Only three members of the group, Joy, Lynda and I, arrived at the extra meeting at Thameside Nature Park on Monday 14th April. This nature park stands exposed on a bare hill that affords extensive views across the River Thames to Kent and east down the river as well as inland north and west. Although the sun shone, a bitter wind blew and we wrapped up well in our fleeces. Skylarks were the first sightings, many of them close by, rising, singing, descending and feeding – presumably they were nesting in the field adjacent to the car park, which was protected by fencing.
We made our way to the visitor centre, a warm and welcoming place with a good café and excellent views. Essex Wildlife Trust is working to transform Mucking landfill site into a Living Landscape. The site is 845 acres and is being turned into habitats for coastal and wetland wildlife, as well as grassland, woodland and hedgerows. A sightings board in the centre had a long list of species seen in the area – but we were not so lucky today and in fact there was hardly anything about. An external walkway leads to the rooftop of the centre; we started going up but before we got to the top we were fortunate enough to find a sheltered spot looking over the mudflats. A few waders could be identified but most were too far away. There are many paths to explore and we took one leading to a muddy creek but saw nothing. We did see Linnets flitting amongst the brambles, occasionally perching and singing. The tide was rapidly making so we went down to the bird hide and spent some time there. By this time other visitors were arriving and we, still in our fleeces, were surprised at their hardiness wearing only flimsy tops and shorts! With the mudflats covered we decided to end our visit there and went on to Wat Tyler Country Park.
We weren’t the only ones who had chosen to visit that day as hordes of families had come for the gaudy coloured, giant bouncy castles that had been set up on the main grassed area and were accompanied by typical bouncy castle music. We were a little dismayed but found a quiet spot, in the sunshine, to eat our lunch. These visitors, like those at Thameside, were also in summer dress whilst we still remained ‘fleeced-up’ – do Dengie inhabitants feel the cold more?
We decided that as we were there we might as well look around and made our way to a bird hide – locked, more dismay. Some excited children came running along shouting ‘fox fox’ and sure enough trotting in front of them was a superb specimen of a fox. It was totally at home and stood close to us in a clearing just the other side of a hedge. With all this excitement and the appearance of the miniature train passing by the children ran off and we were left to try and glimpse the lake that we would have seen clearly from the hide. We saw quite a few ducks etc and a pair of Greylag Geese with the female sitting on a nest. Our spirits rose as we walked through different habitats towards Vange Creek and more birds made an appearance.
Near the main visitor centre the RSPB also have a centre and a wildlife garden. Their sightings board included bearded tits and snipe and talking to the knowledgeable volunteer we discovered where they could be seen. He also provided us with a key to both the bird hides. The first we visited overlooked a patch of reeds, a stretch of water, more reeds and a flooded scrape which should have had exposed islands for breeding birds but sadly didn’t although they were trying to rectify this by pumping water out. Two regular bird watchers were well established in the hide and said we had just missed a bearded tit. A warbler sang loudly and they proclaimed it to be a Cetti’s Warbler – that would have been a first sighting for the three of us but we didn’t see it. A Snipe flew across the nearest stretch of water and with brilliant camouflage immediately got lost in the reeds. Then Lynda & I saw two bearded tits, flying to the reeds, going down to almost ground level and then travelling along becoming exposed in some sparser sections – Joy who really wanted to see this bird failed to do so. The other hide was interesting too and we got better views of the lake we had seen earlier. We are returning here and Bowers Marshes later in the month.
Birds Identified: Skylark, Crow, Rook, Magpie, Wood Pigeon, Swallow, Linnet, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Great, Blue & Bearded Tits, Blackbird, Shelduck, Mallard, Pochard, Coot, Moorhen, Snipe, Tufted Duck, Greylag Geese, Curlew, Redshank, Common & Black-headed Gulls. Wren (heard).
Butterflies Identified: Peacock, Large-white
Other: Fox, Rabbit, Water Boatman