A day spent in Essex was not quite as productive as we had hoped because there seemed to be relatively few migrants around.
We started off with a short stop at Abberton Reservoir, where we got to see some of the ongoing construction work that is currently taking place to increase the volume of water supplied by the reservoir! When this work is finally completed the attractiveness of the reservoir to wintering wildfowl, passage waders, and other birds, should be enhanced because the project is being carried out with the needs of wildlife in mind, includes the creation of habitat that is specifically intended to suit the requirements of the birds and other wildlife that use the reservoir. Essex and Suffolk water have won conservation awards for the work being carried out, some details of which can be seen by following the links here, and here.
The numbers of wildfowl and other water birds were generally low, with most seemingly having departed for their breeding sites further north and east. We still managed to find a good number of different species though, including a male Goldeneye which Mike picked out, and Little Egrets feeding in amongst vegetation growing at the reservoir edges.
Among the most obvious wildfowl were some of the feral birds, and escapes from collections, that almost all wetland areas now seem to attract.
In the above photo two domestic Mallards can be seen accompanying a Canada Goose. The large size of some domestic ducks sometime confuses people who think that they must be looking at some sort of goose, but the typical duck bill shape is a giveaway. Most feral Mallards seen in the wild cannot be safely assigned to any particular breed, as most are not pure bred, large ones like these will have birds bred for meat somewhere in their ancestry.
Other feral wildfowl included, domestic Greylag Geese, Chinese Swan Goose, Black Swan, and Egyptian Geese - though potentially at least some individuals of the latter had come from some of the self sustaining feral flocks now present in the UK.
Away from the water, we found Pied Wagtails around the edge of the reservoir, and Skylarks and Red-legged Partridges on nearby farmland, as well as numerous Pheasants. The later species was also very evident later on at East Mersea, where we watched a male displaying for a while - crowing loudly while simultaneously jumping in the air with a 'whirring' of its wings.
The tide was initially high when we arrived at Cudmore Grove Country Park, and this meant that we were able to watch some of the waders that were present at reasonably close quarters as they roosted in a flooded field - or in the case of many of the Curlews and Golden Plovers, fed on close grazed turf. Many of the waders were now moulting into, or already in, their breeding plumage, so Common Redshanks looked spotted rather than a plain grey-brown, and Black-tailed Godwits were mainly showing bright orange underparts. The only problem was that mainly of the waders had their heads tucked under their wings to try and catch a bit of sleep - like most sleeping birds, they remained alert though, and would occasionally wake up to have a preen, or to argue with others that had approached too closely. The photo below shows Black-tailed Godwits in various states of moult, including a couple towards the left that are largely in non-breeding plumage. Also note how flexible the tip of the bill is on the third bird in from the right - this is typical of most long billed waders.
A few Common Snipe, and a smattering of Northern Lapwings were also present, and in their case this was unlikely to be because of the state of the tide (although Lapwings can often also be found feeding on tidal mudflats).
Signs that it was actually spring, included a few Chiffchaffs and singing Blackcaps, as well as a single Swallow that was glimpsed as it passed overhead. Early spring flowers were also in evidence, with Alexanders being the most obvious one near the coast - even though the flowers themselves were very unassuming and not exactly colourful!
Invertebrates could readily be found among the leaves of the Alexanders, with even the most cursory look, with ladybirds being the most obvious (mainly Seven-spotted Ladybirds, but also quite a few Two-spotted), and there were also quite a few Nursery Web Spiders, plus some unidentified crab-spiders.
A few patches of Red Dead Nettle added a bit of colour among the Alexanders, and were popular with feeding bumble bees.
Out on the saltmarsh there were a couple of small groups of dark-bellied Brent Geese, as well as a few more roosting waders, and a shallow pool held a pair of feeding Avocets.
Oystercatchers were flying along the coast and feeding on the mud flats that were now becoming exposed, as were a few Dunlin.
What was perhaps the star bird was seen on the way back to London - a Glossy Ibis that had been visiting a shallow pool at Great Baddow, near Chelmsford, for just over a week.
We had stopped briefly at the site on the way to Abberton, but the ibis had not been present. It had, however, sometimes been reported only during the afternoon so it was worth trying on our way back past - and this time it was present and feeding unconcerned not far from us when we arrived.
Glossy Ibis were once a very rare vagrant to the UK, but they have been becoming far more frequent visitors in recent years, often occurring in small flocks. This increase in the number of records is no doubt linked to an apparent increase in numbers in Iberia and southern France.
It this case the origins of this particular ibis could be traced because it was wearing a white ring with the letter number combination '8J9'. This has allowed its history to be traced to Coto Doñana in Spain, where it was ringed as a nestling at El Rocio, on 7th May 2007. It was seen not far from there at Huelva on 2nd April 2010, before next being reported in the UK when it was found near Borth, Ceredigion, on 2nd February 2012, remaining there until 25th February. After relocating to Essex, where it first stayed for a while in the Heybridge Basin/Chigborough Lakes area between 7th & 16th March, it was first seen at Great Baddow on 24th March (and was still present there on 10th April) - where will it go next?
It was feeding quite happily on water snails, which it would find by probing with its bill, and pluck out of the water before tossing them up into the air and down its throat!
A pair of Gadwall and a few Moorhens shared the pool, and another Swallow was seen feeding overhead.