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).
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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