Essex Field Club on Facebook

Video about the Club Essex Field Club video

Lymantria monacha
find out more... Black Arches 4 Copyright: Ben Sale

Essex Field Club
Essex Field Club
registered charity
no 1113963
HLF Logo A-Z Page Index


Essex Field Club

When you shop at Amazon DonatesAmazon Donates

Visit Our Centre

EFC Centre at Wat Tyler Country ParkWe are closed due to the Covid-19 situation, but we are otherwise normally open to the public at our centre at Wat Tyler Country Park every Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday 11am-4pm, check. We are also normally open on Wednesdays 10am-4pm.

Your Forum

This forum has now been more or less replaced by the Club's Facebook page at
Essex Field Club on Facebook

The weblog below is for naturalists to use to report interesting sightings, ask questions, report on field meetings and generally post pictures and any information or questions generally relevant in some way to the wildlife and geology of Essex. You will need to register and be logged-on to post to the forum, and you need to upload pictures first, for use in posts. Find out more

Wed 22nd January 2014 16:33 by Graham Smith
Hen Harriers
Thought you might like to see these shots of a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier taken at Blue House Farm EWT Reserve by John Lilley recently. In this instance the bird was probably a female rather than an immature male, which looks similar, and may well have been the same bird that wintered on the farm last year.

Hen Harrier 1 Copyright: Graham Smith

Hen Harrier 2 Copyright: Graham Smith

Unfortunately “shot” is an all too appropriate word when applied to Hen Harriers as they are illegally persecuted on their moorland breeding grounds, particularly in northern England and Scotland. Indeed, the RSPB estimate that there is sufficient habitat for around 300 pairs in England, yet last summer only two pairs attempted to nest and both of them failed. The trouble is they feed on small mammals and birds, including grouse chicks, and grouse shooting is worth a lot of money, an estimated £240,000,000 to the Scottish economy alone. If there are huge numbers of fluffy little chicks scurrying about in the heather it would be a dumb bird of prey that did not make the most of this largesse; thus there is a conflict of interest between conservationists and estate managers but nothing can excuse the visceral hatred of “hookbills” and other predators displayed by some in the shooting lobby. When the latter talk of the need to ‘control’ predators, including birds of prey, conservationists can justly point to the Hen Harrier as a case where ‘control’ has become more like extermination. Victorian habits die hard among some in the shooting fraternity! 

Although such conflicts are normally associated with shooting interests they can be an issue in conservation as well, especially at a local level. There have been instances of serious predation of Sandwich Tern chicks by Grey Herons on Anglesey and in Norfolk and of Little Tern colonies being all but wiped out by Kestrels elsewhere in East Anglia. When you are trying to conserve birds that are facing a number of other threats to their existence such as habitat fragmentation, increased disturbance, and the loss of their principal food supply including – in the case of many seabirds – sandeels (perhaps due to the effects of global warming) heavy predation at a local level can tip the balance.

A bird of prey that is currently doing well in Essex is the Buzzard. When I was a boy the idea that Buzzards would one day be a common sight soaring above the woodlands around Ingatestone was beyond my wildest imaginings. Devon was the nearest place you could hope to see them – a rare holiday treat. Yet last year at least five pairs bred in the parish and surrounding area and their beautiful mewing calls were a frequent accompaniment on my walks. They have spread eastwards thanks to a reduction in persecution, at least in southern England, and are now a common sight throughout the county. Now, inevitably, there are calls from some in the shooting lobby that they need to be ‘controlled’. One gamekeeper, interviewed on the BBC’s ‘Country File’ programme, claimed that Buzzards were killing a thousand Pheasant pullets on his shoot each autumn. I think that he was coming it a bit. Ten Buzzards (a ridiculously high concentration in one area except when on migration) would each need to eat a pheasant a day for over three months in order to achieve this level of mortality while three Buzzards (a more realistic figure) would take the best part of a year. And that’s if they ate nothing else. There must be some very fat Buzzards on his estate! Our local gamekeeper did have some trouble with recently fledged young Buzzards trying to make their way in the world, which saw his pheasant pens as a tempting target, but he largely got round the problem by festooning the pens with tinfoil, CDs, tin cans, and other oddments that banged and clattered and flashed silvery in the breeze. Finding alternative, non-lethal, methods to deal with these conflicts (such as supplementary feeding with domestic white rats and poultry chicks in the case of Hen Harriers) is what conservationists and some members of the shooting lobby are attempting to promote but there are some deeply entrenched views out there and they face an uphill task. 

Many recently fledged young raptors struggle to survive during their first few months of independence – hence the attraction of pheasant pullets – and many die of starvation during this period. The young Kestrel pictured here (also photographed by John at Blue House) found a novel solution.

Kestrel 1 Copyright: Graham Smith

Kestrel 2 Copyright: Graham Smith He discovered that the New Zealand Pygmy Weed which infests the main wader breeding area on the farm was, despite its bad reputation, rich in earthworms and other invertebrates and for two months after fledging it feasted on these (supplementing them with craneflies in September) while at the same time honing his hovering and pouncing skills. He seemed to spot the worms from up to thirty feet away, perhaps detecting some slight movement as they moved beneath the weed. Having secured the worm he would hold it in one foot and draw the body through his beak, expelling all the earth and other gunge inside his unfortunate victim before swallowing the nutritious bit that remained!



May 2020
Aug 2019
Jan 2019
Sep 2018
Jul 2016
Oct 2015
Jul 2015
May 2015
Apr 2015
Mar 2015
Feb 2015
Jan 2015
Dec 2014
Oct 2014
Sep 2014
Aug 2014
Jul 2014
May 2014
Apr 2014
Mar 2014
Feb 2014
Jan 2014
Dec 2013
Nov 2013
Sep 2013
Aug 2013
Jul 2013
Jun 2013
May 2013
Apr 2013
Mar 2013
Feb 2013
Jan 2013
Dec 2012
Nov 2012
Oct 2012
Sep 2012
Aug 2012
Jul 2012
Jun 2012
May 2012
Apr 2012
Mar 2012
Feb 2012
Jan 2012
Dec 2011
Nov 2011
Oct 2011
Sep 2011
Aug 2011
Jul 2011
Jun 2011
May 2011
Apr 2011
Mar 2011
Feb 2011
Jan 2011
Dec 2010
Nov 2010
Oct 2010
Sep 2010
Aug 2010
Jul 2010
Jun 2010
May 2010
Apr 2010
Mar 2010
Feb 2010
Nov 2009
Oct 2009
Aug 2009
Jul 2009
Jun 2009
May 2009
Apr 2009
Mar 2009
Feb 2009
Jan 2009
Nov 2008
Oct 2008
Sep 2008
Aug 2008
Jul 2008
Jun 2008
May 2008
Apr 2008
Mar 2008
Feb 2008
Jan 2008
Dec 2007
Nov 2007

current posts