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Recent sightings

  • 18 December 2014

    Counting down

    It's an exciting time in our household, as in many around the country, as we count down the days until Christmas. Advent calendars are opened to reveal festive pictures, chocolates, or in our case little Lego toys that will make a lovely Christmas scene when finished. With only seven more sleeps till Christmas, the excitement is really building. Will Father Christmas bring us what we want?

    Midwinter is an exciting time for watching wildlife too. OK, so migration is less obvious, and the species variety may not change much from day to day, but choose a sunny day and the colours are just superb, with golden reedbeds brought to life by the setting sun, clear blue skies reflected in the water, and vast flocks of ducks parading their finest colours.

    For me, one of the most beautiful and colourful of British birds is the fieldfare - a thrush that visits us from Scandinavia every winter. There are still good numbers feeding on berries in the North Bushes, alongside their smaller cousins the redwings. Look out for these thrushes in your gardens if the temperatures ever decide to drop below zero for any length of time. Another winter visitor that may appear in gardens in cold weather is the brambling, and one of these pretty little finches continues to feed among the chaffinches behind the visitor centre reception building.

    Many of the ducks have moved from their usual winter home on the Scrape as work continues to replace the aging fence. The diggers will remain on site until Tuesday, then break for Christmas, so the Scrape should be much busier over the holiday period (don't forget that Minsmere is closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, though you can still watch the Scrape from the Public Viewpoint on the beach). If the ducks aren't on the Scrape, then look for them on the Minsmere Levels, which can be watched from the dunes south of the sluice. Alternatively, try out the temporary path across the Chapel Field and watch from beside the 12th Century ruin of Leiston Abbey.

    The view across the Levels from the Chapel Field

    There's lots to see within the reedbed too, with otters and bitterns continuing to be seen almost every day at Island Mere. The Suffolk Mammal Group are monitoring our otters and would like to know details of any sightings, so please record locations, numbers and activity either in the visitor sightings book in reception or in the specially provided book at Island Mere. 

    Other reedbed wildlife this week has included up to 12 marsh harrier, especially in late afternoon, a ghostly male hen harrier yesterday, the two whooper swans and singing Cetti's warblers that refuse to reveal themselves.

    An oystercatcher was an unseasonal visitor yesterday, while lapwings snipe and a few curlews can be spotted around the reserve, but winter is not a good time of year to spot waders at Minsmere due to high water levels. 

    It's also worth keeping an eye on the sea. As well as the regular red-throated divers, great crested grebes and common scoters, several gannets were seen flying past today. Monday was a bit of a red-letter day for sea mammals too, with sightings of grey seal harbour porpoise, and (most surprisingly) a dolphin. The latter are rarely seen from the Suffolk coast, and species ID was not confirmed, but bottle-nosed dolphin is thought most likely. 

    Other mammals to look out for at Minsmere in winter include red deer, muntjac, rabbit and grey squirrel. Foxes or stoats may be seen chasing the rabbits too.

    This stoat posed at Bittern Hide for Steve Everitt earlier this year

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 11 December 2014

    A ode to starlings

    Last night I took advantage of a beautiful evening and cancelled meeting to head out onto the path between Wildlife Lookout and South Hide to watch the starling murmuration. It was such a beautiful evening that I've been inspired to write a rare poem. 

    An icy wind blows from the north

    As winter’s teeth begin to bite.

    Wrapped up warm against the chill

    I stand, and wait, in fading light.


    Spooked by some unseen predator

    Lapwings flicker black and white

    While golden glows the setting sun

    As another day turns into night.

    Reeds sway in the quickening breeze

    So dance the season’s heads of seeds

    While hidden deep a rail squeals

    And reedlings ping from distant reeds.


    Flights of ducks wheel overhead

    And lazily a heron flaps

    How do they all know where to go

    With no SatNav or even maps?


    A distant wave raises hopes

    That the stars may soon murmur

    But sadly, no they fail to come

    Tonight I’ll miss the sight I came for.


    Tonight the starlings continued southward

    To roost elsewhere, where have they gone?

    Two bugling whooper swans arrive

    In time to bid safe journey home.


    (OK, so this is a mute swan, but it was too dark to photograph the whooper's when they landed)

    We'd love to hear your poems too. You can post them on our Forum or share them on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page

    PS: In the absence of starlings there's still lots to see - peregrines, marsh harriers, fieldfares, redwings and even a brief waxwing were all seen today.

    PPS: for the sake of poetry I've used the term reedling, which is the old Norfolk name for bearded tits, while by rail I mean water rail.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 8 December 2014

    Otterly bittern by the Minsmere bug

    Over the last few months we've been treated to some highly enjoyable guest blogs by a few of Minsmere's amazing volunteers. Today I'd like to share another blog by Ally Hoadley, who has recently posted her contribution to an advent calender on the A Focus on Nature website.

    AFON is a a brilliant forum for young conservationists, writers, photographers and artists, offering them a chance to share ideas, meet other young people, and develop their interest and skills further. I've been involved with AFON for a year or so as a mentor, and am happy to share my knowledge and experience with the next generation of nature lovers. Ally has only recently joined the group, but jumped at the chance to represent Minsmere in their advent calender of nature reserves. As you'll know from her contributions to our blogs, Ally is passionate about Minsmere, well and truly bitten by the bug that this place infects regular visitors with. As you'll see from her AFON blog this enthusiasm comes through in spades. Ally's blog can read here.

    Of course, it's easy to be bitten by the bug when so called elusive wildlife puts on a good show, and that's exactly what some of our reedbed species have been doing this week. Our reception volunteer, Malcolm, was rewarded for his regular early starts on Saturday with three kingfishers sitting together at Bittern Hide. He had been deserted by the rest of the Saturday morning regulars this week too.

    Bitterns are always popular, and high on many people's wish lists when visiting Minsmere. The best months for seeing them are usually February to April, when they fish for long periods close to Bittern and Island Mere Hides, or late May-late July when the females are feeding young. This year, though, at least one very obliging bittern has spent long periods close to Island Mere for the last few weeks - sometimes too close for the big lens brigade to photograph - like this one taken a couple of springs back by Jon Evans.

    Another species high on many wish lists is the otter. While even less predictable than bitterns, there have been several sightings per day of otters for the last few weeks. Midwinter is always the best time to see these sleek mammals, and this year is no exception. A female and three full grown cubs are regularly seen fishing at Island Mere, and the big dog otter may put in appearance too. They are often seen at Bittern Hide, and sometimes even near North Wall.

    The other big attraction in the reedbed is the starling roost. Numbers seem to be lower than they were, but they put on a great show for visitors on Saturday night. Tonight was not so good though, so perhaps they are beginning to relocate to other reedbeds.

    Of course, the commoner species can spark an interest in wildlife too. I enjoy watching the tits and finches on the feeders at the visitor centre, and was surprised to spot a red-legged partridge under one feeder this afternoon. Glimpses of tiny goldcrests and long-tailed tits are always magical, and the colours of the lapwings and ducks on the Scrape are simply stunning in the winter sun.

    Lapwing by Chris Gomersall (

    Elsewhere, some of our winter visiting songbirds are proving popular, especially a female brambling that feeds in the leaf litter behind reception. Large flocks of redwings and fieldfares were in North Bushes today, and flocks of siskins can be seen in alder trees around the reserve. Three snow buntings were on the beach late last week, but flew north on Saturday morning.

    On the Scrape, the ducks are paying little attention to the digger working on the Scrape fence replacement. Few other waders are present, but a  grey phalarope paid a brief visit on Thursday and Friday. Avid gull watchers have picked out several Caspian and yellow-legged gulls too.

    Please note that Blythburgh Road in Westleton is due to be closed for the next four days, with local diversions in place, so allow slightly longer to get here from the north this week.

    You can, of course, keep up with news from Minsmere on Twitter @RSPBMinsmere, or hear about all our work in Suffolk on the RSPBSuffolk Facebook page.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 3 December 2014

    Springwatch stars showing off

    We welcomed Etholle George from BBC Radio Suffolk back to Minsmere yesterday to present her breakfast show live from the Discovery Centre. Her story on BBC Look East, filmed last week, was also braodcast on bulletins throughout Tuesday.

    Etholle was here to celebrate the success of Springwatch six months on, catch up with some of the wildlife stars, and learn how Minsmere has benefited form increased visitor numbers. We heard from the BTO about the travels of Chris the Cuckoo, from series producer James Smith and Minsmere's Adam Rowlands about working together to bring Minsmere's wildlife to your screens, from Bill Jenman about the successful Touching the Tide project, and their work here at Minsmere with the Green Light Trust, and from Michaela Strachan live from South Africa. 

    Apologies for anyone listening that you had to keep hearing me chatting to Etholle. Much more enjoyable was hearing our volunteers Ally and Ellie chatting to roving reporter Luke Deal from the reserve itself - once it finally got light. After describing the scene on the Scrape, they spotted a small group of red deer in the woods on route to Island Mere. Once in the hide, one of the star species from Springwatch performed right on cue as a bittern strolled around for 25 minutes close to the hide. The otter and kingfisher had already been and gone for the morning though. Another Springwatch star was Grub, the young tawny owl, and it would be nice to think that maybe he was one of the two or three tawnies that were calling constantly until dawn finally broke.

    Etholle George interviewing my colleague, Rupert, whilst perched in our popular bittern nest

    Don't worry if you missed the programme as you can listen again here.

    I wandered down to Island Mere myself mid afternoon, and like Luke, Ally and Ellie, I was greeted by the sight of a bittern feeding close to the front of the hide. This bittern (it may be more than one) has been regularly performing for the crowds over the last week or so, which is unusual during the autumn. We usually expect to see more of this behaviour from February onwards.

    The show-off bittern at Island Mere yesterday by Ian Barthorpe

    The great white egret continues to show on and off at Island Mere, sometimes moving out to the Levels to feed, while snipe, two goldeneyes and a pochard have been other highlights there this week. The starlings put on a great show on Saturday, but didn't perform well last night in murky weather. Hope they are still roosting here.

    Work is well underway on the project to replace the Scrape fence, after a delay to retrieve a sunken digger on Saturday. The digger is working around East Hide at the moment, though most of the ducks are happy to feed or rest on other parts of the Scrape. Water levels are quite high in places (though the paths are fully accessible now), so apart from lapwings and the odd snipe there are few waders on the Scrape. Two whooper swans are favouring the pool behind Wildlife Lookout, or the Konik Field, but the Bewick's swans seem to be feeding north of Westleton during the day.

    Flocks of tits, finches and thrushes continue to attract attention around the visitor centre, in North Bushes, and in the woods. Among these are several bullfinches, siskins and redpolls, large flocks of fieldfares and a few redwings, and the odd brambling. The latter favour the leaf litter behind the reception, and a treecreeper was seen in that area today too. Rather excitingly there were a couple of brief waxwing records last week. Hopefully they are precursors to a bigger arrival. Likewise, a female smew was briefly on the Scrape last week.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 26 November 2014

    Springwatch revisited

    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.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 22 November 2014

    You never know what you'll see

    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 (

    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 (

    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.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 19 November 2014

    No need for a long walk

    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?

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 17 November 2014

    A big fencing project

    Works is due to start later this week on a major project to replace the aging fence around the Scrape.

    The fence is intended to prevent ground-nesting predators, such as foxes or badgers, from gaining access to the Scrape, thus protecting breeding gulls, waders, ducks and terns. The existing fence, erected in 1988, is nearing the end of its life and it has become increasingly difficult to maintain in recent years as much of it runs close to a wet ditch. We had suspected that predators were finding their way through the fence, and this spring we had proof that a badger was forcing it's way through (or under) the existing fence, resulting in the loss or abandonment of most nests of gulls, avocets and terns - as witnessed on our TV screens during BBC Springwatch.

    We have been investigating options for replacing the Scrape fence for a few years, and earlier this autumn we applied for planning permission for a new fence. This was granted, and contractors have now been employed, so work is due to start later this week.

    It's not simply a case of removing one fence to replace it with another though. In order to make the new fence as predator-proof as possible, we're planning to erect it on dry ground around its entire length, allowing us to dig it deep into the ground and reduce the likelihood of any foxes or badgers digging under the fence. This means that the new fence will follow a different route in some places. We will also be building a  low bank around much of the Scrape, onto which the fence will stand. While the fence will be slightly higher in places, we do not anticipate this having an impact on the fantastic views across the Scrape.

    Work is due to start on this project on Wednesday, and should take about ten weeks to complete, with the new fence erected by the end of February - in time for the next breeding season. The project has been designed to minimise disturbance to wildlife as much as possible during construction. Our contractors will be working on only one part of the fenceline at any time, thus ensuring that most of the Scrape remains undisturbed. We'll let you know at reception each day which hides are most  likely to be disturbed each day so that you can plan your visit. 

    As most of the work will be done with machinery, the ducks will generally continue to feed on other parts of the Scrape. Another part of the reserve that can be great for watching wildfowl is the Minsmere Levels - two tundra bean geese arrived late last week, and there are often several pintails there. The best place to watch the Levels from is usually the dunes south of the sluice, but this winter we have also opened a seasonal trail to the ruins of Leiston Abbey chapel, from where there are superb views south across the Levels. This new seasonal path is accessed via the footpath from the sluice to Eastbridge and is well worth a detour.

    The view from Leiston Abbey chapel across the Levels

    And, of course, Island Mere continues to offer excellent wildlife watching, with daily sightings of bitterns, marsh harriers, otters and the great white egret, as well as coots, cormorants and commoner ducks. At least three Bewick's swans have been feeding on flooded fields south of the mere too. these are best viewed with a telescope from the Whin Hill Watchpoint. The starlings have been roosting at the Island Mere end of the reedbed this week too.

    Finally, with all the recent rain, please don't forget to bring a good pair of walking boots or wellies if you are planning a visit, as the path from South Hide to the sluice is prone to flooding, and there are puddles in many places.

    Cormorants and mute swans on Island Mere today

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 13 November 2014

    Wot no acorns!

    Guest blog by Jamie Everett, Minsmere volunteer guide

    This autumn the one thing I have noticed more than any other is the lack of acorns. Trees that should be laden with ripe nuts are devoid of acorns this year.

    Why does this matter?

    Oak trees begin flowering in late spring, with the fruits (acorns) ripening in time for autumn. Acorns are an important source of food for many birds and mammals, particularly jays and squirrels who cache away the acorns for later consumption.
    Acorns fall off their parent trees when they mature, which typically occurs between September and early November. However the oak trees in my garden have not produced acorns, let alone dropped any. The same is true at Minsmere. In 2013 there was a record crop in the UK, where the branches of oak trees were so laden that they bowed down under the weight of nuts! Having a ‘mast year’ (the term used for the cyclical abundance of nuts in some years) may explain the lack of nuts this autumn, compared with the abundance of last year. Alternatively, it could possibly be due to inadequate weather during the pollination of oak trees during the warm spring.

    What does this mean for jays?

    Jay by Peter Simpson (

    Jays have been very active in search of a secondary source of food. When I’ve been guiding at Minsmere, jays have been more noticeable than usual, especially on Whin Hill - constantly flying past in search of food. I recorded 13 jays on Whin Hill, all competing for one of the very few oak trees producing acorns this year. Instead, they'll have to compete with the squirrels to stash chestnuts, beech mast and hazelnuts for the coming winter. Sightings of jays in gardens have increased dramatically this autumn, too, where peanuts and seed will provide another important food source.

    Jay by Nigel Blake (

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

How you can help

Coast on a stormy day with heavy rain falling on coastal headland

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Your sightings

Grid reference: TM4767 (+2km)

Great White Egret (1)
1 Dec 2014
Whooper Swan ()
21 Dec 2014
Bittern ()
21 Dec 2014
Marsh Harrier ()
21 Dec 2014
Black-tailed Godwit ()
21 Dec 2014
Bearded Tit ()
21 Dec 2014
Cetti's Warbler ()
21 Dec 2014
Red-throated Diver ()
16 Dec 2014
Water Rail ()
16 Dec 2014
Kingfisher ()
16 Dec 2014

Contact us

Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 52.24746,1.61705
  • Postcode: IP17 3BY
  • Grid reference: TM473672
  • Nearest town: Saxmundham, Suffolk
  • County: Suffolk
  • Country: England

Get directions

Note: Some reserves are not served directly by public transport and, in these cases, a nearby destination (from which you may need to walk or take a taxi or ferry) may be offered.

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