Packing waterproofs seemed essential as Saturday dawned and the heavy grey skies seemed to have a bountiful supply of rain just waiting to wash out the day. How wrong can you be?
Eleven of us turned up at the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, looking across the Thames to Kent as we donned all weather gear. An odd feeling, as it’s normally the other way round and it’s the group looking northwards to Essex. Looking SW we could see Gravesend and in front of us south to Cliffe Pools. From the elevated position, on a former land-fill site, the clouds rolled and churned but the odd bit of blue sky could be seen in the west and promised to be heading in our direction.
So, kitted up, we headed for the hide on the lower section of the park overlooking Mucking mudflats where the hide stood. The vast expanse of flats stretched out before us as we scanned it for bird life.
We quickly picked out Curlew, probing its long curved bill into the mud for invertebrates. We also saw, at a distance, a large flock of Shelduck and to the east where the remains of a seawall sheltered the mud behind it we saw Little Egret, Greenshank, Black-headed gulls, Grey Heron, Wigeon and Teal and Sue picked out a Yellow-legged Gull.
After some time in the hide, we were treated to sunshine and warmth as we exited and directly outside a Wall butterfly was discovered by one eagle-eyed member of the group as it sheltered in the grass. Its wings were a bit battered but it was great to see this brown butterfly with orange markings and defined black wing spots. Sadly, as with many of our native butterflies, the Wall has suffered severe declines, so we hope this one had had its chance, to create the next generation.
We walked along the south edge of the inlet scanning the water’s edge and grassy slopes and were pleased to see Blue Tit, Starling, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock and a pair of Stonechat, both male and female made their presence known by sitting prominently in the upper parts of bushes and even on the cables running the length of the inlet, making their distinctive sound. A few members got a fleeting glimpse of a Kingfisher, streaking low to the water showing off its turquoise and orange plumage. It was spotted again at the sluice.
Further out, Brent Geese, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone were spotted as we reached the curvature of the inlet over-looking the mudflats. As we strolled along, the temperature had risen significantly and we wondered why we had put on so many layers! The heat certainly suited the birds though and Cetti’s Warblers, Dunnocks and Goldfinches sang and chattered as if springtime had arrived!
On our way back to eat lunch, we saw Common Blue butterfly, Red Admiral, Small White and whilst we actually sat eating, we were treated to a Clouded Yellow butterfly, as sunny coloured as the day had turned out. A moth that hovered briefly, but at a few feet distance, may have been a Humming-bird Hawk-moth. Bees were still busy travelling between the remaining early autumn flowers, collecting precious supplies of nectar and pollen.
Once lunch had been consumed, we decided to take in the views from the top of the visitors centre. This cylinder-shaped building, with its spiralling ramp which takes you to the top, gives 360 degree views of Essex and Kent, the Thames Estuary, its industrial past and present, and heavy machinery re-profiling the land. Swathes of chalk had covered former dumps; a promise of a place for wildlife in the future.
On the jetty, where the cranes still stand, a Peregrine Falcon sat, unnerving the nearby magpies and birds that were perilously close to this magnificent adult bird. Dragonflies were still on the wing and 23 Swallows were seen, gathering together to press forward to Africa.
As we stood awhile looking to the west, a great bank of grey cloud had appeared and the angled rain clearly visable below it. A gentle sprinkling of raindrops forewarned us and we decided to take refuge in the centre. In the nick of time, safely inside, the pelting rain, battered the building . Within twenty minutes the sudden downpour abated and once outside, the sun returned and so did the heat.
We had been advised that a new pathway had opened alongside a nearby fishing lake. Close to the reserve entrance, we found the spot to park our cars and also looked out for the Little Owls that reside there. Unfortunately for us, the owls didn’t appear but on the walk to the lake we saw Small Copper butterflies, Common Darter dragonflies and even a stunning Common Blue Damselfly. A large English Oak was a focal point for galls, of which there were many. At the lake we saw many dozens of Coot , Tufted Duck and a pair of Great Crested Grebes.
We all had a great day. The sunshine was unexpected but very welcome and we hope to make a return visit soon.
Ed- a big thank you to Julie and Chris for leading our first visit to this new reserve. Extra thanks to Chris for the excellent photographs.