Mid winter at Minsmere means wildfowl taking centre stage. And this year is no exception - although the otters are doing a great job of upstaging them at Island Mere.
On Tuesday I led the first of the winter wildfowl guided walks at Minsmere, and enjoyed some great sightings. If you missed it, you can join John Grant on 2 Feb or me on 15 Feb for the remaining walks. I'm also leading wildfowl walks at North Warren on Saturday, and again on 4 and 18 Feb. All walsk start at 9.30 am and last about three hours. Places are limited, so please call 01728 648281 to book your place.
So, what were the highlights? For most of the group it would have to be the drake and redhead smew on South Scrape. These gorgeous ducks were late arriving this year, and remain in lower than usual numbers, probably due to the mild winter so far. They can be tricky to locate thoguh as they move between Island Mere and the Scrape.
A drake and redhead smew in flight by Jon Evans
Another sawbill has been present early in the year, with a female goosander on Island Mere, although this bird may now have moved on. There are also two female goldeneyes on Island Mere.
Another highlight is the wild swans. A flock up to 32 Bewick's swans is frequenting the Minsmere area, feeding by day in fields near the Westleton to Dunwich road and returning to Island Mere at dusk. They are often joined by a lone whooper swan, with another two whoopers favouring the Scrape or reedbed pools.
Out on the Levels, geese are the star attractions. Up to 16 tundra bean geese have been present for several weeks, though they can be difficult to spot at times. Our white-fronted goose flock peaked at an impressive 335 before moving to North Warren, but some white-fronts appear to be roosting on the levels as we can hear them calling after dark.
The Scrape is literally teeming with ducks, and in Tuesday's sunshine they looked absolutely stunning. It was a great chance to compare the plumage differences between the females alongside the more attractive male wigeons, teals, gadwalls, shovelers and mallards. Waders were more elusive on Tuesday due to the frost, being limited to a few lapwings and four turnstones, plus a redshank on the Levels, but there are several black-tailed godwits present most days.
Winter is also a good time for raptors. Star attraction this week was a red kite over Island Mere today, but marsh harriers are much more reliable and both sparrowhawk and peregrine may be spotted.
Among the small birds, the great spotted woodpeckers are now drumming, marsh tits and coal tits have discovered the feeders outside the temporary visitor centre, nuthatches are often seen or heard near the wardens' office, bearded tits are showing well on the reedbed trail, and flocks of siskins remain in South Belt.
Then, of course, there are the otters. This is possibly the best chance you'll ever have of seeing one at Minsmere, with regular sightings at Island Mere (see yesterday's blog for more details).