Firstly, apologies for the lack of an update for the last week - not enough time in the office between meetings and a weekend off are to blame. It's been an excellent few days on the reserve - typically as I've not been out looking for anything. Two groups of birds have stolen the show - raptors and wildfowl - but there have been lots of other goodies too, and several signs of winter.
Raptors first - and what a week it's been. The highlight was probably the second rough-legged buzzard of the autumn which flew north on Monday morning. Interestingly, one was seen on RSPB Havergate Island recently, I saw one in North Suffolk yesterday, and at least one other is in the county, so it could be a good year for this normally scarce visitor from Scandinavia. Rough-legged buzzards are known as irruptive migrants - large numbers may visit in some years due to a food shortage. This is a good indication of a crash in the lemming population - their favourite food - as suggested by the relative lack of little stints and curlew sandpipers passing through earlier in the autumn (in the absence of lemmings, predators switch to feeding on breeding wading birds.)
The ringtail hen harrier and short-eared owl remained around the reedbed and sluice respectively yesterday, when a red kite flew over the car park. Add these to the daily sightings of marsh harriers, sparrowhawks, kestrels and barn owls, plus the occasional peregrine, and it's been a very good week for raptors. And for another predator, as an otter was seen in front of Bittern Hide on Friday.
Wildfowl next, and the first winter king eider remains offshore, driftng between Dunwich, Minsmere and Sizewell, with the odd visit to Thorpeness (thus having been added to both the Dingle Marshes and North Warren lists as well as Minsmere's during its five week stay). Also offshore, three velvet scoters joined the common scoter flock again on Monday.
More predictable winter wildfowl made an appearance this week with the first Bewick's swans arriving very early on Sunday. Six were on Island Mere before continuing their journey westward (perhaps these were among the early arrivals at Slimbridge reported wildly in this week's media?) Two female goosanders flew over the Scrape on Sunday - a scarce sighting at Minsmere, while numbers of teals, wigeons, gadwalls and shovelers continue to increase, with many finally beginning to show their finest plumage after the summer moult.
Winter is clearly beginning to show its teeth - and I don't just mean the arrival of much colder weather form the north this week. Two shore larks (a scrace bird in Suffolk these days) were on the dunes on Saturday, followed by a snow bunting near the sluice on Monday. A purple sandpiper spent a couple of days on the sluice outfall last week, and one or two great grey shrikes took up temporary residence around the red deer viewpoint on Westleton Heath until Sunday. More exciting was a waxwing in the North Bushes yesterday. A little auk on the beach on Sunday was a bonus before it headed back out to sea - hopefully there will be more next month. Elsewhere, redwings continue to pass through each day, fieldfares are starting to arrive, a couple of bramblings remain around the visitor centre and water pipits have returned to the Scrape and reedbed.
Finally, one of the great white egrets remains at Island Mere, little egrets and bitterns are seen daily, a Caspian gull is often seen roosting on the Scrape, and kingfishers continue to be seen regularly.
Oh, and I can't let the week pass without mention of red deer. The viewpoint closed at the weekend, but the deer are still rutting so it's still worth a stroll along the footpath on the southern edge of Westleton heath to look for them. I led one of the last Deer Safaris on Firday and had incredible views - here's one of Jon Evans' amazing photos to give you a taste. Look out for these events next year.