It was -5°C overnight and we awoke to a heavy frost that covered the trees and bushes and showed up perfectly the delicate patterns of the cobwebs. The sun shone and the air was calm. At 10.45, when the group met at Hanningfield Reservoir, the temperature had only just reached positive figures so we spent about 40 minutes enjoying the warmth of the Visitor Centre. Run by the Essex Wildlife Trust the centre is on the south side of the reservoir. Through large windows some water is visible but mostly from here the birds seen are close by in a partially wooded area where they are attracted by well-stocked feeders. Here we saw Great, Coal and Blue Tits, Chaffinch and Sparrow. On the ground below Pheasant, Magpie, Moorhen and Mallard foraged for the crumbs dropped by the feeding birds. A pair of Carrion Crows came and went and, as this bird is normally entirely black and one we saw having unusual markings of white on its wing tips, we queried the identification with one of the volunteer workers who told us that it was a regular visitor to the area and confirmed it to be a Crow.
Later, on our return, we saw a Stock Dove, a handsome bird with a glossed green neck.
Apart from birds we also saw a Rabbit, several Grey Squirrels and a tiny, humped-back Muntjac Deer trotting along the water’s edge and disappearing into the trees.
Leaving the warmth behind we strolled through the woods to the first hide spotting on the way Blackbird, Robin and Feral Pigeon. We saw nothing at that hide so quickly continued to the next, which looked over a vast expanse of water, a small island as well as closer banks. On the island five Grey Herons hunted and a group of Cormorants rested between their diving trips, some with their wings spread; amongst them were some juveniles still retaining their white underparts. Here too were the Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed Gulls (the latter having lost their summer black head and sporting a white head with a dark ear spot).
The water was flat calm and with the surrounding foliage still covered in white frost, the sun gave the scene a pink glow and we all commented how beautiful it was. Three Gadwalls paddled effortlessly along breaking the calm of the water and there were groups of Coot, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Ducks and a few Great-crested and Little Grebes.
We were also delighted to see Goldeneye, a compact, large-headed diving duck with the male being white with a dark head and back, and a white spot in front of the eye. Wigeon fed in the shallows although more than any other duck it is often seen out of the water where it grazes on salt marsh or meadows. Our last hide produced no new sightings on the water but on land we saw a Pied Wagtail.
Chilled, we made our way back to the Visitor Centre by a different route passing an open field where between 100 and 200 Canada Geese grazed and a few Lapwings strutted around.
In spite of the cold we were not alone today as the Essex Wildlife Trust volunteers, 40-50 of them, were having their Christmas party, so it was quite jolly, they with their crackers, paper hats, quiz and music, and us with the warmth of the wood burning stove, a hot drink, our late lunch and that pleasant feeling of having had a good day out.
The birds identified by the group were: Great, Coal and Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Sparrow, Pheasant, Magpie, Blackbird, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Pied Wagtail, Moorhen, Carrion Crow, Stock Dove, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Mallard, Lesser-backed, Great-backed, Herring and Black-headed Gulls, Gadwall, Coot, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Great-crested and Little Grebes, Goldeneye. Wigeon, Canada Goose and Lapwing and wildlife: Rabbit, Grey Squirrel and Muntjac Deer.
The next group outing is to Fingringhoe Wick on the 9th January 2013, meeting there at 11.00. We hope to observe waders and the best time to see them is two hours either side of high tide, which according to my information is predicted for 09.23, so we should be lucky.