The main office of the Essex Wildlife Trust is at Abbotts Hall Farm which is a 700-acre working coastal farm south of Colchester and Abberton Reservoir, the farmland running south to front onto Salcott Channel, a tidal inlet from near the mouth of the River Blackwater.
The Essex Wildlife Trust aims to show how wildlife can flourish alongside profitable farming. To create additional coastal marsh the 3.5 kilometre sea wall has been breached in a number of places. In addition there is a large fresh water lake
Bird viewing hides have been built and give good views over the fresh water lake and over marsh, sea water and mud flats according to the state of the tide, and therefore a chance to see many varieties of bird. It was a first visit for the group to this location
On a cool and misty morning nine members of our group met in the car park outside the Abbotts Hall Farm buildings and with the aid of a map showing the various hides, footpaths and general layout we walked south. Another bird watching group set off before us and we decided that whichever way they went we would go the other. Our attention was drawn to a large flock of birds flying fast back and forth and eventually, when one or two landed, were able to identify them as Chaffinches. In the next field two Mute Swans plucked at vegetable matter; they sat back to back and if swans can give the impression of having had an argument, they did. Skylarks sang high in the sky but could not be seen, nor could the Pheasant whose explosive voice could be heard distinctly.
The group ahead of us continued south so we took a footpath heading east (well that is five of us did, the other four hadn’t realised and continued on). Actually the ‘breakaway group’ were lucky in that on reaching the Wetlands Hide not only was the tide out and plenty of birds were to be seen but also the leader of the other group, a guide in fact, was very knowledgeable about the area and so they benefited from his talk. Two more group members and a young guest joined them at the hide and only this group identified Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Shelduck, Brent geese and Great black-backed gulls.
We, the main group, made our way to the Lake Hide passing a field of sheep where lambs with black legs and black faces eyed us curiously, a sign informing us they were Suffolk cross bred sheep. By now the sun was shining and the air warm and so it remained for the rest of our visit. The hedgerows were almost bare of new growth with only the Blackthorn showing any blossom, which must have been a relief for the Bumblebee that flew by.
There were plentiful sightings of the more common birds but we were pleased to find a small flock of Fieldfares and only positively identified them when they flew away with their loud chack-chack-chack call. The Fieldfare, a winter visitor, is a large, striking and handsome thrush. The white underwing is a useful feature for identification, as is its tendency to move around in flocks. A much easier bird to identify was the Corn Bunting that sat boldly on a leafless bush just yards away from us.
As its name suggests the Lake Hide looks over a fresh water lake that has reed beds, nesting and roosting islands and an expanse of open water. Tufted Ducks, Little Grebes, Mallard, Moorhen and Coot were easily visible and identifiable but the Wigeon and Pochard were a little bit harder to identify as one swam amongst the reeds and the other preferred the shelter of the trees on an island. From there we walked down to a creek with marsh disturbing Redshank that flew hastily away and further in the distance there were Teal and Great-crested Grebe.
With the recent cold weather and chill winds we had taken the precaution of booking a room in which to lunch so we all made our way back there to regroup, eat and discuss forthcoming meetings. The room stands adjacent to the main building which is a Grade II listed house with the oldest part dating back to the Doomsday survey of 1085. To the rear is a large pond with lawns on which a Pied Wagtail constantly ran and characteristically wagged its long tail. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from high on a tree and in a small copse Primroses flowered. Daisies were also in flower, as was the small and delicate white flowered Common Whitlowgrass. There is also a butterfly garden here providing a continuous supply of nectar from a variety of plants and shrubs.
Only four members remained after lunch and having missed the Wetlands Hide walked there. By then the tide had risen so many birds had gone but on a scattering of small islands there were quite a few remaining including Grey Plover. Lastly we visited Salcott Hide that overlooked Salcott Creek with mainly Wigeon on the water and on the counterwall opposite two Curlews. We decided to end our day there and on our return to the car park a hare was spotted racing rapidly across the field and disappearing from sight.
Birds identified: Sparrow, Rook, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch, Skylark, Blackbird, Blue, Long-tailed and Great Tits, Starling, Wood Pigeon, Magpie, Fieldfare, Corn Bunting, Pied Wagtail, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pheasant, Little and Great-crested Grebes, Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls, Shelduck and Brent Geese,