Return to Fingringhoe Wick - 7th May 2017
What a lovely day it turned out to be, yesterday. When I set off to join the EFOG gang in Snaresbrook, the rain-threatening, dull grey morning confirmed that I was right to put scarf in my bag, layers on my 'top' and flask in my rucksack. What do the forecasters know? Where was the promised sunshine?
Still, it was cheering to see the little crowd waiting in Snaresbrook to sort out car shares and soon we were on our way. I was even being chauffeured this time – really appreciated as I'd had a bit of a sleepless night. Thank you Joshi and Sandhya – for your company as well as your care.
The dull weather seemed well set in on the journey, even after we had breakfasted in Heybridge Basin. The giraffes, crocodile and hippo hadn't moved much since our last visit. The food was just as good as I remembered. Looking at the clouds after we left the café, it was just possible to see the white disc of the sun floating above the grey murk. “It is trying to get through.” Marilyn said, smiling at it gently. I asked it to “try harder”.
The sat-nav and a bit of additional guidance from Paul ensured that we soon got to our final destination – Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve. The group had visited the new part of the reserve last year – see the blog entry 21st February 2016 – when I had compared it to a kind of building site. It didn't seem that way any more – but it was just as magical. Perhaps more so. Nature had clearly taken over - with a lot of help from her friends - well done Essex Wildlife Trust.
Talking to others, I discovered I wasn't the only one to think birdsong this year seems to be more varied and loud than usual. They were definitely in good voice at Fingringhoe. I can't remember hearing so many trilling nightingales at once – but I still didn't see any. Of course, there were more birds – including cuckoo, blackcaps and blackbirds – even a buzzard was spotted – perhaps helping to generate alarm calls?
Our chief goal, of course, was to re-visit Ann's Reeds and the new seat. We didn't get lost (thank you Duncan) and we weren't disappointed. I don't think I've ever seen a more photographed bench – and so many smiling faces – as we remembered our very, very dear friend. I could almost hear her 'squeaking' hip and feel her lovely spirit. There were other seat 'memorials' as we walked round, but this one will always be special to us all.
By then the sun had won its battle with the clouds. Its rays beamed on us for the rest of day, encouraging us to jettison layers as we walked round, putting some back on again when wind from the estuary blew through open hide windows. Some of the group changed plans for an early return – it was too good a day to cut short – in many ways.
This time, there were no dramatic surging tides breaking through breaches, no welly-sucking, muddy walks, but the views were magnificent, the late Spring colours fresh and vibrant. The wonders of verdant flora and fauna were multiple.
The waters were calm mirrors, reflecting clouds and sky-scapes; the feeding birds seemed settled and contented, ignoring the sometimes noisy visitors; the opportunities for silent contemplation were blissful. The air was nectar to my polluted London lungs. Thanks to all for making one of my now rare days out with EFOG such a great way to start a new week – soul-strengthened.
Pamela Fleisch, 8th May 2017
A visit to Fingringhoe Wick always gives rise to mixed emotions for me. The emotions always include one of pleasure, but also of sadness and loss. The visit by members of the Epping Forest Outdoor Group on Sunday 7th May to view Ann's Seat and Ann's Reeds held all of these emotions, and perhaps even a little more so.
The approach to the reserve, which is situated on the edge of the River Colne opposite Alresford Creek and really nowhere near any large towns, has always confused me, even though I have driven and been driven there on a number of occasions. The country roads get narrower and narrower, there are almost un-signposted turnings to find, and just before entering the reserve the road – almost a track – becomes sandier and sandier, quite unlike much of Essex. The sandy nature of the soil and the planted Pine Trees give it something of a Suffolk heath feel. As we drove along the approach track, a buzzard was soaring overhead.
The group assembled outside of the visitor centre, having arrived in different vehicles and still awaiting some latecomers, and the sun was shining brightly and there was a warmth to the air that had often been missing over the last few weeks. Some of us wandered over to view the lake in the deep hollow below. Much of the reserve's contours is the result of quarrying over the years, now completed and resulting in a diversity of habitats and landscapes. Mallards, Coots and assorted common duck were visible, and briefly – together with it's whinnying call – a Dabchick visible before diving. A lot of interest was shown by some of the group to the chickens that were roaming about, but my attention was caught by the sound of Nightingales just along the path. I spent some time, within view of the others, trying to spot one, but this is a near hopeless task. They are always so loud, so near, yet so invisible. They are also so rare, and increasingly so. Each year I worry that I shall never hear one again, yet know that Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve is one place in Britain where they still may be heard. I had my camera ready, just in case, and realised that I could record the sound if not photograph the bird, so switched to “record”. That's when the rest of the group turned up, chattering quite as loudly as Nightingales sing, but closer. When they'd either quietened or moved on uninterested, I tried again. That's when a young lad came along, shuffling at the gravel path. The Nightingale continued. I gave up.
Fingringhoe is an excellent place to see badgers, even in daylight – if early enough or late enough, or quiet enough. We were none of those, but I did see the distinctive scrapings at the sandy edges of the footpaths we were walking along. There were Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing, and the quieter and increasingly rarer song of the Willow Warbler. And Blackbirds, too – to my mind possibly the best of all the songs.
At Fingringhoe, the vegetation changes suddenly from scrub and woodland to the wide open views of the Colne estuary, and as we walked up the few steps to the sea wall, just before us was Ann's bench, which I was seeing for the first time. Most of the EFOG group were already gathered around it, so I kept back and looked across the small creeks of the salt marsh below the sea wall towards the Colne. This salt-marsh landscape, with its muddy creeks and low vegetation, is one that has a particular appeal to me. This certainly results from long childhood times spent at my grandma and grandad's plotland bungalow, with its French window looking south across the Pitsea grazing marshes out towards a distant Thames. I used to wander alone as a child by the salt-marsh creeks around Pitsea Hall Creek, where now the Wat Tyler Country Park is. Mud and crabs, purslane and sea-lavender. Out on the Fingringhoe marsh, a solitary Little Egret seemed to be just keeping an eye on the crowd by the bench on the sea-wall, but was completely safe out there with the muddy creeks between it and us. There was no sound of the Cetti's Warbler that Duncan and I had experienced on a previous visit to see Ann's Reeds, before the bench was set up above them. Possibly just a bit too much disturbance this time, but an ideal location for that loud bird, and hopefully – as the reeds develop – a Bittern may take to using it. From the bench, looking across Ann's Reeds, the recently-flooded new part of the reserve was at a low-water point, so the waders that are increasingly frequenting it were far away on its outer edges, near the Colne.
The group got itself together, with a succession of cameras pointing at the group posed around the bench, before moving off to walk along the ridge on the newly-opened track above the breached land. The previous week, two friends had visited the same place, and had sat quietly on the bench and reminisced. They'd known Ann, and appreciated the place in a quieter moment. I shall go back and do that, some time.
The sun was warm now, and it was lovely weather. We were by now split into a number of smaller groups, taking if not different routes, then different directions. Amina and I went into one of the hides and out across the lagoon and scrapes saw two Grey Plover in fine breeding plumage and handsome Sheld-duck swimming around in the shallow waters. The "wardens of the marshes" - the Redshanks - were piping across the waters, and - more distant - the lonely bubble of a Curlew could be heard. These are marsh and estuary sounds indeed.
A small group of us gathered together, and I suggested that a right-turn from the ridge-track rather than the more direct route back to the visitor centre could make a more varied walk, so that we did. It's a walk I know and like, mostly parallel to the stream that feeds the reeds. It follows at first a wide-cut grass track between Hawthorns – complete with May blossom – passes by an ancient meadow and then enters something of a wonderland of narrow paths along rising and descending ridges. Last year when Duncan and I walked this we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing a Turtle Dove – another of those sounds of the countryside that is almost gone now. We weren't so lucky this year – not with a Turtle Dove – but we did hear a Cuckoo. That, to me, is one of the most evocative sounds of Britain in Spring and early Summer. How many more years will we be able to hear that, as well?
Our last - well, not quite last – observation – and that is apart from the pleasure of the walk itself – was of a Green Hairstreak butterfly, already being looked at by a group of four people. These are not necessarily rare creatures, but are decidedly local, so not a butterfly that is commonly seen. And just to round the wildlife aspects off as we got very near the visitor centre – a few Swallows and a few Sand Martins passing overhead – and a male pheasant and his two females in the adjacent fields.
We met the others, already ensconced in the cafeteria part of the centre, joined them in tea and cake and the like, before various sub-groups began to say their farewells and return to their cars and home.
I suspect that all enjoyed their visit to Fingringhoe Wick, to see Ann's Reeds and the bench that the group purchased to her memory. The weather was lovely, and the stroll round the beautiful area was – hopefully - a pleasure to all. I think that probably quite a few of the group didn't perhaps appreciate the wealth of wild things that some of us were aware of – and maybe didn't even know they were hearing Nightingales. Ann would have done, and my lasting image will be of that Little Egret out there on the marsh, watching the group chattering around her bench.
Paul Ferris, 14th May 2017
Photos by Paul Ferris and Peter Gamble