Who left this deposit behind in the woods at Minsmere?
A couple of clues:
It's in the woods
The hole is about 30 cm across and 20 cm deep
You've got a few days to answer, as I'm off till Tuesday. Answers (or more clues) after that.
You've all heard of the three R's of learning. As you're reading this, you'll be familiar with the three W's of the world wide web. Well, today's wildlife highlights centred on the five W's: waxwings, wildfowl, waders, water rails and wagtails.
Waxwings continue to be seen almost daily at Minsmere - 20 in North Bushes this morning, 12 around the wardens' office yesterday, ten over the car park on Thursday. They also seem to be the subject on everyone's lips: "Where are the waxwings?" Yet, they remain an incredibly difficult bird to see at Minsmere. Most flocks usually just stop off briefly on route to a supermarket car park or housing estate further inland. It seems that a flock has chosen to stay here this winter, but they remain very mobile. Your best bet.? Stay in close contact with a volunteer who carries a radio - that's how I find out about.
Wildfowl. That's ducks, geese and swans. With the ice finally melting (it was a positively tropical 6.5 degrees C at 9.30 am today), hundreds of ducks have once again spread out across the reserve's looking absolutely stunning in today's glorious sunshine. Among the commoner species, highlights include five pintails (three drakes, two females) on East Scrape; two redhead (female-type) smews on Island Mere, and at least two pochards on Island Mere. Thurday produced an impressive count of 597 mallards. Bewick's swans continue to star too. Island Mere at dawn and dusk are the best times to see good numbers - the resident flock has peaked at 57 and counting, but there was a good passage of birds on Wednesday and Thursday, heading inland.
Waders. The beach continues to attract a good selection of waders, with a few others now on East Scrape. Highlights today included: grey plover (two on East Scrape, three on South Scrape, four on the beach, but possibly some repition within these counts); knot (on on the beach); sanderling (two on the beach); turnstone (three on the beach); and redshank (8+ on the beach).
Sanderling by Jon Evans
Water rail. Usually one of most elsuive birds, one obligingly walked into the open in North Marsh at lunchtime as I explained to a couple of birdwatchers that the moorhen-like "kip kip" call they could hear was a water rail. Many birdwatchers are familiar with the pig-like squeal, but this call is probably uttered more frequently. A nice bonus for the three of us anyway.
Wagtail. Although I haven't seen it, I'm reliably informed that a white wagtail has been pottering around the tearoom feeders for a couple of days. This is the European counterpart of our familiar pied wagtail, and although relatively common on migration, it is a rare bird here in winter. (see picture three on link for white wagtail).
Of course, it's not only the W's that are around at present. The starling roost continues to attract visitors and predators:; the ringtail hen harrier remained yesterday; a snow bunting was on the beach this morning; redwings are in North Bushes; goldcrests are widespread.
Minsmere's starling roost by Jon Evans
Finally, the koniks have been showing very today - four on the Scrape, most of the remainer in the konik field.
I first came across the Environment Agency (EA) awards back in early October. Having read the criteria for the `pioneering biodiversity programme` award, I thought that it wouldn’t do us any harm to apply. I eventually managed to convince Malcolm Ausden, the RSPB’s Principal Ecologist that an application wouldn’t do us any harm, and Malcolm duly submitted the application.
When we heard that there had been around 250 applicants for the seven awards that were up for grabs, I was somewhat pleased to hear, three weeks ago, that we’d been short-listed! We had entered our heathland re-creation work, as a demonstration of helping wildlife to respond to future climate change by creating bigger blocks of suitable habitat.
Due of the short notice, only Malcolm and I could make the presentation event in London – I thankfully managed to re-arrange a meeting that I originally had for that day. My train tickets only arrived the day before the event, which was when I also heard from the EA that the dress code was `business attire`.
Knowing that I didn’t have a suit, I began to think that I shouldn’t attend. However, in the knowledge that I’d attended two weddings during the summer, I was aware that I’d have something smart to wear, but I was still mortified by the prospect of having to wear a tie!: It’d been nearly four years since I’d last worn one – I just hate anything tight around my neck, and it’s for that reason that I don’t even wear T-shirts!
So, the big day arrived and Sally gave me a lift to station. I had decided to catch an early train and make a day of it. It had been years since I’d last been to London and I was really looking forward to some sightseeing, and to visiting the HMV Oxford Circus shop for the first time. I duly went there and spent more money than I should have - don’t tell Sally!
From there I walked towards Trafalgar Square. It was here that I became aware of the student protests – that’s why there were four helicopters in the air making all that noise! I crossed the Thames via the Millennium Bridge and had good views of the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye (an eye-watering £18 for a `flight`). Then it was on to Buckingham Palace via Lambeth Palace, taking photos all the way.
From there, it was a walk through St James’s Park towards Westminster Abbey, passing many visitors, some with squirrels hanging from their legs after titbits, and trying not to walk on the abundance of pigeons that were about my feet. I’d never been through this park before, and apart from the pelicans, I managed to tick off ring-necked parakeets for the year.
I decided not to visit the Abbey – the £15 entrance fee rather put me off. As it was now getting dark, I headed back to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, past the anti-War camp at Westminster Square and the `revolting` students.
After a fairly quick visit to the gallery, it was time to don the tie and to head for the Awards Ceremony at Westminster Central Hall! Malcolm arrived some 30 minutes later: he said that he didn’t recognise me, which wasn’t a surprise as I was certainly out of my more natural plumage!
We bumped into and chatted with a number of ex-RSPB colleagues: Graham Wynne (recently retired Chief Executive), Paul Jose (ex EA and now working for Huntington District Council), and Buglife Chief Executive Matt Shardlow, as well as our new Chief Executive, Mike Clarke. Both Graham and Mike had been there for the entire day; attending the annual EA conference.
Over drinks and nibbles, Chris Huhne MP gave his address. Then the awards ceremony began – ours was to be the sixth of the seven awards to be presented. Each of the organisations that were short-listed for each award was mentioned and then the winner announced and photo taken.
The four other projects short-listed in our category were: Hesketh Outmarsh West (a partnership re-alignment project on the Ribble estuary that included the RSPB – one of our newer reserves); Alkborough Flats (another re-alignment project on the Humber estuary); Little Ouse Headwaters Project (a small community charity on the Norfolk-Suffolk border); and Lancashire CC `Our Moors, Our Planet` (a peatland restoration project).
You can imagine the surprised look on our faces when we were announced as winners! We were both quite shocked and dumb-foundered, particularly given the standard of all the competing projects.
Malcolm Ausden (left) and Mel Kemp (centre) receiving their EA Award
After the photo, we were ushered to an area to give an interview to camera and then went on to mingle and ultimately receive the congratulations of colleagues. As the audience gradually dwindled, I took my leave and went for something to eat – a rather enjoyable curry.
With time ticking on, it was off to the station to catch the last train home. So, you can imagine my frustration when, as we neared Liverpool St, an announcement came over the tannoy at the tube station before mine, that there would be a five minute delay. Panic! My train was to leave in seven minutes and it would take me too long to find my way out of the station and then find the main line station. What to do? – I stayed put.
We eventually moved off, and on arriving, I raced up the stairs and looked up to the overhead boards for my departure. It wasn’t there – more panic! Having asked someone, I then raced to the platform just in time to see my train leaving! I knew that I could still get back to Ipswich, so it was quick call home. After having to endure a number of comments regarding my situation from my beloved, a time was agreed for my pick-up.
Thirty minutes later I was off home. I couldn’t believe that I’d managed to sit in one of the two carriages that didn’t have heating – I’d sat in the other carriage on my incoming trip! Nevertheless, I was pleased to see Sally at the station and then more than happy to be at home with a beer in front of the fire – it was half past eleven. It’d been a long but gratifying day.
What a day!
Guest blog by Mel Kemp, RSPB Minsmere warden
Our starling roost was particularly impressive again tonight. Numbers remain at about 6000 birds, but however good we are estimating such big flocks, they were reduced by two tonight thanks to the successful attacks of an opportunistic peregrine! One theory behind why starlings gather in such numbers is for greater safety from predators. This is probably true, but you must remain in the middle of the flock. Stray too far, and a peregrine, sparrowhawk or harrier will be grateful of a late supper. you need to be on the North Wall from about 3.15 pm to see them - and stay till it's dark!
Starlings over Minsmere by Jon Evans
The Bewick's swan flock has peaked at an impressive 41 this week. Their bugling calls echo across the reserve, providing a haunting soundtrack in the mist and murk. It may have been these calls that attracted another bugler today. Three common cranes dropped onto fields between New Cut and the Eastbridge footpath, where they were viewable from the top of Whin Hill. Later, they moved to the South Levels, close to the ruined chapel. Cranes are always exciting to watch, and remain rare birds in the UK. They bred successfully at both RSPB Lakenheath Fen and RSPB Nene Washes this year. They are much more common in Europe, and I should see many more next spring, when I'll be co-leading a tour for Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays to Poland. Perhaps you'd like to join me.
While watching the cranes, we had three sightings of a bittern in flight in about five minutes, plus at least three different marsh harriers over Island Mere.
Bittern in flight by Jon Evans
Another ten waxwings paused briefly near the pond this afternoon, but weren't attracted to the apples spiked on dead branches just for them. The blackbirds were enjoying a feast though. Far less seasonal was a ring ouzel (or moorland blackbird) along the Eastbridge road on Sunday - a very rare winter record of this migrant thrush.
As one of the RSPB's best known nature reserves, Minsmere has a long track-record of playing host to important human visitors, as well as impressive wildlife. Even so, it's rare to see three important guests arrive independently on the same day, as happened on Saturday. (Of course, all our visitors are important to us, but these three had particular reasons to be at Minsmere over the weeknd, each with their own story to tell.)
Guest number one was an old friend of the reserve: David Chandler. David has previously worked for the RSPB. In fact, he spent some time volunteering at Minsmere before beginning his career in conservation. He is now a freelance writer, author of several excellent wildlife books. He is also an active member of A Rocha, a Christians in Conservation organisation which is close to my own heart. David was at Minsmere on Saturday to sign copies The RSPB Children's Guide to Birdwatching and Kingfisher. Both books were especially popular with members of our Wildlife Explorer group, who were enjoying their Christmas party.
Cue guest number two: Father Christmas. With most of the snow having melted overnight, he arrived by a specially decorated red car, lavishly covered in shiny tinsel. As ever, Father Christmas was warmly welcomed by the children as he heard about their wishlist for Christmas and presented each of them with a special early gift.
Father Christmas with Louise and the Minsmere Wildlife Explorer group (above) and relaxing on his new method of transport (below). Photos by Mark Groves
For guest number three, the journey to Minsmere was rather less simple - a much more strenuous. Gary Prescott is a keen birdwatcher and longtime RSPB member. Continuing the link to the Wildlife Explorers group, Gary is a special needs teacher in the West Midlands, and was previously a YOC leader (the YOC was the predessor of RSPB Wildlife Explorers). But that wasn't why Gary was at Minsmere. His real reason should put most of us to shame.
Gary Prescott left home in the West Midlands on 1 January with the bold aim to cycle to every RSPB and WWT reserve in the UK in a single year. His journey began at RSPB Sandwell Valley, and has taken him around Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and most of England already. I was rather jealous of his stories from Shetland (where I've never been), but have no plans to repeat his chosen method of transport!
Gary Prescott (centre) arrives at Minsmere (with Minsmere volunteers Jon Evans, left, and Neil Williams). Photo by Jon Evans
After almost a year on the road, Gary's marathon journey is nearly complete. He is due to return to Sandwell Valley on 31 December. The East Anglian leg of his journey has been particularly challenging due to the recent wintry weather, but that seemed not to dampen his spirits as he began his tour of Suffolk's RSPB reserves. As I type, he should just have crossed the border into Essex.
To Gary's credit, he's not just ticking off the locations either, but racking up an impressive list of birds on route. In fact, thanks to the help of Minsmere's volunteer guide and tearoom assistant Jon Gibbs, Gary added both woodlark and Caspian gull to his list at Minsmere. He needs just a handful more species to break the record for the number of species seen in a single year in the UK without using a car - currently 252, and he left Minsmere on 246. Good luck Gary.
Gary isn't just doing this for fun either. He's raising funds for the RSPB. You can find out more, and support his efforts here.