Sunday, 2 November 2014

Abberton and Mersea - 25th October 14

Weather: Bright and sunny for most of the day, overcast late morning. Slight wind.

Birds Total: 65
Plus: Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral  butterflies.
Plus: Common Darter dragonfly.

Today I visited Abberton Reservoirs and Mersea Island with friend and fellow blogger, Alan Reynolds. It was my first visit to the area and I came away suitably impressed. It was such a good visit that I found that it could even rival places in Norfolk.

Alan picked me up around 9 and we made the 75-minute journey arriving at Abberton just in time to see a Great White Egret. Unfortunately, it flew off before I could get my camera out. But there were lots of birds present on both sides of the causeway. First up were some Geese, including a hybrid Bar-tailed Goose, which were just wandering past us.

Looking out over one side I could see a lone Swan Goose, a resident to the area. Not too far away from that was a female Red-crested Pochard. A few Little Egrets were also around, one of which ventured quite close to us, in full hunting mode. There were lots of various waterfowl everywhere. Pied Wagtails were picking there way past, just in front, while at least 3 Black-tailed Godwits could be seen further back. A lone Green Sandpiper was on the shoreline to our left, moving between several Lapwing. Several Starlings arrived and posed only yards away, their glossy coats reflecting the sunshine. About 4 Ruff flew up from the right-hand side of the reservoir, circled and landed back down.

Then Alan spotted a Marsh Harrier in the distance, quickly followed by a second away to our right. Kestrels could be seen, with one perched up atop the distant electricity pylon. There were about 4 or 5 cars parked up here with several people variously armed with Bins or Scopes. Other cars were speeding by and you had to be careful when crossing from one side to the other.

The fourth largest reservoir in England it was designated a Special Protection Area back in 1991. It's important as an autumn arrival area for waterbirds. The reservoir is famous for being used as a practice run for the RAF's 617 Squadron for the bombing of the German dams in the Ruhr during the War.

It was very bright and sunny when we arrived but then, all of a sudden, the sun was blotted out by an overcast sky with the wind picking up. The forecast had been for clear, blue skies for most of the day, so where had these clouds come from? We decided to move on towards Mersea Island.

A quick stop a little later on brought us good views of a pair of Pintail and a small group of Great Crested Grebes, while a few Rooks were perched up on the telegraph wires. And then we were entering East Mersea, which is sparsely populated, the opposite of West Mersea, where most people live.

We soon arrived at Cudmore Grove Country Park and met up with the Reserve Warden, Dougal Urquhart with Monty his four legged terrier companion. He appraised us of the recent sightings in the area and we were soon off walking the area.

Leaving the picnickers and families behind we found ourselves in a small wooded area which looked out to a small lagoon. Here we found around a 1000 Black-tailed Godwits, with accompanying Redshank; Teal; Wigeon and Little Egrets. Further back, on the fields behind we could see lots of Curlew. And even further back from them were a flock of Brent Geese. It was quite a sight, in fact the numbers were breath-taking. I hadn't seen so many BlackWits and Curlews in one spot outside of Norfolk. And it wasn't just the sight, it was the sound. A cacophony of noise, as the birds wandered around the lagoon, feeding and interacting. It was an effort to drag myself away.

But walking a little further on Alan heard the high-pitched call of a Goldcrest and a few minutes later it appeared, hopping from branch to branch before flying off. Leaving the woodland and looking out over the fields we witnessed the Geese take flight and then saw a large flock of Golden Plover circle above us before landing in said field. Just before we reached the sea-wall a beautiful Clouded Yellow butterfly flew past, the first of 3 seen today. To our delight it landed nearby, allowing a few photo opportunities.

Then we found ourselves walking along the sandy beach, where we found mostly Meadow Pipits but with at least one Rock Pipit. There were lots of dog-walkers in this area, so we didn't hang around long and moved on.

By now the sun had come back out and we were bathed in glorious, warm sunshine. The tide had already come in, covering the mud-flats. But it brought with it lots more Brent Geese. We could see flocks of various birds out over the water, which included Dunlin; Redshank and Grey Plover. The odd Little Egret also flew by. There were more Meadow Pipits along here as well as a flock of Linnet.

Looking out across the water Alan spotted the head of a Seal popping up, amongst all the stunning vista of yachts sailing back and forth.

Then we spotted a lone Grey Plover already in its' winter plumage perched up on a wooden stump by the shore. It allowed us to creep close to it before flying a little further on. We approached quietly and slowly again, this time getting a little closer before it again flew up and away.

Then, amazingly, we looked up and spotted a Tern fly in and land nearly at the same spot. It was a tad late in the year for this bird to still be present, but we weren't too sure which species. It was later confirmed as an adult Common Tern. Earlier, we had spotted a lone Swallow flying past, another late migrant.

We walked as far as the Colchester Oyster Fishery before stopping and heading back. On the walk back we spotted a Kingfisher flash past, land briefly, before flying off again. Then we found ourselves back at BlackWit Lagoon taking in more breath-taking sights.

Back at the car-park we paused for lunch and a much needed sit down. Alan then suggested we drive over to West Mersea and have a look for Mediterranean Gulls by the shell-covered beach. In the event we only saw one flying around. There were lots of people about here taking advantage of the sunny weather, with the odd Parasurfer gliding by, trying not to fall into the water. All the brightly coloured beach huts were lined up opposite the shore, looking like a row of garden sheds, albeit an expensive one.

We then decided to head off home, making a quick stop back at the Reservoir for another look. On the way we spotted a lone Mistle Thrush perched on the wire above us. An hour or so later I was being dropped off.

It was a fantastic day out and the area certainly rivals anything the rest of the UK has to offer. My thanks to Alan for inviting me and for showing me the area. You can find Alan's Blog here.