A massive total of 80 Bewick's Swan roosted on Island Mere this evening! Also on the reserve today: Two Whooper Swan, Firecrest, male and ring-tail Hen Harrier and at least five Smew.
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Every year I lead a winter wildfowl guided walk on 2 February to celebrate World Wetlands Day - marking the signing of an international treaty to protect the world's most important wetlands for wildlfie and people. Minsmere is one of many RAMSAR sites, designated under this treaty, so it seems only right that we help to celebrate this significant milestone in the conservation of wetlands. Even more so as this the RAMSAR convention's 40th anniversary.
This year was probably the best such walk I have led. Five visitors joined me, along with Nick, one of our newest volunteer guides, on a leisurely stroll around the Scrape. It was cold but bright as we set off, and the omens were good when two female marsh harriers flapped lazily overhead as we stood around the pond. Then, as we wandered through North Bushes, a panicked twitter alerted us to a sparrowhawk zipping through the canopy - though most sadly missed this master hunter.
On the sea, conditions were perfect for watching some of Minsmere's less easily seen species: good numbers of red-throated divers and great crested grebes close to the shore offered an excellent comparison between these two fish-eating birds.
East Scrape was excellent, with great views of teals, shovelers and gadwalls, plus a drake and six redhead smews and an oystercatcher - the latter is scarce in winter, but the first breeding birds should start to return soon. Two pintails were more distant, but still gave great 'scope views. A pochard tried hiding behind a group of shelducks, while a great black-backed gull looked typically imposing. As we were about to move on a turnstone landed on the central bank.
Shoveler by Jon Evans
From the Public Viewing Platform we added tufted duck to our growing list of ducks and had much better views of a group of gorgeous wigeons, which obligingly whistled as Nick was mentioning these great calls. Next stop was to scan across the Levels, which were literally heaving with ducks - though a 'scope was needed for really good views (no sign of Sunday's glaucous gull today). Two redshanks, a grey plover, five dunlins and three curlews provided a nice mix of wading birds on the Levels. Two stock doves perched on the chapel ruins were a popular addition to the list, while one of my personal favourites was a male kestrel in a nearby tree. A male hen harrier was reported flying our way, but evaded us. Not so the marsh harriers - at least five quartered low over the reedbed while one high above the levels caused some initial panic among the ducks.
Returning to the Scrape trail, the birds kept coming thick and fast: a skylark flitting across the path and across the konik field, another grey plover from South Hide, several tufted ducks at South Hide, a whooper swan flying towards Island Mere was a bonus, then to round off an excellent list of wildfowl, a flock of 13 white-fronted geese flying south over the Scrape.
Even once we reached South Belt, the birding remained of the highest quality. The leaf litter literally moved with flocks of redwings and blackbirds flicking leaves this way and that in search of tasty morsels. A siskin flock in the alders included at least one lesser redpoll - always a nice bird to see. A marsh tit called and a treecreeper close to the path rounded off a superb walk.
Siskin by Chris Gomersall (RSPB Images)
After pointing my guests in the direction of the tearoom, I headed to Island Mere, where two male red-crested pochards provided the icing on the cake of another cracking day at Minsmere (sadly Saturday's black-necked grebe hasn't been seen since, and last night's Bewick's swans had long since departed to feed in fields near Blythburgh - no doubt they'll return tonight).
It was a gorgeous spring-like day at Minsmere today. Shame I was in the office.
At least two buzzards flew over the warden's office - a sure sign that spring is on its way. Other signs of spring are increasing birdsong, drumming great spotted woodpeckers and flowering snowdrops.
A reminder of winter was the fabulous flock of Bewick's swans, with at least one whooper among them, that flew in mid afternoon. this is presumably the same flock that usually arrives after dark, suggesting they may be disturbed from their feeding fields at Blythburgh. They were tracked south from RSPB Dingle Marshes, over Dunwich Heath, before heading towards Island Mere.
Three smews (one male) were still on the Scrape today, and there were good numbers of red-throated divers offshore.
Check here for news of Saturday's wild goose chase at RSPB North Warren too.
Why not pop along and see for yourself.
Paul and I met a lovely group of folk today for a guided walk to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of the group. Mostly up from London for the weekend, and staying in nearby Walberswick, they joined us mid morning to discover Minsmere for the first time.
Paul took a group of mainly adults for an enjoyable birdwatching walk around the Scrape, finishing at Bittern Hide, while I took the younger children and a few parents to West and Bittern Hides.
The walks were obviously very different, with my group focussing on completing the children's Bird Bingo sheets. With a bit of effort we acheived a full house - thanks to the last few hawthorn berries close to Bittern Hide, a couple of flowers on a rather whispy gorse bush and scuttling centipedes and wood lice under a fallen log.
Inevitably, our birding was more limited, with highlights including black-tailed godwit, teal, good numbers of lapwings, singing Cetti's warbler, and a few marsh harriers. Good views of the koniks were a bonus. They seemed to enjoy it though, and the cakes, tea and coffee to finish went down well.
Paul's group spent more time learning about the reserve management and spotting a good range of wildlife. A couple of redhead smews on South Scrape were the highlights around the Scrape, but Bittern Hide really came up trumps. Both bittern and kingfisher were seen. The former was a long overdue first for another birdwatcher I had spoken to earlier, who had failed to see one in many visits over the last three years! A goldcrest was another bonus for Paul's group.
Kingfisher by Jon Evans
Elsewhere today, John Grant spotted a woodcock flying in off the sea - is return migration starting already? He also had a yellow-legged gull ont he Scrape - if you want to find our scarcer/trickier gulls such as Caspian or yellow-legged, John is the person to speak to. Yesterday, he found three Egyptian geese and a Mediterranean gull on the Levels too.
With gorse and snowdrops now in flower, and the daffodils threatening to burst bud any time, spring is definitley on it's way. You can prepare your garden birds for spring by making them a nestbox at our special make a nestbox events on Monday 21 to Wednesday 23 February. Call us on 01728 648281 to reserve your places.
White seems to be the theme for this week's best birds.
Highlight so far is the great white egret that was spotted from Bittern Hide on Tuesday. It was a couple of times within the reedbed yesterday (including once in the same pool as a little egret), and was on the Levels this morning. I'm guessing this is the bird that has been at RSPB North Warren and Thorpeness for several weeks, but as great whites are known to wander widely it could be a different bird. Typically, it looks to be a tricky brd to see, popping up in various pools, but hopefully it will choose to settle somewhere visible soon.
Only a little easier to predict where you'll see it is the drake smew. It was just in front of Island Mere at lunchtime yesterday, showing really well, along with two redheads. Two more redheads were at the back of the mere, with another (or one of the same?) on South Scrape int he morning. No word yet today though. Up to eight smews continue to roam around Minsmere's pools.
Smew by Jon Evans (drake above, redhead below)
Two whooper swans were on Island Mere again yesterday - they seem quite settled now. At least 62 Bewick's swans came to roost on Monday - we haven't looked since. I also had great views of three mute swans at Bittern Hide.
Continuing the white theme, an adult Mediterranean gull - complete with gleaming white wingtips - was on East Scrape yesterday, an adult Caspian gull was there today, and ten gorgeous snow buntings flitted along the dunes like huge snow flakes this morning. Oh, and of course there's the snowdrops dancing merrily in the breeze around the car park entrance and near Scotts Hall.
Of course, not everything is white at the moment. Marsh harriers continue to show well and are starting to bring in nest material. A subadult male hen harrier was seen over the weekend. A lovely full summer plumage great crested grebe has returned to Island Mere - spring must be on its way - alongside a female goldeneye and several pochards and tufted ducks. Bitterns are seen most days, and a kingfisher has been regular at Bittern Hide. Buzzards have been regular over Island Mere. On the Scrape, look out for black-tailed godwits, dunlins, grey plovers and turnstones, while good numbers of ducks remain.
Finally, up to three firecrests are heading to roost like clockwork each evening. They flit along the hedge behind the volunteers chalet between 4.30 and 4.50 pm each evening. If you ask at reception, we can help you to find them.