24th – 28th July 2014 – The only way is Essex   Leave a comment

Margaret’s son-in-law, John started a new job in Maldon, Essex back in March, Anita followed him in May after landing a job on Canvey Island. Margaret visited them whilst I was in Borneo but last weekend we both visited over a long weekend.

Although less than 170 miles away we found the journeys there and back to be quite tiring, mainly due to dreadful congestion on the M25. On the way up the temperature exceeded 30c which made sitting in stationary traffic jams most unpleasant.


Maldon is a very pleasant town on the western bank of the River Chelmer.  Leaving Margaret and Anita to chat, John and I walked down to the river bank for a pint on our first evening. A line of Thames barges was docked waiting for the high tide.



I have been on several foreign birding tours with Essex birders and ringers Simon and Pat Cox. We contacted them before our visit and they invited us along to see a brood of Barn Owls being ringed at a nearby reserve.



Seven eggs had been laid, six hatched but one chick died young, even so a brood a five healthy youngsters shows that Barn Owls are having a good breeding season, unlike last year. Simon on the right is assisted by the local reserve warden (whose name I’m afraid I forgot to note).



I had ringed Barn Owl chicks before but not Kestrels, so I was delighted when Simon took me to a Kestrel’s nest where the three chicks were just the right age for ringing. Ringing birds at the nest is particularly valuable as it defines exactly where bird has come from in the event of a later recapture.


On the 26th John and Anita had some business in Canvey Island and afterwards we drove to Southend-on-Sea for lunch. The weather had turned rather dull but that still didn’t deter the masses of holiday makers that thronged the beach.



In the 19th century it was the fashion for Londoners to take a short cruise on the Thames. Margate in Kent had good docking facilities but Southend with its extensive mud flats didn’t. Southend’s answer was to build the longest pier in the world – over one and a third miles long. The Kent coastline can be seen in the background.



That evening we visited the Blue Boar, an coach horse inn in Maldon dating back to 1400. We were impressed that although John has only been living there for five months, everyone in the pubs and many passers-by already know him.


The adjacent hotel has plenty of old world charm



On the 27th Margaret and I borrowed their bicycles and cycled round to Heybridge Basin.



The cycle path followed the River Blackwater which was turned into a canal in the 19th century to move timber from the Baltic inland. Here yachts wait for hide tide before departing the canal for the tidal stretch of the river.


Even row boats have to wait until the lock gates open on the high tide.  We were later joined by John and Anita at a nearby cafe. We had planned on a late cooked breakfast but breakfasts weren’t served after 11. No worries, as we could get scrambled egg on toast with a side order of bacon, sausage and beans, ie a cooked breakfast. You could get tomatoes as well but only if they weren’t cooked as they couldn’t fry them after 11 !



Margaret and I cycled back along the River Chelmer. Maldon is on the far side of the river.


With the rising tide, the tourist carrying Thames barges were able to set sail.




Cycling up the steep hill that leads to Maldon High street was a bit of challenge. Margaret has opted to push her bike.


Aquatic LB SR3

Of course you can’t be two places at once, but it was a bit ironic that I suggested  that we go to Essex in July rather than August as I wanted to maximise my chance of seeing an Aquatic Warbler in the hand at Lytchett Bay, something that was far more likely in August. Guess what, on the 25th they trapped what was not only the first UK Aquatic of 2014, the first in western Europe of 2014 but the earliest record in Dorset ever! Photo by Shaun Robson.

Aquatic LB SR1

As would be expected at this time of year it was an adult, as can be seen by the very abraded plumage. Although I saw a number of these very rare birds from eastern Europe in the hand when we used to ring at Keysworth, I haven’t seen one anywhere since 2000 and haven’t seen one at the Bay since 1983! Photo by Shaun Robson.


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