As Autumn is drawing to a close and winter looms we decided to head for Mersea Island for some relaxed birding. We pitched up firstly at Victoria Esplanade and had a look through the forest of beach huts for our intended quarry, and sure enough Mike found what we were looking for; a Black Redstart. In drab female colours but possibly juvenile male due to some paleness in the wing. We spent a while watching it flycatch from a range of available perches. This stretch of shoreline, backed by pleasant West Mersea houses, has a year list for me that apart from the above has Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, and Mediterranean Gull. Better than my list for our next destination at the other end of the island, Cudmore Grove Country Park!
We arrived, paid the parking fee, and headed to the sea where we found a flock of Wigeon with a female Pintail, and a few Common Scoter close enough to see the pale head and stiff tail. A Red Throated Diver was close in still with a hint of a red throat, a couple of Diver sp few distantly, and as we headed off the path towards Stone Point there was a pair of Stonechat, Rock Pipit, and at the end a Sanderling in sparkling winter plumage.
It was high tide now and on the estuary-side of the park was a total of 54 Little Egrets, and plenty of Brent Goose, Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover, Black-Tailed Godwit, and Dunlin. Shoveler and Teal were in every marshy pond, and today there were constant Skylarks in flight around the area.
Back toward the Strood to head off to Abberton. In my simple mind a high-tide at mid-day is always a high one (as the moon and sun are aligned), and we queued for a while to get off. It was entertaining working out who was going to try and get across first, and see the lorries coming over with water spraying over the cab., and we saw more of the same waders and geese plus a few flocks of Golden Plover flying around. For future reference, I reckon the causeway is closed an hour each side of high tide, possibly more.
Then Abberton Reservoir. And a lifer for me - the end of a rainbow. As we stood on Layer De La Hay Causeway we could clearly see both ends in the water just beyond the tideline. Birds were a bit less forthcoming, as the wind appeared to have pushed every diving duck into the inter-causeway area against the light. We had a Great White Egret on the shore line, and as we were about to go Mike called out 'Long-Tailed Duck' and a female flew around the bay and then over the Causeway into the mass of ducks. A nice way to end a relaxing day and a tidy list.
I'm not sure why I keep coming back to Cudmore Grove. My last decent bird there was a pair of Velvet Scoter a couple of winters back. The Naze is another thirty minutes away and gets far better birds, but it is hard work, and unless you get there at dawn then its hours spent waiting for small birds to flit in front of you. Today there was Little Auk and Pallas's Warbler there, but I know from my twitter feed that many birders go and miss everything, not just me. Perhaps it is best to view the Naze's rarities as prizes for those few intrepid individuals who regularly patrol the place and spend the hours searching through sycamores and hawthorn.
So that's half the answer, but the other half is that these days I trust my instincts. Like when my children ask why we don't take a particular short-cut and cut through that estate rather than queue on the main road, its because life is often best when you go with the flow and aren't fighting it. Cudmore Grove has a mix of waders and wildfowl, it has beach, sea, river, and trees. It has a good selection of waders and wildfowl in easy reach, it's always a relaxing and bird-filled trip. Perhaps it is ,as Van Morrison says, to "smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly."