My usual weekday walk took my friends and I to Essex this week, with a trip to a new site for us at Chafford Gorges an Essex Wildlife Trust Reserve near to Lakeside Shopping Centre. Although we knew that it was created from old chalk pits within a settlement built on a brownfield site, we did not really know what to expect.
To our delight, a warm welcome, the opportunity for a hot drink and cakes, toilet facilities and some shelter from the lashing rain. However, the nicest surprise was the reserve itself. A bowl of green within a housing estate with plenty of opportunity for access for local people. Several large lakes held water birds – a pair of kingfisher, little grebe, great-crested grebe, tufted duck, mallard, coot, moorhen with chicks, greylag and canada geese. In the shrubby edges we had robin, chiffchaff, blackcap, blue tit, great tit, wren and a very shy willow warbler. Corvids were aplenty with over 20 magpie in one tree alone, jackdaw and a pair of jay were also seen. A green woodpecker was heard several times but remained unseen, unlike a great spotted woodpecker which was feeding on a tree trunk alongside the path. Near to the visitor centre chaffinch and dunnock were added to our list. We also found a strange couple of trees which had bright yellow bark – something to investigate – and a beetle which was braving the cold wet weather.
Despite the rain we had a great time – with some picnic tables in the base of the reserve it gives a great venue. We only visited one part of it, there are several other areas of woodland and a couple of areas where chalk cliffs are exposed – so plenty of new areas for us to explore on another visit. The only downside is that because it is in the centre of a housing settlement, there is the ongoing issue of litter and also dogs being walked off the lead. We had a discussion with the warden there regarding both issues which they are aware of and have plans to improve.
We decided to go to Rainham Marshes RSPB Reserve for lunch and a circuit around the reserve there in the afternoon. At the feeders reed bunting joined goldfinch, house sparrow and collared dove. Wood pigeon and stock dove were also feeding along the side of the path. Again the rain caught us several times, but we used the hides and hedges to best advantage. Bird of the day was definitely a ruff in partial summer plumage. With it’s dark neck and throat and the beginning of the “ruff” around the chest it was a delight to see, we watched for ages as it fed between reeds at the edge of the pool. Redshank joined it occasionally so that we could compare the two species.
Coot and moorhen were on nests, some with young already venturing out on their own. Some lapwing were settled on nests whilst others were still displaying. Great tit and robin were both seen in courtship food passing. Beyond the reserve to the west huge mixed flocks of gulls were on the fields, many were juveniles but almost all were impossible to identify, herring gull, black-headed and lesser black-backed being the three most common.
At least three grey heron were seen during the afternoon, one posing just outside the hide for us – obviously camera-shy though as it moved every time I switched the camera on! As we returned to the centre a couple of swallow flew past as if saluting our resilience.