This new sighting is in fact me! Sorry to disappoint those of you hoping to hear about a new bird seen at Minsmere but I wanted to introduce myself as the new part time Visitor Experience Officer.
I started at Minsmere a couple of weeks ago and have already been introduced to many of the staff and wonderful volunteers we have here. It has been my pleasure to meet everyone and I am very excited about being part of such a great team working towards such an important goal.
My background is in education and I have worked in a secondary school for the last eight years as a teacher of Biology (so please forgive my slightly bossy teacher ways!) One of my favourite aspects of teaching was teaching Ecology and the importance of conservation both in the classroom and in the field. I hope to bring this experience and my creative flair to the visitor experience role to deliver a fantastic visitor experience.
I have always had an incredible love for wildlife and my favourite bird has to be the barn owl. Not the rarest of birds but the sight of one of these pale, ghost like beauties simply takes my breath away. Their endearing heart shaped face and powerful form make for such a spectacular sight. I have yet to see one at Minsmere but you can be assured I will definitely be on the look out and would be delighted to hear about any sighting you have seen of the barn owl or any bird.
In my first few days I have been trying to familiarise myself with the reserve and have been for a couple of walks with other staff. It is so great to hear the passion in people’s voices when talking about recent sightings and the projects going on here.
Barn owl by John Bridges (RSPB-images.com)
They've been a long time in coming, but on Sunday we finally welcomed two smews to Minsmere for the winter.
Smews are scarce winter visitors to the UK, with only a few hundred present in most winters, but the mild weather this year has made them even rarer than usual, with very few present at event heir regular haunts. They are small diving ducks that breed in the high Arctic and spend the winter in wetlands throughout western and central Europe. It seems that most have decided to stay in countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands this year, rather than crossing the North Sea. We usually expect the first ones in mid December, with the last ones leaving in mid March, so there was a real possibility that none would arrive.
Drake smew are stunning black and white birds, known colloquially as white nuns. The equally attractive females and young birds are called redheads and have chestnut caps, white cheeks and grey bodies, and it's two redheads that have arrived this week. They are feeding on the Scrape, spending much of their time underwater, and can be quite mobile.
Redhead smew by Jon Evans
The Scrape itself is looking superb, with large flocks of ducks in their finest colours and courtship already well underway. A nice flock of about 50 dunlins is usually present on the Scrape, as well as a few ringed plovers, oystercatchers, redshanks and black-tailed godwits. West Scrape looks particularly good now that several of the islands and banks have been reprofiled, and the digger has now move to East Scrape to continue preparations for the coming breeding season.
The view from North Hide this week. Photo by Ian Barthorpe
In the reedbed there have been regular sightings of otters at Island Mere this week, as well as bitterns and an occasional kingfisher. At least nien marsh harriers are present, and already displaying, while two ringtail hen harriers were a surprise sighting for a few lucky visitors last night.
Four whooper swans continue to commute around the reedbed, and a few Bewick's swans are sometimes among the mute swan flock feeding on fields south of Island Mere - viewable from Whin Hill.
The other star attraction, for those lucky enough to spot it, is the firecrest that continues to reside around the Rhododendron Tunnel/Scotts Hall area - there are probably still two birds there. Flocks of long-tailed tits, goldcrests and siskins can also be seen in the woods.
Don't forget that you can also keep up to date with news on sightings and events on the RSPBSuffolk Facebook page, or @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter. You don't need your own accounts to view our postings - just click on the links.
The two firecrests that have taken up winter residence around Scotts Hall and the Rhododendron Tunnel continue to attract a lot of interest - for those lucky enough to actually see them. Frustratingly, they seem to avoid the attentions of most of our volunteers, despite many visitors having had good views.
The Rhododendron Tunnel area is proving a good place to spot several of our smaller birds, with regular sightings of goldcrests, treecreepers, marsh tits and up to 50 siskins. Elsewhere in the woodlands, at least 12 redwings are feeding among the leaf litter in South Belt woods, a chiffchaff (or possibly two) is regular near Bittern Hide, and green woodpeckers and bullfinches are regular. Great spotted woodpeckers and amrsh tits are regular on the visitor centre feeders.
Normally we'd be very skeptical of a report of an adder an early February, but after such a mild winter is was actually not a surprise when a male photographed on Sunday. The adder trail is now open, but we don't expect regular sightings until mid March.
In the wetlands, there's been a lot of interest in the red-throated diver that has been favouring the pool behind South Hide. On Thursday it relocated to the pool north of the North Wall sluice - exactly the same spot chosen by the slavonian grebe earlier in the week. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, this diver looks to be sick, with a large swelling in it's neck, which probably explains its tameness.
The red-throated diver in North Marsh by Ian Barthorpe
There have been good numbers of red-throated divers offshore all week, as well as great crested grebes and a few guillemots, kittiwakes and grey seals.
The Scrape is looking superb, with huge flocks of the commoner ducks - wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard, shoveler and shelduck - joined by up to 19 pintial and 24 tufted ducks. Lapwings are most numerous wader, with several hundred usually present, but there are also about 50 dunlins, 36 black-tailed godwits and a handful of curlews, ringed plover, redshanks and turnstones present, as well as the occasional avocet and oystercatcher. Gull numbers are down a bit, but often still include one or more of yellow-legged, Caspian and Mediterranean gulls.
There are at least nine marsh harriers over the reedbed - at least they seem to enjoy the wind - as well as sparrowhawks, buzzards and two peregrines - the latter favour perches out on the Levels. Bitterns and otters are seen most days - though not necessary showing well at the moment - and a kingfisher was at South Hide today. Two or three whooper swans about four Bewick's swans are still present, though mobile, within the reedbed area too.
A female sparrowhawk by Jon Evans - Bittern Hide is a good place to see them at present
Finally, on Wednesday morning we had a momment of comedy in the visitor centre as a stoat ran towards the feeders while one of our volunteers was filling them up. He didn't look up in time, but the stoat did, and when about ten feet away it changed direction and hid under some wood. A few minutes later it (or possibly another stoat) was spotted chasing rabbits at the front of the reception building too.