June, 2010

South Essex

South Essex
A landscape of wetlands and marshes nestled along the Thames Estuary.

South Essex

  • What's Smart, Black and Spotty?

    Spotted redshanks, and there are now six on Vange Marsh! These elegant medium sized waders, are slightly larger than the redshank and in summer plumage, the adults, are almost entirely black, save for some white spotting on the wings, a white wedge on the back showing clearly in flight, and a barred tail. Also present on the marsh are six green sandpipers, two greenshanks, 15 lapwing and a dozen avocets. The drake garganey is still present and is in almost full eclipse plumage.

    Eclipse Plumage

    After breeding, ducks moult (replace the old, worn-out feathers with new ones). Ducks are peculiar in that they moult all their flight feathers at once. For about a month, they are flightless and very vulnerable to predators. 

    To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-coloured males, the moult starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females. This eclipse plumage is why in mid-summer, it seems that all the drakes have gone. 

    Once the flight feathers have regrown, the birds moult again, and by October the full colours have been regained and the various species of ducks are easily recognisable.

  • Return migration srarts early!

    Return migration often begins mid to late June and is most evident at this time with our wading birds. At Vange Marsh yesterday five spotted redshanks in their stunning full black summer plumage were present along with seven redshank, one greenshank and three green sandpipers. The first returning wading birds are almost always non-breeders, with failed breeders arriving in July and early August, with most birds passing through late August and September. Also seen were 13 lapwings, 27 avocet, 137 coots, 13 teal and still two wigeon. From the reed beds a cetti's warbler and four reed buntings were seen. At Wat Tyler Country Park the male cuckoo is still singing, our two cygnets are growing well and being well protected by their parents. We are still not sure how many kestrel chicks there are, but the male is providing a regular supply of food. Around the ponds the scarce emerald damselflies are now on the wing, along with both four-spotted and broad-bodied chasers. From the RSPB visitor centre up to three jays are regularly coming to the feeding area in the wildlife garden.

    The next dusk walk at Wat Tyler is on Tuesday 22 June, starting at 8.30 pm, places are filling fast so call 01268 498620 to book your place. On last weeks dusk walk a barn owl was seen hunting from the marina!

  • He stoops to conquer!

    Whilst showing members of Canvey Wildlife Group around Wat Tyler Country Park yesterday evening. A male peregrine was seen sitting on top of the nearest pylon from the marina, while we were watching him, he dropped from his vantage point, flew low and fast along the opposite hedgerow, flushing the starlings. He then rapidly gained height, folded back his wings and stooped at a lone starling over the creek. At the last moment the starling took evasive action and the peregrine missed this time. It all happened so fast! We then watched the peregrine circling in front of us, before returning to it's pylon, a cracking few minutes!

    Seen recently at Wat Tyler, a bearded tit in front of the scrape hide, while out on the scrape the pair of mute swans now have two cygnets. The spoonbill was last seen on Tuesday. Reed warblers are still singing from the reedbeds, while a cuckoo can be heard nearby. Blackcaps, whitethroats and chiffchaff can still be heard around the park, while a grass snake has been seen on more than one occasion in the pond beside our discovery zone. The pair of kestrels have young in their nestbox, the male has been seen bringing in prey items to the female, she can be seen tearing off pieces and feeding her chicks, who remain tantalisingly out of sight!

    On Vange Marsh the drake Garganey was again in the north-west corner and a nightingale continues to sing on the former county tip. Four green sandpipers were on the saline lagoon, along with redshank and avocet. A common tern was present on Wednesday, while a single drake wigeon is summering on the brackish lagoon.