Firstly, an apology for the lack of recent updates. I've been away for a couple of weeks and with so much work going on at Minsmere I didn't ask anyone to write an update in my absence. Also a reminder that you can see more regular, brief updates on our Twitter and Facebook pages.
With spring rapidly approaching, there's been a distinctly Spanish feel to the birding for the last two weeks. It began on 23 February with the arrival of both a glossy ibis and a great white egret. Neither has been easy to spot, although the ibis remains today and the egret was last seen on Tuesday. The egret favoured pools on the North Levels and could be seen at times from Bittern Hide, Island Mere or, best of all, from the Whin Hill Watchpoint. The ibis has been feeding in fields beyond Island Mere, or on either side of the approach road near Eastbridge, but is usually only seen distantly when it flies.
Great white egret with greylag geese by Jon Evans
Both birds arrived on a period of southerly winds and warm weather that also saw the first avocets return to the Scrape. Numbers have fluctuated over the week or so, peaking at about 80. The reserve is beginning to sound more like spring with the raucous calls of black-headed gulls heard from the Scrape long before you reach the hides. A few Mediterranean gulls are beginning to return too, their black heads, white wing tips and cat like calls easy to pick out among their commoner cousins.
The evening gull roosts on the Scrape have been good places to look for some of our trickier to identify species, with up to six Caspian and five yellow-legged gulls present on most evenings. Also on the Scrape, there has been a small passage of dunlins, ruffs and black-tailed godwits, plus the odd sanderling, grey plover and spotted redshank. Duck numbers are beginning to decline, but include a few pintails still. An escaped Bahama pintail was reported today. Talking of escapes, Fiona the flamingo is now at RSPB Boyton Marshes, so she's still enjoying life in Suffolk.
The Bewick's and whooper swans have finally departed for the Arctic, but upto three smews remain, especially on Island Mere. Marsh harriers are busy displaying over the reedbeds, where flocks of bearded tits can still be seen, and bitterns continue to be seen daily. The first faint grunts have been heard this week, so hopefully they'll start booming in the next few days. A great crested grebe returned to Island Mere this week too. In the evenings, we have up to 10k starlings gathering over the west end of the reedbed before dropping into the reeds to roost. They're best watched from Whin Hill Watchpoint or Island Mere. The otters continue to show regularly, if less predictably, with an incredible report of six together at Bittern Hide this week!
Starling roost by Jon Evans
There are signs of spring everywhere. All the common resident birds are now in song, as are both woodlarks and Dartford warblers on the heaths. A pair of nuthatches near the car park entrance are very vocal, and great spotted woodpeckers are drumming. It's only a matter of time before the first sand martins and wheatears return. A red kite was seen today and several buzzards have been reported recently - probably a mix of wandering migrants and local birds. A few butterflies have been seen already, including brimstones, small tortoiseshells and peacocks, while I've already seen pipistrelle bats at dusk and heard reports of adders on the heath.
Dartford warbler by Ben Hall (rspb-images)
Finally, just as a quick update, we're hoping to move back into the main visitor centre in the last week of March, while the Discovery Centre and Wild Zone should be open just after Easter. Watch this space for more details.