Island Mere Hide is dead (almost). Long live Island Mere Hide.
For those who haven't heard yet, we are replacing the very old Island Mere with an exciting new one that will offfer improved access for all, better viewing and the same impressive range of species that can be seen from the current hide.
The existing hide was built in 1978 and for many years has shown signs of its age. It can be quite dark and cramped inside which makes it very difficult to visit on a guided walk, and means it's not very welcoming for newcomers to birdwatching. Also, as anyone who has visited when the hide is busy will know, the viewing from downstairs can be very poor for much of the year as the reeds grow up to restrict the view, especailly for wheelchair users.
The new hide will be located on one level - that of the existing upper level. It will be eight metres further forward (as the original hide was), which will improve views along the reed edge and up the ditches running east and west from the hide. It will also have large deep windows to improve the all round viewing, whether you are seated or standing, using binoculars or telescopes. The new hide will be accessed via a longer ramp to ensure it is fully wheelchair accessible, and this ramp will itself offer improve opportunities to watch reedbed species, especially marsh harriers and bearded tits.
We have developed the hide design following extensive consultation with many existing users, and comparing hides on several other reserves, and we're really excited about the new hide.
The existing hide will be demolished on Monday 26 September, with the new one due to open in late November. This hide replacement is part of the Minsmere Discover Nature Project, with many more exciting changes coming over the next few months.
I visited Island Mere Hide for the last time yesterday and took the photos below, plus more that you can find on our Community gallery. I saw marsh harrier and bearded tit in my brief visit, while bitterns and otters have both been reported today.
Two panoramas from the hide
and the view approaching the hide
Island Mere Hide and boardwalk has received generous funding from Waste Recycling Group via Suffolk Environmental Trust and through the Natura People project, part financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the INTERREG IV A 2 Mers Seas Zeeën Crossborder Programme 2007-2013.
No, I'm not talking about boozy nights out for the boys before they get married. I mean something filled with far more testosterone than than juvenile pranks can muster. Something that really separates the men from the boys, the haves from the have nots. Something to really the girls talking and crowding round in awe.
I am, of course, talking about the annual red deer rut, where huge stags battle for supremacy and the right to mate with their chosen harem of females, or hinds. These battles are all about posturing and posing. Weaker stags will rarely engage in physical confrontation for fear of serious injury. However, if the endless deep-throated roars, bellows and grunts don't determine the victor, then let battle commence as stags charge at each other, heads bowed, to clash antlers with sickening force.
If you'd like ot expereince this incredible spectacle for yourself, then join us on Westleton Heath where we've opened a free viewpoint to watch the action in the flesh. The viewpoint is open every Saturday and Sunday evening until 23 October, and will be staffed from about 3.30 pm to dusk. We have binoculars and telescopes to improve your views of the deer. You may also see foxes, green woodpeckers or even stone-curlews from the viewpoint.
Interested? Then head to Westleton heath. When the viewpoint is open, it will be signed from the large Natural England car aprk on Westleton Heath. From here it is a half mile walk to the viewpoint where you'll find our information trailer. You won't regret the walk.
Red deer by Jon Evans
That was the quote from a keen local birdwatcher yesterday following what can only be described as exceptional conditions for seawatching.
As i mentioned in a recent blog, seawatching is one of the more extreme types of birdwatching. It takes considerable patience, and many years of practice to be able to identiy passing seabirds at a mile or more distance, especially your telescope is often buffeted by the wind. To seawatch effectively, you really do need a telescope, not simply binoculars.
Any keen seawatcher will keep a close eye on the weather forecasats, hoping for the right combination of weather conditions. A strong onshore wind and early mist or drizzle can often bring birds closer to shore than usual. When the forecast is right, you can find the dedeicated few perched on any headline staring intently out to sea.
The best seawatching is usually in the far west of the country. Places like Porthgwarra, Pendeen and St Ives in Cornwall, Cape Clear Island and the Old Head of Kinsale in County Cork, or Bridges of Ross, County Clare, are engrained in birdwatching folklore for the incredible variety of seabirds seen there, especially following the autumn hurricanes in the US.
Here in Suffolk, we usually have to make do with skuas, gannets, terns and the odd sooty shearwater, as the rarer seabirds remain in the western approaches and do not enter the North Sea. Hurricane Katia, however, seems to have created the perfect conditions to bring unusually high numbers of seabirds into the North Sea, and yesterday strong easterlies brought many of them close to the Suffolk coast.
It's difficult to know exactly how many shearwaters and skuas were seen along the coast, as many sightings will undoubtedly relate to the same bird further along the coast, but a quick look at some of the reports on the rare bird news services shows that it was certainly an incredible day. Shame I didn't go down to the sluice to see for myself.
Great shearwaters are exceptionally rare off the Suffolk coast, yet even allowing for duplucation it seems there were probably three or four different birds seen yesterday. One was reported at Minsmere. This would be the first reserve record, so if you saw it, can you please send us a full rarity description. Great shearwaters breed in the southern ocean, and their annual migration takes them in a huge loop of the Atlantic, up the western seaboard of the Americas, then back south along the African coast. Four years ago I saw many off Cape Town in November, alongside albatrossess, where they were probably returning to breeding colonies off South America.
Rarer still was a report of a probable Fea's petrel off Lowestoft on Thursday evening. This is a holy grail among many seawatchers and will be the first Suffolk record if accepted.
The other large shearwater to visit the UK is the Cory's shearwater. There have only been a handful of Minsmere records, but one was reported here yesterday. This was part of an influx of possibly as many as ten different birds noted from watchpojnts between Felixstowe and Lowestoft.
There were also several Manx and sooty shearwaters, lots of Arctic and great skuas and gannets, and a few of the rarer pomarine and long-tailed skuas reported. All were probably seen from the Minsmere sluice, although some were too distant to identify with confidence. Conversely, some of the great skuas (known as bonxies by many birdwatchers, after their local Shetland name) were actually flying directly along the beach.
Of course, many gulls and a few late terns were also reported offshore. Of these, star billing would go to the handful of Sabine's gulls reported - another bird that is much more likely to be encountered in Cornwall or Ireland than Suffolk.
With so many seabirds on the move, it's hardly surprising that the first brent geese were reported flying south over the last couple days, along with good numbers of common ducks and waders. Nine pink-footed geese were seen earlier in the week too, having overshot their usual wintering areas in North Norfolk.
Hurricane Katia has also brought a selection of American waders to the UK, and Minsmere has been home to up to four pectoral sandpipers all week. This is by far the commonest American wader on our shores, but can be difficult to pick out among flocks of dunlins. Our birds have tended to keep to themselves, or join the ruffs on the Scrape, and have showed well at times but been highly elusive at others. At least two are still around today.
Other sightings today have included Fiona the flamingo (back from a four day holiday elsewhere), the escaped Cape shelduck, excellent views of bitterns at Island Mere, at least three hobbies, two firecrests in the sluice bushes, and a painted lady butterfly outside the toilets - an exceptionally rare record this year.
Anyone who has children will, I'm sure, be familiar with Bob the Builder. I know he's a favourite of my son, Thomas, who already knows most fo the words to the theme tune. Paraphrased slightly, it goes something like this: "Bob the builder, can he fix it? Yes he can. Scoop, Muck and Dizzy and Rolly too, Lofty and Wendy join the crew. Bob and his friends have so much fun, working together to get things done."
Well, we may not have Bob and his friends at Minsmere, but we've certainly got a wide variety of heavy machinery on site. The Environment Agency's Minsmere Flood Defence Project is progressing well. Their contractors have already removed the old North Wall and constructed a temporary haul road along which diggers, dump trucks and rollers trundle back and forth every day.
The lorries and diggers are currently busy moving material along the dunes to construct two bunds between the existing secondary defence bank and the dunes. These bunds, which are located to the north and south of the East Hide entrance, will reduce the flow of water behind the dunes in the event of future breaches. Last time the dunes breached, the fast flowing water undercut the dunes, causing further erosion. This phas o the work will alst a few more weeks, during which time the coastal path has been temporarily diverted. Access to East Hide is still possible, via the sluice and beach, but you may have to wait for the contractors to give the all clear to cross the haul road.
Once the bunds are finished, the team will return to the North Wall and begin the rebuilding process. The final wall be much wider and stronger, ensuring Minsmere's freshwater habitats are protected from the sea. This project is due for completion in February 2012. Until then, the North Wall remains closed and you'll see tall Heras fencing at both ends (see picture below).
We do, however, have four seasonal trails now open to ensure that there remains plenty to see: the North Bushes trail for migrants, the reedbed trail for bearded tits, the wader trail and the butterfly trail. Ask for details at reception.
All photos by Sue Rendell-Read
Guest blog by Lisa Robinson, Intern Visitor Officer
Hello, I’m Lisa and I’m the new Visitor Officer Intern, here for the next six months. I’m into my second week at Minsmere, and I’ve been very busy already! In my first week, I met loads of people and started on a couple of projects. My main project is the red deer rut viewing for Autumnwatch, running every Saturday and Sunday from 24 September to 23 October, 3.30pm til dusk. I’m really looking forward to seeing the deer bellowing at each other and perhaps even charging! I’ll also be helping with the half term and Christmas events. I’m hoping to blog fairly regularly about all of this, as well as updating about the sea defences work on the North Wall and the Minsmere Discover Nature Project. Busy busy busy!
Despite all the project planning I have had some time to familiarise myself with Minsmere and the wildlife. I watched a bit of bird ringing on Thursday, and on Friday I went on the Magic of Minsmere walk with Ivan, one of the volunteer guides. I’m not a birder, so I learnt an incredible amount in those 3 hours. As a complete amateur, I was surprised at how many species of duck there were on the scrape (shelduck, teal, gadwall, mallard, and wigeon to name a few)! I could probably name “mallard” but that’s about it. Yes, you can laugh at my ignorance. As well as ducks I saw a little egret, a few avocets, lots of waders (including a dunlin and a ringed plover chasing each other around), Fiona the flamingo, and many others that I can’t remember. I’ll be an expert in no time! We also spent a while trying to locate a wasp spider on the dunes but they proved elusive other than egg sacks.
For the next week or so I’ll be getting familiarised with the workings of the Visitor Centre as well as continuing to organise the deer rut event. Please come along, it’s going to be brilliant!
Rutting red deer by Jon Evans