Fellowship Afloat’s centre in Tollesbury is an ideal place for exploring the estuaries and saltmarshes of the Essex coast.
These habitats are interesting all year round, but they are at their most spectacular in winter, when many thousands of birds gather to feed and roost in these wide open spaces.
Bird watching weekends are suitable for beginners, with plenty of time for the experienced leaders to teach participants how to identify birds.
Birds all around
‘Trinity’ is moored alongside a tidal creek on the edge of 150 acres of saltmarsh, owned by the Fellowship Afloat Charitable Trust. Even visitors arriving after dark are immediately aware of the abundant birdlife – typical estuarine species such as brent goose, curlew, redshank and dunlin are often heard as they feed, on the mud around the ship. In the light of day, these and other wildfowl such as wigeon and teal can come close to the ship, and the helideck makes a superb viewing platform.
Raptors such as hen harrier, merlin and barn owl often hunt over the saltmarsh and the adjacent nature reserves, at Tollesbury Wick (Essex Wildlife Trust) and Old Hall Marshes (RSPB), and we occasionally see peregrine and short-eared owl.
Out on the water
The boat trip down the creek to the Blackwater Estuary is usually the highlight of the weekend, when huge flocks of waders swirl around the boats giving exceptionally close views. The black-and-white patterns of several hundred avocets are the most spectacular sight, particularly when the sun is shining. Less common species such as great northern divers, red-breasted merganser, red-throated divers and eider may be seen, and we once glimpsed a Forster’s tern, a very rare vagrant from America that spent the winter on the estuary.
A wide range of sites and species
Several other notable sites lie within a few miles of Tollesbury, and we normally manage to visit Abberton Reservoir, Fingringhoe and Mersea Island.
These are all good places to see woodland and farmland birds as well as wildfowl, and we expect to see over 90 species in a weekend. Recently we have occasionally added Braxted Park to our itinery, where the highlight was several hawfinches, which boosted our weekend total to 100 for the first time.
A grand total of 154 species have been seen over the past 20 years these weekends have been running, see the list here. This wealth of wildlife, combined with the friendly welcome, ample food and community spirit on board ‘Trinity’, ensures that everyone has a memorable weekend.
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