Explore, discover and enjoy nature at Minsmere. There's always something exciting to inspire a return visit to Suffolk's natural treasure.


  • A good tern and another

    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 Evans

    Other 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!

  • Wildlife Explorers Reunite

    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 amy.lever@rspb.org.uk

  • What a great hobby we have

    Working at Minsmere has to be one of the best jobs ever - even if I do spend much of the day in front of a computer rather out enjoying the wildlife. Afterall, as highlighted in the latest (Summer 2016) issue of Nature's Home magazine, Minsmere is the Number One RSPB nature reserve when it comes to biodiversity - the variety of life found here. No fewer than 5798 have been identified here. We are also top of the charts for the number of bird species on 326, land mammals (28) and fungi (1436), as well having more than 1000 species of moth on the reserve list. 

    Obviously, some of these species have only been recorded here once or twice (eg last summer's black-browed albatross or the scarce tortoiseshell from the previous summer), while others are easily seen every day - such as the blue tits, chaffinches or rabbits around the visitor centre.

    One advantage of working at Minsmere is that you can easily relieve the stresses of the office by heading out at lunchtime to spot some wildlife. On one such walk this week I was able to spot my first swift of the year over Island Mere on Thursday, followed by a lovely bee-fly nectaring in a patch of ground ivy on Whin Hill and some tiny cornsalad in flower. This more than made up for failing to spot the adder that I had actually gone out to look for.

    Whilst in Island Mere Hide on Thursday I caught a glimpse of what might have been a hobby disappearing behind the poplars at Eastbridge. It was, therefore, no surprise to hear that at least two hobbies were seen over Island Mere today, circling with the sand martins, swallows and house martins in pursuit of insects. In fact, one lucky person even managed to photograph two hobbies together.

    Hobby by Oscar Dewhurst (taken two years ago during BBC Springwatch)

    Other newly arrived migrants seen this week include more ring ouzels, wheatears, a couple of redstarts, yellow wagtails and reed warblers. Highlights on the Scrape have included bar-tailed godwits, whimbrels, a lovely summer plumage spotted redshank, common and Sandwich terns and Mediterranean gulls, alongside the avocets, black-tailed godwits, redshanks and black-headed gulls. A jack snipe has been seen at North Hide again today too.

    Other highlights have included regular sightings of peregrines, adders, otters, stoats, bearded tits, marsh harriers and linnets, as well as a few orange tip butterflies.

    Orange tip by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)

    What will the next week bring in?