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One of our volunteers known to many as ‘Stan The Man’ shared with me some of his excellent photographs today. Many he had taken on the reserve this morning. So this blog is a bit of a guest blog to share these pictures with you.
Bittern Hide has been busy with sightings this morning with four otters being seen at 6.45 am. Bitterns have been showing really well from Bittern Hide and Island Mere Hide throughout the week. A bittern has been showing really well today from Bittern Hide and a water rail with her chicks crossed in front of the hide. Stan managed to get a few pictures of the water rail chick.
In the skies over the reedbed in front of Bittern Hide two hobbys, a cuckoo and marsh harriers have all been seen today.
The pond has been another hot spot on the reserve with the water vole showing well and a hairy dragonfly entertaining the visitors. Stan managed to get some lovely photographs of our friendly water vole earlier this month.
Stan also managed to capture the head of this common frog popping his head up to see what all the Springwatch commotion is about! A great photo I’m sure you’ll agree and a lovely sighting to hear about as throughout all the pond dipping sessions over the Easter period we didn’t see many signs of frogs only lots of newts.
A purple heron has been the talk of the sightings list today being seen early this morning in the reedbed by Island Mere and again this afternoon in a pool behind Wildlife Lookout Hide. Many visitors were keen to see this infrequent guest to our reserve but the purple heron hid in the reedbed for most of the afternoon teasing the visitors and staff!
The Scrape has been a hub of activity again today with 26 sanderling, 10 ringed plover, common tern, little tern, dunlin and black and bar-tailed godwits all been easily seen from the hides. There are now many black headed gull chicks, lapwing chicks, ducklings and the first few avocet chicks to be seen also.
There have been some interesting reports of invertebrates today with a cream spotted tiger moth seen between the Public Viewpoint and The Sluice. This one was thought to be newly emerged as we have not had reports of them until today. Many large jawed orb spiders (banana spiders) were seen in the nettles between Wildlife Lookout and South Hide and many butterflies have been flitting around in the sun. We were very lucky to have some unusual visitors in reception also, brought in by a lovely family who are regular visitors. The family are involved in a captive breeding programme of glanville fritillary butterflies being bred as part of a project before being released into the wild. The family had already had great success with their breeding programme having already released around 30.
And finally one more of Stan’s pictures. Do you remember the short eared owl sighted in front of North Hide back in March? Stan was one of the lucky people to get a really good view of the owl and take a great picture too!
All photos by Stan Pyke
Posted by Amy L
It hardly seems a year since the BBC Springwatch team rolled out of Minsmere after another exciting series, in which a 5 cm long stickleback stole the show and won people's hearts.
A year on, and the BBC production village is complete, the set has been re-dressed, and the everything is gearing up for Springwatch series 12, the third season that this popular programme will be broadcast from RSPB Minsmere.
There is one big difference to the BBC schedule this year, as Unsprung has been moved forward to become a pre-show celebration, starting at 6.30 pm on BBC Two, with shows every Monday to Friday, starting next Monday (30 May) until 17 June. The main show airs from 8 pm to 9 pm Monday to Thursday, again starting on Monday 30 May.
As with previous years, Minsmere remains open as usual during the series, with overflow car parking, extra toilets and extra volunteers provided. The only closures will be during the live shows, with the path up Whin Hill closed from 6 pm Monday to Thursday, and occasional brief restrictions after 8 pm elsewhere.
This year's series was officially launched this morning, when presenters Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, series producer Adam White, and Minsmere's Senior Site Manager Adam Rowlands met local TV, radio and newspaper reporters in the BBC village (Martin Hughes-Games will join the team later this week). We were given a sneak preview of some of the potential wildlife stars of the show: golden eagles in Scotland, puffins with Iolo Williams on the Farne Islands, little owls in the West Country and Suffolk, and sparrowhawks and collared doves here at Minsmere to name just a few. As the team are still looking for nests, the full cast list will change during the next three weeks.
Michaela Strachan at the Springwatch launch
During the launch we heard how the Springwatch series is regarded as one of the jewels in the BBC's crown, thanks to the incredible dedication and ingenuity of the entire team, from the cameramen to the producers, the editors to the web team, and of course the presenters themselves. We also heard that Springwatch is the wildlife equivalent of the Olympics, while Adam Rowlands reminded us that Minsmere has the biggest variety of wildlife on any RSPB nature reserve - more than 5700 species so far.
Talking of variety, there's an impressive list of species to look for at the moment. Bitterns, bearded tits, hobbies, reed warblers and reed buntings are all regularly seen at Island Mere, with sticklebacks again present under the boardwalk. Bitterns, hobbies, water rails and marsh harriers can all be seen from Bittern Hide too.
On the Scrape, the long-tailed duck that turned up on Tuesday is still present close to East Hide, little terns and kittiwakes are still on South Scrape, an Arctic tern and sanderling were on East Scrape this morning, and there's the usual mix of nesting avocets, black-headed gulls and common terns, with a few Mediterranean gulls, redshanks and oystercatchers mixed in. Many species now have chicks too, so we're hoping the Springwatch cameras will have lots of action to show us.
The flowers are looking particularly impressive too, with yellow flag and the first southern marsh orchid in flower at Island Mere, thrift in the dunes, common vetch in many areas, and carpets of red (sheep's sorrel), pink (common storksbill) and blue (cornsalad, changing forget-me-not and common field speedwell) across the acid grasslands. It looks particularly impressive around the Springwatch studio on Whin Hill, as you can see from the photo below..
Posted by Ian Barthorpe
Guest blog by Emily Irving-Witt, Lead little tern warden for Suffolk
We should feel privileged that little terns (Sterna albifrons), the UK's second rarest breeding tern and an extremely rare breeding seabird, decide to breed on our UK coasts. They grace us with their presence each year from May to September, migrating all the way to our beaches from West Africa, where they spend the winter. You can often see their distinctive feeding behaviour which involves them diving headlong into the waves to catch small fish from just below the surface of the water or picking up small crustaceans from the surface. They even drink whilst in flight, dipping their beaks into the water repeatedly; these aerial habits along with its distinctive forked tail give it the alternative name of ‘sea-swallow’ along with the rest of the tern family. The little tern is picky when it comes to its breeding habitat where it only favours shingle or preferably a mixture of sand and shingle beaches. As the Suffolk coast is full of this type of habitat we have become one of the strongholds for their breeding colonies, which is why we need your help to keep things this way.
What is being done to help?
Little terns are in decline in the UK, partly because they are not able to produce enough chicks to sustain the population. Although Suffolk is a stronghold, even here we have lost a staggering 88% of our breeding terns in the last two decades. Little terns are easily disturbed, which leaves eggs and chicks open to predation and the cold, they are very well camouflaged, which means they can easily be accidentally trodden on. They don’t like dogs and see them as a predator, so fly around them in distress and leave their nest. Severe high tides and stormy weather can also flood nests and chicks.
A five year project funded by EU Life+, RSPB, Natural England, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Touching the Tide and more, aims to halt these declines and develop long term strategies to ensure little terns can continue to breed on our amazing coastlines. Little Tern Wardens are appointed each summer to champion the protection of the colonies and keep people informed on how they can help. Little terns are Schedule 1 birds and therefore protected by law, making it an offence to intentionally disturb them and requiring a license to photograph them when breeding. It is important for the wardens to get these messages across to as many people as possible. The monitoring and protection carried out by the wardens and volunteers is a partnership between many organisations, who work together to ensure the long term recovery of this wonderful bird. Wardens also erect temporary fences around the colonies to further protect them from disturbance and predators. Volunteers are of huge importance to the project as well, many people give up their time to get the message out about the little terns and allow us to keep an eye on the birds for as long as possible.
What you can do to help?
If you would like to aid the recovery of one of the world’s smallest tern then please follow these simply guidelines:
Emily Irving-Witt, Lead little tern warden for the Suffolk coast
If you would like to volunteer with the terns please get in contact with me on:
Sightings of little terns and ringed plover to:
I spent a while on Saturday afternoon in the warming sun and relentless wind at the North Wall watch point. I was looking for stone-curlews to do some live interpretation to Saturday’s visitors and gain some more information by getting a few to fill in our stone-curlew questionnaire. As I was positioned with the scope on the area they have most frequented several visitors stop to talk to me. Many of them had come to Minsmere in the hope of seeing a stone-curlew but due to the blowing wind they stayed tucked down, hidden and did not make an appearance that afternoon.
I was very familiar with the feelings the visitors were experiencing because I have been at Minsmere for several months now and was yet to see a bittern. I know of the frustration of other people regaling their sightings when you have been unlucky. Many of the staff and volunteers have been teasing me about how many sightings of bitterns there has been and how could I have missed them all?
It was decided by some of my colleagues that today (Saturday) was going to be the day for my first sighting. So after work we headed to Bittern Hide where there had been many sightings that day of bitterns in flight and also out in front of the hide. When we got to Bittern Hide we were told that we had just missed a bittern in full view. Typical! I thought to myself I must be jinxed! I tried not to raise my hopes too much that it would make a reappearance as I had sat in the hide on several occasions before and been unsuccessful.
The sun was setting in the distance and the reedbed had a warming glow to it. A marsh harrier was hunting in front of the hide and I took my time to watch it knowing that there were many other pairs of eyes searching for bitterns below. The marsh harrier was joined by their mate and I was lucky enough to see a food pass between them. Meanwhile in front of the hide there was a lonely little egret fishing.
I had plans for the evening and was already going to be late so I decided to give it five more minutes. Still no bittern! I turned my camera off put the lens cap on and moved to get off the bench when there was an excited cry of “he’s back!” I lifted my binoculars and immediately went to the place that my fellow birders had sighted it last and my wait was over. At the edge of the reedbed the bittern stretched his neck out in their peculiar snake like manner. I desperately wanted to take a picture but was transfixed by this creature that I had so wanted to see so I spent a few moments just observing him and enjoying the view.
I quickly put down my binoculars and picked up my camera only for the bittern to tuck his head back into the reeds. I was not disheartened as I had seen my first bittern and really enjoyed that moment. I kept watching through my camera lens and he decided that as I had made a special effort to stay and see him that he would give me a proper show. He slowly strutted out of the reeds in front of the hide and walked carefully across the water to another clump of reeds allowing me to admire his beautiful feathers and strange almost prehistoric behaviour. Amazing!
I clicked away with my camera and now have lots of photos to remind me of those incredible few minutes and my most memorable experience at Minsmere…..so far!
A nice view.
A truly incredible encounter, well worth the wait!
Working at Minsmere has many benefits, not least the regular close contact with nature that I can experience on a lunchtime stroll. Even simply listening to singing chaffinches or looking at the flowing hawthorn is enough to remind me what a wonderful job I have.
But every so often at Minsmere we all have a close wildlife encounter that lingers in the memory, and yesterday I experienced one of those days.
I should have known it was going to be a good day when a low flying buzzard, pursued by crows, swooped along the entrance road, just below canopy height as I arrived for work. It was incredibly close to my colleagues' car just in front of me, and gave us a superb view as it banked back up through the trees.
My lunchtime walk to South Hide began quietly enough under darkening skies that threatened rain which luckily didn't really materialise. Looking across the Scrape from Wildlife Lookout I spotted the expected avocets, black-headed gulls and common terns as well as a few gadwalls, mallards, shelducks and barnacle and Canada geese. Looking more close I found three Mediterranean gulls, then a lovely drake shoveler flew in. The first baby black-headed gulls are hatching too, and no doubt our avocet chicks will soon be hatching.
Continuing my walk, I admired flowering garlic mustard, cow parsley and a small clump of bush vetch whilst listening to reed, sedge and Cetti's warblers in full song as sand martins and swallows dashed overhead.
At South Hide I enjoyed good views of common and little terns, more avocets and black-headed gulls and several displaying redshanks. Most of the migrant waders had moved on north over the last couple days, but singles of each of knot, grey plover and bar-tailed godwit remained - all in winter plumage - and a couple of common sandpipers fed on one island. My target here was a reported curlew sandpiper, which took some locating but I eventually found with the help of a telescope hastily borrowed from a visiting birdwatcher. This is a scarce passage migrant, usually easier to see in the autumn, so I was I was particularly pleased to spot it.
As I made my way slowly back towards the office I kept my eyes peeled for a hunting marsh harrier or perhaps a swift or two over the reedbed, but passing Wildlife Lookout my eyes were drawn to something dashing at high speed close to the tops of the pathside alders and willows. A call drew my eyes upwards just as the female peregrine - for that was the what I had glimpsed - almost locked talons with a smaller bird of prey. My first thought was that it was a smaller male peregrine, possibly passing food to the female, but as the smaller bird banked right I clearly saw the red "trousers" that identified it as a hobby. The peregrine circled upwards and away, disappearing into the cloud, while the hobby headed towards Bittern Hide, presumably in pursuit of tasty damselflies.
Hobby by John Chapman
I'm not exactly sure what led to this amazingly close encounter, but smaller birds of prey regularly mob larger ones that they see as a threat - a peregrine could easily catch a hobby if it so wished. However, as the peregrine was carrying food, which appeared to be a bird, my best guess is that they were arguing over a kill. Either the peregrine had caught the bird that the hobby was hunting (a sand martin perhaps), or maybe even the peregrine had stolen the hobby's meal. Either way, I'm certain that I'll never again see these two masters of the air in such close company barely ten metres above my head.
Of course there are many other close wildlife encounters that be had on any visit to Minsmere. Our water vole has been showing well at the pond today, and the sand martins are busily nesting nearby. With the BBC Springwatch team setting up for their latest series we hope to bring you plenty of exciting action to your TV screens. The first show airs on Monday 30 May, with programmes scheduled for every Monday to Thursday evening until 16 June.
Minsmere will, of course, remain open as usual throughout the broadcast period, with only local closures of trails around the studio area during the live programmes. Why not come along and see what you can spot?
I was itching to get out of the office and onto the reserve today for a lunchtime walk for many reasons.
There had been sightings of little terns on the reserve today.
Kittiwakes were reported on the scrape.
Hobbys had been spotted across the reserve.
Juvenile adders had been about over the weekend.
It was a gloriously bright (if not warm) day.
I had missed Minsmere.
Last week I was on a First Aid At Work course which is very important and was very enjoyable but it meant I had been away from Minsmere for six days. At several points during the course I wondered what was going on at the reserve and it was great to be able to see some of the highlights via twitter but to be quite honest I missed Minsmere and couldn’t wait to be back in this special place.
This morning Ian shared with us his very exciting sightings of four turtle doves which he had seen and heard from the footpath on Westleton Heath, just off the entrance road to Minsmere. This was very happy news to receive and to put up onto the Visitor Centre board. He also reported seeing two nightingales, one whitethroat, one lesser whitethroat and a garden warbler in this same location, a real treat for a Monday morning.
Over the course of the morning there had been reports of little terns (33 counted), two sandwich terns, two common terns, two common sandpiper as well as 27 kittiwakes on the South Scrape. So at lunchtime it was in this direction that I headed with a colleague in search of some of these splendid birds. The bluebells as we walked through the woodland area were bright and fragrant and Cetti’s warblers were singing near to The Wildlife Lookout. With the sun on our backs it really was turning out to be a delightful lunchtime stroll.
When we got to South Hide the Scrape was alive with activity and as I watched carefully it was clear to see that there was a lot going on and many dramas were happening amongst each group. I was very lucky to spot some little terns on one of the islands fairly close to the front of the hide. On a nearby island there were several kittiwakes relaxing in the sun and to my far left there were some common terns. I saw one hovering before diving rapidly after a fish and then doing a flyby of the hide allowing me to get a few pictures.
Many of the birds were busy feeding, even a magpie took a flight over the scrape causing a commotion in its path below. Other birds were busy defending nesting sites and breeding partners. I was absorbed in a scene happening in front of the hide where an avocet kept coming too close to a pair of avocets with one sitting on a nest. It eventually gave up and admitted defeat skulking back into the water to carry on feeding.
I eventually managed to tear myself away from the action and walked back towards the Visitor Centre. Just before I passed the wildlife lookout I saw a hobby feeding in the reedbed in front of Bittern Hide searching below for dragonflies. Although a fair distance away this was truly an awesome sight and just topped off my wonderful lunchtime walk.
I think it is clear to see why I missed Minsmere.
On arrival at Minsmere this morning I was greeted to a veritable feast of birdsong - nightingale, garden warbler, blackcap, Cetti's warbler and whitethroat were all singing in the scrub between the car park entrance and the Discovery Centre. Add in blackbird, robin, dunnock, chaffinch, blue tit and great tit and there's no need to walk far to hear a superb variety of songbirds.
There's a real springlike feel to the Scrape too, just a couple of weeks before the latest series of BBC Springwatch goes on air on 30 May. Hundreds of pairs of black-headed gulls are nesting and if you look carefully you may spot a Mediterranean gull or two among them. Several pairs of common terns are beginning to settle, while both Sandwich and little terns pass through in small numbers and may be seen settled on the Scrape islands. A fine adult black tern flew over the reedbed and Scrape yesterday too.
At least 159 avocets were counted yesterday, with most of them happily settled on nests. Nesting redshanks and lapwings are very vocal around South and North Hides respectively. There's also been an impressive passage of Arctic-breeding waders through the Scrape this week. There have been doubled figure counts of knots, dunlins, grey plovers, ringed plovers, bar-tailed godwits and common sandpipers as well as a few sanderlings, turnstones, greenshanks and single little stint and curlew sandpiper. Many of these are sporting their finest breeding plumage too.
Within the reedbed we've had reports of the first fledged bearded tits, reed buntings and stonechats, while reed and sedge warblers are in full voice. The latest surveys have revealed 11 booming male bitterns, with regular sightings at Island Mere and Bittern Hide. Kingfishers, water voles and water rails are sometimes seen and otters remain regular, especially in early morning and late evening. At least seven hobbies are now hunting damselflies and St Mark's flies above the reedbed, at several pairs of marsh harriers are nesting.
For me, though, the highlight of my lunchtime walk today was the scent of some of Minsmere's spring flowers. A gorgeous waft of hyacinth in South Belt marks the presence of bluebells, with this year's display being the best for several years. They are only a one minute walk from the visitor centre too, so easy for everyone to enjoy (there's others along the entrance too).
Bluebells in South Belt by Ian Barthorpe
My olfactory sense was put to good use again near the sluice with a magnificent display of coconut-scented golden gorse in full bloom.
Gorse by Ian Barthorpe
Among the other flowering plants on my walk were two species that can be used as culinary herbs - garlic mustard and spring beauty. You'll find more photos of these plants on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page.
With such wonderful flowers, it wasn't a surprise to spot several butterflies on my walk, including red admirals, peacock, orange tip, small white and small copper, as well as my first four-spotted chaser dragonfly of the year.
What will you spot this weekend?
Following on from yesterday's blog about insects and insect-eaters, Jenny James, committee member for the RSPB Woodbridge local group, has written today's guest blog highlighting the work that the group are doing to help these declining birds.
Our Woodbridge Swifts group is up and running.
We have our first swift nestbox on a public building in Woodbridge – Woodbridge Tide Mill. Look up as you pass by the main door and you will see it under the small gabled lucam, through which the sacks of grain were hoisted.
The swift box beneath the eaves of the Woodbridge Tide Mill. Photo by Jenny James.
We are hoping that the swifts which nest nearby will find it so that we can increase the number of swifts nesting around the harbour. We want as many people as possible to experience the thrill of swooping and calling swifts as they circle around the rooftops. Swifts are the sound of summer and we don’t want to lose them.
Sadly swifts are declining. These marvellous birds spend most of their life on the wing, feeding, sleeping and even mating. They land only on their nests. When they return to the UK from Africa in early May, they seek out their previous year’s nest site. One of the reasons for their decline is that as home owners repair their roofs they may block up holes which the swifts use to enter the roof spaces where they nest.
From our 2015 survey we had reports of 15 nesting sites of swifts, in roofs, in Woodbridge and the surrounding villages. We also heard about several successful nestboxes where the young swifts had been observed leaving the nest.
We are now concentrating our publicity around these ‘swift hotspots’. We have distributed leaflets encouraging people to put nestboxes under their eaves and to explain about the need to leave access to roofs for swifts when doing roof repairs.
Now we need your help for our 2016 survey. We are looking for swift nest sites in either roofs or nestboxes. Between early May and early August if you see swifts flying at roof level, particularly around the eaves, this could be a nest site.
You may see them flying directly into a hole or through a loose tile, with food for the young. If it is your house, you may hear them from the upstairs rooms. Another sign of breeding swifts is ‘screaming parties’. These are juvenile birds which fly around in a tight group at, or just above roof top height. If you have a nestbox, especially if you are playing the swift calls CD, they may investigate that for next year.
Swift by Jenny James
We would like to hear about nest sites and screaming parties. So please send us your records with your name, address and postcode of the nest site. For screaming parties please tell us your name, the date, the address and postcode.
For further information go to, www.rspb.org.uk/groups/woodbridge
Please send the information to email@example.com.
For swift sightings in Ipswich please contact Chris Courtney www.rspb.co.uk/groups/ipswich or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The sudden and welcome increase in temperatures has seen the emergence of a good variety of insects over the last few days - as well as the annual emergence of human lower legs as the shorts get their first seasonal airings.
At least six species of dragonflies and damselflies have been seen so far: hairy dragonflies, four-spotted chasers, large red, common blue, variable and blue-tailed damselfies.
A variable damselfly by Ian Barthorpe
Among the butterflies, there has been a notable arrival of red admirals, and there are good numbers of small coppers and orange tips around the reserve. Other species seen over the last couple of days include small and green-veined whites, brimstones, peacocks, small tortoiseshells, speckled woods and green hairstreaks. I was particularly pleased to see the latter at lunchtime today as I haven't seen one at Minsmere for a few years.
A green hairstreak taken last year by David Baskett
There have been some day-flying moths too including a few cinnabars and a gorgeous broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth. One of my favorite insects is the dark-edged beefly, and they continue to be seen around the ground ivy flowers. Although I am certainly not an expert on flies, I did also see a St Mark's fly and a mayfly around the pond today.
With so many insects around now, it's not a surprise that our insectivorous birds are easy to spot now too. The sand martins are very active around their nest burrows, swallows are back at the sluice, and I've noticed a notable arrival of both swifts and house martins in my home town since Saturday. On Saturday morning I found a lovely spotted flycatcher in the sluice bushes, while a pied flycatcher was reported int he North Bushes this afternoon. The hobbies, too, are benefiting, with up to five seen over the reedbeds, especially at Island Mere.
Two nightingales are now singing more frequently around the reserve - one near the car park entrance and one near the BBC Springwatch studio. Garden warblers are also singing near the car park entrance and in North Bushes, with lesser whitethroat in the North Bushes, willow warbler near Island Mere, and good numbers of blackcaps, chiffchaffs, whitethroats, reed, sedge and Cetti's warblers around the reserve. The Savi's warbler continues to sing early and late in the day near Island Mere too.
Another popular insect eater is the bearded tit, and they are very active at the moment. especially along the North Wall and near the Konik Field.
Bearded tit by Jon Evans
On the Scrape, there was a good passage of (mostly) summer plumage waders today, including black- and bar-tailed godwits, knots, grey plovers, dunlins, a ruff, a greenshank and common sandpipers as well as the breeding redshanks, oystercatchers, avocets and lapwings. A wood sandpiper was on the Konik Field yesterday too. At least three little terns are favouring South Scrape, but most of the Sandwich terns appear to have moved north. At least one pair of Mediterranean gulls are on the Scrape too.
Within the reedbed, bitterns were booming constantly during my dawn chorus walk on Saturday, and a cuckoo can often be heard at Island Mere. Marsh harriers, buzzards and sparrowhawks are also regular, while a couple of water rails showed well at Island Mere. As you can see form Whistling Joe's recent Forum post, the bitterns are sometimes putting on too good a show too. Not to be outdone, some visitors continue to be lucky enough to see otters, especially early or late in the day.
Grid reference: TM4767 (+2km)
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