Trip Report: Heybridge Basin – 25 January 2020
The weather wasn’t particularly inviting, being dull and chilly, at around 5°C – and the online weather forecast I consulted helpfully said it would feel more like 3°C – but nevertheless it was a considerable improvement on the weather in November which led us to cancel our previous attempt to lead a walk around Heybridge Basin. A good number congregated in Daisy Meadow car park and, with two or three joining us shortly after we set off at 10.30am, a grand total of 26 people completed the circuit. At times we were very spread out and I am grateful to my husband Richard and fellow committee members Sue, Louise and Stuart, for keeping track of everyone and helping ensure we all made it back to the car park in under 3 hours – and to everyone who attended for the friendly and appreciative spirit they brought to the walk and the sometimes challenging, muddy conditions. Special thanks as well to Steve Foster, who not only brought his telescope and kept the species list, but was able to identify the most difficult of the species spotted on the walk. All will be revealed….
Turning right along the towpath alongside the Chelmer Navigation, long-tailed, great and blue tits and goldfinches were visible in the trees and bushes, as well as a fine song thrush. Coots, moorhens and a pair of little grebes busied about among the vegetation and moored boats on the opposite side. The star of the show, however, was a kingfisher, clearly visible perched in the vegetation, and even more so as it shot across and along the water numerous times. Richard and I had seen one there years ago but never since, so agreed with everyone who declared it worth coming just for this lovely bird. A lone stationary tufted duck showed itself at very close quarters too.
We didn’t expect to see anything as we made our way through the modern housing estate to get to the sea wall, but were delighted by a group of 8 greenfinches flitting about a garden tree. More tits, house sparrows and a beautifully singing robin were on view in or near the expanse of reeds before we reached the gravel pits lake, and once we started along the sea wall proper we saw lots of lapwings, redshanks, several oystercatchers, a few black-tailed godwits, a curlew and a turnstone on the mudflats of the River Blackwater to our right.
As usual there were plenty of gulls: mainly black-headed but herring and lesser black-backed gulls were also spotted. A perched kestrel and a single little egret were seen. The duck species recorded were teal, wigeon, shelduck, tufted, mallard and, towards the end, pochard. About 20 dark-bellied brent geese flew over the path and others were visible on the land beyond the lake, together with Canada geese. Some were able to distinguish a number of ringed plovers among hundreds of dunlins on a mud bank. Little groups of avocets were feeding in the Blackwater, with others flying from one part of the river to another. We were all excited to see beautiful murmurations of some smallish waders – perhaps dunlins again, or knots, or the crowds of golden plovers known to congregate in the area – out over the estuary beyond the statue of Byrhtnoth on the Maldon side. At this stage, with our group of walkers spread out along maybe 400yds of the sea wall, some saw a peregrine falcon flying over, alarming the waders on the nearby mud flats, but others – myself included – missed it completely.
Meanwhile, to our left on the gravel pits lake, where the water level was high enough to drown most of the usual islets, a pair of small, brownish, thrush-like birds, flitting about and intermittently standing on a small rock, was challenging everyone’s ID skills. Another pair was viewed nearby. After a good look through his scope, Steve, together with David Simmonds, was confident that they were rock pipits. How appropriate that we should see them standing on a rock!
Moving on, with the tide well in by noon – on its way to high tide shortly after 1.00pm – we had clear views of a male and female stonechat flying around and perching on one of the grassy tussocks along the edge of the Blackwater. Together with representatives of various common species, this brought the total number of species recorded to 49 – or 50 if we give ourselves a bit of leeway and include the pair of pintails seen by Stuart in a preliminary foray along the tow path in the Goldhanger direction! Either way, the total represents an impressive advance on the 35 counted when Richard and I led a similar walk on 10th September 2017, and proof of a very rewarding January walk.