Only 70 miles from the centre of London are the backwaters of Walton-on-the-Naze on the Essex coast. These are home to lots of wildlife, including a breeding colony of around 70 common seals and on Sunday we went looking for them.
It was one of those summer days that remind you of just how resilient the British at the seaside are. Down on the beach children in bathing costumes were happily splashing around in the surf, further up the sand siblings hunted for crabs wrapped up in duffle coats and wellies while parents sipped thermos tea from behind wobbly wind breaks. Fair took me back to my own childhood memories of the Kent coast.
However that wasn’t why we were there, we had an appointment with the good ship Karina for a two hour trip around the backwaters of Mamford Water National Nature Reserve. It wasn’t long before we saw our first seals.
The seals had pupped within the last week and it was enchanting to watch the mothers swimming with their offspring. According to our guide the seals will look after the pups for three weeks before leaving them to fend for themselves when the mothers come into season. One of the seals obligingly hauled herself out of the water so her baby could have a drink.
The reddish cast to the seal’s fur is caused by the iron oxide in the mud. As we moved further into the backwaters we observed more seals basking in the afternoon sunshine.
The seals were regulating their body temperature through their webbed hind paws. These were all common seals and we were lucky enough to see a very young pup with it’s mother having a bask.
There were also some Atlantic grey seals snoozing beneath the surface here. Occasionally they popped their heads out of the water to see what was going on, but they were too quick to snap a decent photo.
The backwaters are also home to one of the UK’s biggest breeding colonies of black headed gulls. While we were on the water a marsh harrier flew over the colony to be mobbed by the concerned parents.
Of course black headed gulls don’t actually have black heads, their heads are chocolate brown, but there are European gulls, which do have black heads nesting amongst them.
We also saw a pair of barn owls hunting over the marshes (which I didn’t know they did during daylight), cuckoos, cormorants, greylag geese, snowy egrets, herons, herring gulls, common terns and little terns. Apparently the barn owls were the first that our guide had seen this year so we were specially privileged.
Our trip cost £13 for adults and £7 for the Powder Monkey, if you fancy doing it call Winks on 07806309460 or 07596597615