Strange unbirdlike sounds coming from the reedbeds in winter, are a sure sign that water rails are present. Their distinctive calls are a mixture squeals, grunts and screams, likened to the sound of an agitated pig. Water rails have been heard at both Vange Marsh and Wat Tyler Country Park. Superb views of water rails can be seen on the tv screens in the RSPB visitor centre at Wat Tyler, as the birds feed along the edge of the reedbeds.
Water rail feeding Mike Richards rspb-images.com
Jack snipe another difficult to see bird, is the smallest of our snipes and prefers to feed in thick vegetation. They are often only seen when disturbed, they will sit tight, relying on their superb camouflage for protection, and only break cover once you are unknowingly right on top of them. They will rise suddenly and silently, flying only a short distance before plunging back in to cover. If you are lucky enough to come across one feeding they have a characteristic bobbing action as they feed, almost like their legs have been replaced by springs. Up to two have been seen recently along the eastern edge of the reedbed at Vange Marsh. The reedbed also has two pairs of bearded tits and a least one cetti's warbler.
A single tundra bean goose has been present all week amongst the greylag goose flock on Vange Wick. The birds are best viewed from the marina in Wat Tyler Country Park. The views across the reserve are spectacular, viewing from either the marina's raised viewpoint or the pillbox viewing platform in Wat Tyler Country Park your view will be filled with literally thousands of birds. The lush wet grassland and extensive wet areas attract flocks of grazing geese and ducks, with over a hundred wigeon currently present. The pools are a magnet for the 1000's of gulls which feed on the nearby landfill site and drop in to the reserve for a wash and rest. Although their rest is regularly disturbed either by the movement of the grey herons, or spectacularly by a hunting peregrine falcon, when just about every species will take to the air in an attempt to confuse the hunter. Lookout also for the hundreds of starlings, either feeding on the landfill or noisily sitting on the pylon wires above your head. They are regularly disturbed when feeding, and fly in flocks, wheeling and creating smoke like shapes, if they form a tight ball like shape, this is there defence against predators, look above the ball and you may see a sparrowhawk.
Drop in to the RSPB visitor centre this weekend, where Christmas cards and gifts will be on sale, and homemade cakes and a hot drink may tempt you to stay longer and look for water rails. As the edges of the scrape have become frozen, water rails are being seen by our CCTV cameras feeding along the reed edges. The live images are beamed back to our plasma screens for you to enjoy along with your tea and cakes, mmmmm delicious.
A new record of 19 Little Owls flew into the park this month for a morning packed full of wildlife based activities. The youngsters were learning all about autumn and hibernation, bringing the stories to life by getting out into the great outdoors and exploring it for themselves. They heard a story about Henry the hedgehog, built their own hedgehog hideaways and even created their own hedgehog to take away using salt dough and natural materials such as sticks and leaves. The Little Owls also took part in a leaf hunt to find as many different shaped leaves as possible and created some autumn artworks to take home and show to friends and family.
Little Owls is a club for children aged 5 and under and is continually increasing in popularity, with many returning month after month for the next installement. The group meets on the second Wednesday of every month from 10am-12pm so the next chance to get involved will be 8th December. The session costs £2 per child and there is no need to book a place, just turn up on the day. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01268 498629.
Picture 1 – Mia Pester discovering new things in the great outdoors
Picture 2 – Alasdair Watterston building his very own Henry Hedgehog
Picture 3 – Olivia Pitts creating an autumnal tree