Friday, 29 August 2014

Some Superb Birding at Abberton and Fingringhoe Wick

13th August 2014

The plan today was to call in to Abberton Reservoir to see what was on the causeways, go to Fingringhoe Wick to look for warblers in the bushes, and end up in Robbies Hide by 2.00pm, an hour before high tide to hopefully get some waders being pushed up on the tide. Well, some of it worked.

We arrived at Layer Breton causeway in time for breakfast (I do have a late breakfast) and had a quick scan round. Nothing too obvious at first glance but then Andy noticed a wader amongst the gaggle of Grey Lags - a Ruff. I started taking photos immediately but when it flew a few yards I noticed more, two, five, and eventually 25, all feeding at the water's edge at the bottom of the concrete bank. Well, what a good start to the day.

A quick look at the Layer de la Haye causeway produced nothing so we headed off for Fingringhoe. The bushes at The Wick were also very quiet so we went straight to Robbies Hide for our appointment at 2.00pm. Now, our timing up to now had been immaculate, but I had overlooked one tiny detail. The high tide today was particularly high and by the time we got into the hide, well before 2.00pm, all the mud and most of the beach was already covered. As we settled down the last of the Black-tailed Godwits flew off to roost on Geedons Marsh.

As we had missed the encroaching high tide, the next best bet was to go to the scrape hide in the hope that some waders were roosting there. Despite visiting Fingringhoe for over 20 years, this was the first time that I had visited this hide and I was not going to be disappointed. The first birds on view were a flock of Greenshank which were rather jumpy and kept flying off and circling round for no apparent reason.

However below them, still on the water was a flock of Spotted Redshank which were not quite as flighty.

Well, what a day. This is an absolutely superb hide, but could do with some more screening as people arriving at the hide were spooking the birds particularly if they were talking (the people not the birds).

Monday, 25 August 2014

Querquedula and Ratties at Rye Meads

4th August 2014

The sole purpose of my visit to Rye Meads today was to see if the two Garganeys were still there. As I entered the visitor centre I immediately shouted out "yes", which was quickly followed by "are you a member?" Chum Simon Hummerstone was relaxing behind the desk with a cup of coffee, but when I announced that the mission today was to conduct a Garganey count, he didn't need too much persuading to down his cuppa and join me.

We entered the sparsely populated hide for our count. Simon started counting from the left panning right and I started from the right panning left. At the end of the count we compared notes and found that we were in total agreement with just two Garganeys right in front of the hide. You just can't beat a system. Garganeys tend to spend most of their daylight hours sleeping and this couple were no exception, but they did eventually wake up and go for a wander.

However, the highlight today was the  new family of Water Voles that live under the first bridge from the visitor centre. Normally quite hard to see during the day, here they are enticed into the open by a couple of apples offered on a Water Vole table floating on the water. What a great end to a great day!!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Tigers and Spiders at Rainham Marshes

3rd August 2014

Moving into early autumn now and most of the flowers are past their best, although the Purple Loosestrife was still doing its best to brighten up the place.

Both Common Blue and second brood Holly Blues were flying allowing a good comparison. The Commons were flying low over the grassland occasionally settling to nectar on a flower head and showing their brown under-wings. The Hollies were sticking to the bushes and flashing their pale blue undersides with a scattering of black dots. This particular individual settled with the light shining through its wings.

The place was alive with the sounds of grasshoppers and crickets and so it is not surprising that there is a large colony of Wasp Spiders here, but more of that later.

Dragonflies were still performing with both Blue-tailed Damselflies and Ruddy Darters mating, but the most unusual thing today was a Small Red-eyed Damselfly sitting in the path-side vegetation rather than perching on some floating vegetation out on a pond or lake. I saw this behaviour for the first time with Red-eyed Damselflies at Lakenheath a month or so ago.

Little Grebe chicks were everywhere and are now growing up, but with many still showing their stripey-head appearance.

At this point I moved on to the viewpoint overlooking Wennington Marsh. The vantage point is not only useful for looking over the marsh but is also good for insects and butterflies on the Buddleia bush there. As soon as I arrived and started to look at the Buddleia my attention was drawn to a high-speed butterfly showing a lot of red. When it eventually settled I could see that it was in fact a Jersey Tiger Moth, a first for me. Jersey Tigers used to be confined to the south coast but are now moving inland and are recorded quite frequently at Rainham.

But then came the main purpose of the visit, the quest for the Wasp Spider. I did look for these a couple of weeks ago but then they were very small and quite difficult to see. After a fair bit of searching I didn't manage to find any. However, today they were everywhere and what a magnificent sight they were. Well worth the wait.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Fly-past at Two Tree Island

29th July 2014

Following on from our morning at Vange Marsh the plan this afternoon was to go to Two Tree Island and get into the hide overlooking the saline lagoon at high tide in the hope that there would be lots of waders roosting there. As high tide wasn't until 1.00pm we had a couple of hours to spare and decided to walk down to the east side of the island.

The path is fenced and therefore very easy to follow and although there was a map at the entrance there were subsequently no signs to indicate which side tracks took you to the hides. In fact, the hide overlooking the old sewage works lagoon wasn't even shown on the map. However, with a little bit of luck we did manage to chance upon it and settled down to take in the view. What was totally unexpected, however, was the presence of two Greenshank which were sleeping on the concrete walls that traverse the lagoon.

Eventually one did wake up and decided to go for a stroll but quite what it was hoping to find to eat on a concrete wall was a complete mystery.

Anyway time was ticking on and the tide was almost in, so off to the hide on the south-west corner of the island. The only waders close in were a Common Sandpiper, a lone Black-tailed Godwit and a couple of pairs of Oystercatchers, with the remainder of the waders being concentrated down the far end. Here too were a couple of Greenshank and a hundred or more Redshank, but the highlight today was the large roost of Black-tailed Godwits, of which there two flocks of 200 and 500 birds respectively.

The plan was to wait until the tide was on its way out again and hopefully get some shots as they flew back out on to the estuary. I had expected this to take about an hour but after this time they were still fast asleep and were still asleep a further hour later. Bearing in mind that the sea wall prevents them from seeing what the tide is doing, how do they know when to wake out and fly out to feed?

It wasn't until a full three hours from high tide that a few small groups started the leave the lagoon, which was a little disappointing as I had expected them  to all leave together.

But then without any warning both flocks exploded into action and we had no more than 10 seconds to record all the action which left the lagoon eerily quiet. I love Two Tree Island.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

My First Visit to Vange Marsh

29th July 2014

Vange Marsh often features on the Essex reports, sometimes with a good selection of waders. It is obviously not what you may term a full-blown reserve as there are no hides, just two viewing mounds and a viewing screen. However, as it is relatively local well worth a visit to see what it holds.

We had quite a problem finding the entrance. As the marsh is south of the railway we had rather assumed that the entrance would also be south of the railway, although it is fact north of the railway opposite Pitsea railway station car park. Also it didn't help that the rather inconspicuous brown RSPB sign was one-sided and could only be seen when returning from Wat Tyler Country Park, not the expected direction of arrival. Anyway, having parked the car, we made our way down the gravel track past some industrial units and the first sign of wildlife was a Holly Blue which uncharacteristically perched on a stone. That wasn't expected but a nice start to the day.

At the end of the gravel track you cross the railway and enter a superb flower meadow before you even reach the entrance to the reserve. This was absolutely alive with just about every type of insect imaginable and not surprisingly Common Blues, Gatekeepers and Small Skippers were well represented.

There were also a couple of moths, the first being the easily recognisable Silver Y. However, the second insect had me totally stumped and when I got home and looked through my moth book I still couldn't find it despite it being rather conspicuous. It turns out the reason I couldn't find it was that, despite it being at least an inch across it is in fact the micro moth Sitochroa palealis. This is a scarce local resident of the south-eastern coastal areas and sometimes a migrant, and the food plant is Wild Carrot of which there was an abundant supply here.

Also present in this large area of grassland were hundreds of grasshoppers and a few Ruddy Darters. There is also supposed to be a colony of the rare Scarce Emerald Damselflies here, but during our visit I didn't see any suitable habitat let alone any of these rare insects.

Hoverflies were much in evidence, although often difficult to track down as they were very active on such a stifling hot day. I managed to find three species which are Episyrphus balteatus, Eristalis pertinax and Myathropa florea in order of appearance.

We then entered the reserve and walked along the bank to the viewing platform. The habitat was superb with plenty of open water, islands and muddy margins and a group of waders were roosting on one of the islands. These were mainly Redshank, but there were two Spotted Redshank (extreme left) and a Greenshank (6th from left in the water). Also present on the lagoon was an Avocet and a Black-tailed Godwit.

So overall a very enjoyable day, particularly the flower meadow. The lagoons are very distant from the viewing mounds and even from the viewing screen, too far away for bird photography. However, the habitat is good and the site will inevitably turn up some good birds over the year.

Now on to Two Tree this space.