Wednesday, 31 July 2013


At least a handful of comma butterflies have been flying around the country park in recent days. This one pictured above on Sunday 28th, posed nicely on the end of a flowering head of some grass, although the grass stalk was swaying about in the breeze.

Other butterflies seen at the park have included ringlet, peacock, speckled wood, meadow brown, gatekeeper, small skipper, Essex skipper, large skipper, small white and large white.

A group of 20 purple hairstreaks were seen east of Meeting Lane at Gyants Marsh on Monday 29th by Steve Entwistle.

A group of ten ruddy darters were gathered on the park cliff-top, sheltering from the sea-breeze behind some of the bushes. This colourful male was one of several in the area. Elsewhere migrant hawker,blue-tailed damselflies and azure damselflies were seen about the park too.

A common sandpiper on the pools in the park's fields on Tuesday 30th was the first one noted at the park this year. Also here were 10 black-tailed godwits, the first returning snipe, 2 lapwing, 9 greylag geese and 8 teal. At the pond 6 little egrets roosted late afternoon and a shoveler and 3 teal were present here.
The family of kestrels left the tree a week previously and the young have now been in the trees near the cliff-top calling out loudly whenever a parent returns with food.

A little owl perched on top of a telegraph post near the East Mersea pub at dusk on Sunday 28th. A large flock of about 2000+ black-headed gulls were circling above West Mersea on the warm Sunday evening, catching the masses of flying ants in the air.

Martin Cock saw a green sandpiper at Maydays farm during his visit there on Monday.

Amongst the forty species of macro moth caught at the park on Monday 29th was this neatly camouflaged maple prominent. This is an annual visitor to the trap at the park but only one or two individuals noted each year.

Up to ten lunar-spotted pinions have been noted on some mothing evenings, so fairly widespread and at its peak of emergence at the moment. Some of these individuals have a nice dark red colouration.
The only other new moth noted for the season was the first copper underwing.

Saturday, 27 July 2013


There's a good display of flowering wild carrot this summer along the seawall towards the East Mersea Point. There's normally a mix of other wild flowers and grasses growing along here but this year the carrots are carpeting large sections of the seaward side. The cultivated carrot is a genetic variant of the wild carrot plant, and although the long tap-root smells like a carrot, it is only edible when young as it soon turns woody and tough to eat.

Numbers of gatekeepers seem to be at their peak at the moment, many nectaring on the mass of bramble flowers along the hedgerows. This female was resting on a yarrow flower below the cliff on a cloudy morning on Saturday 27th. Other butterflies around the park have been meadow brown, speckled wood, large skipper, small skipper, Essex skipper, comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, small white and large white.
The first three purple hairstreaks of the summer at the park were fluttering high in the oaks in their usual spot in the south-west corner.

Much of the park is parched and brown following this recent heatwave. The grass on the part of the park in this picture above has turned brown and looks dead. However it will soon burst back into life within a few days of any rain falling.

The water level at the Reeveshall pool on Friday 26th had dropped a lot since my last visit here about three weeks ago. It's looking quite promising now for passage waders as more mud starts to show around the margins. The tide was already back out some way although a few waders were still feeding on the pool. As usual a nice variety of birds were seen during an hour's walk along the seawall here.

One spotted redshank flew off calling, while ten black-tailed godwits, three green sandpipers and five lapwing were the other waders noted here. Along the Pyefleet a common sandpiper flew over the channel as did a greenshank from behind Pewit Island. A marsh harrier disturbed the wader roost at Langenhoe Point and fifty avocet and at least fifty black-tailed godwits flew out into the Pyefleet.

Also noted along the channel were 3 bar-tailed godwit, whimbrel, 4 little terns, 5 common terns and the brood of 9 shelducklings with the adult watching over.

Two tatty male marsh harriers dropped down together onto a long grass field on Reeveshall. Thirty swallows flew around North Farm along with 4 sand martins.

Andy Field visited the Reeveshall pool the next morning on Saturday and noted a green sandpiper on the pool and a common sandpiper in the Pyefleet.

Noticed this dusky sallow moth along the Reeveshall seawall resting on this thistle flower early in the evening. It has been a common moth in the trap over the last week or so.

The moth trap operated during Friday night at the park and several of these drinker moths were found the following morning. It's a common moth on grasslands where the caterpillars feed on grass.

A couple of white-line darts, one pictured above were seen, a moth that is noted most years here. A couple had been seen earlier in the week too.

The L-album wainscot has become a common moth at the park in recent years, the caterpillars feeding on the grasses of the park. Numbers usually pick up late summer into the autumn.
All the other moths noted during Friday night, were the same species noted on the successful mothing evening earlier in the week.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Muggy conditions on the night of Tuesday 23rd was perfect for the annual visit by members of the Essex Moth Group to the country park. Although the threat of rain that night didn't materialise, the five lamps that operated, were buzzing with moths late into the night. At least 135 species were noted by dawn which is a record tally for one night for the site. Over 100 species of macro moth and 35+ of micro moth made it a very active night for moths. Clearing away the traps at dawn took an hour and half and luckily I was helped by Richard, up from Havering.

Pictured above was this striking orange moth, which had turned up in the early hours of the morning. Although it is a common moth, mainly in woodlands in Essex, this is the first record for the park.

 The most notable record was this small festoon pictured above, a nationally scarce moth occurring across southern England and in Essex in the woods of central and north of the county. It was a lively little fellow and luckily it stayed still for a moment for a few pictures to be taken, before fluttering rapidly high and away.

The first ruby tigers of the season were admired on the night. Usually a common moth here in small numbers through the late July to mid August period, they always add some colour to the traps.

One of the biggest moths on the night was the oak eggar, a big brown furry moth, that was one of the early moths at the trap. Four were noted by the end of the night.

This green silver lines was the first one of the season here and it was handy having the scarce silver lines as well in the same trap for comparison.

The small rosy footman with its fresh salmon-pink colouration was one of the prettiest moths of the evening. Although a widespread moth, its not always seen each year here.

This purple thorn holding its wings in its distinctive fashion of partially open, was in the trap along with several early thorns.

Other moths of note included 2 privet hawks, 6 poplar hawks, 12 elephant hawks, 12 drinkers, maidens blush, small blood vein, July highflyer, least carpet, currant pug, V-pug, peacock, latticed heath, swallow-tailed, peppered, willow beauty, mottled beauty, engrailed, brown-tail, white-satin, dingy footman, common footman, scarce footman, kent black arches, maple prominent, white-line dart, turnip, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, double-square spot, nutmeg, cabbage, dot, broad-barred white, lychnis, clay, white-point, striped wainscot, smoky wainscot, fen wainscot, L-album wainscot, shark, poplar grey, miller, lunar-spotted pinion, rosy minor, ear sp, oak nycteoline, silver-Y and fanfoot.
Amongst the micro moths several diamond-backs and a european corn borer were noted.

Earlier that Tuesday a number of waders were seen about the park during late afternoon. An avocet was feeding on the pools in the fields along with 8 black-tailed godwits, 4 lapwing and a green sandpiper which flew away calling. Seven little egrets had been roosting on the willows by the pond. The four young kestrels were sitting on a branch in the oak tree waiting for parents to come back with food. Yellow wagtail flew over the park calling.

On the mudflats one knot, greenshank, 200+ black-tailed godwit, one golden plover, one grey plover, 100 dunlin, 4 turnstone, 50 curlew and 50 oystercatcher were seen at the low tide.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Michael Thorley took these great photos of a female green woodpecker feeding its youngster, in his East Mersea garden. The birds performed close to the house where they were photographed through the glass window.

The female was apparently picking up ants to feed the hungry young bird.

A family of green woodpeckers have also been very vocal at the country park in recent days too, with one parent bird being followed by three eager youngsters along the cliff-top path.

A small influx of crossbills appear to have passed through West Mersea with one bird seen flying west calling over Firs Chase on Friday 19th, followed the next day by a bird seen in High Street North by Andy Field and then two birds spent five minutes in a tree at Steve Entwistle's garden in Empress Drive on Sunday.

Parts of the saltmarshes around the Island are bursting into colour with the flowering of sea lavender, such as this clump along the Strood channel. The heatwave continued through the weekend, the heat only relieved along the seawall by a cooling breeze. A mid-morning walk on Monday 22nd provided views of a number of waders as the tide began to cover the mud.

Four greenshank, 250 redshank, one knot, 30 golden plover, 5 lapwing, whimbrel, 10 black-tailed godwits, 30 curlew and 10 oystercatchers were the waders noted along the channel. Four common terns, little egret, grey heron and one shelduck were also seen. A male marsh harrier hunted both marshes either side of the Strood causeway before hunting low over the fields beside the West Mersea houses. Not much seen inside the seawall other than 2 yellow wagtails in flight, 4 linnets, 2 singing reed buntings and 2 reed warblers singing too. Fifty swallows flew around the area near the Dabchicks.

A walk on the Strood seawall on the previous day Sunday 21st, was less productive for birds as it coincided with the high tide. Two marsh harriers were seen, one male bird passing low over the Ray saltings and flushing a roost of 200+ waders mainly redshank with a few curlew and lapwing. A common sandpiper was heard calling in flight as the tide came in.

The butterflies have been enjoying the heatwave with this pair of gatekeepers on the seawall locked together making the next generation for next summer. Meadow browns, Essex skipper, small skipper, small tortoiseshell, small white, large white and green-veined white were all seen as well as a colourful six-spot burnet moth.

The ringlets continue their rapid colonisation of Mersea with this individual photographed in West Mersea along the folly footpath near The Lane. This is the first one I'm aware of that's been seen in the town, following the pattern of the spread in recent years of speckled woods into the gardens.

 This female common darter was resting on a twig in the Firs Chase garden, occasionally flying off after passing flies. The blue-tailed damselfly was also seen in the garden over the weekend.

Along the seawall a handful of small red-eyed damselflies were seen resting on algae on the surface of the dyke with lots of azure damselflies along the edge. A couple of emperor dragonflies and ruddy darter were also noted along here too.

Some of these young wood pigeons don't seem to have much sense of danger and several recently have been seen plodding across roads forcing the traffic to take evasive action. This one in the garden was a little bit safer and mum must've been somewhere nearby collecting food for it.

On Saturday 20th two Mediterranean gulls and a common gull were on the mud by the Monkey beach at West Mersea and the day before a sparrowhawk was seen carrying prey back over Firs Chase towards The Lane.

Friday, 19 July 2013


Made the most of the warm evenings with some more moth trapping sessions at the park. Rewarded on the night of the 17th with this fine looking garden tiger moth. This big colourful moth has been one of the top highlights in recent summers, usually during the third week of July, when one individual makes an appearance. Last year none were recorded because of the poor weather but prior to that, garden tigers had turned up in the four earlier years on the 20th, 21st, 22nd and the 17th of July.

Garden tigers used to be a widespread moth in the UK but according to a recent study the population has fallen by a staggering 93% over the last forty years. It is far from being a common garden moth these days.

This eye-catching bordered beauty was a new species for the park with its orange and brown colouration. Although it has been recorded in several places across the county, it is listed as scarce. Normally found in woods and marshes the caterpillars feed on sallow.

The first barred red moth for the park was found in the trap, a species normally associated with conifers.

One of the prettiest of moths is the peach blossom with petal-like markings ideal for camouflage amongst the petals of brambles, the foodplant of the caterpillars. Although generally a widespread moth, it's not recorded often at the park, with only two or three previous records.

Luckily I recognised this distinctively patterned micro-moth, pictured above, before it may've got unwittingly stood on as it lay on the sheet beside the trap as the rare migrant dark-bordered pearl - Evergestis limbata.This moth was first recorded in the UK only 20 years ago with the few sightings since then occurring in the south and south-eastern counties. It has also been found breeding at one or two southern locations too.
  There have been several Essex records in recent years mainly in the north-east of the county, with a recent report from Frinton earlier this week.

This very colourful V-pug moth was resting inside the trap, displaying the bright green colouration. The dark V shape is just about seen half-way along each wing. It is recorded here most years and is generally increasing in numbers.

Despite it being quite a common moth, the strikingly patterned broad-bordered yellow underwing caught the eye. More so when it when it flashed the yellow markings on the hindwings.

The white satin moth has silky, almost translucent wings, along with the distinctive black and white legs. It's noted at the park most years.

It was nice to see this very black coloured dot moth, a freshly emerged individual. It's a common moth generally although here at the park, only one or two are noted each summer, usually well faded specimens.

Eighty species of macro moth were noted on the night of the 17th using two traps, the best night of the summer so far. Amongst the moths noted were privet hawk, pine hawk, poplar hawk, small elephant hawk, elephant hawk, coronet, starwort, shark, nutmeg, poplar grey, scalloped oak, knotgrass, dun-bar, lunar-spotted pinion, dusky sallow, fen wainscot, herald, fanfoot and bird's wing. Moths noted on other recent nights have included July highflier, peacock, broad-bordered white, small angle shades, L-album wainscot, least carpet and small scallop.

The recent hot spell has brought masses of summer chafers out at dusk with several attracted to the moth traps too, such as this pair found mating on the sheet by the trap.

Bird activity seems to have been quiet at the park over recent days especially during the middle part of the day with the very hot temperatures of up to 28 degrees. A number of swallows have been hawking over the park over recent days, with up to fifty birds noted. A few sand martins have been passing through too with 300 stopping off briefly over the grazing fields on the 14th. Andy Field saw two sedge warblers beside the fields on the same day too.

The young kestrels were starting to leave their nestbox on the 14th with one of the four youngsters clambering and fluttering to the top of the tree. The parents have been seen at times hovering over the long grass of the park and seawall.

The main wader across the mudflats is the black-tailed godwits with up to 300 birds noted, with a few also feeding on the park's pools. A whimbrel flew over the fields whistling on the 14th and a greenshank called as it passed by the park on the 17th. Yellow wagtails have been noted most days with seven birds flying onto the fields on the 16th. A Mediterranean gull flew over the park on the 17th and common tern has overflown the park a couple of times too. Dave Allen reported the first returning knot on the mud on the 14th.

Butterflies enjoying the heatwave have included the first hedge browns on the 16th, lots of meadow browns, ringlets, small skipper, Essex skipper, speckled wood, small tortoiseshell, comma, small white, large white and small heath. Steve Entwistle noted ringlet and 2 gatekeepers near Meeting Lane on the 15th.The small number of dragonflies at the park have been a few emperors and the ruddy darters.

An adder slid across the grass in the car park on the 17th, two were seen in their usual spot on the 16th and a grass-snake was seen briefly as it disappeared off a path on the 14th. The black rabbit is still occupying the same bit of grass near the car park having been first spotted here almost three months ago.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


The hot spell has brought lots of butterflies out in recent days at the country park with the various browns showing in good numbers. This ringlet pictured above on Saturday 13th, shows the distinctive spots on the closed wings. Several ringlets have been seen fluttering low amongst the long grass, along with the slightly paler meadow browns too.

The main magnet for butterflies and some of these six-spot burnet moths, was a patch of wild flowers planted a few years ago amongst one of the old hay meadows at the park. The only scabious plant with a handful of flowers was covered in the burnet moths, as pictured above.

The most popular flowers belonged to the greater knapweed, here a six-spot burnet moth on the purple flowers. The six-spots may never turn up at night in the moth trap at the park but they do know how to put on a show in the daytime, catching the eye of many passers-by.

The skippers have also been making the most of the knapweed flowers with this small skipper seen nectaring. The close-up shot shows the orange-tip to the antennae, the main feature that separates small skipper from Essex skipper and its black-tipped antennae

Up to fifty small / Essex skippers were feeding on one of the knapweed plants - all the flowers buzzing with activity. One or two large skippers were also joining in too.

One or two meadow browns were seen on the flowers, although many more were seen in many other parts of the park, especially amongst the long grass.

It has been great to see these plants so popular with the butterflies and some of the bees too, in this small corner of the meadow.

Other butterflies noted around the park were small tortoiseshell, comma, speckled wood and small heath.

As the grass turns quickly to brown in the hot conditions, the yellow flowers of the ladies bedstraw add a little bit of colour to the grasslands. The little black pollen beetles love these yellow flowers.

It has been fairly quiet on the bird-front recently. A marsh harrier was reported flying near the park pond on Saturday morning. Four little egrets roosted at high tide on a willow tree behind the pond. In the pools in the fields 10 black-tailed godwits were noted while 3 kestrel chicks were seen by the nestbox. A flock of 40 swallows hawked over the fields along with 10 sand martins in the afternoon. The swan family has lost a member with just seven cygnets now. A yellow wagtail flew over calling while in the car park 3 great spotted woodpeckers and 2 green woodpeckers were seen close together.

On the mudflats 150+ black-tailed godwits could be seen feeding at low tide while 5 little egrets were also noted. Four days previously 270 black-tailed godwits were seen along with 10 little egrets on the mud opposite the park.

At Maydays farm 5 green sandpipers, 6 greenshank and  7 avocets were seen by Steve Entwistle on Thursday. Martin Cock had also seen a couple of green sandpipers at Maydays the day before.

Feeding frenzy at the country park this last week as masses of these summer chafers emerge from the ground at dusk to swarm round the tree-tops at the park, providing easy pickings for up to 100 black-headed gulls.

Adrian Amos was lucky enough to see a stag beetle flying over his garden on East Road in West Mersea in the evening on Tuesday 9th. The last confirmed record on the Island of stag beetle was a dead one in the Co-op car park in 2005.

Saturday, 13 July 2013


The recent warm weather has been good for moths and so the moth trap has been running at the park on several nights over the last week. There have been good numbers of moths as well as a good number of species too.
This privet hawkmoth was the largest moth in the trap overnight on the 9th and 10th, showing the striking pink and banded body when the wings open up.

The first pine hawkmoth of the summer showed up on the night of the 12th - the seventh hawkmoth species of the week here.

The good showing of elephant hawkmoths this summer continued with this record haul of ten on the 9th. The small elephant hawk was also seen again during the week. Other hawkmoths noted in the last few nights were lime hawk, eyed hawk, and the poplar hawkmoth.

The only new species to be recorded over the last week at the park was this beautiful hook-tip, pictured above. In poor light it seemed just another brown moth with a couple of lines across the wings. In better light close-up there's a nice red edge to the corner of the wings. Although recorded across Essex, it appears to be a very local species.

The first swallow-tailed moths made their appearance of the summer, one or two of them freshly marked with a pale yellow colouration. This one flew up from the trap to a tree where it then rested under this leaf in the picture above.

The green coloured common emerald brightened up the trap during the week as several of these moths were noted each evening.

The broad-barred white is a common moth in grasslands with this individual standing out with its bright markings.

The distinctive magpie moth is well named with its black and white markings. This caterpillars of this common moth feed on hawthorn and blackthorn.

The miller moth isn't noted every year so it was nice to see this fresh individual, pictured above.

Being restricted to the coast, the nationally scarce starwort is a regular moth at the country park. The caterpillars feed on the sea aster plants on the saltmarshes.

The burnished brass really does seem to have brass colouration on the wings, as the picture above shows with the light reflecting off the golden sheen. This is a common moth whose caterpillars feed on nettles.

The most rewarding evening for trapping was Wednesday 10th when two traps pulled in nearly 250 moths of about 60 species of macro-moth. Some of the moths noted over the last week have included buff arches, single dotted wave, riband wave, figure of eighty, least carpet, common marbled carpet, barred straw, barred yellow, scalloped oak, peppered, clouded border, clouded silver, common footman, short-cloaked moth, broad-bordered yellow underwing, lesser yellow underwing, large yellow underwing, heart and club, heart and dart.L-album wainscot, striped wainscot, common wainscot, poplar grey, birds wing, dark arches, light arches, silver-Y, shark, nutmeg, green pug, double-square spot and latticed heath.

David Nicholls found this mullein caterpillar in his West Mersea garden several days ago. I believe he found it in a buddleia bush rather than the more usual mullein plants.