26th November 2016
Having had to cancel the previous scheduled walk on 12th due to very unpleasant weather conditions it was pleasing to have relatively light winds and whilst not especially sunny it was bright enough, although at the start Southend was hidden in the distant mist.
Starting at high tide meant the waders were all congregated on roosts on Allfleets Marsh with maybe a hundred or so Dunlin and 20-30 Grey Plover crowded onto the small islands along the main sluice creek. Redshank were also packed in along the old sea wall with small groups of Turnstone and Curlew providing nice size comparisons.
Forty or more Shelduck on the open water were very popular as always, the distant white and black shapes being transformed into a feast of colour when viewed in the telescope. Mallard just beyond the saltmarsh edge provided good views allowing everyone to appreciate the bottle green heads of the males in improving light and a few of the many Teal were also close enough to provide yet more colour, the males green and russet heads and black bordered, creamy yellow undertail patch providing a counterpoint to the neat brown mottling of the females.
A couple of pairs of Wigeon on the water provided nice comparison with the primrose forehead patch on the male contrasting nicely with the red head and soft grey body plumage.
On the far sea wall Grey Herons and Little Egrets roosted in small groups, the herons in particular sometimes hard to pick out as they stood, heads hunched down into their shoulders.
Skylarks were calling above and large flocks of small birds were scattered across the experimental wild bird cover and rough weedy ground, including both Corn and Reed Buntings, plus Linnets and Starlings. Closer by a pair of Stonechat perched atop the vegetation allowing great views and Pied Wagtails danced around the open areas.
We stopped to admire a family group of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, the familiar subspecies wintering in Essex and originating from far Siberia. It seems amazing that this year’s youngsters, readily identified from their parents by their pale wing bars, will have flown over 4,000 km just a few weeks after hatching. From the numbers of youngsters in the flocks we saw it appears to have been a good breeding season.
Behind us on Pool Marsh lagoon Lapwings were roosting together with a number of Golden Plover and more Teal but these were hard to see once the flocks had landed, disappearing amongst the vegetation and silhouetted against the glare of the little sun that had crept through. More Little Egrets were hunting amongst the islands
Over the grassy areas near Pool Marsh Lagoons a Kestrel was demonstrating the art of hovering, head motionless as the wings and tail worked hard to maintain position scanning the earth below for one of the abundant Short-tailed Field Voles that are everywhere this year, providing good hunting for the wintering raptors.
Further away over the grassland firstly an immature and then an adult male Marsh Harrier could be seen quartering the fields and one briefly interacted with a Short-eared Owl, unfortunately right across the other side of the island and not readily viewed.
We moved on to look over Jubilee Marsh, now 16 months on from when the old sea walls were breached to form an amazingly natural looking but man-made landscape. Further flocks of Dunlin and Grey Plover swirled by and Curlew called whilst more Shelducks and Brent Geese were scattered across the wetlands
We retraced our steps with more flocks of waders moving from roost out onto the now exposed mud of Allfleets Marsh. Redshank and Dunlin were the most obvious with many small groups urgently feeding as the tide dropped and several large groups of Wigeon winged overhead.
As we finished the walk and headed for our cars we were fortunate to find a Hen Harrier working the edge of the event field, a female bird with banded tail and white rump and remarkably agile and elegant flight. A fitting end to a very pleasant walk.