The Bird and Wildlife Group could not meet this month due to the second lockdown. However, Sue and Tony visited Heybridge Basin on the day we should have met and have sent us a report as below. Jill visited Maylandsea a few days before and has sent us a report on that and Sheila has sent us another very interesting report of the wildlife in her garden:
Wildlife Report – Wed. 11th November 2020. (Sue and Tony Bridgman)
We set off from Daisy Meadows car park at about 11 o’clock on an overcast, slightly breezy day. We weren’t too sure how much we would see as it was nearly low tide. However, we were not disappointed as there were plenty of birds as we reached Heybridge Basin Lock. Most of these were black-tailed godwits and black-headed Gulls with some redshank. We walked past the Lock coffee shop (shut!) and walked along the river to Osea coffee shop (also shut!). We saw a good range of birds including the occasional curlew, a few cormorants, a smattering of dunlin, lots of wigeons, a few teal and one odd grey plover.
We commented at one point that we hadn’t seen any lapwing only to round a bend and see odd ones amongst the ducks and waders. Similarly, when noting the absence of geese, we noticed a reasonable flock of brent geese. You can’t possibly go birdwatching without seeing a little egret – just the one! On the way back there was also much twittering from house sparrows that seem to have a few favourite bushes along that stretch of the river and also a flock of lapwing (about 60/70) that must have been disturbed by something.
As we reached the seat by the Yacht Club we remembered that the Wildlife group had sat there in February watching the river. How things have changed since then! As we passed the 2 pubs back at the Basin we noticed they were both serving takeaway coffee and bacon rolls. We stored that information for future use! We had an enjoyable walk together but were sad not to share our birdwatching with our fellow birders. As you are aware, neither of us are knowledgeable on plants/insects so have only reported on birds.
Black-tailed godwits (many); Curlew (5/6) Redshank (many); Cormorants (few); Dunlin (few); Grey Plover (1); Wigeon (many); Teal (few) Brent Geese (possibly 30); Egret (1); Black-headed gulls (many) Lapwing (odd ones plus a flock in the air); House sparrows (many)
Sue and Tony Bridgman
Report from Jill Taylor
Not much to report this month, but I did go to Maylandsea a few days ago. I watched three turnstones turning over, not stones, but clumps of green seaweed to find their lunch. And there was a lone curlew probing the mud. There were lots of shelduck and lapwing, redshank, a few avocets and a scattering of brent geese. Maylandsea never disappoints. There is always something to see. Best of all – I bumped into an old colleague from the Blue House Farm volunteer working party which Ken and I were members of for many, many years. Sadly, although it is easy to keep spaced out when working on the farm or in the woods, Essex Wildlife Trust have stopped all volunteering. Such a shame when there is so much work to be done and people longing to get on with it.
Apart from birds, I have noticed that there are still a lot of flowers in the hedgerows and in the garden, and the bumblebees are still busy.
Jill Taylor, November 2020
Nature Notes – November 2020 – Sheila Nutt
At the end of October Chris and I went to the Isle of Wight for a few days, returning just before the current lock-down. The bird population on the island mostly seemed to be hiding – probably owing to the weather. We saw a number of sparrows, blackbirds, robins, and, of course, seagulls, but not much else that was close enough to identify.
Some of the shrubs were interesting, such as Clerodendrum trichotomum, the harlequin glorybower. I have seen these before, but not such large vigorous specimens, some probably more than 10’ tall. The bushes were still in flower in places, small flowers with white petals among the groups of berries. The flowers had a green calyx which had turned red on the fruits, some of which were still white, but riper fruits had changed to dark blue. We were staying in Ventnor and made a couple of visits to the Ventnor Botanic Gardens. The VBG claims to be Britain’s hottest garden, with a microclimate providing temperatures at least 5°C warmer than the rest of the island. Some of the plants were very impressive, abutilons, salvias, roses, etc, still in flower and looking good, especially for the time of year.
We also visited the tropical house where various plants, especially climbing vines, were in flower. The giant water lily had leaves (or lily pads) up to four feet wide. One flower bud was waiting to open, but although we made two visits it did not seem to have developed much whilst we were there. Apparently, the flowers are white and perfumed on day 1 to attract pollinating beetles. The flowers close overnight, then when they reopen the flowers have changed to pink and lost their scent, to encourage the beetles to leave and visit and pollinate another flower. (It seems this water lily was featured on Gardeners’ World when Carol Klein visited VBG.)
Ventnor Park proved quite interesting. There is a small stream running along the side, which seems to have been deepened in one section. This area was populated by some large fish – possibly koi or other large carp – and several mallards. A lady came along with young children and they started to feed the ducks. The fish took no notice at all – possibly because they wanted to keep away from the mêlée. On another day we were taking a drive near some downland (we were asked not to say exactly where) and spotted some birds weaving about. At first, I thought they were starlings chasing off a buzzard or similar, but as they came closer, I realised that the blackbirds were rooks. The raptor they were chasing off was much larger than they, so I wondered if it might be one of the eagles that had been released on the island. They were a bit too far away to get a positive ID on the raptor and did not stay for long, so we were unable to check with the binoculars.
The pellets sank quickly, and the ducks disappeared beneath the water, scooping up the tasty titbits from the mud on the bottom of the pool. I have never seen mallards dive fully under the water. They were completely covered and swimming along at a depth of at least a foot. Normally they seem to just “up-end” and the tails point skywards, rather than disappearing altogether.
In the garden at home
The snowberry has now been trimmed back. There are still a few flowers for cheeky bees, but the main hedge needs to be cut during the winter as it is a popular nesting spot once the new leaves have opened in the spring. Among the twigs, we found a blackbirds’ nest and the remains of a smaller nest – probably built by blue tits – from last spring.
In the back-garden there are still several plants flowering, including winter-flowering clematis, choisya, pansies, fatsia and a few fuchsias.
Nearly all the berries have gone from the holly, berberis, rowan trees, etc. and the squirrel has been munching his way through the peanuts in the bird feeder near the vegetable patch – in between digging up the tulip bulbs! The birds have been eating the seeds from the echinacea and some of the other seed-bearing plants. These plants look quite untidy, but we will leave them untrimmed whilst they seem to be a popular food source.
Several of the trees and plants are looking very autumnal now. The leaves on the medlar were fully yellow for at least a week before falling and the tree is full of fruit, which will please the blackbirds. Once the fruits have gone a bit squashy, they seem to be quite a popular addition to their diet.
Update: some sightings in a Burnham garden – Sheila Nutt
Autumn – coloured leaves and a lot of berries
It looks as though autumn has arrived. Some of the leaves have fallen; others, such as the acers, have turned red or orange and now berries are more obvious, especially on the rowan, hawthorn, berberis and cotoneaster. We had a good crop of berries on the amelanchier, but they had hardly started to turn colour when the wood pigeons decided they looked tasty. Unfortunately, the favourite perch for them is on the pergola, from which they hop straight across to the amelanchier, usually landing with a thud and breaking off the branches, so we now have a very lop-sided tree!
The berries on the berberis will probably not last too long either – at least not the more accessible ones – as we have a very athletic blackbird. The bush has very long spines so he does not land on a branch, but locates himself below and chooses his berry then bounces up as far as he can and grabs it, sometimes ending with a flutter if he can’t quite reach.
The waterfall in the pond is still quite popular. The two pairs of blackbirds are still around, quarrelling over access to the waterfall when they want a bath at the same time. This causes a certain amount of dispute and a lot of fluttering and hopping about until they decide the pecking order. Other birds, e.g. robins often spend time in or by the waterfall, feeding as well as bathing. When we (well, Chris actually!) constructed the pond we had a large dog bed, which was no longer used, so it became a kind of sump, filled with stones, at the back of the waterfall. This seems to have provided a little ecosystem for various creepy crawlies of the aquatic variety, which some of the birds appear to find very tasty.
Bird activity was quiet for a time – possibly because of the moult. The goldfinches, blue tits and great tits, blackbirds, robins, etc. are still around the garden. The long-tailed tits also make fleeting visits, frequently in groups of about eight or so, though they are often difficult to spot and have to be tracked down by their calls.
The herons have not been here very much – I have only seen one twice in the last couple of weeks. Perhaps the pressure to catch fish is less now the young have left.
The sparrow hawk has visited a few times. I have seen it swooping along the length of the garden and recently it has taken a wood pigeon and a collared dove. Circular heaps of feathers were left on the grass at the far end of the garden – presumably it did some plucking before flying off with its trophy.
There were a number of butterflies until a couple of weeks ago, peacock, whites, and some blue ones – probably holly blue, and the occasional comma. There have not been so many recently since the weather became cooler. I have seen some brown ones although they would not stay still for long enough to get a positive ID!
Activity levels have dropped since the temperature cooled, although when the sun shines little froggy heads tend to pop up among the oxygenating plants. In the rest of the garden I am still taking care when weeding etc because they tend to lurk in the borders and it is very disconcerting to have a frog ping past your nose when digging up a dandelion!
Such large fish as have survived the visits of the herons are still demanding food on sunny days. Although there may not be a fish in sight at first, once they know we are nearby (and have decided we are not herons) they come up and start begging – all huddled together with a lot of open mouths!
The baby fish still seem to be surviving – at least some of them – so we should have a reasonable “fishy” pond population next year.
The bees are still quite busy, especially in the Snowberry hedge. It has tiny flowers, but they must be rich in nectar. The birds do not seem very keen on the white berries, preferring the red or orange ones elsewhere in the garden, so they stay on the plants for some time.
There are still a number of flowers of different types in the garden, including some dahlias, achillea, foxgloves and penstemon, and they seem to be popular, so hopefully they will help to provide sufficient food to keep the hives going over the winter.
Visitors to the veg patch
We have some raised beds at the end of the garden. They are often excavated, leaving heaps of soil in all directions. I have yet to discover the culprits for the major digging, but I saw a squirrel bury a walnut in one corner – in a bed I had conveniently turned over so the soil was nice and soft to help with his efforts.
I was weeding at the far side when he hopped down from the top of the compost bin, sat up on his hind legs with the walnut in his mouth, checked around (but apparently ignored me), and then buried his treasure trove. Unfortunately for him, I soon dug it up again as we already have too many hazel, walnut and similar trees growing in inconvenient places in the garden. As there is a large walnut tree in a garden nearby and we have a hazel I doubt if his stores will get too sparse this winter – although I hope he will find another location for his cache!
Sheila Nutt, October 2020
Thank you to the above for sharing their wildlife experiences with us. Let’s hope it won’t be too long before we can all meet together again as a group.