For a while now, Wallasea Island has been the next big thing. Powered by the diggings of Crossrail, the RSPB were going to make this the next Minsmere, a place where expanding populations of Mediterranean and continental birds would make their homes.
It has all gone quiet for a while, with very few records coming from the reserve, until recently when winter raptors and owls have been recorded and most recently a Rough-Legged Buzzard. Time for David and myself to make our Wallasea Island debuts.
We got their early afternoon, satnav having thankfully guided us there in the absence of any signs. We parked in the 'car park' and headed up to the sea wall for a scan over the reserve in the slowly waning light. Lots of rough fields, some spaced out groups of cattle, some distant lagoons. On the estuary side, mud. In the distance a female Hen Harrier, and then flocks of Golden Plover and more common estuary waders, and a distant group of ten Black-tailed Godwits.
We had learned that the best place for the roost was by a gate just before the entrance, so we returned to the car park. On arriving there was a strange unfamiliar wader-like call. I looked up and a female Merlin was belting over which then proceeded to put up flocks of Lapwings and Plovers as it dashed low across the reserve. I guess that strange call was waderese for 'Merlin!'
We made our way to the gate where a couple of people were already present and started scanning, Apart from a couple of Kestrels hovering there wasn't much. Just a female Sparrowhawk through Then I got the scope on to one of the kestrels, and as it sank to the ground realised it was considerably bigger! Dam and Blast! Yet another in this blog's roll call of missed opportunities. Surely, at half a mile, there would be no second chance on this probable Rough-Legged.
Repeat scanning of the area produced a large raptor sat on the bank. Zooming in, it was buzzard-like with a whitish head. Then, it took off and miraculously flew towards us. It flew around at a range of about 200 yards, hovered, flew round some more, hovered some more, then sat on a bank. Whilst a couple of crows sat in attendance. Wow! Full white tail, white feather edges, whitish on the upper primary base, pale underneath with dark breast and dark tail band, the lot. We got ten minutes or so, possibly longer, until it flew down into the field out of site. Quite the best views either of us have ever had of Rough-Legged Buzzard.
And that was pretty much it. Just a flock of 35 Corn Buntings flying around, 6 Marsh Harriers, and a distant Barn Owl.
So on its own terms, Wallasea Island is doing okay. I guess over the years the RSPB will start to deliver infrastructure, and a bit more variety of birds. But for now, at just over an hour's distance, it is well worth adding to the list of local places worth visiting.