Monday, 11 April 2016

The Only Way Is Essex! *

Mistley Walls/Abberton Reservoir/Mersea Island - 8th April, 16

Weather: Mix of sun and cloud.

Bird Total: 62

If it's April, it must be showers. Indeed, it was showers all this week, with the exception of today. And the early forecasts are for showers all next week, too. This is definitely a land of confusion.

The forecast for today was for a mix of sunshine and clouds. Which it was, well done again, Carol. However, there was also a cold wind, coming in off the estuaries. Hey, I'm not asking for perfection, just a decent weather forecast, that’s all.

I received a text message from Ron, asking if I wanted to visit Mistley again. Of course! As it turned out, we did a little tour of this part of Essex, taking in not only Mistley Walls, but also the Abberton Reservoir and Mersea Island. It turned out to be an excellent day.

First up, was Mistley. We arrived not long after 10am. High tide was due after lunchtime. After parking the car and a quick look out over the estuary, not seeing too much, we took a stroll down to the Quay area. Redshank, Shelduck, Little Egret and plenty of Mute Swans were all on show. However, the star bird here was a cracking Black Swan. It even played ball by swimming up close to us, feeding off the algae on the walls.

Looking out towards the island in front, Ron pointed out a pair of Brent Geese. A second pair could be seen further out. The resident Pied Wagtail was also on the island. We headed back to the Walls. Ron was a little upset that the 'War Wagon' was absent, away on holiday until next week. I think he was concerned about 'white finger' again.

I was a bit surprised to see that the tide had arrived quite quickly, by the time we returned, a slight misunderstanding on our part. There still didn't seem to be much about, other than plenty of Redshank. They soon departed, as the tide swept in. There were only a few wildfowl left, including a pair of Shelduck. Surprisingly, there were no Pintails at all, today.

We took a slow stroll, towards Manningtree, but we didn't see much else. I guess the season is over here, as most birds are, or have, now moved on. Eventually, only the Mute Swans, Rooks and Jackdaws hung around to entertain us. Therefore, Ron decided to test out his recently acquired 'long-exposure' skills. With his camera, not himself! We'll have to await the results. While he was busy with that, I walked over the road, towards the farm and spotted a Grey Wagtail, having a drink from the stream.

It was still only around midday, so Ron suggested we drive down to Abberton Reservoir, to try our luck. Just before we arrived, we stopped off at the Layer de la Haye Causeway, where millions of Midges immediately attacked us. There were swarms of them, in differing sizes. I've not seen this many since my visit to Scotland, some years back.

Despite the swarms, we looked out over the water, on both sides. At first, apart from spotting most of the ducks, all we saw were several Great Crested Grebes. Just as I spotted a few Lapwing, on the far bank, Ron shouted out, 'Tern, above us!'

I looked up and did indeed see a Tern, flying around, back and forth, right above us. After a quick look through the Bins and then a few bad photos, we confirmed it as a Common Tern. Just the one, but it was the first of the season. Then, while I was watching it through my Bins, I spotted a Swallow fly past. Another first of the season!

I would have stayed a little longer here, but the Midges were too much. Onward then, to Abberton. There were a few parked cars when we arrived, with the odd Birder wandering around. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were doing their head-shaking thing, right in front of us. We moved further along the walkway, seeing plenty of Pied Wagtails. A fellow Birder informed us that a few Yellow Wagtails had been present the previous day. He also told us that a male Red-crested Pochard could be seen further down.

He was right; the male was amongst a few Mallards, having a wash and brush-up. He looked resplendent, but took his own sweet time with his ablutions, so we moved on. We intended to return, because I know what I like. There were more Great Crested Grebes around, plenty of wildfowl, plenty of Geese, including the resident Swan Goose, a few hybrid Geese and all the usual birds.

The sun made a few tentative appearances. Various people were feeding the Geese white bread along this spot, all from the safety of their vehicles. A butterfly, my first of the year, flew up and then back down, too quickly for an ID. It could have been a Small Tortoiseshell, but it may have been a trick of the tail. I scanned the Reservoir from both sides, whilst also keeping an eye out for any Wagtails, in the hope that one of them might be a Yellow.

It looked like we were out of luck, as regards the Yellows, so, after about an hour here, we decided to head for Mersea Island. I've only visited here once before, a year or so ago. However, first up was a cup of tea and a sandwich, on the western side of the island.

The best 2-egg sandwich I’ve had today!’ Ron announced. My bacon one wasn't too bad, either. And the mug of tea went down a treat.

Once refreshed, we hit the beach. Not to sunbathe, but to try for any Med Gulls. However, there seemed to be too many families around and all we could see were Black-headed Gulls.

A quick drive to the east side of the island and we were soon parking up in the Cudmore Grove Country Park. There seemed to be a fair few people here, including dogs. However, there was no one on the trail we took, through the woods.

My last visit here afforded close views of loads of Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. However, the lagoon today was nearly devoid of birdlife, just ripples everywhere. Initially, only a few Teal and Little Egrets were on show. Then we spotted a lone Redshank take flight. Then 3 or 4 Black-tailed Godwits could be seen, moving out into the middle of the lagoon. Unfortunately, they were too far away for any photos.

We moved on and eventually arrived at the beach. Trying to avoid the dog-walkers, we strolled along, close to the water's edge, but we didn’t go in too deep. Soon, we were seeing loads of waders. Mainly Redshank at first, then Black-tailed Godwits and Turnstones appeared, followed by Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers. More season-firsts.

We carried on along the trail, looking out over the estuary. Ron spotted a flighty Green Woodpecker, on the adjacent fields. In amongst the sedge, a pair of birds were flying around. Once they settled, we identified them as Linnets. A larger flock were spotted further on. Out on the mud-flats, we could see Knot in amongst all the Shanks and Godwits. Little Grebe could be seen on the adjacent river. Shelduck and Brent Geese were in-flight. I could also hear Skylarks singing all around us, as well as one or two Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff.

We walked as far as the Colchester Oyster Fishery before stopping and heading back. On the return leg, we bumped into a couple, looking through a scope. They had spotted several Dunlin, out on the mud-flats. Curlew were also present, in the same area. Everywhere and everything looked calm and serene, making you feel like it was a home by the sea.

We eventually arrived back at the sandy sedge area. I was just thinking that we should have seen a few more small birds here, when a bird flew up and away. It landed a little further on from us. Just before it flew off again, I identified it as a male Reed Bunting. A few minutes later, another bird flew up. After chasing it for a few minutes, we found it to be a Meadow Pipit.

It was just after six and so it was time to head for home, supper’s ready. There were no further sightings before we arrived back at the car, but we had a goodly amount of birds today. Well worth the effort, I was basking in the afterglow! 10 hours birding, 7km walking and 62 species!

My thanks again to Ron, for chauffeuring me about today. I can thoroughly recommend him!


'A person who tells the truth does not have to remember anything!' Mark Twain