Wildlife in Essex

PUBLISHED: 09:58 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:02 20 February 2013



Essex birdlife update from the RSPB

Dont miss the signs of spring

Spring has finally arrived. Of course, it never happens all in one go. As the harsh grip of a cold winter gradually relaxes there are false starts, half promises, disappointments and relapses, before the warmer days and lighter nights eventually confirm the change in season. One of the obvious indications of this change can now be seen in our hedgerows. The blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) with its white blossom on bare black branches stands out for all to see, while alongside it, hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) has fresh green leaves emerging rather than blossom.
Frogs have now become more active with most ponds containing frogspawn and the male frogs making themselves heard as they call for a mate, most audibly during the night. Rather than a croak, it sounds more like a cross between a motorboat and a cats purr.
Our summer birds are also beginning to arrive, with chiffchaffs singing locally. Their song is easily recognisable as they continually repeat their name, chiff chaff, chiff chaff. The first swallows are also arriving and they can be seen catching insects over lakes and fields, to build up their fat reserves after a long migration and in preparation for the coming breeding season.

Time for the cuckoos song

AS WELL as welcoming the onset of spring, April is also the month when the cuckoo returns from Africa to share with us its familiar springtime call. It can be easy to confuse the call with that of the collared dove, which sounds very similar. If you can mimic the sound of a cuckoo, you can sometimes lure it out of hiding and get a good look at the bird. However, it does need to be a good imitation. The cuckoo has the well-known habit of laying its eggs in the nest of other birds and leaving them to raise its chicks. The colour of a cuckoo egg can be quite variable (from reddish-grey to blue) and people often ask if the cuckoo is able to alter the colour of its eggs to match those of the chosen foster parent.
The cuckoo knows the colour of its own eggs and it knows the colour of its hosts eggs, so any match, is usually the result of careful nest selection by the cuckoo rather than an ability to manipulate the egg colour. Although they sometimes bear a close resemblance to the eggs of the foster parent, more often the eggs do not match the others in the nest at all. Visit Wat Tyler Country Park this month and you may well be lucky enough to hear that distinctive song of the cuckoo and see this cheeky bird too.

A grand day out at Wat Tyler Country Park

Come along to the RSPBs Discovery Zone at Wat Tyler Country Park this Easter for a great chance to enjoy a family day out discovering more about birds and eggs. Do you know which bird lays the largest egg or which lays the smallest? As well as the answers to these questions, there will be fun Easter crafts to make and take home. Easter Fun at Wat Tyler Country Park takes place every day from Friday, April 4 to Sunday, April 18 from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free but there is a small charge for some activities. Call 01268 498625 for more details.

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