A great white was found at Minsmere this afternoon. There's nothing to worry about though as it wasn't a shark. No, our great white is an egret. A beautiful bird it is too.
Great white egrets remain rare visitors in the UK, though their numbers are increasing and they have been breeding in Somerset for a few years. Here at Minsmere we can see them in any month, though late summer and autumn account for the most sightings. Island Mere is often a favoured spot, but today's was found on South Scrape. Hopefully it will hang around.
A great white egret photographed by Ian Clarke
These egrets are best told from their smaller cousins by the bright yellow bill, black feet (little egrets have yellow feet) and of course size. They are larger than a grey heron and much bulkier in flight than a little egret.
Also on the Scrape today were several waders, including little stint, spotted redshank, greenshank and 73 black-tailed godwits. A purple sandpiper and three sanderlings were on the sluice outfall, while offshore sightings included Sanwich terns and brent geese.
A hobby was hunting over Bittern Hide, and bearded tits were putting on a good show at Island Mere. Bitterns, marsh harriers, reed buntings and water rails were also seen from the reedbed hides, and a kingfisher flew through the North Bushes.
All in all, not a bad day considering that it remained dull and dreary all day - though remarkably we avoided any rain while some local areas experienced torrential showers.
All eyes will be on the beach tomorrow as visitors and volunteers take part in the Marine Conservation Society's annual beach clean. You can join in too, helping us to count and record the litter on the beach. Siply turn up from 10 am to take part.
The radio crackled into life. "There's an osprey fishing over Island Mere."
I grabbed my binoculars and camera, clicked lock screen on the computer and headed out to the Whin Hill watchpoint to try to get a look. I called out to two passing visitors that there was an osprey at Island Mere, and they turned to follow me.
As I reached Whin Hill the radio crackled again. The osprey was now flying past Bittern Hide towards the Visitor Centre - completely the opposite direction to where I was now standing. Hoping it was high enough above the trees to still get a glimpse I looked back along the ride whence I had just come.
"It's above North Hide now." "How high?" "About 50 metres!" I was looking too high, and Kathy shouted, "It's there!" We didn't have long to watch it before it drifted on north above the trees, but what a bird! There's always something special about seeing an osprey - and for the couple who had followed me it was a first, so even more special. Perhaps it's the one that spent a few days fishing around the Blyth estuary, a few miles to the north? Or maybe it's a different bird, pausing on route from Scotland or Scandinavia. In a few weeks it will be fishing around the coast and rivers of Senegal or Mauritania in West Africa. I hope it has a safe journey and returns to our shores to breed again next year.
An osprey by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com) - not the one I saw today.
I decided to continue on to Island Mere to have my lunch, watching small copper and female common blue butterflies on Whin Hill as I walked. It felt like mid summer, with Sizewell almost obscured in the haze and the sun beating down, and there really are fewer better places to sit and relax than Island Mere Hide.
The visitors in the hide were buzzing with excitement as not only had they seen the osprey, but they'd watched it being mobbed by a female marsh harrier. In the distance a buzzard circled over the Eastbridge poplars, and a juvenile marsh harrier quartered above the reeds.
It wasn't easy spotting birds on the mere at midday as we were looking straight at the sun, but I picked out gadwalls, coots and shovelers, several little grebes and five great crested grebes, as well as the usual cormorants. No sign of an otter in my brief 20 minute visit, but one was very active yesterday and the mud below the boardwalk was criss-crossed by what looked to me like otter tracks. Bearded tits pinged nearby, but sightings typically brief as they dashed low over the reeds. A Cetti's warbler shouted his distinctive welcome from a hidden perch. More obliging were the ruddy and common darters that landed on the window ledge.
All too soon it was time to return to the office, suitably refreshed and inspired by my short connection with nature, knowing that I'd have to try to ignore subsequent radio messages.
The osprey wasn't today's only highlight. An extremely late nightingale was seen in the North Bushes this morning, along with a blackcap, and an unfortunate goldfinch succumbed to a hungry sparrowhawk. Above the woods a couple of hobbies hawked for dragonflies.
The autumn's first purple sandpiper and two sanderlings fed on the sluice outfall, and a variety of wading birds could be seen on the Scrape. The best of the waders this week have been little stints. The peak count yesterday was five, but over the weekend there was a colour-ringed stint that was ringed on it's breeding grounds in Norway. After refuelling at Minsmere this tiny wader, like the much larger osprey, will most likely spend the winter in West or southern Africa. Other waders this week have included ringed, golden and grey plovers, knot, dunlin, ruff, snipe, black- and bar-tailed godwits, spotted redshanks, greenshansk and common sandpipers in varying numbers, plus at least 22 late lingering avocets.
Several visitors have reported seeing grass snakes and adders enjoying the autumn warmth, while a plethora of different fungi are now appearing around the reserve. One day I may learn the names of a few of them!
A parasol - one of the few fungi I can identify
It's that time of year again when the red deer stags arrive at Minsmere to vie for superiority and the right to mate with as many hinds (females) as possible.
Yes folks, the red deer rut has begun. This is one of the most exciting wildlife spectacles in the UK, if not the world, and it happens right here at Minsmere.
Red deer are the largest land mammals in the UK, and one of the biggest herds lives on the Suffolk coast between the Alde and Blyth estuaries. The hinds are here all year, and are often seen in the woods or out in the reedbed near Bittern Hide. Others spend the summer in nearby woodland, including Dunwich Forest, or on Westleton Heath. Their calves were born in late May and still accompany their mothers as they all gather together in one or two large herds to await the arrival of the males.
The first to arrive are the youngsters - two or three years old and not yet fully mature, they are already beginning to assert their dominance over their peers with sparring and roaring. Much like human teenagers, I suppose.
But the big boys are coming. They've spent the summer feeding away from the reserve, perhaps several tens of miles away. Now, as the days shorten, they're returning to the reserve to find the hinds coming into season. Filled with testosterone, they have just one thing on their minds for the next few weeks: mating.
The stags will spend the next month battling for supremacy and control of a harem of hinds. The main action is throaty bellows and posturing, including parallel walking with barrel chests puffed out. If this doesn't work, and the two males prove to be evenly matched, physical contact may follow as they lock their antlers in violent conflict. This is a last resort, as injury could be fatal, so fights tend be finished quickly.
Antlers locked. Photo by Jon Evans
There are several opportunities to see the rut at Minsmere this autumn.
The viewpoint is open as usual on Westleton Heath, offering good views south across the main rutting fields. For details of exactly where to find the viewpoint please ask at reception int he visitor centre, or call us on 01728 648281. We'll be staffing the viewpoint on Saturday 4 October from 12 noon to dusk and again on Sunday 5 October from 8 am to dusk. On both days our volunteers will have binoculars and telescopes to help you to spot the deer, and there will be family activities to add to the fun. We'll also have volunteers at he viewpoint in the afternoons on other weekends in October and during October half term.
For a more intimate encounter, why not book on one of of 4x4 deer safaris. Our guides will take you out in a reserve vehicle and tell you all about these impressive beasts. You'll get much closer in a vehicle so these are great for photography. The safaris are for up to four people and cost £80 per vehicle (or £145 if you are not already an RSPB member) and last for about 1.5 hours. We offer three tours per day, starting at 9 am, 11.30 am and 2.30 am. Spaces are selling fast but there is still some availability, especially next week and the week beginning 29 September. October availability is more limited, but there are a few spaces in the week beginning Monday 20 October. We've also extended the safari booking to include half term, from Monday 27 October to Sunday 2 November, with most trips available that week. To book a safari, please call us on 01728 648281.