Posted by: Ross Gardner | October 30, 2011

Old Haunts

Pochard - male (Aythya ferina). Ross Gardner

I found myself at an old(ish) haunt over the weekend.  I haven’t been to Wat Tyler (he of peasant’s revolt fame) Country Park for a few years.  The RSPB’s Vange Marsh reserve nearby has tended to be my port of call of late, when venturing as far as Pitsea.  This is an area, for those of you not from around South East Essex parts, that isn’t immediately associated with wildlife watching, being rather dominated in most people’s minds by the urban sprawl of Basildon.  There is though, very much indeed by way of open space and the things of nature.

Vange Marsh is an excellent place to see birds.  Its large, open stretch of shallow water, fringing reeds and adjacent grassy, scrub scattered habitats attract a great deal, as unusual and scarce as the likes of Spoonbill and Red-necked Phalarope, as well as the wealth of more regular water birds.   Excellent for birds and plenty more besides.  Dragonflies throng the ditches on sunny spring and summer days, where I have been delighted by the antics of water voles and intrigued by glimpses of  aquatic invertebrates disappearing among the weedy depths.

The Country Park is rather different.  It caters for many.  A place for families to enjoyed space and fresh air as well as for naturalists to enjoy the wildlife that thrives alongside.  It boasts a mosaic of scrub and grassland, bordered by a saltmarsh-fringed saline creek, a scrape, a sizeable reed-bed and grazing lands beyond.  All very interesting stuff.

I decided to drop by, mainly to look in a book signing taking place at the RSPB visitor centre located within the park.  Andrew Fallan, the author of ‘Winging it: Birding for low flyers’ had arranged the signing.  His book has been published by the same Brambleby Books that published my own ‘Never a dull moment’, so I thought I would nip along to meet a fellow author, bag myself a copy and take in a walk around the park.

On a day without the crowds its still well worth a visit.  I watched a couple of Green Sandpiper stalking the muddy fringes of the scrape, where Little Grebe, Pochard, Shoveler, Gadwall and plenty besides, were contentedly diving and dabbling.  The swathe of reeds is noisy in the summer with the calls of reed warbler – come autumn and winter they are the haunt of Bearded Tit and of Cetti’s Warbler among the adjacent sallow and thorn.  The tits proved elusive and so too the warbler, but for that distinctive and explosive song.  It was high tide and a walk around the park’s perimeter path overlooking the creek brought views of Teal and Wigeon.  Do we sometimes forget how handsome our ducks can look, until a favourable autumn light enlivens the finery of their plumage?  The drake Teal in particular, is quite a beautiful little duck.

Like the aforementioned marsh, the country park harbours its fair share of other wildlife.  Many butterflies in due season, and dragonflies of their own around the pools and ditches.  Today though, it was just a few hardy Common Darter that gave a hint of its less autumnal delights.

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