A Perfect Bank Holiday!

by A warbler a day

At the weekend I headed back to Essex, mainly to see my beloved Southend United’s last home game of the season. Naturally I took the opportunity to get in some nature walks over the weekend. On Saturday I broke my journey to Southend with a stop for lunch at Wat Tyler Country Park near Basildon. After a lovely cheese and ham toastie I walked to the main hide which overlooks a scrape and its surrounding reedbed. The reedbed were alive with the sound of Reed and Cetti’s Warblers but the birds I saw were the normally even more elusive Bearded Tits. The first I’ve seen since 2008. Three of the them chased each other around a bush in the reeds on a couple of occasions and a male nicely perched in view for a few seconds. A short walk from the hide to the marina added several Whitethroats and a Blackcap to my list for the day. By the smaller Cottage hide I heard a Lesser Whitethroat singing, getting a brief glimpse as it flew to another bush. A little further along 2 Cetti’s Warblers flashed across my path. As well as some lovely birds, the visit also produced my first damselfly of the year, a Large Red.

On the Sunday afternoon I made one of my regular visits to Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve. There I saw the usual mix of waterfowl, including a couple of Wigeon that still had not made their way north yet and a Shoveler. All the way round the reserve I was serenaded by Whitethroats and Reed and Sedge Warblers, many of which obliging perched in full view. A Cuckoo could be heard calling form the Woodland area but was not so obliging. I was entertained for a few minutes in the Ken Barrett Hide by a couple of Little Grebes that appeared to be engaged in a territorial dispute. Further along the northern boardwalk through he reedbed I spotted some birds zipping across the top of the reeds. Amazingly they were more Bearded Tits. Two days running! The walk back to the centre along the southern boardwalk added a first dragonfly species, some Hairy Dragonflies patrolling the ditch.

Driving back to Hampshire, I took a detour to visit Thursley and Frensham Commons. Thursley is known as one of the best dragonfly sites in the country. Initially, though, dragonflies were hard to come by. However the bird life was excellent. I spotted a male Redstart flitting around a tree on the area known as Shrike Hill. This is an area of dry wooded heath above the extensive bog. The Redstart posed beautifully for a few minutes on a branch. Yet when a man with a camera arrived it almost immediately moved. A little further along I saw a bird perched in a dead tree. Closer inspection confirmed my initial suspicion, it was a Cuckoo. Last year I heard several around the Test Valley but not seen any of them. Here was one in full view. It occasionally flew off to a new perch. On the other side of the path a Tree Pipit was regularly performing its song flight displays from a tall tree. As for insect life, the most interesting sighting was a species of day flying moth, the Common Heath, which as its name implies is a common moth of heathlands. Whilst walking back across the bog I spotted a birdwatcher looking up with his binoculars. I followed suit and saw a Hobby, another year tick. At least two more turned up as I completed my walk, giving wonderful views. The walk back to the car finally produced some damselflies and dragonflies. Firstly several Large Red Damsels then a newly emerged (and rather early) Broad-bodied Chasers and finally a Downy Emerald hawing along the tree tops. From Thursley I drove a couple of miles to Frensham Little Pond. I walked from there across the common to the Great Pond and back. On the common I saw a Woodlark singing from the top of a tree. Whilst sitting by the Great Pond I saw my first flock of Swifts of the year.

With the mighty Southend United winning as well it has to be said that the weekend could not have gone any better. It was the perfect Bank Holiday Weekend!