As we left Burnham-on-Crouch in misty weather it didn’t look too promising for viewing birds at Fingringhoe Wick, however when we arrived there at 11.00 the sun was making a show and the day proved to be warm with bright sun and a feeble breeze.
The group met in the Visitor Centre, which has a lot of information, books for sale, hot drinks and homemade cakes for sale and splendid views to the south. On the upper floor there is also an observatory that gives a 360° view. Bird feeders nearby attracted Dunnock, Sparrow, Blue and Great Tits, Robin, Chaffinch and a Pheasant. In the bushes were Wood Pigeons, Magpies and Crows.
High tide was predicted for 9.23 and it was expected that by 11.00 some mud would be exposed but as the water hadn’t receded much an Essex Wildlife Trust volunteer offered to guide us around the lake, apparently an area where visitors rarely go, and explained some of the improvements that were going on in the reserve and a little of its history. She was very interesting telling us how in 1961 the reserve had become the Essex Wildlife Trust’s first reserve when it bought Wick Farm, a former gravel extraction area. Reservoirs were dug here to store fresh water for washing the extracted gravel and now these have left the reserve with several pools with fresh or brackish water. Trout Pool, a small but deep pool, apparently becomes a haven in the summer for many varied and colourful dragonflies. We saw the Trust’s new badger hide which will be operational shortly.
On the southern side of the lake we stopped at the first hide, which gave views northeast across the water and saw Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Little Grebe (Dabchick) and Shoveler. The good thing about going out with a group is that you learn from others and I now know that to identify the Teal one should look for a black-edged yellow triangle under its tail. The Shoveler is distinctive by having a long heavy shovel-like black bill that it uses to filter small creatures and seeds from the water and mud. The next hide we entered overlooked the same lake but from a slightly different angle. We looked across to rushes on the far bank, then an area of grass where one sole rabbit fed and a backdrop of a sand bank with silver birch saplings and other bushes. A Green Woodpecker was spotted at the base of the bank and a Jay in the bushes but nothing new on the water.
Walking through grassland to the east passing gorse bright with yellow flowers we (that is three of the group) arrived at a bird hide where to our amazement we could see hundreds (estimates vary between 300-600) of Avocets; a rare sight indeed. It was beautiful there with the peace, the sun glowing on the mud and the low water rippling in the River Colne. We saw also Cormorant, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-headed and Black-backed Gulls, Egret and Curlew. The latter pushed their long down-curved bills into the mud to find food whilst others could be heard with their distinctive bubbling cor-wee. The other members of the group meanwhile went elsewhere (actually they got lost!) and one of them spotted an Oystercatcher, the only one of the day.
Reuniting to eat our picnic lunch at the centre the five remaining members went down to an area called The Scrape where there was nothing so we all returned to view the Avocets and also sighted Black-tailed Godwit, Widgeon and flights of Dunlin that when they turned in their flight glowed white in the lowering sun.
Back at the centre the last three remaining members climbed to the observatory and rounded off the day with a close sighting of a Barn Owl hunting and swooping on its prey.
Birds identified were: Great & Blue Tits, Dunnock, Pheasant, Magpie, Wood Pigeon, Chaffinch, Robin, Sparrow, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal, Little Grebe, Shelduck, Cormorant, Avocet, Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Widgeon, Oystercatcher Jay, Green Woodpecker, Egret, Black-headed & Black-backed Gulls and Barn Owl.
The next group outing is to Abberton Reservoir on February 13th meeting at 10.45 at the Visitor Centre.