I don't get the chance to lead guided walks very often, so when John Grant asked me to return a favour and stand in for him leading today's walk, I didn't need much persuading. It was, therefore, with great frustration that I opened the curtains this morning to see a thick cloaking everything. Guided walks in the fog are never fun.
I needn't have feared. By the time I reached Minsmere the sun was already burning through the mist, and we were treated to a stunning clear blue sky with hazy sun, but also a chill southerly breeze that caught us all off guard.
We got off to a good start with Cetti's warblers singing in North Bushes and from the North Wall. Typically the bearded tits on the North Wall refused to show, with just very brief glimpses and occasional calls. I spotted a bittern in flight but, again typically, it dropped back into the reeds before most people saw it.
Once we reached East Hide, things took a turn for the better. A peregrine shot across the Scrape, before turning and powering south towards the Levels. Although sightings of peregrines have become much more frequent in recent years, I think this was the first one I've managed to see at Minsmere for at least three years! I don't know how I've missed them all before.
Among the gulls on East Scrape we had good views of a Mediterranean gull, but I failed to pick out any Caspian or yellow-legged gulls. The increasing activity among the black-headed gull colony ensures that their raucous calls can be heard wherever you are around the Scrape. Avocets are becoming more prominent too, with at least 50 scattered around the Scrape. We had good views of four turnstones from East Hide, and later two dunlins close to South Hide. The best wader, though, was a brilliantly camouflaged snipe on West Scrape that was found by one very observant group member.
Duck numbers are falling but those that are present are looking absolutely stunning in the sunshine. Shelducks are displaying with many bubbling calls and much splashing as pairs assert their claim over a patch of the Scrape. Most of the teals, wigeons, gadwalls and shovelers were roosting in the sun, while tufted ducks were busily diving. A drake pintail was on East Scrape and a pair on South Scrape.
For several of us, the best bird was a lovely female snow bunting searching for seeds among the shingle near the sluice. Interestingly, this sparked a bit of debate when described by one lady as "just like a boring sparrow." I partly understand her argument, since female snow buntings are partly brown and streaky, but once you look more closely the white wingbar and white belly make them quite distinctive - if not as colourful as the males. My argument was that no birds are really boring when you consider their behaviour or song as well as their plumage. They may be "dull", "drab", "plain" or "brown", but not "boring". A great example was the meadow pipit singing at the sluice. The classic little brown job, but parachuting to the ground while singing a gorgeous little song. Definitely not boring.
Walking back from the sluice we found a few other interesting birds: long-tailed tits in the bushes near South Hide; a great crested grebe behind West Hide; a little grebe on the other pool behind West Hide. We also found four red deer resting in South Belt close to the visitor centre, quite unconcerned by the builders working in the nearby Wild Zone. All in all, a most enjoyable walk. There was just one thing missing. I had hoped to find the first sand martin, wheatear or garganey of the year, or perhaps hear a chiffchaff. No doubt they'll arrive any day.
Although we didn't get to Island Mere on the walk, the glossy ibis was still present today, as were two whooper swans and one redhead smew. Interestingly, yesterday one of my colleagues watched the ibis being divebombed by the peregrine.
Snipe by Jon Evans