Trip reports

Wat Tyler CP, West Canvey RSPB & Two Tree Island, Essex on Saturday, 29 March 2014

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

During our first visit to this part of Essex in March 2013, our enjoyment had been tempered a little by a bitter north-easterly wind and fierce snow showers, weather typical of that yearˇ¦s cold winter and spring. This year, on a similar date, but after an exceptionally mild winter, our party (of seven) followed an almost identical route around the same three venues but under a blue sky and with temperatures pushing 20„aC. In spite of the contrasting conditions, todayˇ¦s bird list ended up quite similar, in both number (around 70 species) and content, to that of last year, though there were a few notable exceptions.

We reached our first stop, Wat Tyler Country Park, just south of Basildon, early enough to avoid the crowds (though we did meet them before leaving!) and took a couple of hours in walking the southern part of the park perimeter. We straightaway noticed one change from 2013 - Cettiˇ¦s Warblers were singing everywhere! However, the Rookery away to the east was again very busy and Spotted Redshank were once more feeding in Vange Creek (though now there were four as against last yearˇ¦s three!). Other species found again hereabouts today included Avocet, Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Curlew and Reed Bunting, while both Grey Heron and Little Egret could be seen further off, on Vange Marsh. Chiffchaff and Blackcap - both absent last year - were now singing from the thickets a little further on, and then, concluding our visit to the park at the large hide overlooking Pitseahall Fleet, we enjoyed searching out two (or were there three?!) particularly cryptic Common Snipe, with a flock of Pochard, the odd Gadwall, and a Great Crested Grebe in the background.

It was around noon when we moved on to West Canvey Marshes, an RSPB reserve with three (backless) hides but no other facilities, where we made an out-and-back walk of about a mile each way across flat grassy fields as far as East Haven Creek. Our route passed two substantial pools, one of them 100s of metres in length, where ducks included Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Tufted Duck, and two Mediterranean Gulls were again present (at precisely the same spot as last year) in addition to all five commoner laridae. Skylarks were singing constantly overhead as we walked and a female Marsh Harrier was seen quartering the marshes near the creek - but no short-eared owl this time! It would have been unimaginable during the 2013 visit, but butterflies were on the wing in the sunshine today (good numbers of Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell, as well as a couple of Comma) and, furthermore, reptiles had also been tempted out of hibernation, pathside sightings comprising a female Adder, a Slow-worm and close to a score of Common Lizards.

We rounded off our day at Two Tree Island, near Leigh-on-Sea, where, with only limited time available, we walked the southern shore line to the lagoons at the western tip of the island. With the tide low, most of the waders from the lagoon roost had dispersed out onto the very extensive intertidal mud flats of the Thames Estuary, leaving just a large, noisy, pre-breeding gathering of Black-headed Gulls and a few Avocet behind. A scan over the mud (and of the sky when a Peregrine appeared!) revealed Black-tailed Godwit (c200, many in breeding garb), Golden Plover (scores), Grey Plover (10+) and Brent Geese (c6, as against 200-plus in 2013), but there was no sign of last yearˇ¦s sizeable Knot and Dunlin flocks. The walk back along the northern shore produced an unexpected small party of Corn Buntings, half a dozen Meadow Pipits overhead and a single Redwing. By this time a breeze has sprung up and the temperature had dropped to a level more reminiscent of 2013 - so we headed for home!
John Parish

One immature Great Black-backed Gull at West Canvey was fitted with a coded orange ring on one leg. It had been ringed over two years earlier at Pitsea landfill site so hadnˇ¦t travelled far. John Birkett