Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Naze, Essex - 19th July 2009

It's mid-July, pickings are at their absolute slimmest (aside from the usual breeders and a few early passage hirundines) on patch in Hackney, blustery south-westerlies and messy low pressure systems have been dominating for more than a fortnight, and a precious day free with the Mrs beckons - and so to the Naze, former runaway home, local patch and easily commutable parallel universe.

Onto a 149 outside the house and via a train from Liverpool Street, and two hours later we're indulgently drinking in the sea air and heading north along the trashy-but-somehow-reassuring-benign seafront, along the beach and up to the Naze. The strong SW wind brought in the first and last shower, gone by the time we left the tower, and soon after we were onto the Naze proper; a few hundred metres north, and into the scrubby grassland magically free of Homo sapiens, despite the throngs on the beach just a few minutes south.

Criss-crossing the upper and lower scrub more out of habit than hope, there were almost no passerines on show, but every glade and footpath revealed a wealth of butterflies - the most impressive species being Painted Ladies, with uncountable hundreds during the course of the day, resplendent in freshly-emerged technicolour.

The tide was still a long way out by the time we reached the causeway, with the John Weston EWT Reserve on our left and the saline lagoons on our right, with the dunes and beach just beyond (good memories are too numerous to begin reciting here, another time perhaps); any thoughts of making it along the beach to the saltmarsh and pools towards Stone Point (the latter particularly good for waders, including Curlew Sandpipers) were reeled in by the temporary rope fence - easily navigable but justifiably erected, with explanatory signs - to deter disturbance of breeding Little Terns and Ringed Plovers.

Instead, a stumble out onto the mix of clay, shingle, mud and seaweed-covered rocks beyond the saline lagoons was worthwhile in getting good views of feeding waders, including summer-plumaged Sanderlings, Turnstones, Dunlins, Black-tailed Godwits and a single Knot (as well as Ringed Plovers, Curlews, Redshanks and Oystercatchers).

Despite the strength of the wind, the day was increasingly mild with sunny intervals, and with no-one else around (two friendly dog-walkers in eight hours birding - almost perfect), we began covering almost all of the remaining accessible areas of the Naze. Onto the reserve, the sewage works (including minor coronary induced by a distant pratincole-shaped and -coloured lump of wood on the gravel), and the farm track south to Walton Hall; site of several satisfying self-discoveries in the early / mid 2000's, including dark-breasted Barn Owl and a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, and despite expectations set at almost zero, another treat was in store.

Hopping the fence and taking the track west towards Walton Channel, the unmistakeable form of a Quail half-ran, half-flew just a few metres in front of across the track. The runaway highlight (as it were) of the day, and the first one I've actually seen since, well, somewhere abroad, more than a few years ago.

Spring-stepped and surrounded by clouds of butterflies down the tall hedge-sheltered track, we hit the seawall path and headed north on a circular route back to the Naze tip. The channel's exposed mud held a scattering of waders, including both Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits together and two Whimbrels. Little Terns had the good grace to commute over our heads to within about five metres, and an immature male Marsh Harrier headed straight towards us before ditching down in a field, presumable with a successful catch. A large pre-high tide gathering of waders on the mud just off the NW tip of the path held more superbly-plumaged godwits and a single Greenshank.

We were back onto the tip for early evening, and with the tide steadily encroaching, waders came a little closer in the rosy evening light; the high tide was a low one however, and many stayed beyond view up towards Stone Point. However, as well as the tolerant few that came close, two Kittiwakes and a raft of Common Eiders were out at sea, and a single Turtle Dove skirted the gorse and the beach as the sun went down.

From the top: Sanderlings, Dunlins, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, Little Tern, Black-headed Gulls, and Turtle Dove.