Trip reports

Fingringhoe Wick and Abberton Reservoir, Essex, on Sunday, 27 April, 2014

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

There seemed to be more Nightingales than ever singing at Fingringhoe Wick this year.....and somehow they sounded louder too! The first gave us good clear views within a minute of our leaving the visitor centre as he sang explosively from a hawthorn right beside the path, and many others combined to provide a constant tuneful backdrop as we explored the extensive bushy portion of this Essex Wildlife Trust reserve. Over the years we have tried a number of venues for late-April Nightingale-quests, but no other has seriously rivalled this site near Colchester. There is always much else to see here of course, and the stroll through the bushes today also yielded Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Bullfinch and a pair of Weasels, while a couple of Common Buzzards drifted over our heads and on across the adjacent River Colne. A visit to the cosy little hide overlooking the Scrape and a broad expanse of salt marsh beyond was also productive, with several Little Egrets, many Shelducks and a scattering of Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Curlews noted feeding or resting among the tidal runnels and a smart male Reed Bunting performing his simple little song right outside the window. Our raptor tally was boosted when a male Marsh Harrier floated across from the south, two big female Peregrines had a high-speed squabble overhead, and a pair of Kestrels quietly attended a nearby nest box. During visits to several other viewpoints, we were able to study mixed flocks of waders on the far bank of the Colne, thereby added Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlins to our list. A party of Great Crested Grebes were fishing in mid-channel and a lone tern flying downstream landed considerately on a nearby buoy, allowing its identification as an Arctic Tern to be confirmed. A picnic lunch near the visitor centre was spiced with views of Little Grebe, Pochard and Tufted Duck on one of the ancient gravel pits before we departed for an afternoon at Abberton Reservoir, half a dozen miles away to the west.

Extensive engineering works at Abberton over the past few years have raised the water level in the larger eastern section of the reservoir by more than 3m and most of the former concrete containing wall has been replaced by more gently angled 'soft' banks that will become attractive to waders in the future. The site of the former EWT visitor centre has been submerged and a very smart new centre provided on higher ground. Skylarks and Linnets and were seen outside this new centre; an Egyptian Goose, a flock of a dozen Whimbrel, single Greenshank, Little Ringed Plover and male Wheatear were found near two new waterside hides, and numerous Common Terns, a Sandwich Tern and groups of Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler were observed on or over the vast expanse of water. We then moved to the western end of the reservoir and spent time on the Layer Breton Causeway where water levels (and the extensive and busy Cormorant colony in well-whitewashed trees!) remain unchanged. Here we found a succession of brilliant male Yellow Wagtails along the edges of the causeway, heard and glimpsed a Cuckoo, saw the day's only Willow Warbler and were surprised at the sudden close-range appearance of a female Goldeneye, as Swallows and House and Sand Martins came and went, mainly high above the water. Our day's birding in north-east Essex finally ended, as it had begun, with a Nightingale enthralling us with his song, this time from a thicket at the end of the causeway. The day's bird list for our party of four had totalled 78 species!