This is a sort-of trip report, covering the few days I have recently spent back in my natal home area in south-east Essex, where I managed to get out most days with the aid of birding friends from ‘SOG’, the ‘Southend Ornithological Group’.
The areas I went to were all within the ‘SOG’ recording area which is the south-east of Essex limited by the Thames Estuary in the south and east, the River Crouch to the north and the RSPB Vange Marshes to the west.
I apologise in advance for the quality of the photos - most taken in semi-dark conditions.
Day 1 – Wednesday 23rd January 2013, Cloud 8/8; No wind; 2ºC
Birding started on the way to my parents’ house in Benfleet. I had to make a bus change at Rayleigh, a place where I knew a few days previously a group of Waxwings had been seen. Walking around in the ice and snow for half an hour soon made me realize how winters in the UK were certainly different to what I am used to in Spain. Still, the cold was soon made up for when I saw a group of 32 Waxwings trilling to each other on telephone wires. They didn’t stay long, but long enough for some good views to be had even though it was against grey skies. With the Waxwings were a couple of Fieldfares, birds not always easy to see in the south-east of Essex, so all in all a very good start to my trip.
Part of the group of Waxwings seen
In the afternoon I had to go to Shoeburyness, so I made the most of it by walking to the East Beach and around the coast through Gunners Park (where both Long-tailed Duck and Common Scoter had recently been seen), along to Southend. Apart from just generally wanting to see what birds were about, I was particularly interested to see if there might be any Snow Buntings around. The local bird alert network, SOGnet* wasn’t reporting any, so I’d have to be very lucky to find any. If they were around, Shoebury East Beach and the beach running from south Shoebury through to Southend pierhead are the most likely spots. In the event, there were no Snow Buntings, but in my two hour walk, I did manage to see some of the typical winter birds of the area, including Brent Geese, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwits, Lapwings, Fieldfare and Redwing.
Due to the cold, some birds were allowing close approach - here a Lapwing...
... and here Oystercatcher and Redshank
Bird species seen day 1, 36 (running total 36)
Magpie - (Pica pica) - Urraca
Black-headed Gull - (Larus ridibundus) - Gaviota Reidora
Carrion Crow - (Corvus conrone) - Corneja Común
House Sparrow – (Passer domesticus) – Gorrión Común
Collared Dove – (Streptopelia decaocto) – Tórtula Turca
Starling – (Sturnus vulgaris) – Estornino Pinto
Woodpigeon – (Columba palumbus) – Paloma Torcaz
Waxwing – (Bombycilla garrulous) - Ampelis
Fieldfare – (Turdus pilaris) – Zorzal Real
Robin – (Erithacus rubecula) – Petirrojo Europeo
Blue Tit – (Parus caeruleus) – Herrerillo Común
Long-tailed Tit – (Aegithalus caudatus) - Mito
Great Tit – (Parus major) – Carbonero Común
Jackdaw – (Corvus monedula) - Grajilla
Redwing – (Turdus iliacus) – Zorzal Alirrojo
Songthrush – (Turdus philomelos) – Zorzal Común
Redshank – (Tringa totanus) – Archibebe Común
Lapwing – (Vanellus vanellus) – Avefría Europea
Oystercatcher – (Haematopus ostralegus) – Ostrero Euroasiático
Common Gull – (Larus canus) – Gaviota Cana
Great Black-backed Gull – (Larus marinus) – Gavión Atlántico
Lesser Black-backed Gull – (Larus fuscus) – Gaviota Sombría
Herring Gull – (Larus argentatus) – Gaviota Argéntea
Brent Goose – (Branta bernicla) – Barnacla Carinegra
Dunnock – (Prunella modularis) – Acentor Común
Blackbird – (Turdus merula) – Mirlo Común
Dunlin – (Calidris alpina) – Correlimos Común
Curlew – (Numenius arquata) – Zarapito Real
Bar-tailed Godwit – (Limosa lapponica) – Aguja Colipinta
Knot – (Calidris canutus) – Correlimos Gordo
Turnstone – (Arenaria interpres) – Vuelvapiedras Común
Grey Plover – (Pluvialis squatarola) – Chorlito Gris
Mute Swan – (Cygnus olor) – Cisne Vulgar
Moorhen – (Gallinula chloropus) – Gallineta Común
Mallard – (Anas platyrhynchos) – Ánade Azulón
Pied Wagtail – (Motacilla alba yarrellii) – Lavandera Blanca (yarrellii)
Day 2 – Thursday 24th January 2013, Cloud 8/8; No wind; 4ºC
A late start today, with SOG* member John Wright, to the RSPB Wat Tyler park, where over the past few days a 3cy Caspian Gull had seen on the ice at the pool there, a species I’d never seen since it was split from Yellow-legged Gull. John had already seen the gull on a previous occasion and so knew exactly what to look out for. And probably just as well, as when I saw the gull, it did look slightly distinct from a Herring Gull, with a very white head and small eye, and slightly longer legged. But in all honesty, if I’d seen it on my own, I’m not sure I’d be certain that it was Caspian, or just a variation of a Herring Gull. Other birds of interest seen at the pool there were 20 Gadwall, a drake Wigeon and a Marsh Harrier, and at the nearby creek, a couple of Common Snipe, around 35 Canada Geese, a group of more than 50 Wigeon and several Common Teal.
Spot the Caspian Gull! - it's the one facing in the centre - most uninspiring!
Another shot over the fleet at Wat Tyler - with Gadwall, Coots and Gulls
And more gulls on one of the islands
From here we went on to the RSPB Vange Marsh reserve, looking for a Water Pipit and Redpoll that had been reported earlier in the week. The pools here were also almost totally frozen over, and although we searched the area well, there was no sign of the Redpoll and the only pipit we saw was of the Meadow variety. Birds that were present were a colour ringed adult Mediterranean Gull, a pair of Pintail, 20+ Wigeon and 50+ Teal.
From here we moved over to the east of Essex, to the Lion Creek and Lower Raypits reserve, where a group of Bewicks’ Swans had been seen over the past few days in a group of Mute Swans on a farm field. This time we were lucky (although only just in time), in that the farmer was scaring the swans from the field (apparently they flatten the rapeseed) – we got to see the 7 Bewicks in flight and followed them flying to nearby Canewdon. Also seen there was a hunting Barn Owl, flying along a ditch, seen to swoop down and after a few minutes fly up and off with some small mammal.
Our last port of call was the RSPB reserve of Wallasea Island, with two other SOG* members, Paul Baker and Don Petrie. This island, which has been an RSPB reserve for a number of years now, has built up a reputation for holding birds rarely seen elsewhere. Here, amongst other birds we had 13 Yellowhammers and probably more than 500 Corn Buntings. Raptors seen were a male Marsh Harrier, a male and ringtail Hen Harrier, and a Short-eared Owl, all hunting over the ‘field bird table’ (an area left aside and planted with seed-bearing plants specifically for the birds, which is where the Corn Buntings now feed). On the way back home, now that it was getting dark, we stopped off at the village of Paglesham where we ended the day watching a Little Owl.
Bird species seen day 2, 28 (running total 64)
Gadwall – (Anas strepera) – Ánade Friso
Wigeon – (Anas penelope) – Silbón Europeo
Caspian Gull – (Larus cachinnans) – Gaviota Caspia
Water Rail – (Rallus aquaticus) – Rascón Europeo
Marsh Harrier – (Circus aeruginosus) – Aguilucho Lagunero
Shoveler – (Anas clypeata) – Cuchara Común
Teal – (Anas crecca) – Cerceta Común
Little Grebe – (Tachybaptus ruficollis) – Zampullín Común
Rook – (Corvus frugilegus) - Graja
Coot – (Fulica atra) – Focha Común
Common Snipe – (Gallinago gallinago) – Agachadiza Común
Canada Goose – (Branta Canadensis) – Barnacla Canadiense
Meadow Pipit – (Anthus pratensis) – Bisbita Pratense
Mediterranean Gull – (Larus melanocephalus) – Gaviota Cabecinegra
Reed Bunting – (Emberiza schoeniclus) – Escribano Palustre
Pintail – (Anas acuta) – Ánade Rabudo
Bewick’s Swan – (Cygnus columbianus) – Cisne Chico
Barn Owl – (Tyto alba) – Lechuza Común
Little Egret – (Egretta garzetta) – Garceta Común
Hen Harrier – (Circus cyaneus) – Aguilucho Pálido
Short-eared Owl – (Asio flammeus) – Búho Campestre
Corn Bunting – (Miliaria calandra) - Triguero
Yellowhammer – (Emberiza citrinella) – Escribano Cerillo
Skylark – (Alauda arvensis) – Alondra Común
Shelduck – (Tadorna tadorna) – Tarro Blanco
Little Owl – (Athene noctua) – Mochuelo Europeo
Red-legged Partridge – (Alectoris rufa) – Perdiz Roja
Pheasant – (Phasianus colchicus) – Faisán Vulgar
Day 3 – Friday 25th January 2013, Cloud 8/8; No wind; 4ºC
Today, together with SOG* members John Wright and Don Petrie, I went again to Shoeburyness East-beach for a seawatch. The day started very well as while waiting for them to pick me up, I had a Green Woodpecker digging in my parents back garden for about 15 minutes, and a Jay fly over.
In my parents back garden, while waiting for my lift
On the way to the seawatch site, just outside Gunners Park, we had a group of about 15 Waxwings in a tree, but by the time we had parked and returned, the birds had gone, and although we covered the area for another 20 minutes, we couldn’t relocate the birds.
We spent about 50 minutes seawatching (until we couldn’t bear the cold anymore), during which time of note we saw 2 Eider (females or immatures), a Shag (which seems to have taken up winter residence there), 4 Common Scoter flying upriver, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Greylag Geese seen to come across the Thames, then go back partway across to Kent, return again and eventually fly off west.
Then after a quick stop off at Friars Park in Shoeburyness, where 3 male Mandarin Ducks have taken up residence (and where we also saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker), we went on to Paglesham Lagoon, a known local spot for winter wildfowl, where apart from Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Pochard, we had several Goldeneye and a male Scaup. We were very lucky in that presumably due to the cold weather, on the way to the lagoon, we had flushed both Jack Snipe and Woodcock, and on the way back a Common Snipe. Also seen around the lagoon were a couple each of both Goldcrest and Chiffchaff. On the nearby river Roach with the tide going out, we had around 400 Wigeon, 200+ Brent Geese and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers (2 males and a female).
The highlight of Pag.Lag. - a male Scaup
General view of Paglesham Lagoon - note the snow on the fields - it WAS cold!
We then went on to the RSPB’s Wallasea Island reserve again, where again we had numbers of Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers, plus Golden Plovers, Lapwings, Stock Doves and a Mistle Thrush, and amongst the raptors, a male Marsh Harrier, 3 Hen Harriers (2 ringtails together and an adult male), Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.
To finish off the day as it was dusk we thought we’d call in at Hadleigh Downs in the hope of hearing (or even better seeing) a Tawny Owl. We had no luck with this, but did see Woodcock and a couple of Foxes.
Bird species seen day 3, 31 (running total 95)
Green Woodpecker – (Picus viridis) – Pito Real
Jay – (Garrulus glandarius) – Arrendajo Común
Eider – (Somateria mollissima) – Eider Común
Shag – (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) – Cormorán Moñudo
Ringed Plover – (Charadrius hiaticula) – Chorlitejo Grande
Sanderling – (Calidris alba) – Correlimos Tridáctilo
Peregrine – (Falco peregrinus)- Halcón Peregrino
Red-throated Diver – (Gavia stellata) – Colimbo chico
Graylag Goose – (Anser anser) – Ánsar Común
Common Scoter – (Melanitta nigra) – Negrón Común
Mandarin Duck – (Aix galericulata) – Pato Mandarín
Great Spotted Woodpecker – (Dendrocopos major) – Pico Picapinos
Jack Snipe – (Lymnocryptes minimus) – Agachadiza Chica
Woodcock – (Scolopax rusticola) – Choca Perdiz
Chiffchaff – (Phylloscopus collybita) – Mosquitero Común
Goldcrest – (Regulus regulus) – Reyezuelo Sencillo
Pochard – (Aythya ferina) – Porrón Europeo
Tufted Duck – (Aythya fuligula) – Porrón Moñudo
Goldeneye – (Bucephala clangula) – Porrón Osculado
Grey Heron – (Ardea cinerea) – Garza Real
Scaup – (Aythya marila) – Porrón Bastardo
Red-breasted Merganser – (Mergus serrator) – Serreta Mediana
Cormorant – (Phalacrocorax carbo) – Cormorán Grande
Golden Plover – (Pluvialis apricaria) – Chorlito Dorado Europeo
Chaffinch – (Fringilla coelebs) – Pinzón Vulgar
Goldfinch – (Carduelis carduelis) - Jilguero
Stock Dove – (Columba oenas) – Paloma Zurita
Sparrowhawk – (Accipiter nisus) – Gavilán Común
Kestrel – (Falco tinnunculus) – Cernícalo Vulgar
Wren – (Troglodytes troglodytes) – Chocín Común
Mistle Thrush – (Turdus viscivorus) – Zorzal Charlo
Day 4 – Sunday 27th January 2013, Cloud 1/8; Wind NW F2-3; 11ºC
Today, a nice sunny and relatively warm day I went with a couple of SOG* members, Paul Griggs and Steve Arlow to do a seawatch from Southend Pier for the couple of hours leading up to high tide. Southend Pier, famed for being the longest pier in the world (at 1 ¼ miles or 2km. long), has long been a famed seawatching point in south Essex, jutting out as it does into the mouth of the Thames estuary. When I first began birding in the 1970’s, Mediterranean Gull was a rarity in Essex, requiring a rarity description when reported to the county recorders, but over the years they have become more and more common, with their stronghold being at the end of the pier. So as we got off the train at the far end of the pier, we were greeted with the sight of at least 15 Med. Gulls perched on posts or flying around the pierhead, and a group of around 70 Turnstones running around the decks, some waiting for people to drop crumbs for them to feed.
Also around the pierhead were at least 5 Guillemots (together with two Common Seals), and in the 3 hours spent seawatching we saw at least 2 Red-throated Divers (one a flypast and another which floated around the pierhead), an immature Great Northern Diver (which eventually also came reasonably close). Although there wasn’t a massive movement of birds, there was a large group of mixed gulls (Greater Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Common and Black-headed) in the centre of the estuary, and we saw around 16 Great Crested Grebes and a single group of 8 Common Scoters. Leaving just after high-tide, the number of Med.Gulls had increased to more than 25, and Turnstone to more than 90, but unfortunately there was no sign of Purple Sandpiper which occasionally get in the roosting flock and which I particularly wanted to see.
Some years there are none, others lots - this has been one of the better winters for Guillemots
These days ever present - Mediterranean Gull
Not often seen well in flight - Great Crested Grebe
I've never seen the Turnstones so tame!
Out in the Thames, a Great Northern Diver with a snack!
General photo looking back from the pierhead, showing the Turnstone and Med. Gull roosts
And out and around the pierhead, a pair of Common Seals
As the tide reaches high-tide, the posts get covered in Mediterranean Gulls...
...and the old lifeboat slipway gets covered in Turnstones
LOL - that was a good one!
A closer look at the gull roost
Bird species seen day 4, 5 (running total 100)
Greenfinch – (Carduelis chloris) – Verderón Común
Rock Dove – (Columba livia) – Paloma Bravía
Great Crested Grebe – (Podiceps cristatus) – Somormujo Lavanco
Guillemot – (Uria aalge) – Arao Común
Great Northern Diver – (Gavia immer) – Colimbo Grande
Day 5 – Monday 28th January 2013, Cloud 0/8; Wind SW F1; 11ºC
Today as the weather forecast was for good weather in the morning but breaking in the afternoon, I went with SOG* members John Wright, Don Petrie and Paul Baker to look for some woodland birds, in Hockley Woods, just outside Southend. This is one of the few woods in S.E.Essex that has all the resident woodpeckers, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Goldcrest, and with the faint possibility of Coal Tit (very rare in this part of Essex) and Firecrest. Although it was windless with blue skies and very mild, all the paths were very muddy from recent snow melting and rain, which was advantageous to us in that there weren’t many people around.
As regards the birds, we did very well, with at least 5 Treecreepers, a single Nuthatch, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, several Goldcrests and Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, and the real crème de la crème, while we were watching the Nuthatch, Paul latched onto the call of a Coal Tit, which came and flew over us and started singing. A really top bird, as none had been seen in the SOG* recording area for the last 18 months. And then, just to put the icing on the cake, as we changed out of our rubber boots in the carpark John noticed a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the top of a close tree, which we watched well for a couple of minutes as it moved from treetop to treetop.
Today was woodland day - (Northern) Treecreeper
A couple of shots of Coal Tit
And lastly, Great Spotted Woodpecker
While we were in the woods, we also saw a couple of mammal species, Grey Squirrel and Muntjac Deer.
As we felt we were on a roll, we decided to go on to Southend Pier where I had been yesterday, hoping to see the Great Northern Diver, but the weather prediction was right – we got there and the cloud and wind came in and we spent a couple of hours seeing very little (16 + Med. Gulls, 3 + Guillemots, 90 + Turnstone and out at sea 3 Great Crested Grebes and an unidentified diver) and getting very cold. Giving up, we returned to the centre of Southend itself to see a pair of Peregrines.
Back on the Pier, more of the same - Mediterranean Gulls,....
... and roosting Turnstones
Bird species seen day 5, 4 (running total 104)
Treecreeper – (Certhia familiaris) – Agateador Norteño
Nuthatch – (Sitta europaea) – Trepador Azul
Coal Tit – (Parus ater) – Carbonero Garrapinos
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – (Dendrocopos minor) – Pico Menor
Day 6 – Tuesday 29th January 2013, Cloud 8/8 and some showers; Wind SW F1-2; 11ºC
Today I went with SOG* member John Wright to have another look at the Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea. We started at Timbermans Creek where the tide was out and where Spotted Redshanks had been recently seen. We hadn’t seen them on Thursday when we were there as the tide had been too high so we were having another go. This time we were lucky as we had at least 5 of them. Looking over to Fobbing marsh we could see large numbers of gulls on the pools in the fields and many Canadian Geese with a single Snow Goose in their midst.
We moved on to the hide overlooking the fleet in the hope of seeing a Bittern which had occasionally been seen there. Although we stayed there for an hour and a half, we were unlucky with the Bittern, but did see at least 9 Common Snipe, a group of 6 Ruff, Green Sandpiper, plus several hundred Lapwing all roosting on the low islands, and many Gadwall, Tufted Ducks, Pochard and Wigeon in the fleet itself. In the reedbeds, we heard snatches of both Cettis Warbler song and Bearded Tit calls. Also coming in to wash and drink was a constant stream of gulls from the nearby refuse tip.
Roosting Lapwings with a few Ruff on the point of the island
In the early afternoon, as John had heard of a possible Red-necked Grebe in the River Crouch between North and South Fambridge the day before, we took a trip over there at high tide. Although we didn’t have any luck with the Grebe, we did see an unseasonal Common Sandpiper, and a species I hadn’t seen for over a year, Rock Pipit. Also in the flooded fields alongside the seawall were several hundred Lapwings and even more Golden Plovers. Across the river in fields in North Fambridge, we could see large numbers of Brent Geese plus a small group of 7 Greylag Geese with a smaller goose with them (possibly the White-fronted Goose that had been seen on and off from there over the winter), and another small flock of Barnacle Geese.
Bird species seen day 6, 9 (running total 113)
Black-tailed Godwit – (Limosa limosa) – Aguja Colinegra
Spotted Redshank – (Tringa erythropus) – Archibebe Oscuro
Green Sandpiper – (Tringa ochropus) – Andarríos Grande
Ruff – (Philomachus pugnax) - Combatiente
Cettis Warbler (H) – (Cettia cettia) – Ruiseñor Bastardo
Bearded Tit (H) – (Panurus biarmicus) - Bigotudo
Common Sandpiper – (Actitis hypoleucos) – Andarríos Chico
Rock Pipit – (Anthus petrosus) – Bisbita Costero
Barnacle Goose – (Branta leucopsis) – Barnacla Cariblanca
Day 7 – Wednesday 30th January 2013, Cloud 4/8; Wind SW F1-2 gusting 4; 11oC
Today I went out over to some woodlands close to my parents home in Benfleet, Benfleet Downs. I was particularly looking for Bullfinches, a species that since my days ringing in the same area, have dropped dramatically in numbers - so much so that they are virtually considered rarities in the local area, although a pair are now regularly seen on the Downs. As seems to be the general case in the area, there were plenty of the larger woodland birds – Carrion Crows, Magpies, Jays, Woodpigeons – but the smaller birds were noticeable by their absence. There were a few Dunnocks, Robins, Wrens, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, but the only obvious finches were a couple of flocks of about a dozen birds each, of Goldfinches, and no Buntings at all.
As I’ve mentioned I was particularly looking for Bullfinches as I don’t get to see them in Spain. I spent about an hour in the area I had been told they should be, but without any luck, so I thought I’d best check with a local birder, Don Petrie, to make sure I was in the right area. So after a quick phone call to confirm where they are normally seen, I did another circuit of the area, and this time I was in luck, hearing a bird and then have a superb male land in a tree in front of me and a female in a nearby tree. I just about had enough time to get my binoculars on them before they were off again, with a third bird that I hadn’t noticed before. They seemed to fly quite high but I didn’t think they’d go too far, so I went along a stream (which was more like a river today) in search of them. After walking about 5 minutes I heard the call again and eventually found the bird, the female, but again it didn’t hang around and so I left it at that. Other animals seen were a Red Fox and Grey Squirrel, and very surprisingly considering the wind and time of year, a Bumble Bee!
One of the few smaller birds seen - Dunnock
Bumble Bee - they must have a strong constitution to be out in the cold and wind!
Some general views of this part of Essex
Looking over from the Downs to the east end of Canvey Island
And looking over to the Canvey West RSPB reserve
Another of the small birds about - Long-tailed Tit
Bird species seen day 7, 1 (running total 114)
Bullfinch – (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) – Camachuelo Común
Day 8 – Thursday 31st January 2013, Cloud 2-6-1/8; Wind SW F2 gusting 5; 10ºC
Today the weather forecast was for sunny spells with possible sharp, heavy showers and a strong wind blowing, and that’s how it turned out to be. I was joined today by SOG* members John Wright, Paul Baker and Don Petrie, plus Paul Griggs who I first started birding with 40 years ago. As we had had such a good day in Hockley Woods the other day and the woods tend to suppress the wind, (and some of our group needed some of the birds for their yearlists), we went back to Hockley. We were lucky again with Nuthatch and Treecreeper, but there was no sign of the Coal Tit or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and we had our only bad weather break there, with a 10 minute quite heavy rainshower. Another bird we particularly wanted to see was Firecrest, and so we went through to the back of the woods where there are numerous holly bushes and trees, but although we found numerous Goldcrests, there was neither sight nor sound of Firecrest. We were finally making our way back to the carpark (Paul Baker and Don Petrie had gone on ahead as their carpark ticket was running out), when we spotted a Goldcrest in a holly bush, and on investigation we saw a group of tits in another nearby holly bush with Goldcrests, and a single Firecrest!
One of the Goldcrests seen
Always on the lookout for easy pickings, a Jay
Also ever present, the Grey Squirrel
From Hockley we moved on to the river Crouch at South Fambridge as the tide was coming up. We were particularly looking for a Water Pipit which had been seen in the area on and off since December. Although the wind was gusting strongly, we walked (got blown) east along the river and after about 10 minutes had a passerine fly up from the sea wall. A Songthrush. Not the bird we were looking for! But a further 10 minutes along the wall another smaller passerine leapt up from the base of the sea wall and flew west. It was so windy it took a while to pass us so we got very good views of it. It eventually landed behind us about 30 yards away on a rock, and melted away – this time it WAS the bird we were looking for, Water Pipit. On our walk back to the car, we saw a large flock of 500+ Brent Geese rise up from behind the seawall on the other side of the river together with at least 8 Greylag Geese and 20+ Curlew, and also another flock of 200+ Lapwing, so we presumed some predator must have been passing by.
Always spectacular when a large group gets up - Brent Geese
View looking across the River Crouch
As the tide was coming in, we made our way down to Two Tree Island, between Canvey Island and Leigh-on-Sea, the western end of which is a lagoon with small islands in it where at high tide many waders gather. We were joined there by another SOG* member, Mike Bailey. Getting there more or less at the top of the tide, the hide overlooking the lagoon was quite busy with birdwatchers, and when we finally got ourselves sat down, we could see that the lagoon was also busy. Flocks of various waders such as Knot and Dunlin flying about, Black-tailed Godwits, around 15 Common Snipe, Avocet, Turnstone, groups of Redshanks, 4 Greenshank together, Lapwings, plus numbers of Shelduck, Common Teal, Wigeon and a couple of Shoveler. We were entertained for a while by the antics of a large female Peregrine in Benfleet Creek, which was hunting and was then harassed by Carrion Crows.
View over the west end of Two Tree Island with Hadleigh Downs in the distance
And the east end of Two Tree Island
From the west end of the island, we walked through to the east end where I was hoping to see the large group of Brent Geese that normally congregate there, but all we saw were 9 of these geese plus 7 Pintail.
Bird species seen day 8, 4(running total 118)
Firecrest – (Regulus ignicapilla) – Reyezuelo Listado
Water Pipit – (Anthus spinoletta) – Bisbita Alpino
Greenshank – (Tringa nebularia) – Archibebe Claro
Linnet – (Carduelis cannabina) – Pardillo Común
Day 9 – Friday1st February 2013, Cloud 8/8 and light rain a.m., sunny spells p.m. Wind W F0-1; 8 - 7ºC
My last full day in Essex. With rain forecast until midday, I had arranged for a late start (10 a.m.) with SOG* member John Wright to pick me up and go over to Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea, where we’d wait in the hide for the rain to stop, hoping to see the Bittern that’s there. When we got to the hide we found out from people there that we’d missed the Bittern by 15 minutes, but at least we knew where it’d gone back down in the reeds. So (hopefully) just a matter of sit and wait. Well we waited, and waited, and waited – and an hour and 25 minutes after arriving, we saw the bird! It flew up from where it was last seen flying into the reeds, crossed in front of us and dropped back down in some other reeds. Total time seen, approx. 15 to 20 seconds! But at least we’d seen it, close, and very well. We waited another 20 minutes in case it should show again, but by then we were getting cold so we paid a quick call in the (warm) RSPB visitors centre, to check if anything else had been seen, and also to see what their feeding centre was puling in. Well there were no other birds, and the feeding centre was full of Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches, a House Sparrow, a couple of Dunnock, Blackbirds and a very fat Grey Squirrel!
Very much just a record shot of the Bittern as it passed in front of the hide
More my type of birding! - watching the feeders from inside the warm RSPB information centre
Other birds seen on Pitseahall Fleet were Cormorant, Lapwings, Coots, Moorhens, Mallards, Shovelers, Gadwall, Pochards, Teal and Tufted Ducks, and another interesting sighting was of a Water Vole in front of the hide. As we left Wat Tyler we also had a Sparrowhawk fly by.
As by now the weather had cleared and there were some sunny periods, we went through to the RSPB reserve at Canvey West on Canvey Island. One of my favourite local reserves but I hadn’t yet got to go there and it was my last hope for a species I hadn’t yet seen on this trip, Stonechat. This reserve, up until about 9 years ago used to be a cattle farm, very wet in the winter and dry in the summer. Now, however it has a water movement system using windmills, so that the fields can be flooded at any time. This has had the result in bringing in many waterfowl, of which we saw 50+ Canada Geese, 2 Greylag Geese, 4 Mute Swans, numerous Coots and Moorhen, a single Great Crested Grebe, 2 Shelduck, 15 Shoveler, 12 Tufted Duck, 25+ Pochard, 20+ Mallard, 200+ Teal and 400+ Wigeon. I was quite surprised by the lack of small birds though – apart from a couple of Wrens calling at the beginning of the reserve and another on the Benfleet Creek seawall, a single Meadow Pipit, 2 Reed Buntings and 12 Sylarks, the only small passerines we saw were a group of around 75 Fieldfares with a couple Blackbirds and around 50 Starlings mixed in with the flock. That is, until on the way back to the car, having just watched a Short-eared Owl by the ‘Red Hill’, a male Stonechat appeared out of nowhere to be joined by another female bird. Result! Other birds seen this afternoon were Green Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, 25 Stock Doves, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Grey Heron and Little Egret.
Part of the Canvey West RSPB reserve
Some of the Wigeon in the flooded fields...
...and some more
Part of the flock of Fieldfare...
... they don't like you getting too close...
... or they'll scatter into the nearest hedgerow
And my last species of the trip - female Stonechat
Bird species seen, day 9, 2 (running total 120)
Bittern – (Botaurus stellaris) – Avetoro Común
Stonechat – (Saxicola torquatus) – Tarabilla Común
This ends my report for my visit to the UK. So just a note to acknowledge the help of the ‘Southend Ornithological Group’ (website address www.applerow.co.uk where up to date details of birds seen in the South-east Essex area can be found), and in particular John Wright (my chauffeur for the period), Don Petrie, Paul Baker, Paul Griggs and Mike Bailey for their help in locating many of the birds.