Saturday 4 March 2023

Abberton and the Essex coast - 3rd March 2023

A day out:

A bespoke Essex day tour saw us meet at a spookily calm Abberton Reservoir at 9am.  A pair of Kingfishers were going loopy in the weir corner when I arrived with the male singing madly and trying to persuade the female to follow him while all the time Grey Herons in full breeding regalia engaged in a all out brawl in the tiny fringing reedbed with lots of guttural squawking and croaking. It was no wonder that the Kingfishers soon moved on to a quieter corner.

Grey Heron

Claire soon arrived and I had to explain that standing on the Layer Breton causeway with not a breath of wind was an unusual occurrence for her first ever visit and not to be fooled!  Two Great White Egrets were quickly seen and four were dotted around this end of the reservoir as we walked slowly towards the enclosed north west corner.  The first-winter male Smew was still around and preening near the wall but did not seem to have developed any more white head feathers while a similar aged and plumaged Goosander was having a good splash bath alongside it for useful comparison.

Great White Egret


The Cormorant colony was very vocal with other nests already taken by displaying Grey Herons and even high living Egyptian Geese that could be heard cackling over everything else.


Egyptian Geese

I could suddenly hear Ravens and a pair barrelled along the causeway low overhead kronking merrily and were my first for the site.  There is still always something very special about seeing this iconic bird. 


Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebes were found with both species displaying and the drake Baikal x Teal hybrid was as gaudy as ever. A medium grey backed large gull on the concrete apron had me stumped and at first I thought it was a 3w Yellow-legged Gull although it did not feel right.  I muted the idea that it could be a Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrid and some evening feedback from Dante seemed to confirm that with the structure and yellow eye ring taking it away from YLG.  An instructive bird. Claire asked during the day how I learn new things having been birding so long and this oddity was a perfect example that there is still so much to absorb.

Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrid 

Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrid 

Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrid 

From here we headed for West Mersea where I hoped that the high tide would have turned and would be drawing birds back out of the Blackwater.  There were a few spots of un-forecast rain as we parked up on the sea front but with a pretty flat river and flat light it gave us the opportunity to scan for divers and grebes.  At least three Great Northern Divers were seen and one gave excellent vies as it fed not to far off shore and it had a particularly big forehead bump.  A single Red-throated Diver whizzed out lifting its head up periodically but a third diver sat between the two species and had a very string Black-throated vibe but I lost it as it landed somewhere opposite Bradwell power station.  I counted over 40 Great Crested Grebes in both plumages but not one Slavonian which was a trifle disappointing and no Mergansers or sea duck but there were plenty of Brent Geese milling around and Red Kite and Marsh Harrier out hunting over distant Old Hall Marshes.  I did some landscape scene setting for Claire with St Peter's Chapel at Bradwell, the power station, Tollesbury and even the legendary Radio Caroline ship.

A Sanderling flew by and landed on our bit of beach and was joined by both first-winter and second-winter Med Gulls with the latter being especially smart with it delightfully mirrored primaries.

Med Gull, three Black-heads and the lone Sanderling

Med Gull

Med Gull

Med Gull

With the tide quickly dropping we looped around to East Mersea and parked up at Cudmore Grove for lunch.  A quick visit to the loos may have seen me taking pictures of the three March Moths inside – a new species for me!

March Moth

Great Spotted Woodpecker chipped in the trees behind and a small flock of Redwing flew through as we walked down through the meadow to the sea.  The tide was revealing fresh mud by the minute and flocks of Dunlin were scattered across it with odd Redshank, big eyed Grey Plovers, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Curlews all doing their bit to reduce the worm populations.  The views back to the Blackwater were excellent and more scanning produced more Grebes and potentially two extra Great Northern Divers along with our first female Eider

Mouth of the Blackwater

Mouth of the Colne

Dark-bellied Brent Geese were streaming out of the Colne presumably to some fields between East and West Mersea and there were none of the meadows which were almost bone dry with just a few puddley bits in the middle. As such there were no waders on there at all and just several hundred avidly grazing Wigeon that were bold enough to even venture up onto the sea defences to feed just in front of us.  Little Grebes giggled in the dyke and a Cetti’s Warbler was scoped as it fed along the very margin between bank and water under a Bramble clump.


A look into the Colne at last added Red-breasted Mergansers with their punky hair-dos. They were engaged in some half hearted display and further scanning took us up to 22 which was a good count.  More waders scurried and probed and a flock of Black-tailed Godwits (but no Avocets) could be seen to the west of Brightlingsea.  A Skylark sang over the saltmarsh where a Rock Pipit called and Shoveler and Little Egret fed in their own ways on one of the larger pools left by the tide.  Gone are the days of flocks of pink rumped Twite.

The Brents were still leaving Langenhoe and grumbled overhead while a flock of Jackdaws spooked a Buzzard which was then seen off by the Carrion Crows.

Brent Geese

Langenhoe was actually quite hazy despite the cold grey conditions so we ambled back towards the car with the sounds of the Essex coast all around us.

Back to Abberton for seconds and a look from the Billets Farm screen to start with.  I was pleased to quickly find two distant Bewick’s Swans while Pintail were the first of the day in the lagoon and amongst the vast Tufted Duck flock there were four female and two male Scaup actively feeding.  Goldeneye were present in big flocks and I estimated 130 or so but suspect that this was a severe undercount. It is strange how seeing a bird in a large group that you usually see in ones and twos changes how they feel and alters the experience.

Closer two us there were Dunlin scurrying along the exposed margin along with a couple of Redshank and Snipe, two Golden Plover and four Black-tailed Godwits. With the day pressing on (it had whizzed by!) we walked back at last getting good views of Stock Dove before heading to the Layer de la Haye causeway where the Black-necked Grebe was quickly picked up as it preened with the diving duck.  It was well on the way to some semblance of breeding plumage with some golden cheek feathers and darker fore neck and some chestnut in the flanks and that ever piercing red eye.

I tried to find the Great Northern Diver, Red-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Duck but had no joy and as the more traditional Abberton breeze was making itself known we decided to round the day up after a most successful venture.

No comments:

Post a Comment