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It turned out to be a sunny but breezy day. After a quick introduction to the island and the habitat work being done by the RSPB the group stopped briefly to watch Little Grebe and Coot chicks with their parents in the borrowdyke by the car park and then headed out on the Marsh Trail.
Our first Avocets and Little Egrets showed well by the main sluice and Common Terns passed close by, hunting small fish in the pools. A distant pair of Little Ringed Plovers proved hard to see even with scopes but a nice male Reed Bunting gave good views and several Yellow Wagtails bounced their way overhead with thin ‘Sweee’ calls.
Yellow Wagtail by David Lee
We stopped by the viewing screens overlooking Grass Farm lagoon and the low islands which provide safe nesting sites within the enclosing anti-predator fence/ditch. Here huge numbers of Black-headed Gulls, many with well grown chicks, provided a noisy backdrop to a few pairs of Mediterranean Gulls resplendent with their jet black hoods, pure white wing tips and thick, bright red bills. Their distinctive cat like “Miaow” calls standing out against the more raucous Black-headed Gulls. Nearby the colony a single adult Herring Gull and its near relative the Lesser Black-backed Gull provided an ideal comparison though both were subject to much abuse from the smaller gulls.
Common Terns were also sitting on nests here and Avocets were everywhere, shepherding the many tiny chicks busily feeding in the shallow waters. Another Little Ringed Plover, much closer this time on the near lagoon, and a few distant Shelduck completed the scene. Yet another Little Ringed Plover then showed off in display flight over the Acresfleet pools clearly showing the plain wings that help distinguish it from its larger relative, Ringed Plover, which has a clear pale wing bar in flight.
We moved on to view the works now being progressed as the final phase of habitat creation on the island. This involves the creation of a series of large shallow saline lagoons like saltpans where the south fields currently are. The heavy machinery was evidently making good progress in building the additional dykes and bunds required and it is expected this phase of work will be completed by the end of September and the pools flooded.
A Meadow Pipit proved hard to find here teasing us with distinctive ‘sisip’ calls but Corn Buntings were easier, squeezing out their jangling song from every available song post. Skylarks continued to serenade all around us and we were rarely out of earshot of one or more of these impressive songsters. A Brown Hare gave great views here, the black ear tips standing out even as it moved through the tall grass.
A Peregrine Falcon flew out from the haystack and perched further out on the fields, always a good bird to find though more regular in winter. A distant hovering Kestrel and a nice male Marsh Harrier hunting further out over the fields added to our birds of prey tally. It was noticeable how the harrier particularly used the wind to hang and drift over the fields. Although none of these species actually breed on the island they use it extensively to hunt to feed growing families elsewhere.
Climbing the sea wall the strength of the wind was more evident and it was difficult to keep scopes steady. From here we saw an Emperor Dragonfly fighting the breeze to quarter the edges of a small pool whilst the freshwater ‘Triangle’ pools were busy with more Avocets and their chicks, some Lapwings including a well grown youngster, Redshank and an unexpected treat in four breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwits. It is difficult at this time of year to assess whether these latter were still heading north to remote breeding sites or perhaps failed breeders moving back south. The extent of chestnut plumage on the underparts indicated these were of the Icelandic breeding population (sub species ‘islandica’) which move north quite late to arrive as snow melts on their breeding grounds.
Redshank by David Lee
A very nice male Linnet was spotted by some of the group impressed by the beautiful pinky red breast patches and several small groups of Stock Doves were flying around. Across the Triangle a distant pair of Mute Swans had cygnets in tow and Greylag and Canada Geese and Shelduck were gathered on the far pools.
The high tide showed off Jubilee Marsh to great effect with the newly created landform sculpted from the London Clay brought in from Crossrail’s tunneling operations, over 3.2 million tonnes of it! The natural looking estuarine landscape and rich saltmarsh communities building up are in stark contrast to the bare agricultural monoculture that had preceded it and an interesting comparison to the Allfleets compensatory habitat to the north with its simple two level, mud flat and saltmarsh, construction.
Swallows flew around the conveyor system that had been used to bring in the material offloaded from boats docked at the purpose built jetty. Our walk back along the public footpath on the sea wall yielded great views across to Burnham on Crouch and a vocal Reed Warbler clearly heard from a small patch of Phragmites despite the wind.
As we returned to the car park another Little Grebe and its brood gave good views, at least when they were on the surface!
Thanks to all participants for their donations to RSPB funds and for providing entertaining company on a productive walk.
Jeff and Gwyn Delve
RSPB Wallasea Walk Leaders
PS as we left a female Marsh Harrier, all dark brown with a pale head and wings in heavy moult, was hunting over the wild bird cover area on the left – I hope some of you saw it too.