It hardly seems a year since the BBC Springwatch team rolled out of Minsmere after another exciting series, in which a 5 cm long stickleback stole the show and won people's hearts.
A year on, and the BBC production village is complete, the set has been re-dressed, and the everything is gearing up for Springwatch series 12, the third season that this popular programme will be broadcast from RSPB Minsmere.
There is one big difference to the BBC schedule this year, as Unsprung has been moved forward to become a pre-show celebration, starting at 6.30 pm on BBC Two, with shows every Monday to Friday, starting next Monday (30 May) until 17 June. The main show airs from 8 pm to 9 pm Monday to Thursday, again starting on Monday 30 May.
As with previous years, Minsmere remains open as usual during the series, with overflow car parking, extra toilets and extra volunteers provided. The only closures will be during the live shows, with the path up Whin Hill closed from 6 pm Monday to Thursday, and occasional brief restrictions after 8 pm elsewhere.
This year's series was officially launched this morning, when presenters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, series producer Adam White, and Minsmere's Senior Site Manager Adam Rowlands met local TV, radio and newspaper reporters in the BBC village (Martin Hughes-Games will join the team later this week). We were given a sneak preview of some of the potential wildlife stars of the show: golden eagles in Scotland, puffins with Iolo Williams on the Farne Islands, little owls in the West Country and Suffolk, and sparrowhawks and collared doves here at Minsmere to name just a few. As the team are still looking for nests, the full cast list will change during the next three weeks.
Michaela Strachan at the Springwatch launch
During the launch we heard how the Springwatch series is regarded as one of the jewels in the BBC's crown, thanks to the incredible dedication and ingenuity of the entire team, from the cameramen to the producers, the editors to the web team, and of course the presenters themselves. We also heard that Springwatch is the wildlife equivalent of the Olympics, while Adam Rowlands reminded us that Minsmere has the biggest variety of wildlife on any RSPB nature reserve - more than 5700 species so far.
Talking of variety, there's an impressive list of species to look for at the moment. Bitterns, bearded tits, hobbies, reed warblers and reed buntings are all regularly seen at Island Mere, with sticklebacks again present under the boardwalk. Bitterns, hobbies, water rails and marsh harriers can all be seen from Bittern Hide too.
On the Scrape, the long-tailed duck that turned up on Tuesday is still present close to East Hide, little terns and kittiwakes are still on South Scrape, an Arctic tern and sanderling were on East Scrape this morning, and there's the usual mix of nesting avocets, black-headed gulls and common terns, with a few Mediterranean gulls, redshanks and oystercatchers mixed in. Many species now have chicks too, so we're hoping the Springwatch cameras will have lots of action to show us.
The flowers are looking particularly impressive too, with yellow flag and the first southern marsh orchid in flower at Island Mere, thrift in the dunes, common vetch in many areas, and carpets of red (sheep's sorrel), pink (common storksbill) and blue (cornsalad, changing forget-me-not and common field speedwell) across the acid grasslands. It looks particularly impressive around the Springwatch studio on Whin Hill, as you can see from the photo below..
Guest blog by Emily Irving-Witt, Lead little tern warden for Suffolk
We should feel privileged that little terns (Sterna albifrons), the UK's second rarest breeding tern and an extremely rare breeding seabird, decide to breed on our UK coasts. They grace us with their presence each year from May to September, migrating all the way to our beaches from West Africa, where they spend the winter. You can often see their distinctive feeding behaviour which involves them diving headlong into the waves to catch small fish from just below the surface of the water or picking up small crustaceans from the surface. They even drink whilst in flight, dipping their beaks into the water repeatedly; these aerial habits along with its distinctive forked tail give it the alternative name of ‘sea-swallow’ along with the rest of the tern family. The little tern is picky when it comes to its breeding habitat where it only favours shingle or preferably a mixture of sand and shingle beaches. As the Suffolk coast is full of this type of habitat we have become one of the strongholds for their breeding colonies, which is why we need your help to keep things this way.
What is being done to help?
Little terns are in decline in the UK, partly because they are not able to produce enough chicks to sustain the population. Although Suffolk is a stronghold, even here we have lost a staggering 88% of our breeding terns in the last two decades. Little terns are easily disturbed, which leaves eggs and chicks open to predation and the cold, they are very well camouflaged, which means they can easily be accidentally trodden on. They don’t like dogs and see them as a predator, so fly around them in distress and leave their nest. Severe high tides and stormy weather can also flood nests and chicks.
A five year project funded by EU Life+, RSPB, Natural England, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Touching the Tide and more, aims to halt these declines and develop long term strategies to ensure little terns can continue to breed on our amazing coastlines. Little Tern Wardens are appointed each summer to champion the protection of the colonies and keep people informed on how they can help. Little terns are Schedule 1 birds and therefore protected by law, making it an offence to intentionally disturb them and requiring a license to photograph them when breeding. It is important for the wardens to get these messages across to as many people as possible. The monitoring and protection carried out by the wardens and volunteers is a partnership between many organisations, who work together to ensure the long term recovery of this wonderful bird. Wardens also erect temporary fences around the colonies to further protect them from disturbance and predators. Volunteers are of huge importance to the project as well, many people give up their time to get the message out about the little terns and allow us to keep an eye on the birds for as long as possible.
What you can do to help?
If you would like to aid the recovery of one of the world’s smallest tern then please follow these simply guidelines:
Emily Irving-Witt, Lead little tern warden for the Suffolk coast
If you would like to volunteer with the terns please get in contact with me on:
Sightings of little terns and ringed plover to:
I spent a while on Saturday afternoon in the warming sun and relentless wind at the North Wall watch point. I was looking for stone-curlews to do some live interpretation to Saturday’s visitors and gain some more information by getting a few to fill in our stone-curlew questionnaire. As I was positioned with the scope on the area they have most frequented several visitors stop to talk to me. Many of them had come to Minsmere in the hope of seeing a stone-curlew but due to the blowing wind they stayed tucked down, hidden and did not make an appearance that afternoon.
I was very familiar with the feelings the visitors were experiencing because I have been at Minsmere for several months now and was yet to see a bittern. I know of the frustration of other people regaling their sightings when you have been unlucky. Many of the staff and volunteers have been teasing me about how many sightings of bitterns there has been and how could I have missed them all?
It was decided by some of my colleagues that today (Saturday) was going to be the day for my first sighting. So after work we headed to Bittern Hide where there had been many sightings that day of bitterns in flight and also out in front of the hide. When we got to Bittern Hide we were told that we had just missed a bittern in full view. Typical! I thought to myself I must be jinxed! I tried not to raise my hopes too much that it would make a reappearance as I had sat in the hide on several occasions before and been unsuccessful.
The sun was setting in the distance and the reedbed had a warming glow to it. A marsh harrier was hunting in front of the hide and I took my time to watch it knowing that there were many other pairs of eyes searching for bitterns below. The marsh harrier was joined by their mate and I was lucky enough to see a food pass between them. Meanwhile in front of the hide there was a lonely little egret fishing.
I had plans for the evening and was already going to be late so I decided to give it five more minutes. Still no bittern! I turned my camera off put the lens cap on and moved to get off the bench when there was an excited cry of “he’s back!” I lifted my binoculars and immediately went to the place that my fellow birders had sighted it last and my wait was over. At the edge of the reedbed the bittern stretched his neck out in their peculiar snake like manner. I desperately wanted to take a picture but was transfixed by this creature that I had so wanted to see so I spent a few moments just observing him and enjoying the view.
I quickly put down my binoculars and picked up my camera only for the bittern to tuck his head back into the reeds. I was not disheartened as I had seen my first bittern and really enjoyed that moment. I kept watching through my camera lens and he decided that as I had made a special effort to stay and see him that he would give me a proper show. He slowly strutted out of the reeds in front of the hide and walked carefully across the water to another clump of reeds allowing me to admire his beautiful feathers and strange almost prehistoric behaviour. Amazing!
I clicked away with my camera and now have lots of photos to remind me of those incredible few minutes and my most memorable experience at Minsmere…..so far!
A nice view.
A truly incredible encounter, well worth the wait!