Some places are just so good that you keep going back - time and time again. Minsmere is one of those places (though I probably don't need to tell most of you that!) So much so, that I came on Monday for a visit with my wife, son and parents.
Even with much of the freshwater on the Scrape and reedbed still frozen there were some good birds around: five redhead smews on South Scrape, a female goosander flying over, impressive views of a male sparrowhawk from Bittern Hide, water rails feeding on sprats put out in front of Bittern Hide to help the bitterns survive the cold, and a lonely avocet on South Scrape.
Sparrowhawk by Jon Evans (this is a female)
My family love visiting Minsmere, and this one of the few occasions where neither my wife or my mum managed to see a bittern, but there were many reasons why that was soon forgotton. The water rails for a start. Cracking views of another often elusive bird.
The tearoom once again proved a welcome distraction. Broccoli and stilton soup with a cheese scone for lunch, then later a gorgeous cake with a pot of tea. All a very tasty and welcome change from the (admittidly equally lovely) Christmas leftovers.
And as for Thomas. Well, he was in his element. If you've ever walked through woods with a two year old, you'll know what I mean. He was kicking leaves, hiding behind trees, borrowing granma's stick to point out the snowmen on our quiz trail signs, and, of course, jumping up and down in ice-filled pudldes. He also looked through his new Wildlife Explorers binoculars (not sure whether he actually sees anything through them yet as the eyes seem to be closed most of the time, but it's great fun copying mummy and daddy. And my mum treated herself to an expensive new pair of binoculars, ready for her dream trip to Botswana next autumn.
Not content with coming to Minsmere on my day off, yesterday I braved the tiring walk up the shingle ridge at Dingle Marshes, in thich fog, in search of two species that now very rare anywhere else in Suffolk. Despite the fog, I had good views of my target speices - nine twite and ten shore larks, as well as seeing a ringtail hen harrier, spotted redshank and rock pipit.
Shore lark at Dingle Marshes by Jon Evans
Tuesday's highlights at Minsmere were a bean goose flying north (the first on the reserve this year) and a green-winged teal at Island Mere - probably last winter's bird returning (green-winged teals are the North American version of our common teal. Females are indistinguishable, males have a vertical white stripe on their side, rather than the horizontal one).
Highlights so far today are: Caspian and yellow-legged gulls on the Scrape, four red head smews (two each on East and South Scrapes), two velvet scoters offshore, water pipit on the Scrape, and a male hen harrier at Eastbridge.
I'm not back in till Tuesday, so would like to wish everyone a safe, happy and bird-filled New Year.