Ten members of the Group met at this relatively new site which we have only visited once before. Created on the site of Mucking Landfill Site, there are still memories of the history of the site, with domed grass and flower meadows, created from the capped landfill and metal cranes which were used to offload the rubbish from the river barges. This heritage is mirrored in the Visitor Centre Building which from Cliffe Pools looks as if the scaffolding is still present – closer up it fits the landscape perfectly, especially with London Gateway Port to the west of the site.
After a recce and chat with Volunteer John Bentley on the roof of the Visitor Centre, we were ready to explore. With a receding tide shorebirds were not going to be easy to find, but we did have plenty of black-headed gulls loafing on the nearby ‘managed retreat’ area at Mucking Flats between the nature park and the port. Common tern flew past carrying fish and disappearing in the direction of Kent . . . . Cliffe?
As we walked along the side of the creek there were plenty of butterflies flitting around, including gatekeeper, common blue, meadow brown, and a possible brown argus. A pair of whitethroat appeared in a bramble bush and flew ahead of us as we proceeded along the path. A huge flock of starlings were flying around giving a great show, which we continued to enjoy for most of the morning. At the end of the creek we found a stonechat and several linnet. Two common sandpipers were a nice surprise, a kestrel hovered, goldfinch were joining the linnets flying around and when both species were calling it was hard to tell them apart. Swallow, sand martin and house martin were spotted over the sluices and reedbeds.
A few of the group could not resist a foraged ‘elevenses’ of a few fresh blackberries which were large, juicy and sweet – lucky birds this autumn!
We also had chance to add some more common birds to our list including wood pigeon and magpie. Then it was back to butterflies with more potential brown argus, much debate took place over how much blue they had on them – or not depending on the book you read. Sally spotted a brown hawker dragonfly, and as we did a loop of the paths behind Mucking Flats we found a large bright green dragonfly hawking along the edge of the path and the treeline. Despite our best attempts it would not stay still long enough for a good look, let alone a photograph, but it was a very interesting sighting.
From the seawall path (beyond the reserve boundary) we had a good overview of the shore and the resting gulls. There were curlew, whimbrel and black-tailed godwit seen here – thanks to those with telescopes! A jay shot through and there was a constant traffic of collared doves moving from west to east and then back again, maybe they were feeding on the fields by the centre and then moving back to nests in the tall trees behind the Flats.
After lunch in the company of two pied wagtail, we took John’s advice and moved to another part of the reserve, further inland and starting at the entrance to the site. Here we were nearer the part of the landfill which is still being capped. Malcolm spotted common cudweed (Filago vulgarisms) growing along the path. Native to Europe, from the Mediterranean to Scotland, it is found in grassland and near cultivated fields. Agricultural practices have probably had some effect on its distribution and it was an interesting find.
More butterflies including a more positive brown argus (still to be confirmed), gatekeeper, meadow brown, holly blue, peacock and comma. A buzzard was spotted soaring over the trees in the distance.
We spent some time scanning a lake called Heronry Shaw, sadly no herons on show today but there were many coot, common gull, black-headed gull and juvenile herring, greater black-backed and lesser black-backed gull. Great crested grebe, tufted duck, pochard and mallard completed the set.
Thanks to all those who attended and made it such an enjoyable day, to Steve Cullum for the photos and to John Bentley for the useful advice and welcome.
If you would like to see more of our photographs follow this link to our Flickr page.