The venue for the November U3A Bird and Wildlife Group was Blue House Farm at North Fambridge. This 600 acre farm has been managed by Essex Wildlife Trust since 1998 and is situated on the north bank of the River Crouch. The farm is notified as a Site of Special Interest, and is important for wildlife, particularly overwintering birds, and also for water voles and for coastal plants and insects. Around 2000 Brent Geese use the flat fields as feeding grounds in the winter.
12 members met in the car park on a bright sunny morning. A Marsh Harrier was flying overhead and Chaffinch and Great Tits were spotted in the trees.
A circular route begins in the car park and follows a permissive footpath around the farm going to all three bird hides before joining the public footpath on the seawall to return to the car park. We made our way across the fields to the first hide. It was very wet and muddy underfoot but the sun was shining and we were excited to see to the right of us on the flat fields around five hundred Brent Geese and to the left a pair of Mute Swans with 2 cygnets, a large number of Canada and Greylag Geese, Rooks, Lapwings, Curlew, Robin and Magpies.
Two members of our group, Jill and Ken Taylor, are volunteers at Blue House Farm and 3 years ago they helped to build the first hide. They told us that a grant had been received and it was given on the condition that the hide was built out of recycled plastic. The hide has a turf roof which Mallards have nested on. A wind operated water pump has been installed to control the water level as it was essential for breeding birds, such as Avocet, to have shallow water at breeding time. In order to keep the nesting birds safe from marauding foxes an electrified fence has been erected which is driven by solar panels on the hide roof. They have received two Maldon District Council conservation awards.
There were not many birds to be seen from this hide so we made our way to the second and third hides. On the way we saw Corn Buntings and Goldfinch. From these hides we saw a large number of Teal; also Wigeon, Coots, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier. There was a delightful moment when a large flock of Teal suddenly took to the air when a female Marsh Harrier appeared.
Up on the seawall the tide was low and on the mud there were a number of waders. We identified Shelducks, Dunlin, Redshank, Cormorant, Ringed Plover, around fifty Golden Plover, Lesser Black backed, Black Headed and Herring Gulls. Looking to our right in the fields we counted about 50 plus Curlew along with the Brent Geese. Pied Wagtail and Moorhen were also seen.
By this time we were all tired and hungry, but happy, and agreed that we had had a great morning’s birding. 5 of our group went home and the rest of us retired to the Ferry Boat Inn for a light lunch.
After lunch on the way back to the car park we passed the famous ‘owl cam’ for the two barn owls, Packham and Strachan, (named after Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan of Springwatch) where we were delighted to see one of them in the nest box fast asleep. For the past two years they have raised 3 owlets. A lovely end to the day!
Birds identified: Marsh Harrier, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Rook, Crow, Brent Geese, Canada Geese, Greylag, pair Mute Swans with 2 cygnets, Magpie, Curlew, Lapwing,Teal, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Coot, Wigeon, Shoveler, Corn Bunting, Goldfinch, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Kestrel, Corn Bunting, Shelduck, Dunlin, Redshank, Cormorant, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Blue Tit, Great Black Backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Grey Heron, Robin, Pied Wagtail, Moorhen and Barn Owl on ‘Owl Cam’. (40 species in all)
Joy and Chris visited the Aberton Layer Breton Causeway and were very excited to see a Glossy Ibis.