After all the wet weather recently, it was great to have a couple of dry days on Monday and Tuesday. We even managed to see the sun again. (Sadly it's wet again today, though the forecast is better for the rest of the week).
The better weather couldn't have better timed either, as I welcomed Shaun Peel from BBC Look East, Etholle George from BBC Radio Suffolk, and cameraman Chris to Minsmere yesterday morning. They were here to film a news story promoting a special programme next week that looks back at Minsmere six months on from Springwatch, and reflects on the success of the series.
The TV piece will be broadcast during the BBC Look East news on Monday, 1 December. Then, early on Tuesday, Etholle will present her breakfast show on BBC Radio Suffolk live from Minsmere, from 6 am to 9 am. Etholle will present from the Discovery Centre, with various live guests and pre-recorded interviews, while Luke Deal will join Minsmere's volunteer guides in a couple of hides to describe some of the wildlife they are seeing. If you don't live in Suffolk, you should be able to listen to the programme via the I-Player later in the week (I'll post a link when I get one)
Etholle George being filmed at Island Mere
I won't spoil the programme by going into details, but we'll be celebrating the success of Springwatch and it's impact on visitor numbers, volunteers, and income - and hence money available for further conservation work. We'll also be looking back at some of the wildlife stars, and bringing some of the stories up to date.
Of course, while we were filming at Island Mere I had the opportunity to spot some wildlife - though coots and ducks were conspicuous by their absence yesterday morning! The great white egret put in a couple of appearances, a bittern flew past and at least six marsh harriers were hunting. We failed to find any otters, but they have been seen again this morning. From Whin Hill I could see the nine Bewick's swans feeding among mute swans in the flooded fields to the south of the reedbed, but I couldn't locate the three whooper swans and two white-fronted geese that were also present. Two goldeneyes flew over the reedbed earlier in the morning too.
One of the big stories of Springwatch was the badger invading the Scrape to feed on gull and avocet eggs. Work started this morning on replacing the aging fence to keep foxes and badgers off the Scrape. Contractors will be carrying out this work for the next ten weeks, working on just one part of the fence at any one time, so disturbance should be kept to a minimum. Please check at reception to find out where they are working each day.
The Scrape itself is teeming with ducks and lapwings, with a few snipe and the odd dunlin, turnstone and black-tailed godwit present. A water pipit was heard flying over this morning too.
Elsewhere on the reserve, the feeders around the visitor centre are attracting the odd brambling alongside marsh and coal tits and goldfinches. with other bramblings as well as bullfinches, siskins and the odd redpoll in North Bushes. And, of course, the starlings are still roosting int he evenings.
If you are visiting, please bring your wellies as the path is flooded from South Hide to the Sluice.
For latest information on sightings, access and management work, please remember to keep checking our Facebook (RSPBSuffolk) and Twitter (@RSPBMinsmere) pages.
The saying couldn't be more true this week as a couple of surprise sightings have kept staff and visitors on their toes, and our regular species have competed for their share of the action.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was a stunning drake eider that spent a few minutes among the hordes of commoner ducks on East Scrape on Thursday morning. It's very rare to see an eider away from the sea (even if East Scrape is barely 100 metres from the sea), and I certainly can't remember one being reported actually on the reserve before. Unfortunately I missed this beautiful bird as it flew back to out by the time I'd finished my freshly made cup of tea (note to self, leave the tea next time and make another one later!)
I did, however, find my own surprise bird this morning in the shape of a lovely male ring ouzel. These mountain blackbirds are usually spring and autumn migrants at Minsmere, with only occasional winter records in the UK. I had popped out to the weather station (above the sand martin bank) to take the readings that we submit to the Met Office, when a mistle thrush flew over towards the North Marsh. As it dropped down into the bramble at the northern corner of the North Bushes, a small flock of redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds took off. As I scanned, I was most surprised to come across the ring ouzel, and with a couple of song thrushes also present I managed to see all six species of British thrush (excluding the various very rare visitors from Siberia or North America).
A mistle thrush by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)
In fact, it was a very productive five minutes taking the weather readings as I also heard Cetti's warbler, water rail, great spotted woodpecker, redpoll and wigeon, proving once again just how many species can be found close to the visitor centre. Our guides also found a mixed finch flock in the North Bushes that included several siskins and redpolls, while marsh tits and coal tits were around the visitor centre feeders - where a brambling was seen yesterday.
Coal tit by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Not wanting to be outdone, the bitterns have been putting on a good show at Island Mere today. One spent many minutes so close to the hide that at least one of our regular photographers was struggling to fit the whole bird into a photo! Several other bittern sightings have been made at Island Mere too, where the great white egret is still present (after nearly two months) and an otter was seen again. Nine Bewick's swans were present early morning, before spending the day feeding in flooded fields south of the Mere. you can see them there by watching from the Whin Hill Watchpoint.
Despite incredibly dull weather and regular showers, the starlings put on a good show tonight too - if you arrived early enough. The first birds gathered over the Scrape from about 2.30 pm, before displaying over the southern end of the reedbed and eventually settling to roost behind South Hide at about 3.45 pm. There still seem to be about 30k birds, though it wasn't easy to count them in the poor light.
Don't let the short days, with the nights rapidly closing in and the continuing dull weather, put you off visiting Minsmere this winter. There's lots to see without the need for a long walk around the full circular walks.
You may simply want to visit the shop or cafe for some pre-Christmas shopping or a warming meal. From the reception or cafe you can check the feeders for finches and tits - including regular visits by marsh and coal tits and goldfinches. A great spotted woodpecker pops in from time to time too.
A short walk to the North Bushes could be productive too. The temporary path around the back is a bit muddy, but does get you even closer to the action. Among the tit flocks look out for long-tailed tits and goldcrests, and a firecrest has been seen a couple of times this week. It's a good area to look for bullfinches and siskins, and a brambling was heard there today. Even more excitingly, a waxwing was heard today (I thought I heard one yesterday too), raising hopes that more may follow. A weasel was seen in the North Bushes today too. Of course, there are many commoner species too, including this beautiful cock pheasant that I found feeding on the hawthorn berries yesterday. I hope he leaves some for the waxwings and fieldfares!
You can also pop into North Hide for a look across the Scrape to spot a variety of ducks, gulls, lapwings and snipe. If you walk a little further you can scan the sea for the chance of a red-throated diver, great crested grebe or gannet (though sadly the pilot whale pod seen recently in North Norfolk somehow relocated to Essex without being seen on the Suffolk coast).
An alternative is to walk up to the Whin Hill watchpoint and look out across Island Mere. From here you have a good chance of spotting much of the mere's wildlife, albeit a little distantly: bitterns or marsh harriers flying above the reeds, the brilliant white of the great white egret fishing, or even an otter. Beyond the mere you may spot the Bewick's swans feeding among a large herd of mute swans on flooded fields. Stroll down to the hide and there's a good chance of seeing kingfishers, bearded tits and snipe, or hearing water rails and Cetti's warblers. Stay till dusk and the starlings should arrive to roost. Maybe you'll hear a tawny owl too - one was seen near Island Mere today.
What better reason do you need to visit us this winter?