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Local Delights in Winter

The last weekend in January marked the occasion of the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and I am sure that many Residents’ Association members in Billericay took part in this survey of the birds visiting their gardens. During the one hour on Sunday morning 15 species of bird visited my garden, Most people enjoy watching the wildlife visiting their gardens and get a buzz of excitement when they see some of the less common species, such as jays or green woodpeckers, inspecting their lawns for acorns or ants.
Whilst we are lucky to get a good variety of birds, the majority of Britain’s resident species are unlikely to be seen in or around towns, as they require specialised habitats. This is particularly true of the waders, which prefer the muddy shorelines of river estuaries, or edges of reservoirs. In Essex we are particularly fortunate to have the longest coastline of any county in England.

For anyone interested in getting to know our wealth of birdlife, one of the Essex Wildlife Trust visitor centres would be a good place to start. They not only offer encouragement and expertise, but often have binoculars available to help with identification. On a visit to Hanningfield Reservoir last weekend, my daughter and I watched two Ruff, as they probed the water’s edge for invertebrates just below the Centre. We watched them whilst enjoying a cup of tea and piece of cake ( That was us, - not the Ruffs!)

Some winter visitors can be seen in the most unexpected places. If you are in a supermarket car park and see a group of blokes with binoculars and long lenses, then there is a good chance that there are waxwings in the vicinity. These stunning birds visit the UK in the winter on the look-out for trees with berries. They are particularly fond of rowan, hawthorn and crab apple, the sort of small trees supermarkets like to use for landscaping their car parks. I photographed the one in the picture in the McDonald’s car park at Rayleigh Weir on 2nd January 2017.

In amongst the waxwings, you may see other Scandinavian visitors, keen on the same berries. This week I have seen Redwings and Fieldfares feasting on a crab apple tree in the Queens Park estate and have seen them and Mistle Thrushes looking for worms near the entrance to  Stockbrook Manor, so it is not necessary to go far to see some of these, not uncommon, but perhaps less familiar, birds. Happy birdwatching!

Alan Waddoups