Although I've been involved in the exciting EU LIFE+ project on Orford Ness NT and RSPB Havergate since the funding was confirmed, I had not had the chance to see how work progressing until this month.
Last week, I visited the 'Ness for a project meeting, braving strong winds on the short boat trip across, and was very impressed by the amazing transformation of the Old Airfield. No longer is it a grassy field with dried out pools. now, there are new ditches, pools and water control structures that will allow the National trust to maintain the area in tip top condition for waders and wildfowl.
Then yesterday I joined colleagues from Minsmere for a rare chance to visit Havergate itself. Instead of sitting in an office for a team meeting, Aaron, Dave and Kieren showed us around the island to update us on the project and show us the work that is being done.
And what a transformation I saw. My last visit was in July when the vegetation across the lagoon islands was tall, reducing viewing opportunities, and my last winter visit was more than five years ago. If what I saw yesterday is anything to go by I'll be looking for opportunities to visit more frequently from now on.
The contractors have been incredibly busy. Gullery and North Lagoons look very different as the old eroded islands have been removed and replaced by new low islands that will be ideal for nesting birds come the spring. Right now the lagoons are teeming with waders. The contractors are also replacing all the sluices on the island so that we can control water levels and salinity much more effectively.
Winter is without doubt one of the best times to visit Havergate. As usual, the birding started from October Storm (the RSPB boat) with a flyover spoonbill, bar-tailed godwits and avocets on the river banks and six brent geese on the river. As soon as we reached the visitor centre, we had great views of a young spoonbill (ringed in Germany) feeding on Main Lagoon, among big flocks of wigeons, gadwalls, teals, mallards, pintails and shovelers. Waders featured strongly too, especially grey plovers, dunlins and black-tailed godwits.
As we moved to Gullery Hide, the birding got even better, despite the presence of the diggers. First, I spotted the seven common cranes that have spent several weeks at Boyton Marshes and surrounding area. They were flying distantly, but thankfully landed in view so that everyone could spot them through a telescope (we later saw the same flock at close range at Gedgrave). Then we spent several minutes enjoying close views of bar-tailed and black-tailed godwits, ringed plovers, dunlins, grey plovers, redshanks and turnstones. This was a great chance to compare the ID of some similar species at close range.
Heading south to the central areas of the reserve, we were treated to incredible views of a short-eared owl hunting along the bank - one of the special birds that regularly visits Havergate in winter. In fact, I don't think I've ever had such good views of these fabulous birds. Nearby, a brown hare posed briefly on the boardwalk. Belpers Hide produced more ducks and waders, including a spotted redshank and two oystercatchers - both scarce birds in winter.
All too soon, it was time to board October Storm and return to the mainland. Yet, despite the relatively short visit, I was once again reminded what a special place Havergate is, and I'm excited about the future for the island's birds. Keep up the good work Aaron, Kieren and Dave.
If you would like to visit Havergate, visitor trips run on the first Saturday of each month and on selected event weekends. Trips are limited to a maximum of 12 people per boat. For further details, or to make a booking, please call the Minsmere visitor centre on 01728 648281. Please be aware that due to the works, the next visitor trip will be on Saturday 3 March.