It's been a long ten weeks since I last visited the old Island Mere Hide, so it was with much anticipation that I headed down to the new hide for a quick look yesterday. And I was not disappointed.
The hide looks absolutely superb as you approach up the ramp. This will be a great place to watch bearded tits from, though in my brief visit yesterday I didn't see any. Once you enter the hide, the first thing that strikes you is how light and airy it is. The old one, much as I loved it, was also so dark and cramped. The massive windows in the new hide give a superb view over the mere and the reedbed beyond, whether you are standing up or sitting down.
And there's another big difference too. Not only is the new hide fully accessible with wheelchairs and pushchairs, but there are no fixed benches for you struggle to climb over. Instead, we have a selection of benches and chairs that you can move into postion as required. Some of the chairs are not yet the final product, but these will be in place very soon. And don't worry, the hide floor is damped and sound-proofed, so unless you're really noisy the birds won't be disturbed. We tested it while i was in there. A colleague stood under the hide and the only notable noise was from a bench being dropped - not the sort of thing that usually happens.
You also quickly realise that you're further forward than before. This means the views of the mere are even better, and an old ditch to the right is now viewable too. There's still loads of open cut reed in front of the hide and along the edge of the mere where bitterns are likely to feed in spring. And although the hide looks taller, that's simply because it has more head room. You're actually stood at the same height as in the upper deck of the old hide. (Photographers, we are looking into ways to give you access below the hide for those low-level bittern shots - watch this space).
There's already been some good birds seen at Island Mere. While I was there we found a spotted redshank - probably one of the first records for Island Mere as they are usually on the Scrape or Levels. Six Bewick's swans were there today along with a black swan - another addition to Minsmere's list of exotic escapes in 2011. Two red kites and three buzzards were reported just before I arrived yesterday. And yes, bitterns and bearded tits have been seen too.
Elsewhere, a glossy ibis was photographed on West Scrape at lunchtime, but had gone by the time I had a look. There were more Bewick's on the Scrape, along with two dunlins, several black-tailed godwits and at dusk two Caspian and three yellow-legged gulls.
A waxwing flew south early this morning (16 were near Scotts Hall yesterday), and seven crossbills flew south over the car park. The starlings, however, seem to have moved elsewhere, with none seen tonight for the second evening running.
The approach to Island Mere Hide (photo by Adam Rowlands)
Island Mere Hide is now open. We're still waiting for a few of the seats (so if it's busy you may have to stand), and our interpretation/information boards will not be fitted till next week, but you can now visit to enjoy some fantastic views of the reedbed. I'll head down there later and post some photos afterwards. Let us know what you see.
Last week I joined a couple of colleagues in northern France for the latest meeting with our Interreg partners.
Interreg is an EU-funding programme administered by the European Regional Development Fund. The Minsmere Discover Nature Project is part-funded by the Interreg IV A Seas programme under the banner of Natura People. There are four partners in this project (two in the Netherlands, one in Belgium and the RSPB). We're all working on major visitor developemnt that will help to connect people with nature: that's local communities, businesses and visitors.
Every six months the project partners get together to update on current work, ensure joint elements are effectively co-ordinated, and share ideas. We'll usually meet at one of the partner sites, but this month took the opportunity to visit one of France's top nature reserves to learn from how they connect visitor with nature.
After a very easy journey, via the Channel Tunnel (a first for me, and an expereince that's difficult to explain to a three-year-old - sitting in your car in a train as you through a tunnel under the sea!) we arrived early at our hotel in Le Crotoy, on the Baie-de-Somme. We had lovely sea views, or at least would have done without the fog! The estuary was teeming with curlews, shelducks and a variety of other wading birds.
Next day started with thicker fog, hampering my morning birdwatching walk, followed by the first of four meetings. The afternoon, though, involved a visit to Le Parc du Marquenterre. This is a superb site, and well worth a visit - it's only one and a quarter hours south of Calais and close to the A16 motorway.
A panoramic view of Le Marquenterre
Le Marquenterre consists of 200 hectares of marshes and dunes, much of which used to be arable land. There are several pools, both fresh and salty, overlooked by a dozen hides. We took the long route (2.5 miles) and saw a superb variety of birds. Highlights included three black-necked grebes, two redhead smew, a few white-fronted geese, a spotted redshank, ruff and two little stints, and large flocks of wigeons, teals, shovelers, pintails, lapwings, black-tailed godwits and curlews. We also saw a male hen harrier and several kestrels.
In summer there is a large heronry at le Marquenterre, where grey herons, little egrets, spoonbills and white storks nest. We saw several spoonbills, including one very obliging young bird which allowed us to approach very closely, but most of the herons had left for the winter. There were a few white storks, but these were probably feral birds, left over from the collection that used to be housed in aviaries in the park. We suspect the tame common crane may have been a former captive bird too.
Le Marquenterre also has a shop and large cafe, where we just about had time for a quick cuppa before closing time.
The second morning was spent in meetings before lunch and the long drive home. It was great to exchange information with our partners and I look forward to seeing their sites develop at future meetings. I also look forward to visiting Le Marquenterre again with the family, and recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
A common crane and white stork at le Marquenterre - both presumed to be feral birds (the mallards and coot are wild though)
As promised yesterday, here's Paul's video of his amazing encounter with an otter in the reedbed yesterday. Enough to make you jealous - I certainly am.
I was walking through the office this morning when something bright caught my eye. A moth, on the carpet, near the door. I just managed to stop a colleague standing on it before it flew to the window and allowed me to take this photo. Now, I'm no moth expert, and our number one moth man is on annual leave, but Katy and Lizzie have identified it for me as a feathered thorn. Apparently there are quite a few turning up in the moth trap at present - no doubt helped by the current mild weather.
Despite the weather, we are seeing more and more winter visitors arriving. Another nine waxwings called in briefly yesterday, obligingly sitting outside the office window for long enough for me to see them and hear their wonderful bell-like calls. Paul spotted another today, whilst watching an otter almost at his feet. I'll try to link to some video footage soon.
The starling roost seems to fluctuate from one evening to the next, but there was an impressive display of 12-15k on Saturday evening. They seem to favour the area between Bittern Hide and West Hide, and you need to be on site by 3.45 pm.
Other recent sightings have included Bewick's swans (down to ten today), hen harriers, Caspian gulls and good flocks of black-tailed godwits. The odd pomarine skua is stillbeing reported offshore.
Meanwhile, Island Mere Hide is almost ready to open. Gilleard Brothers have done a great job, and they've even been able to enjoy watching bitterns, marsh harriers and short-eared owls while they work. Can't be bad.