I didn’t have to venture far from the Visitor Centre today before I encountered some of Minsmere’s mammals and some great invertebrates too! I set off on my afternoon stroll to see whether I could see any stone-curlews from the North Wall viewpoint and also to see some bearded tits as there had been many reports today that they have been showing really well from North Wall and near to South Hide. My walk was halted at the pond because there was a small gathering on the bridge looking at this stunning great silver diving beetle clinging to a reed.
We were busy staring at this impressive beetle when someone spotted a water vole swimming just below us. By the time I had got my camera up I only managed to catch the back end of it! Distracted by the water vole I wasn’t quick enough to snap a water shrew swimming just behind it.
I then spent a long time searching for these stealthy little creatures, hence the title of my blog! Our guides heard them squeaking amongst the reeds; a very high pitched squeak. We would then hear a plop and see a flash of the water shrew before it was gone again. We then heard them squeaking from the other side of the pond and we rushed over to that side to try and catch a glimpse. After playing chase over the pond bridge for a while I did finally manage to spot a water shrew but I wanted to get a really good look at it as I had never seen one before so I didn’t put my camera up and didn’t manage to get a picture. I was delighted that I managed to see the water shrew, their short fur coat looks so velvety soft and their tummy is a greyish white that shimmered in today's sunshine, but despite this soft appearance I definitely wouldn’t want to get too close to one as I was told by one of our guides that they are actually venomous which allows them to eat large prey such as frogs. I now have the upmost respect for this tiny, stealthy, rapid and venomous creature!
As well as having the treat of seeing these magnificent mammals I also spotted this damselfly and alder fly resting and was party to a bit of a set two between a moorhen and two magpies.
A moorhen was quietly sitting on three eggs with the sun on her back and the commotion of us hunting down the water shrews going on around her, meanwhile her mate was dutifully fending off two magpies. Whenever they would get too close he was getting quite shirty with them and chased them out of the pond flapping at them wildly. When he thought they were at a respectable distance away from the nest he went to relieve his lady friend from her duty of sitting on the eggs whilst she went and had a swim and a feed. All this in only the space of an hour and in a very small part of the reserve!
I was eagerly optimistic as I left my desk at lunch time and walked down to Bittern Hide. I had recently heard over the radio that there had been many sightings of bitterns in flight today and I thought that today may be the day that I saw a bittern for the first time. As I strolled down the hill with the sun on my face I could hear a male bittern booming and I thought that definitely was a sign that I would be in luck today.
I think I was overly confident because on Monday lunchtime I had just a few minutes to spare and desperately wanted to see the wheatear that had been sighted that morning. My desire to see the wheatear was because for the month of April I have been looking at this glorious species on my RSPB calendar. I walked to the stone-curlew viewpoint along North Wall and within minutes my dash out of the office in the drizzle had been worth it because I was able to see the two stone curlews across the field which is always a very special sight of a species which is close to my heart. It wasn’t long afterwards that my attention was taken away and a male wheatear showed itself on a ridge in the field in front of the viewpoint. He was a beautiful bird and proudly kept appearing on this ridge to show himself to the small crowd at the viewpoint, standing still as if posing for the camera. I took a few photographs but admired him mainly through my binoculars.
As I walked to Bittern Hide today I stopped to talk to a couple of visitors and they made me feel much better about not having seen a bittern yet by telling me that Michaela Strachen had not seen a bittern before coming to Minsmere for Springwatch. Bittern Hide had the sun warming it and the reedbed was glowing. It was a lovely place to spend my lunch but the elusive bittern was not as forthcoming as the wheatear had been on Monday and I am still to see a bittern! I did enjoy lovely views of a marsh harrier stirring up the birdlife and floating over the reedbed as well as a little egret poised motionless in front of the hide.
I may not have been lucky today in the short space of time I spent looking for a bittern but our guides and visitor certainly were and the birdlife reported today was phenomenal. It has been a great day for terns as 80+ sandwich terns, 25+ common terns and a little tern were sighted on the scrape and a black tern was seen offshore flying south at 1.10 pm. There were at least three garganey on the reserve with a male seen from the public viewpoint and a pair were also seen on the Konik fields this morning. The common redstart has been a great talking point amongst the staff, volunteers and visitors this week and has been giving many people a great show at the bottom of Whin Hill. There were many sightings of the male today and we are hoping that they will choose an area on the reserve to nest this year. The common redstart is another species on my not yet sighted list so I am certainly hopeful that they stick around for a bit!
Sandwich terns by Jon EvansOther highlights from today were three whitethroat were seen at in the Sluice bushes as well as from the car park and from North Wall and a lesser whitethroat at the Sluice Bushes and North Bushes. A kittiwake was also seen on the Scrape collecting nesting material. Island Mere proved popular for warblers with both reed warbler and sedge warbler being spotted from there.
Whitethroat by Jon Evans
Sedge warbler by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
One of the highlights of my day was seeing the beaming face of a gentleman who had seen a fulmar flying past offshore from Minsmere Reserve. We had a confirmed sighting yesterday from one of our guides. As I am writing this I am wondering whether he is still smiling, I’m pretty sure he is and I’m certain everyone reading this will be able to relate to his feelings and recall one of their all-time greatest sightings. I am hoping to experience this shortly when I catch my first ever sighting of a bittern. Watch this space!
When I woke up on Saturday morning to a bitter north wind I thought to myself, well at least the sun is shining! That thought didn’t last long as on the drive into work the skies opened and it poured with rain! I always pay attention to the weather but I was particularly interested on Saturday because it was the first meeting of the new Wildlife Explorers group and my first meeting as their group leader. I had optimistically planned to do a walk and introduction to the reserve and I had asked one of our expert guides Davene to show the group some adders. Saturday’s weather definitely wasn’t very inviting for the adders!
Excitement rippled through the air as the group met up and friends were reunited and new friends made. We divided the group of thirteen into two one group heading out in search of adders one the other on a Where’s Wiley challenge with myself. Wiley is a birding friend of the famous character Where’s Wally. I had previously hidden Wiley and seven of his friends around the reserve, high and low and some in quite challenges places to spot. I set out with the Wildlife Explorers group on a walk around the reserve in search of Wiley, Chris Peckham, Michaela Bracken, Owlfie, Pete Pricklepants, Nutty, Malcolm and Bluey. Once the Wildlife Explorers had spotted a character they had to mark on a map of the reserve where they had found them with the aim of enhancing their map reading skills and knowledge of the reserve. As well as looking out for Wiley and friends we were also on the lookout for some of the wonderful wildlife around the reserve.
We started off in the wildzone practising the use of our binoculars before heading down to the pond through the woodland. At the pond we observed the sand martins in their large numbers speeding through the air over the pond and the many garden birds in the nearby bushes. We then walked through the woodland observing a treecreeper on the way and towards the Wildlife Lookout with Cetti’s warblers singing in the reedbed. I made a comment about how I had never seen a Cetti’s warbler as they are easy to hear but difficult to spot. It was at this point that the Cetti’s warbler flew up and along the reedbed a little. A first for both myself and the group.
Treecreeper by Jon Evans (rspb-images.com)
Each year the Minsmere Wildlife Explorers group makes a list of all of the bird species they see and try to beat it year on year. We had only covered a very small part of Minsmere reserve but were off to a good start already! From Wildlife Lookout we observed many black headed gulls, mallards, gadwalls, shelducks, moorhens, greylag geese, Canada geese and avocets very close to the hide. We then headed back to the Discovery Centre to meet up with the adder group and swap over to the next activity.
Avocet by David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
The other group had also had a lovely walk and enjoyed searching for adders and learning a lot about them, but due to the weather the adders were not obliging in showing themselves. Bentley (one of Minsmere’s male adders) had been considerate enough to slough (shed) his skin a few days previously for Davene to show her group.
I really enjoyed taking the Wildlife Explorers around the reserve and was thrilled by the infectious enthusiasm and interest in nature within the group. Despite it being a rather chilly Saturday they were all really positive and keen to go wildlife exploring. One of my favourite moments was after ducking and diving from rain showers most of the morning we finally got caught out and it started to hail. One of the group then said “It’s better than rain, it just bounces off!”
If you are between the ages of seven and twelve or know someone who is that would like to get involved with the Wildlife Explorers group or to find out more information about the group please email firstname.lastname@example.org