yesterday all the birds on the pools including the phalarope took to the air briefly as a male sparrowhawk passed by. They all soon settled back down again.

This is the first grey phalarope on Mersea Island since one was seen at West Mersea on 28th November 1970 - 41 years ago. One or two normally stop off in Essex each autumn on their passage south from the Arctic breeding grounds to the seas off southern and western Africa where they spend the winter.
Andy's picture below shows the size comparison between the grey phalarope and a black-headed gull.

Two glossy ibises have also been seen by one or two lucky observers in recent days either on the park pond or on the pools in the fields. Stuart Read was fortunate to see the two birds yesterday lunchtime flying from the direction of the pond, passing over the pools and the phalarope, as they disappeared east towards the Colne, not to be refound.

On the 16th a glossy ibis was seen standing on a clump of reedmace at the pond. Martin Cock found two glossy ibises by some farm reservoirs at Maydays Farm also on the 12th and again on the 15th, maybe the same birds seen at the park or possibly a single bird and a pair flying about at different times.
The glossy ibis have been very mobile and proving hard to track down.

The pools in the grazing fields have been packed with waders and wildfowl with up to 1000 birds noted over the last couple of days. Around 300 wigeon, 350 teal, 100 brent geese, 65 redshank, 15 snipe, 25 black-tailed godwits, along with small numbers of mallard, shoveler, lapwing, 2 greylag geese with 120 curlew roosting nearby. Twenty-five stock doves gathered in the fields late afternoon before roosting in trees by the pond. Two female pintail noted on the pools on Wednesday morning were later seen flying around the area.
Stuart Read reported seeing a pale-bellied brent goose on the fields on Tuesday.

On the pond, 4 little egrets roosted at high tide yesterday where 80 mallard, 6 gadwall and 4 shoveler and one or two teal and wigeon too. The family of mute swans with two large cygnets trudged across the fields to the pond for a short while before heading back to the dyke.

The last of the summer migrants seen have included a swallow near the pond today as well as a blackcap and chiffchaff. Yesterday at the Point a wheatear and a common tern were seen from the Point at the end of the day. A marsh harrier was also seen here yesterday heading to the Langenhoe roost, while 4 red-breasted mergansers flew out of the Colne to feed.
Today 500 golden plover took off from the saltmarsh near the Point in a big flock, while 100 avocets fed along the water's edge. Also a rock pipit and 10 reed buntings were seen here and 50 linnets fed along the seawall. Overhead 2 siskins were heard calling in flight as they headed west.

Recent bird sightings on the Island by Andy Field have included 6 wheatears, 6 marsh harriers and a common buzzard from Reeveshall on the 13th. A Cetti's warbler singing near the entrance to Coopers Beach in some scrub on the 10th proved impossible to see, while two gannets were noted offshore from the park on the 8th. On the 7th a short-eared owl was seen on the beach by the Point before flying over to the seawall, no doubt a bird newly arrived for the winter. Also noted that day were 6 wheatears, 50 swallows, 2 house martins, 6 chiffchaffs and a blackcap. A juvenile hobby perched on a tree near the park entrance on the 5th and a wheatear also seen, while the day before 2 wheatear, 4 chiffchaff and 300 wigeon were noted.

Martin Cock's recent sightings have included a greenshank at Maydays both today and yesterday while on Monday a short-eared owl was seen on the mainland end of the Strood and 4 red-legged partridge near the East Mersea Glebe. During his 14 mile walk round the Island perimeter on the 16th, he saw the glossy ibis at the park pond, 2 wheatears, green sandpiper at Maydays, lesser whitethroat at the Oyster Fishery and Med gull at Rewsalls. As well as seeing the 2 glossy ibis at Maydays flushed by a marsh harrier on 15th a whimbrel was noted too. Thirty swallows were at the park on the 12th and 2 glossy ibis at Maydays, while one maybe two kingfishers were here on the 8th.

Ron Harvey enjoyed seeing a redstart in his West Mersea garden in Whittaker Way on the 13th, and there's a report of a ring ouzel being seen recently by James Conway in his West Mersea garden.

Four red admiral butterflies were seen at the park during Tuesday with common darter and migrant hawker noted too.

The moth trap was put out over Tuesday night but the very cold temperature resulted in only six moths by morning. Last year was very rewarding during the first half of October and these current cold clear night-time skies at the moment probably mean more low catches from now on as we head into winter. The large wainscot pictured above is a typical October moth, often noted on several nights.

The three green-brindled crescent moths, one pictured above, almost outnumbered the other moths in the trap. Another typical autumn moth with some specimens showing a nice irridescent green sheen on the wings.

The yellow-line quaker is a common autumn moth here although only the one in the trap this morning. The only other moth noted was a black rustic.

Just before the moth trap was set up on Tuesday night, I was able to stand only five metres away from two badgers foraging under a hedge not far from the park pond just as darkness fell.

Andy Field has been seeing the hummingbird hawkmoth regularly in his West Mersea garden on several days up until the 17th October.