Monday, 2 March 2015

PIED BLACKY BACK

It was nice to see this old friend, the pied blackbird back in the Firs Chase garden in West Mersea on Sunday 1st. It nested in our garden two springs ago but since then it has spent more time in neighbouring gardens.

Of greater interest was being able to see a male tawny owl by torchlight at midnight calling from the top of a cedar tree in our garden. This is the first garden sighting here for over 12 years. They have been absent from this part of West Mersea for many years, until this winter when this bird seems to have taken up residence.

A male blackcap was also of interest in the garden on Saturday morning, the third sighting since the turn of the year.

Other than the two black brants seen along the Strood on Sunday 1st and described in an earlier posting, other birds noted were these two little egrets standing beside a grey heron sheltering from the wind behind a hedge. Also seen were a male stonechat, ten linnets in the fields while 100 knot were along the channel.

On Saturday 28th a visit to a windy Maydays farm with Martin Cock provided views of another black brant with 3000 dark-bellied brent geese. Also amongst a flock of 300 starlings was the leucistic bird seen a couple of times earlier this winter with distinctive white wings and a creamy-coloured body.

A green sandpiper was feeding on one of the pools of water in the wheat field, a common buzzard and a couple of marsh harriers were seen on Reeveshall as were two male stonechats. On Langenhoe five other marsh harriers were seen but no other birds of prey, also a snipe was in flight here.

Also at Maydays were 80+ fieldfares, at least one redwing, 15 corn buntings, ten linnets and 10 reed buntings.

This female chaffinch died after flying into a window at the Thorleys house in East Mersea. A closer look at its foot revealed it to be infected by the papillomavirus, which results in this ugly growth. It's a virus that seems to be getting more widespread elsewhere, although this is the first report of it on the Island.

BUMPING INTO BRANTS

Managed to see black brant geese on each of the last three days in three different locations on the Island - involving potentially three different birds. Two at West Mersea and one in East Mersea.
This one pictured above was the most obliging, as it fed in front of the Hard car park on Monday 2nd. This bird has been a regular to this spot through the winter and was behaving as if it was paired up.

The black brant is the North American and eastern Siberian race of brent goose which has the occasional individual turning up here amongst the thousands of dark-bellied brent geese. They are much blacker, have a whiter flank and a big white neck collar.

Feeding in the fields by the Strood on Sunday 1st were two black brants in different flocks. This one is different from the bird in the picture below, as I'd just walked between the two groups and photographed each brant.

Despite the strong wind blowing, I was able to lie down on the side of the seawall, and take a steady shot of this black brant with the camera. Luckily this flock took off from the far side of the field and landed much closer.
Another goose that caught my eye as they approached was a bird which showed white wings. Unfortunately when the geese landed I lost track of it. This is probably the bird seen two months ago in a field near Cross Lane which has a white neck.

It seemed quite easy to pick out the black brants, even on the Strood channel, here the bird is in the middle of the group. This was the first sighting of a black brant during the walk, then a short while later one was seen in the field which got me thinking there must be two birds here. This swimming bird I think later flew back onto the fields and is the bird two pictures above.

There were plenty of brent geese in the fields and on the Strood with about 1500 birds seen. It's always a magical sight when they take noisily to the air and pass overhead.

There was also a black brant at East Mersea on Saturday on Reeveshall in amongst this flock (somewhere in the middle on the left hand side of this picture!). Martin Cock and I scanned this big flock of 3000 geese and located a black brant within a few minutes. There has been a big flock here for the last month and this black brant is probably regular here, rather than mixing with the Strood birds.

Some of the brent geese took to the air when a brown hare ran across the field towards them. Here some of the geese are coming back down, set against Brightlingsea in the background.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

SLITHERING INTO SPRING

The weather has warmed up enough this week for the first adder to emerge from hibernation at the country park on Friday 27th. It was basking in the sunshine in one of the regular haunts near the car park late morning and appeared to be a female, supposedly the males usually emerge first. Despite checking this area a couple of days earlier when the sun was shining, there was no sign of any adders.

The first adder last spring was seen six days earlier, so they're a bit later this year. A quick check with a colleague at another good Essex site for adders at Hadleigh Country Park, revealed their first one was also found on this same Friday 27th at noon.

At the end of Friday at West Mersea, 180+ great crested grebes, ten red-breasted mergansers and two Mediterranean gulls were seen off Kingsland Road on a very calm sea as the sunset.

A marsh harrier flew along the coastline at the park on Thursday morning and a two pochard were seen on the park pond by Martin Cock on Monday 23rd.

This grey seal was an unexpected sight on the saltmarsh at Maydays farm late on Wednesday 25th, as this is the haunt of common seals. This is the first time I've seen a grey seal here and I've not heard of any other sightings here either. Its head shape is less rounded, a higher "Roman-nose" snout and two separate nostril slits which don't meet, are the distinguishing features.

I joined Andy Field along the Maydays seawall for the last hour of daylight to check the harrier activity on Langenhoe on Wednesday late afternoon. There was no sign of any hen harriers which is what we had hoped for, while the marsh harriers seemed to head eastwards at dusk to roost in their usual spot at the Langenhoe Point. At least eight marsh harriers were seen including two on Reeveshall and also four barn owls and a common buzzard hunting over the ranges.

Other birds of note were a Cetti's warbler heard singing loudly from across the Pyefleet channel on Langenhoe, also a dozen fieldfares on bushes there and a male pintail in the channel. The distinctive call of a grey partridge was heard from the Maydays fields but the light was too poor to see it. By Broad Fleet 25 coot were feeding on the grass.

This oystercatcher was on the mud near the East Mersea Point on Wednesday 25th at low tide. Also noted from here were 10 red-breasted mergansers in the river, 50+ avocets in the Colne and a reed bunting singing from the bushes at the Point.

In the grazing fields 1000 wigeon were feeding and 600 golden plover also roosted in the fields. The female stonechat was by the seawall, 10 tufted ducks were on the dyke and a sparrowhawk flew past the pond.

The moth trap was dusted down, old leaves plucked out of it and spiders cob-webs brushed off, ready for the milder night on Wednesday with a temperature of about 7 degrees. A double digit count by Thursday morning of eleven individuals of four macro species made it worthwhile.
This one pictured above is the fairly common pale-brindled beauty, one of four that were seen at the trap.

The satellite moth is a regular moth in the early spring as well as in the autumn too. This individual has the large orange dot on each wing with a tiny satellite spot next to it.
Also recorded were three dotted borders and three March moths.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

SANDERLING IN THE SURF

Thirty sanderling were on the beach at the Point at high tide, this one scurrying along the foaming edge of the waves late on Monday 23rd.

Many of the sanderling were quite confiding, allowing close views as they searched the tideline for food.

In the Colne ten red-breasted mergansers and a couple of great crested grebes were the only birds noted in the river.
The high level of water in the dyke has brought some waders like this redshank to feed on the inside of the seawall. Along with one or two lapwing and black-tailed godwits, there have been 100+ wigeon too.

Eleven tufted ducks were seen on the dyke in two groups.

A sparrowhawk flew over the saltmarsh near the Point and then over the fields sending all the roosting birds away in different directions. Birds flying about were 400 brent geese, 500 wigeon, 800 golden plover and 100 lapwing. Also here were 30 black-tailed godwits, 100 dunlin and three snipe were hiding beside some tussocks of rushes.

Late in the afternoon a female marsh harrier flew low over the field, upsetting more of the wigeon and 150 teal on the pools.
The female stonechat was seen by the beach on Monday and Tuesday.

Recent weather has been a mixture of showers and sunny spells, with this black shower cloud passing to the south of the Island on Monday afternoon.

The song thrushes have been singing and showing well at the park over the last month, with this one sitting on a bush in the car park on Tuesday morning. At least two others have been seen in the car park along with a dozen blackbirds. A rarer bird for the park seen in the same bush was a chirping male house sparrow on Tuesday morning.

A little owl sat in the usual Leylandii hedge to the north of the park during the day, keeping out of the chilly wind. At the end of Tuesday the barn owl was seen a couple of times hunting over the park, its last sighting was near the park entrance when it perched on the field side of the Bromans Lane hedge.

Found this pair of dotted border moths mating on the outside of the park's Information room late on Saturday 21st.

Only the dotted border male has wings and can fly, with the female looking like a little black bug without any wings. Here locked abdomen to abdomen.

The first butterfly of the year at the park was a red admiral that flew across the car park on Tuesday 24th.

Friday, 20 February 2015

DAWN SONGSTER

The song thrushes are in full song around the Island at the moment. This one was singing in my Firs Chase garden just after daybreak earlier this week, with the first rays of sun glinting in his eye.

At the park during the morning on Friday 20th 200 knot and 500 golden plover formed the main wader flocks on the mud as the tide came in. Offshore 6 red-breasted mergansers, 5 great crested grebes and a common seal were in the outer part of the Colne.

The park's grazing fields looked much wetter after a good night's rain. Waders and wildfowl were arriving with the incoming tide although 400 wigeon, 200 teal were the main birds along with 50 lapwing and a smaller number of black-tailed godwits, curlew and redshank. Other ducks noted were 10 shoveler and 12 tufted duck. A Mediterranean gull was standing with a small group of black-headed gulls beside a pool in the fields.

On Tuesday 17th the little owl was seen flying from one hedge to another to the north of the park pond in the morning, while at the end of the day the barn owl was seen hunting over the park.
A group of 13 fieldfares flew west past the park on Wednesday afternoon. Later in the morning 4 Slavonian grebes were seen from the park on a very sunny day.

Thirty fieldfares, 20 linnets and 100 starlings were feeding as a big flock in the fields by Bocking Hall on Thursday 19th. On Wednesday a hen harrier was seen flying over the Langenhoe ranges by Martin Cock from Maydays farm.

The female stonechat is still being very confiding beside the seawall, seen Friday and Thursday mornings. For a change this time she obligingly perched facing me allowing this picture to be snapped.

Marion Potifar was surprised to see a little egret walking over her garden at the north end of Shop Lane on 10th February. An unusual bird for the garden list, although it had been seeing flying over a month earlier.

Monday, 16 February 2015

GODWITS AND GEESE

Our old friend the perma-tanned bar-tailed godwit was on show again on the edge of the saltings near the Dabchicks Sailing Club at West Mersea on Monday 16th. Here the bar-tailed godwit on the right, is standing next to a black-tailed godwit.

There has been a summer-plumaged bar-tailed godwit wintering around the Island for several years now, presumably the same individual with a body clock that's set on permanent summer-time plumage. It stands out very easily amongst all the other waders which are generally grey - brown at this time of year.

This is what a bar-tailed godwit should look like in the winter - very much paler and not a hint of red on the feathers. Another one of the godwits feeding along the side of the Strood Channel near the Dabchicks.

Around thirty bar-tailed godwits were feeding close in, some of them wading in the shallow water as the tide receded.

This black-tailed godwit was feeding with the bar-tailed but some of the 80+ birds were in their own single-species groups.

Some dark-bellied brent geese were gathered along the edge of the channel waiting for the tide to uncover the algae on the mud.

At least 1500 brent geese were feeding on one of the fields beside the Strood Channel with more groups arriving during the late morning period. The black brant was found feeding in the middle of the main flock, its bright white flank contrasting well with the black belly and black wings. Presumably this is the brant that has usually been feeding in front of the Hard car park.
Three hundred golden plover, 30 ringed plover and 25 dunlin were feeding in the fields at high tide.

Two peregrines were seen during the walk, the first one watched flying north over the Feldy fields on the mainland scattering the wood pigeons as it headed towards Copt Hall Grove. The second bird was causing some mayhem at the entrance to Salcott creek, scattering all the birds but more so because a male marsh harrier was trying to disrupt the hunting swoops of the peregrine. After several failed swoops, the peregrine went and landed on a metal pole on the saltmarsh. Some of the 3000 golden plover and 1000 lapwing could then relax.

Along the Strood channel 3 pintail was unusual, an avocet was the only wader of interest other than 500 knot. A male stonechat, 10 linnets, rock pipit, 5 skylarks, 2 meadow pipits and 3 reed buntings were the only small birds of interest.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

RAPTOR WATCH

It had been quite mild during Sunday 15th when the sun was out. However towards the end of the afternoon it turned cold again when the murk descended, which made for a chilly harrier-watch on the Shop Lane seawall. Here Andy Field and Matt Larkin were scanning the distant Langenhoe Point for marsh harriers, watching them as they came into roost.

At least thirteen marsh harriers were counted, possibly one or two more but sadly no sign of any hen harriers. There was a female merlin however which sat on a bush for a few minutes, before flying rapidly off.
(The harrier roost count carried out at the same time opposite West Mersea on the Old Hall Marshes revealed 32 marsh harriers but no hen harriers).

Other birds noted were a male goldeneye, 8 red-breasted mergansers, 20 avocets, one common snipe, and ten linnets.
Matt reported seeing a muntjac deer in a pig paddock in Shop Lane mid afternoon.

Two common buzzards were seen whilst walking the Maydays seawall on Saturday 14th, one bird circling overhead, pictured above, while the second bird perched on a bush on Langenhoehall Marsh. The marsh harriers were showing well with a couple of males displaying over the back of the Island and at least five other birds seen on Langenhoe ranges.

In the Pyefleet a pair of red-breasted mergansers and a great crested grebe were the only birds of note along with lots of wigeon, teal and shelduck.

A pair of grey partridge were unexpectedly seen in one of the Maydays fields, the male bird calling out loudly. The male stonechat was still present while other small birds on the farm included 10 reed buntings, 15 yellowhammers and 15 corn buntings.

A walk along the Strood seawall on Friday 13th produced good views of a kingfisher along the dyke, on one occasion diving down and catching a small tiddler. Also a common buzzard mobbed off the Island by a pair of carrion crows. After the buzzard had crossed the channel and then Ray Island, another crow mobbed it when it reached the Peldon side. A marsh harrier flew along the Peldon seawall.

A stonechat, ten linnets, rock pipit and five skylarks were the main small birds noted.

Amongst the boat moorings from the Hard were seen two shags perched on buoys in the far channel next to the Sorcerer boat.

In Firs Chase, West Mersea, the pied blackbird was seen in a neighbours garden, a robin was building a nest in a ivy covered tree and a tawny owl called at night.

On Thursday 12th Steve Entwistle saw two Slavonian grebes and 12 red-breasted mergansers off West Mersea.