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
Guest blog by Sarah Green, Project Coordinator - Natura People Partnership Project
October 2013 saw another Natura People partner meeting. The meeting was held near Lake Grevelingen at Renesse in the Netherlands and attended by representatives from all partners – the RSPB, Provincie West-Vlaanderen in Belgium, Provincie Zeeland in the Netherlands and Natuur-en Recreatieschap de Grevelingen in the Netherlands.
‘Preparing to tour the Slikken van Flakkee. Photo credit: Kris Struyf
Natura People was recently extended so we now have until 30 June 2014 to complete all actions in the project. This made for a packed schedule and quick catch ups! The project has two strands of activity – Connecting People with Nature and Connecting Businesses and Economics with Nature. While the RSPB has largely completed it’s actions for the former – see the new visitor facilities at Minsmere! – the partners are still working on their sites.
’Viewing point’. Photo credit: Kris Struyf
Zwin in Belgium have just started demolishing their old buildings in preparation for a brand new visitor centre, to be constructed next year. Waterdunen in Zeeland created a temporary visitor centre in a church in Groede in 2011, and are now working on plans for their permanent visitor centre. Natuur en-Recreatieschap de Grevelingen, the host for October’s meetings, have been very busy lately and in the last six months have opened a new mountain bike route along the Brouwersdam, installed a viewing point at the Battenoord harbour, and launched Meer Grevelingen, an interactive website, app and tourist guide for the area around Lake Grevelingen. Included in this guide are 3D models of second world war bunkers, a sunken ship in the lake and an ancient sunken village – Bommenade.
The partners were taken to see some of these local businesses. On a rainy afternoon we visited Nursery Zonnemaire, growing special vegetables, edible flowers and aromatic spices, all organic. In the evening we dined at The Vierbannen, which uses Zonnemaire’s produce. In the morning we had a tour of the Slikken van Flakkee and a lesson on the flora and fauna reliant on the salt water that floods the plain.
‘Zonnemaire’. Photo credit: Kris Struyf
The second activity, Connecting Businesses and Economics with Nature, is still in progress. Each partner has been working with local businesses in a variety of different ways. Minsmere has developed their corporate membership package. Waterdunen and Zwin, who are geographically very close to each other, have worked together to develop an ambassador course for entrepreneurs in the Belgium/Dutch area. Natuur en-Recreatieschap de Grevelingen have used Zwin’s and Waterdunen’s course to develop their won Host of the Grevelingen programme. These courses teach delegates about the unique foods, sights and attractions in their local area. They also operate as networking opportunities, forging links and improving knowledge across the local tourist sector.
‘Deer on the Slikken van Flakkee’. Photo credit: Kris Struyf
Our last two jobs are to produce an economic manual to show the economic and health benefits of nature reserves, and to deliver a Eurosites conference in 2014, showcasing the project results. We are nearly there with the economic manual. It is aimed at site managers, not economists, and can be used as an advocacy tool to show the powers-that-be the value of wildlife and green space. Stay tuned for more news on that!
The partner meetings closed with us all attending Zicht Op De Grevelingen – a conference celebrating the closure of Natuur en-Recreatieschap de Grevelingen’s first stage of their development programme. Yours truly gave a speech about Natura People, (in English thankfully!), and is very grateful for the numerous Dutch lessons over the years!
Natura People is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the INTERREG IV A 2 Mers Seas Zeeën Crossborder Programme 2007-2013