With severe flooding warnings having been issued right along the east coast for tonight and tomorrow morning we are taking precautions. We've closed the Penstock sluice on the North Wall, which will be first major test of the recent improvement works by the Environment Agency. This should ensure that the Scrape and main reedbed avoid tidal flooding even if the sea floods into North Marsh.
We've given our livestock access to higher ground, or moved them where this isn't possible - not just here at Minsmere but at all our Suffolk coast reserves. We're also moving machinery to higher ground.
We will be closing the paths to the beach at dusk tonight and checking the extent of flooding at first light tomorrow. If we need to close any parts of the reserve we'll let you know via Facebook and Twitter tomorrow morning.
We also advise avoiding Dingle Marshes or the coast road at North Warren in the morning as they are also very susceptible to flooding.
If you are planning on visiting Minsmere on Wednesday 11 December, please be aware that we've been advised of a power outage all day to allow for essential work to be completed by UK Power Networks. This will mean that the cafe will be closed all day and we'll be taking cash only payments in the shop and reception. We'll have toilet facilities available, and all the trails and hides will remain open as usual. Normal service will resume on Thursday 12 December.
There's so much great wildlife to see in Minsmere's marshes, woods and heaths that you're always assured of seeing something interesting. There is, however, one part of the reserve that is often forgotten by wildlife watchers, and that's the sea.
I never tire of simply watching the sea, listening to waves rolling up the shingle, dodging the incoming water in a game of chicken, or enjoying the early morning sun reflecting off the water on a calm day, but there's plenty of wildlife to spot too. Of course, we're very unlikely to see another whale offshore, although porpoises are regularly seen as are both grey and common seals.
If you spend some time looking out to see in winter you may be rewarded views of some very handsome seabirds: red-throated divers. These large, slim birds breed on remote Scottish lochs, and throughout the Arctic, but in winter they spend their time out at sea, favouring shallow waters with rich fish stocks. The Suffolk coast is one of the best areas to look for red-throated divers in winter, though numbers fluctuate greatly from day to day. On a good day there can several hundred either sitting on the sea or flying low and fast a few hundred metres offshore. They have a very distinctive silhouette in flight with their long neck extended slightly downward from their body. On the sea they are slim birds, superficially like a small pale cormorant, lacking the characteristic red throat of their breeding plumage. The other divers - black-throated and great northern - are larger, darker and much scarcer on the Suffolk coast.
Another bird that often gathers in large flocks offshore in winter, much to many visitors' surprise, is the great crested grebe. Like the divers, they lose their bright breeding plumage, becoming much paler and greyer. They can be easily confused with the divers but tend to have a more upright stance on the water and show white patches in the wing in flight.
The divers and grebes are attracted to the shoals of small fish that gather in the shallow seas of Sole Bay. These fish also attract large numbers of gulls, which in turn attract the occasional skua intent on stealing a meal. Great, Arctic and pomarine skuas have all been seen this week, although winter sightings are generally scarce. A few gannets continue to pass offshore too, and we've seen small numbers of auks over the last few days - mostly guillemots and razorbills, but it may be worth looking out for little auks with gales forecast later this week.
Of the seaducks, common scoters are the most frequently seen at Minsmere, with small flocks usually present in the area. This week we've had occasional sightings of both velvet scoters and eiders too.
While walking along the beach, look out for snow buntings in the dunes, especially near the Public Viewpoint, and turnstones on the sluice outfall.
Elsewhere, a few pintails have now returned to the Scrape with the commoner ducks, up to 20 black-tailed godwits are on the Scrape, two whooper swans joined the Bewick's swans at Island mere on Saturday, bitterns, water rails marsh harriers are regularly seen int he reedbed, bearded tits have been showing well at Bittern and Island Mere Hides, otters are regular at Island Mere and two peregrnies often cause havoc among the ducks. We've even seen a late common darter dragonfly at Whin Hill today.
Arctic skua by Jon Evans