Despite the deep freeze conditions, there was a touch of exotica at Island Mere today. A Chinese feel to the birding. The reason? The unexpected appearance of a pair of mandarins, sharing the tiny ice-free pool with a few gadwalls, shovelers, mallards and teals, five female tufted ducks, a drake pintail and three coots.
Mandarins are widely established as an introduced species in the UK, although the most reliable site to find them in Suffolk is Christchurch Park in the middle of Ipswich. One or two appear briefly at Minsmere most years. What was perhaps most surprising with this record was that they were displaying, even in the freezing conditions. (Equally surprising was the great spotted woodpecker drumming in my garden this morning.
The roosting starlings have changed their behaviour tonight, perhaps as a result of the freezing conditions, or maybe because of the continued attacts by both a peregrine and our now resident ringtail hen harrier. Whatever the reason, they were settling in gorse bushes on the dunes, rather the North Marsh reedbed.
Also in the dunes today was a Dartford warbler, while a woodcock was flushed this morning. On the beach, were five grey plovers, two sanderlings, two dunlins and five turnstones. A great northern diver flew past yesterday, and an incredible flock of 50+ pale-bellied brent geese flew south on Sunday (this race is very rare in Suffolk).
The Scrape was almost completely frozen, but the evening gull roost attracted an adult Caspian gull, while a yellow-legged gull was present yesterday.
Elsewhere in the reedbed, the red-head smew was feeding in the ditch near south hide at dusk, a water pipit was nearby this morning, and water rails have been feeding on the sprats put out in front of Bittern Hide to try to help them and bitterns to survive the freeze.
Among the small birds, 20 waxwings were again outside the wardens' office, three goldcrests and a treecreeper were spotted between Bittern and Island Mere hides and at least 20 goldfinches were on the tearoom feeders.
All in all, a great day to be out birding, regardless of the cold weather. You can, of course, warm up in the tearoom, or pick up a bargin in our Christmas sale in the shop.