The last few weeks have seen almost unprecidented levels of rainfall in Suffolk. In a month known for its showers, April has been one of the wettest on record. Here at Minsmere, we recorded an incredible 121 mm (about 8 inches) of rain during the month. Compare that to about 12 mm from early March to mid July two years ago, and it puts the figures into context. Add to that another wet day on Tuesday and it's perhaps not a surprise that we've had severe flooding at Minsmere this week.
For you as visitors, this means that there are restrictions on access to some areas. The path from the Sluice to South Hide is completely impassable, even in wellies. From South Hide to South Belt Crossroads, past the renamed Wildlife Lookout (formerly West Hide), you'll need at least walking boots, as I found to my cost on Wednesday - the trainers are just about dry two days later! Access into East Hide is with wellies only, and you'll need walking boots to reach Island Mere.
Of course, if the paths are flooded, so are many other parts of the reserve, and the floods have wreaked havoc for many of our ground-nesting birds. Although we generally have good control of water levels, with so much rain it's impossible to avoid flooding since the New Cut has burst its banks, and the main sluice outfall is at capacity.
Many of the islands of the Scrape have already disappeared under water, washing away nests of black-headed gulls, avocets, lapwings and redshanks. The common terns hadn't yet nested, so are less seriously affected. If water levels fall quickly enough, most of these gulls and waders should be able to re-lay and hopefully rear a few chicks.
Despite the high water levels, there has been a good passage of waders on the Scrape, and especially on the Levels. Highlights have included bar-tailed godwits (32 this morning), knots (up to 12), a curlew sandpiper, several whimbrels, grey plovers and turnstones, plus the first common sandpiper of the year on Wednesday. There was also a cracking pair of garganeys yesterday, and a pintail on Wednesday.
In the reedbed, the signs are more promising. Marsh harrier nests appear to be unaffected, with most pairs still gathering nesting material. Bitterns are still booming, but it's hard to know whether any nests have been lost. Bearded tits were more active than usual at Bittern Hide and Island Mere last weekend, suggesting that they too are nesting successfully. Water rails have been seen regularly at Bittern Hide, often with a chick, and water voles and otters continue to be seen most days.
In the scrubby areas, we now have several nightingales singing, as well as garden warblers, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats. A superb male black redstart and male common redstart have been feeding on the open area north of North Wall since Tuesday. More excitingly, a wryneck was seen fling over the cafe on Tuesday and has showed intermittently in North Bushes ever since. Other passage migrants this week have included several wheatears, a whinchat, a few yellow wagtails, and good numbers of swifts. so despite the floods there's still plenty to see at Minsmere.