Blue House Farm nature reserve, one of Essex Wildlife Trust’s largest reserves, is among the best wild coastal landscapes in the county. It is a managed farm and cows were in the fields we crossed: they also graze sheep. The 263-hectare grazing marsh is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. In particular it has international importance for overwintering birds, coastal plants and insects and also supports Brown Hares and Water Voles. Today we were delighted to find pale-mauve, flowering Sea Asters and growing amongst these a white flowering specimen which, according to our book, is relatively rare – the warden was pleased to hear of this sighting too. If you are a forager you might know that Sea Aster is edible – for those of you who are not, the leaves can be pickled or simply fried in butter and garlic and topped with some yoghurt. They are also used in dishes containing white fish, such as seafood bakes.
With the tide high we started our morning walking in a clockwise direction visiting the three bird hides. A stiff westerly blew us along and it was a wonderful bright day to be out and with several Skylarks singing gaily, our expectations were high. In the distance we sighted a few Brent Geese; these birds overwinter in Siberia and around 2000 travel south to graze on the short grasslands marsh. The first hide overlooks flooded fields, which are normally alive with bird life. We were dismayed to find there wasn’t any water and to see the exposed mud cracking with the dryness. The reeds harboured a few Corn Buntings and there were Pied Wagtails on the ground. A windmill is sited on the reserve that operates a wind pump and so helps to control the water level of the flooded fields and we assumed the use of this was the cause of the lack of water. We heard later from the warden that the lack of water was an entirely natural occurrence and was the result of the dry summer.
As one member put it ‘you can spend only so much time looking at mud’ but even that can be fascinating. Apparently a high degree of salinity delays the formation of mud-cracks and results in polygons with margins inclining downwards and those formed in fresh water have their margins turning upwards. If you want to learn more read E.M. Kindle’s ‘Factors Affecting Development of Mud-cracks’ in ‘The Journal of Geology Vol 25. No 2, pp 135-144’– you won’t be disappointed!
Walking to the second hide a large flock of Wigeon flew over and brightened our spirits. However, the second hide, also looking over flooded fields, was the same as the first – dry. There was a little more activity here with flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets and also several Meadow Pipits. The third hide overlooks a fleet and we were hopeful there would be some life there but once again were disappointed. Although some water remained in the fleet, it was low but was enjoyed by a pair of Mute Swans.
With the tide now receding and some mud exposed on the River Crouch, we were pleased to find some birds at last – a flock of 30 or so Lapwing, a large group of Avocets, five Cormorants and a variety of gulls.
Birds: Robin, Starling, Swallow, Skylark, Corn Bunting, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit, Jay, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Magpie, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kestrel, Grey Heron, Wigeon, Avocet, Lapwing, Cormorant, Brent Geese, Mute Swan, Black-headed & Lesser Black-backed Gulls
Flowers: Bristly Ox-tongue, Yarrow, Dandelion, Sea Aster (white & purple) Marsh Thistle, Ribwort Plantain, Salsify
Other: Crane Fly, Puffball
Next Meeting: November 13th – Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk – for details contact group leaders