Wednesday, 26 August 2009

RSPB South Essex Marshes - Reserves update

August 2009
On the move! That could be the motto, which describes the state of affairs in South Essex the best. On all our reserves, major landscaping work have and still is taking place in order to turn the plans for the South Essex project into reality.

Reserves Management
The first phase of the habitat creation works on RSPB West Canvey Marshes was completed at the end of March 2009. This work included the excavation of scrapes, these shallow muddy areas will hold water and will provide ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildfowl and wading birds. The soils generated from the scrape creation were then used to build two reservoir dams either end of the fleet area.

After the diggers had finished their work, on Vange Marsh in April, our islands in the saline lagoon shone in new splendour with a fresh cockleshell topping and re-shaped muddy edges for a shallower bank profile providing a greater area of draw-down. This has provided improved feeding conditions for waders on the lagoon. This work caught the interest of various regional newspapers and even brought our warden a live radio interview with BBC Essex! A new interpretation board has been installed on Vange Marsh informing visitors of the importance of the site and its habitats, whilst the map provides details of the trails and viewpoints.

Bowers Marsh, a 270 hectare area of marshland, has been leased from Veolia Environmental Services. This land stretches between Pitsea and Benfleet and connects the easterly Vange Marsh area behind Wat Tyler Country Park with our West Canvey Marshes nature reserve. The Bowers Marsh public consultation is underway; this will provide us with opinions and ideas for the RSPB’s proposal for the area of marshland.

The volunteer work parties have continued to be a success. The volunteers have carried out regular reserves maintenance such as the brush cutting of the footpaths, litter picking and fencing repairs. Some of the volunteers have also been involved in species monitoring, providing valuable data about the avian and non-avian species across the reserves.

Species recordsOne of the main highlights were the first fledged lapwing young for the South Essex Marshes and with conditions improving across the marshes these should be the first of many. There have been other good bird highlights already this year. Four adult whooper swans were present on Bowers Marsh from the 27th February to the 29th March. Up to three marsh harriers were regularly recorded over Bowers Marsh during winter into spring.

There were a good number of white-winged gulls in the area until early spring, a glaucous gull was seen amongst the large gull flock on Vange Marsh on the 1st of March. Spring passage got under way in early April with the arrival of sedge and reed warblers across the reserve. The next two months saw a period of brief visits from a variety of interesting species. A black redstart was a welcome visitor to Vange Marsh on the 2nd of April. Common, green and wood sandpipers were all recorded in May. A marsh sandpiper dropped into the Vange Marsh freshwater lagoon on the 11th of May. Unfortunately, this rare wader was only present on the marsh for about 30 minutes before black-headed gulls chased it off. It was followed later the same week by a Temminck’s stint that paid a short visit on the 14th of the month. On 24th of June, a spoonbill was seen feeding in the brackish lagoon and one day later, a ruff with most of a gingery ruff was spotted. Other waders on the reserve have included black-tailed godwit, whimbrel, curlew, ringed plover, dunlin, greenshank, redshank and spotted redshank.

Non-avian highlights have included water voles, which have been a common sight when strolling along the ditches. Some of these mammals have been fairly showy and have been seen feeding and swimming across the ditches on Vange Marsh. Adders, slow worm and common lizard have all been recorded basking in the early morning sun across the South Essex Marshes. Butterflies monitoring has continued on the reserve and marbled whites looked to have had a good year. Small tortoiseshell were recorded more regularly than in recent years, but this butterfly continues to struggle on the reserve, mirroring the national trend. A butterfly ‘good news story’ is that wall brown has at least three populations across the reserve. This butterfly has become a rare sight across south Essex so it is a locally important species of Lepidoptera.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Birding in North Norfolk

A gloriously warm sunny day with little to no wind, although it did cloud over for a while at Titchwell the weather could not have been better.

We left Pitsea at 06.30 arriving at our first site in north Norfolk around 09.30, looking out across a field of rape we were treated to 3 Marsh Harriers and a couple of what were probably Buzzards soaring distantly on a thermal. After thirty minutes one of the birds we were hoping to see appeared along the top of the field, following the hedgerow, a male Montagu's Harrier showed extremely well as it followed the hedgerow down the opposite side of the field, a stunning start to the day!

On to RSPB Titchwell Marsh which as always didn't disappoint, warblers were in full song, Blackcap, Willow, Chiffchaff, Sedge, Reed and Cetti's. Three Marsh Harriers showed well over the reedbeds and a pair of Cuckoos gave us a flypast. A single Turtle Dove showed well in a dead tree and Bearded Tits 'pinged' away in the reedbed occasionally giving brief flight views. On the freshmarsh a few pairs of Avocets now had chicks while many more were still sitting. Around fifty Black-tailed Godwits were still present some of which were now in their breeding plumage as were five Grey Plover.

Five Spoonbills flying over heading east were an unexpected bonus for some, unfortunately I missed them! On the beach summer-plumaged Sanderlings were seen alongside Turnstones and more Grey Plovers while on the sea two drake Eiders were a nice find as were 15 Common Scoter flying past.

We finished the day at Cley Marsh, A lapwing with three very young chicks showed extremely well. Marsh Harriers were constantly mobbed by Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits as they quartered the marsh. Dunlin, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers were seen well. From the beach and north hide, Common, Little and Sandwich Terns along with another Spoonbill were seen.

We finished the day at 06.30 pm with another Marsh Harrier quartering the field beside the Visitor Centre car park. A great day enjoyed by all.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Bird Trip To Minsmere

Arriving at RSPB Minsmere Nature Reserve the six of us headed off towards the northern footpath, stopping first to look at the sand martin bank, a few sand martins were overhead but none entered any of the nesting holes while we watched. As we approached the first bushes at the start of the trail a nightingale could be heard singing to our left and then another on therighthand side of the path. Both were in quite dense bushes, but moving past and looking back one showed well in the open and everyone had great views through the telescope. As we passed through the reedbeds, both sedge and reed warbler singing along with the loud bursting song of a cetti's warbler. We soon picked up the 'pinging' calls of bearded tits, the north trail is on a higher elevation to the reeds, so viewing was excellent looking down in to the large reedbeds on either side of the trail. A pair of bearded tits showed amazingly well, regularly calling as they crossed the path often between the gathered on-lookers! It appeared that they probably had a nest with young on one side, but were gathering food from the other. The views were down to just a few yards in the edge of the reeds in clear view and often dropping on the ground beside the track gathering food....wonderful!

A second-summer Mediterranean gull was first picked on call as it circled over our heads with the black-headed gulls. Four or five pairs are now breeding at Minsmere along with 1100 pairs of black-headed gulls. Later we found two Mediterranean gulls on the scrape sitting on their nests. As we approached the beach a male stonechat showed well sat on top of a small bush.

On the sea common and little terns were constantly flying backwards and forwards over the shingle beach to the scrape. An adult kittiwake flew past close to the shoreline heading north. From east hide excellent close views of a pair of avocets and a summer plumaged turnstone on a small island close to the hide. Around 40 black-tailedgodwits were on the scrape, nearly all still in their winter plumage, these seemed really plain compared to the summer birds still around in South Essex! A good fifty or so dunlin were present, looking very dapper with their black bellies. Among the hundreds of black-headed gulls were good numbers of common terns, many of which were pair-bonding as they nosily offered their partners small fish titbit's.

On to the sluice and a female wheatear showed very well, the swallows were a photographers delight perching on the sluice fences and footpath signs and allowing a close approach. Beyond the sluice a single greenshank. On the footpath between south and west hide, was this large caterpillar, which I later identified as the drinker moth. This very dark, large hairy caterpillar can be seen from April to June and August to September. Cuckoos can eat them but probably no other birds. The caterpillars feed on coarse grass and reed, hibernating from October to April when they resume feeding. Their long-recognised habit of drinking drops of dew from plants gives us the common English name. The caterpillars pupate in June. This large moth is common and widespread in Great Britain, and can be found in gardens where there are stands of coarse and lightly managed grasses.

From west hide the little terns were sitting on the islands alongside common terns offering a great opportunity to compare size and plumage differences. Probably the scarcest bird of the day was picked up in flight as it headed south over the scrape, black-tips to some of the primaries identified it as an immature spoonbill, an impressive sight enjoyed by all

Lunch was taken back at the visitor centre, where we also found a small copper butterfly before heading off to the woods. Coal tit was heard but remained elusive, but not quite so elusive were great spotted woodpecker and treecreeper, although everyone saw marsh tit, well almost everyone, I couldn't get on it! As we approached island mere hide a bittern could be heard 'booming' and continued to boom while we were in the hide. I never realised just how difficult it was to pin down where the sound was coming from, in fact it was hard to work out which direction it was coming from! Of course the marsh harriers performed beautifully, just as we knew they would, after all this is Minsmere!

Hobby was seen three times but each time we were on the woodland trails and only had views through gaps in the canopy. We moved on to Westleton and Minsmere Heaths which had three dartford warblers singing, none of which showed really well giving only brief perched or flight views. Whereas a pair of stonechats showed very well as did a yellowhammer and flypast green woodpecker. On Westleton two nightingales had a singing competition, one of which showed very well in the open. The last bird but not least bird of the day was a woodlark seen as we were at the cars preparing to leave, it showed fairly well but all too briefly in a gnarled stump of a tree. We finished the day having seen 78 different species and having had a very pleasant relaxed and friendly day

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Vange Marsh

A Peregrine flew low over the marsh heading north at 2 pm and also heading north at 3.15 pm was a Red Kite, the first I have seen in South Essex.

Early on the marsh today were 11 Greenshank, 1 Spotted Redshank in full summer plumage, 2 Redshank, 2 Oystercatcher and 3 summer plumage Dunlin.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

International Dawn Chorus Day

Sixteen people gathered at the RSPB Visitor Centre in Wat Tyler Country Park at 5 am. With the dawn chorus just getting in to full swing a cuckoo was one of the first birds heard and two more were heard during the two hour walk, one of which showed well in flight. Blue and great tits along with robin were heard around the bird feeding area. A whitethroat, it's scratchy song was soon heard as we crossed the road to Holly Cottage, whitethroats were evident throughout the walk with one performing exceptionally well on the perimeter trail often song flighting above our heads. Reed warblers were singing from the reedbeds, even the smallest areas of reed held at least one. A cetti's warbler burst in to song but remained elusive as is often the case with this species. As we continued blackbirds and wrens were in full voice, and then we picked up the gentle 'purring' of a turtle dove, the first recorded in the park this year, the bird was sat on a pylon and every one enjoyed views through a telescope. On to the marina and a pair of oystercatchers made a noisy fly-past while two little egrets fed in the creek. Our first nightingale could be heard singing across the creek on the western end of the former county tip. Further along the trail a second nightingale sang in dense vegetation beside the track, and frustratingly stayed hidden, we stayed and listened to his full repertoire for a while and this was a highlight and new experience for many. Song thrush and blackcap were enjoyed as the walk came to an end, it really is worth getting up early at this time of the year, with no background noise to compete with the dawn chorus is a real experience.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Vange Marsh

Spent the morning on the marsh, the first chicks of the year; a pair of Canada Geese with 8 goslings. A pair of cuckoos showed well on the county tip, three water voles were seen today, one of which showed well feeding in the moat. A green-veined white butterfly sat still long enough for me to grab a photo.

Other birds seen: Avocet 14, Oystercatcher 2, Common Sandpiper 1, Greenshank 11, Spotted Redshank 1 in summer plumage, Little Egret 2, Grey Heron 9, Blackcap 2, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Cetti's Warbler 4, Reed Warbler at least 8 singing, Sedge Warbler at least 5 singing and the female Wigeon is still present.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

First Swifts of the year.

16.40 - 18.30

My first Swifts of the year as two flew over heading north, a Cuckoo was singing from the western end of the old county tip. Five Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper along with a single Snipe. Four pairs of Avocet of which none appeared to be sitting!

A Water Vole swam across the moat towards me, five individuals were seen in all, the evening seems to be the best time to see them!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Wat Tyler Country Park

A lunch time walk in warm sunshine along the perimeter path, Speckled Wood and Orange-tip Butterflies were out in force today.

A couple of Bee Flies were also seen Bombylius major. This large, squat hairy fly resembles a small Bumble Bee. It has long hairy legs, a very long, slender tongue and clear wings with a black band along their front edge. It is usually seen in early spring, hovering around flower borders and it takes an interest in both primroses and violets. The eggs are flicked towards the entrance of solitary bee nests. The larvae are brood parasites in the nests of these bees and will be found where suitable areas for the nests of hosts coincide with woodlands, hedgerows or gardens rich in flowers. Adult flies feed on nectar, using their long proboscises whilst hovering beside a flower. Aubretia is one common garden plant frequently visited.

Whitethroats and Blackcaps were singing well, as were two Nightingales one in the park and the other on the county tip

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Two Tree Island

Arrived just before 8 am and was greeted immediately with the 'reeling' song of a Grasshopper Warbler, it took another 20 minutes to pinpoint exactly where it was singing from!

From the western hide overlooking the lagoon, the breeding Avocets were very evident with some pairs already sitting, the sitting bird nearest the hide shuffled her position and I counted four eggs.

Still a hundred plus Black-tailed Godwit, all grouped together and I guess waiting for the tide to recede!

Also seen on the lagoon were; 5 Greenshank, single Turnstone and Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and a single Whimbrel just over the seawall in the creek.

On the eastern side of the island, a Nightingale was sing his heart out, but remained hidden from view in scrub near the feeding area.

Green Alkanet is in flower. This perennial is a member of the Boraginaceae Family. Native to south-west France, and the Iberian Peninsula, but is now naturalised throughout the British Isles. It prefers shaded, damp areas. Brought here for the red dye which can be extracted from the roots, it escaped from cultivation. The leaves are rough and covered with hairs. The lower leaves in the basal rosette have no stalks, but the upper ones on the stems have stalks. The stems can reach up to 75 cm. The bright blue, forget-me-not-like flowers appear from April to July and arise from the upper leaf axils in clusters with two small leaves behind them. They are edible and are sometimes used to decorate salads.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

A Day In Norfolk

What a day, after an overnight frost the clear sky remained with full on sunshine all day and a very light breeze giving a real spring feel to the day.

Dropped in at Olley's Farm near Thetford, a fabulous area of coniferous woodland. Highlights here were Woodlark a pair singing, Crossbill a male showed very well with a dozen more distantly, Goshawk a female being mobbed by a crow flew over and was on show for around 7 minutes, wonderful views. The resident escaped Red-tailed Hawk showed very well perched and in flight, Siskin three small flocks were encountered, Bullfinch pair near the entrance, Yellowhammer singing and showing well.


Fulmar at least four were patrolling the cliff top, sea watching was limited to watching just off shore due to a dense sea mist. Amongst a dozen Great Crested Grebes was a male Red-breasted Merganser.

Titchwell Marsh
Titchwell Marsh, on the north Norfolk coast, is one of the country’s best loved and most visited nature reserves. It is also at risk from the sea – unless we do something now!
A visit to Titchwell is always special. Grey Plovers and Sanderlings fly over your head, having travelled non-stop from the Arctic Circle. Marsh Harriers display in front of you - an unforgettable sight, especially when you realise they almost disappeared entirely from the UK in the 70s. And don't forget the thriving colony of the RSPB’s emblem - the dainty and elegant Avocet.

If the sea breaches the defences and floods the freshwater marsh with salty sea water, then much of the wildlife living on this reserve is at risk. Already the sea wall has had to be patched in a number of places after the highest tides.

If we act now, we still have time to stop the reserve as we know it from being lost forever.

What do we hope to achieve?
You can't defeat the sea. But you can work with it.

We will reshape the seaward side of the reserve, creating new salt marshes and mudflats to absorb the power of the sea and protect the precious freshwater marsh and reedbed.

So as not to disturb the reserve wildlife, this massive and innovative project can only be carried out between August and October. We expect the work to take two years, but once finished, we'll have created freshwater reedbeds that will become a wonderful new refuge for the wildlife that rely on this special habitat. Click the title for more information.

Images above common snipe showed very well from one of the hides, many of the robins at Titchwell are so confiding, allowing excellent views

Monday, 16 March 2009

Holehaven Creek

A glorious day for my monthly survey of the water birds in Holehaven Creek, temperature rose to a dizzy 17 c!

Highlights of the count were Black-tailed Godwit 1,380 and 3 Bar-tailed Godwit also 397 Curlew.

My personal highlight was this cracking male Wheatear on the seawall, this is my earliest ever recorded in the UK, my previous earliest was last year at RSPB Rainham Marshes on March 19. I have been recording my own earliest summer migrant dates since 1985, are things changing? Is spring getting earlier? Wheatears seem to think so!

Also seen on the seawall was my first Common Lizard of the year.

Signs Of Spring

Another glorious day at Wat Tyler Country Park, the Violets are now flowering adding a splash of early spring colour. Also saw two Brimstone butterflies, a Comma and one Red Admiral.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Vange Marsh

On the reserve today were single Comma and Red Admiral butterflies near the wood yard entrance. Out on the marsh a pair of Great Crested Grebes were displaying while a third adult looked a little left out!

Five Avocet and two Curlew were seen along with 3 Mute Swan, 21 Wigeon, 16 Shoveler, 5 Pochard a drake Tufted Duck and a pair of Little Grebe.

A Grey Wagtail flew over calling and two Cetti’s Warbler were singing. Two Green Sandpiper were in the saline lagoon.