A Common Tern flew above the canal at Heybridge Basin searching for fish and aquatic invertebrates; heard well before it was sighted, a Goldfinch sang high in a tree. On the shimmering water crew members lazed on their boats waiting for the lock gates to open, but they had at least another three hours to go before they could lock out and enter the River Blackwater. In the canal we noticed a shoal of fish and were reliably informed they were Mullet.
With the tide just rising there were extensive exposed mudflats ideal for feeding waders including many Black-tailed Godwits, quite striking in their coppery-red summer plumage. Black-headed Gulls were numerous too, the juveniles, with their brown, motley plumage, almost as large as the adults. Several Oystercatchers made their presence known with their strident, penetrating calls and when in flight showing their distinctive black and white colouring.
We followed the seawall south looking at the waders on the mudflats and inland to an expanse of fresh water with plentiful birdlife, mostly gulls but also Moorhens, Coots, Mallard, Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes. Rounding a point and with the aid of a telescope we saw two Avocets on the far side of the water and then a short while later a group of five of them. Redshanks and several Lapwings also fed there.
Maldon looked pretty in the distance but we left the seawall wall (and the fresh easterly breeze) before we neared it and descended to a path that led between two sections of the inland water. It wasn’t the water that provided the interest here but the bushes where we first heard, and then saw, a Sedge Warbler and shortly after a Whitethroat.
It was Roy’s birthday and we tried to persuade him to buy drinks all round: our persuasive powers weren’t good enough but we did enjoy a pleasant picnic lunch – with soft drinks!
Half the group then went onto Chigborough Lakes. Part of the Lakes is for the benefit of fisherman and another, which we visited, is open to the public and run by the Essex Wildlife Trust. Leafy tree-lined pathways lead between the lakes and we heard Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird and Wren but they all remained elusive. The grass edges had plentiful wildflowers, Creeping Cinquefoil, Agrimony, Centaury, Mugwort (associated with magic and was used to ward off evil spirits), and Goat’s Rue to name a few. In May and June the Cinnabar Moths are attracted to Ragwort plants where they lay their eggs and now their hatched black and yellow banded caterpillars were busily feeding.
One of the lakes looked idyllic with two Great-crested Grebes swimming fondly together not far from a pair of Mute Swans. Suddenly the peace was broken and there was ‘high drama’ when along came two adult Egyptian Geese with five fairly well grown young. The swans had two cygnets and obviously considered the geese were a threat to them. One of the swans raised its wings, lowered its head and made loud, rough hisses. With much flapping and splashing it chased and threatened the geese causing much confusion on the water. The geese made a getaway and headed for the safety of the grass bank, but even on land the swan pursued them with more flapping and hissing. Meanwhile the grebes acted as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening and the other swan and the cygnets acted likewise. It was quite thrilling to see such prolonged, aggressive behaviour.
Birds Identified: Sparrow, Wood Pigeon, Crow, Starling, Goldfinch, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Great-Crested & Little Grebes, Moorhen, Coot, Mute Swan, Egyptian Goose, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Redshank, Avocet, Lesser Black-backed & Black-headed Gulls and Common Tern (heard Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird & Wren)
Wild Flowers Identified: Bindweed (Convolvulus), Prickly Lettuce, Ragwort, Elderflower, Mallow, White & Red Clover, Ribwort Plantain, Yarrow, Wild Carrot, Mugwort, Bramble, Dock, Lesser Knapweed (Hardheads), Birdsfoot-trefoil (Bacon & Eggs), Restharrow, Bristly Ox-tongue, Woundwort, Scented Mayweed (Camomile), Hogweed, Dog Rose, Centaury, Self Heal, Goat’s Rue, Honeysuckle, Birds Eye Speedwell, Buttercup, Agrimony, Common Field Speedwell, Lesser Willowherb, Creeping Cinquefoil, St John’s Wort, Stinging Nettle, Pink Campion, , Hogweed and Sloe fruits and Blackberries forming.
Other – Cabbage White Butterfly, Blue Damselflies, Cinnabar Caterpillars and mustn’t forget the Rabbit!!
During the month Joy & Chris visited the Layer Breton Causeway at Abberton and had quite an exciting hour. The ‘birders’ there, armed with telescopes, pointed out Red Breasted Geese (2), Chinese Swan Geese (2), Ruddy Shelducks (2), Barnacle Geese and Green Sandpipers. Ruddy Shelducks and Chinese Swan Geese was a first for them. One of the ‘birders’ then became very excited, as he had spotted a Buzzard and also an Osprey, which they watched for about 15 minutes.