Saturday, 23 July 2011

East Coast Sailing

My partner T had been looking forward to taking me for a few days sailing on the east coast for some time.  So eventually I managed to book a few days holiday and with a fair forecast and favourable winds we set off from Felixstowe Ferry on Tuesday lunchtime.

Keeping a look-out

First stop was Walton backwaters, a maze of channels and salt-marsh to the north of Walton-on-the-naze.  We anchored in the channel near Stone Point, at high water.  This is a bird reserve with a shingle beach where there appears to be a good tern colony.  There were lots of Common Terns flying to and fro, but also numbers of Little Terns and a small group of Sandwich Terns, making a lot of fuss.  We didn't land, as I suspect it is discouraged, although not everyone realised this.  

Stone Point at high tide

As the tide was receding fast we moved round into Hamford Water which is much wider, and anchored there for the night.  I was very pleased to see a broad expanse of mud flats appearing with plenty of bird life for me to train my telescope on.  I have recently bought myself a digiscoping adapter and had fun trying it out. However the light was fading fast and the movement of the boat didn't help, but it was good practice!  

Oystercatchers 'piping' on the mud

There were lots of Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits - some still in red summer plumage, Avocets, Curlews, Redshanks, a few Bar-tailed Godwits and a single Greenshank.  I was confused for a while by a large black and white diving duck which turned out to be a male eider in eclipse, one of a group of 3.  Lots of Canada and Greylag geese, and 5 summering Brents.  It was lovely to see a flotilla of 19 young Shelducks in the charge of 2 adults swimming down the river and clambering out onto the mud.  It seems to be a good area for Little Terns which were fishing very close to the boat.  Herring Gulls must have cast iron stomachs - one was finding small crabs in the mud, hauling them out by their claws and swallowing them whole!  A few Common Seals were hauled out on the mud and seen swimming around the boats, apparently it is a renowned spot for them and they can be a nuisance by hauling themselves into peoples' dinghys and causing them to capsize.  

The wind dropped away at dusk leaving a very calm evening and a beautiful sunset.  We sat on deck until it was almost dark when it started to turn rather chilly.

On Wednesday morning we headed off back up the coast to Southwold, taking most of the day to get there against the tide and with a rather fickle wind.  I enjoyed watching the coast glide past and took lots of photos.  Two or three small parties of Curlew were flying south, migration in progress.  The only really good bird of the trip - a skua - put in a brief appearance at the very moment when I was engaged in hauling on a rope and couldn't get to the bins!  I presume it was an Artic - a pale morph - it showed a distinct pale collar and underparts, but I couldn't be sure.  Passing Sizewell power stations the cooling towers were well populated with Kittiwakes which also came near as they were flying in and out.  

Southwold harbour

Lots of Swifts were flying low over the streets in Southwold during the evening and a family party of Reed Warblers showed well beside the dyke across The Common (the road to the harbour).

On Thursday we stayed moored in Southwold and did a circular walk to Walberswick, along the beach, across the marsh and back via the heath.  There was large colony of Little Terns on the shingle beach, roped off against walkers and dogs, but not proof against weasels.  The presence of a weasel was revealed by the agitated terns, Ringed Plovers and Redshanks, presumably all nesting nearby.  I saw it leap up in defiance at an attacking tern, but didn't see if it carried off any prey.  We had a good view of a Bittern flying across near Dingle Great Hill, and also of a pair of Marsh Harriers passing food to the female which then landed in the reeds. 

Old wind pump on Dingle Marsh

On Friday morning we had a fair wind and set off for home at about 10am as the tide started to run in our favour.  We had a lovely sail home arriving back at the Ferry by 3pm.  Not a great deal of bird life to see en route apart from the usual terns and Kittiwakes by the power station.  It was interesting to see a number of butterflies which appeared to be coming in off the sea, mostly large whites but the occasional red admiral, and also a number of bumble bees.

Dinghy park at Felixstowe Ferry

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