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Recent sightings

  • 27 May 2015

    "Loving Minsmere today. The wildlife is amazing"

    On a busy Bank Holiday Monday, the day the BBC Springwatch cameras went live, it was great to hear comments like that in the title of this blog, time and time again from our visitors.

    We had worked hard to ensure that we were ready for an influx of visitors, and despite records numbers coming to the reserve, everyone seemed to leave with a smile on their faces. Indeed, some were even moved to tears by their first sightings of some of our special species, such as avocets, otters and bitterns - as one lady was happy to admit in a lovely comment on Trip Advisor.

    We're really excited that the BBC have managed to find a bearded tit nest to film this year, and these beautiful little birds are turning out to be one of the stars for visitors. Several families are busy feeding chicks close to the North Wall, where we often have a volunteer guide to help you to spot them. This is also a good location to wait and watch bitterns flying over on their regular feeding flights.

    Male bearded tit by Oscar Dewhurst

    Bitterns are regularly seen at Island Mere and Bittern Hide too, as are marsh harriers and hobbies. The otters have put in several appearances at Island Mere already this week, and three pairs of great crested grebes can be seen there. The stars of the show at Island Mere are the sticklebacks, and you can watch Spineless Simon and friends from the boardwalk into the hide.

    The red-necked phalarope has finally left this morning after spending nine days on the Scrape, attracting many followers and making a few appearances on the Springwatch screens. There's still lots to see on the Scrape, with many avocet chicks wandering around, especially on East and West Scrapes. A family of oystercatchers hatched this morning on South Scrape, and the little ringed plovers are still sitting on West Scrape. Other highlights on the Scrape include little and Mediterranean gulls, kittiwakes, common and little terns and the odd turnstone.

    In the woods there are many families of tits, finches and warblers, with most of the warblers remaining very vocal. Two nightingales are singing occasionally near the BBC studio and green woodpeckers can be seen feeding on ants in many of the grasslands. A stoat is often seen hunting on Whin Hill too.

    There's a good mix of butterflies and dragonflies around the reserve, including a few green hairstreaks along the dunes. Adders continue to be seen regularly along the adder trail too.

    A green hairstreak butterfly by David Baskett

    You can also keep up to date with news from Minsmere on Twitter @RSPBMinsmere and on Facebook at RSPBSuffolk

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 22 May 2015

    Springwatch returns - we're open as usual

    This morning we welcomed the local media to the Discovery Centre to meet the BBC Springwatch presenters - Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games - in advance of the show going on air from Monday.

    It was lovely to see a couple of families playing in the wild zone when the presenters went outside to chat to individual reporters. A couple of very lucky children took the opportunity to say hello to all three presenters - a moment they won't forget. We were given a sneak insight into some of the stories that will covered on the programme. Without spoiling it too much, you can expect to see our badgers, adders and a variety of nesting birds, as well as wildlife stories from around the UK.

    The show goes on air on Monday, 25 May, at 8 pm on BBC Two, followed by Unsprung on the red button at 9 pm. You can also watch on the red button from early on Monday morning, for the next three weeks.

    The Springwatch studio

    As last year, Minsmere is open as usual throughout the broadcast period. We'll have an overflow car park open, when needed, with a secondary reception, and extra toilets both there and at the visitor centre. The pop-up cafe returns to the woods near South Belt Crossroads, and will remain open until 6 pm - an hour and a half after our cafe closes - so you can enjoy an evening cuppa.

    We also have extra volunteer guides around the reserve, at key hotspots, to help you to spot some of the wildlife stars of the series, and Minsmere's other amazing wildlife. The guides are there to help, so stop and have a chat if you see them. 

    The only restrictions on access will be temporary closures whilst the programme is on air - especially the temporary path up Whin Hill. All other areas should remain open at all times. 

    As we anticipate it being busy at times, we recommend arriving as early as possible - we are open from dawn every day.

    There is, of course, lots to see. Highlights today included the now long-staying red-necked phalarope on East Scrape, two spoonbills on the Levels, lots of bittern, bearded tit and hobby sightings, avocet chicks on West Scrape and the little ringed plovers nesting on West Scrape. Other birds on the Scrape included little and Mediterranean gulls, little and common terns, black-tailed godwits and kittiwakes, while a peregrine was over the Levels. A holly blue was an unusual butterfly sighting this afternoon and the first variable damselflies are now on the wing.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 19 May 2015

    Turning from blue to red

    After the excitement of Friday's red-spotted bluethroat, another rare visitor was found at Minsmere last night. Unlike the bluethroat, this time the bird stayed into a second day, allowing many visitors to see it - especially as it was first located after most of the staff had gone home yesterday. Also unlike the, at times, very showy bluethroat, this visitor refused to come close - though it was at least easy enough to spot.

    Today's rare visitor was a red-necked phalarope - a tiny wading bird that breeds in the Arctic. Barely larger than a sparrow, these are some of the longest distance migrants of all birds, and one of very species to have been tracked halfway around the world. They spend much of their life on water, spinning to stir up tiny invertebrates on their breeding pools and migratory stopovers, then spending the winter far out at sea. But therein lies a mystery.

    Red-necked phalaropes nest across Arctic Europe, from Iceland through northern Scandinavia into Siberia. A handful of pairs nest on boggy pools in Shetland, the Western Isles and NW Ireland. It has long been assumed that European birds all migrate SE in the autumn, spending the winter in the Arabian Sea. However, recent studies of the Shetland population have cast new light on these remarkable birds.

    A few Shetland birds were fitted with tiny satellite tags, and incredibly one of these was tracked all the way to the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of South America. These was probably the first confirmed record of a British breeding landbird in the south Pacific, and suggested that our tiny population may actually be at the eastern limit of the North American population's breeding range, rather than part of the European population.

    But that's not the only unusual fact about these beautiful birds. The three species of phalarope (red-necked, grey (or red as they known in North America) and Wilson's) are among a handful of species where the females are more colourful than the males. Having attracted a mate and laid their eggs, the females leave the males in charge of rearing the brood, and begin their southbound migration as early as the end of June.

    A red-necked phalarope by Chris Gomersall (

    Our red-necked phalarope has spent the day on the Scrape, where it has been quite mobile at times, but has been seen by most visitors. It's not the only interesting wader on the Scrape though, as a wood sandpiper was present early morning, the little ringed plovers remain on West Scrape, and several broods of avocet chicks remain. 

    Another interesting visitor today was a red kite seen over the Discovery Centre mid afternoon, while hobbies and marsh harriers also put on a good show.

    It looks like we have 12 booming males bitterns at Minsmere this year - the best total since 1976 - and females have already started feeding flights, so they are being seen more frequently now. Bearded tits continue to show well, with a few fledged families along North Wall. There's still lots of warblers around too.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 16 May 2015

    Beautiful in blue

    There was great excitement at Minsmere yesterday with the discovery of a beautiful male bluethroat feeding along the edge of a reedbed pool close to the North Wall. 

    Despite breeding in good numbers just across the North Sea in The Netherlands, bluethroats remain rare visitors in the UK. The last record at Minsmere was a long-staying bird in 2008, but that that was of the central European white-spotted race. This bird was a red-spotted male, of the race that breeds mainly in Scandinavia, and was the first of this race for about 20 years.

    Male red-spotted bluethroat by Christine Hall

    Bluethroats are members of the nightingale family, but unlike their relatives they prefer damp, marshy areas, especially with luxuriant vegetation such as nettles and meadowsweet. This male had chosen a perfect location - the corner of a pool, close to the path, where nettles grew up among the cut reeds. Although it could disappear from view for long periods, it showed very well at times, paying no attention to the crowds of birdwatchers gathered on the North Wall to admire it.

    As is often the case, this rare visitors chose to arrive at Minsmere on my day off, so the first I heard of it was via our Twitter feed, where some superb photos began to appear. My wife suggested that we try to see it after dinner, so we headed down to the reserve and strolled quickly onto the North Wall. Luck was on our side as the bird soon hopped into view in his favoured spot: my first Minsmere bluethroat. Initially keeping his back to us, we were soon rewarded with superb full frontal views. His bright blue breast and throat stood out vividly at the base of the reeds. The chestnut-red throat spot wasn't so easy to see, nor was the chestnut band below the blue, but his broad white eyebrow (supercilium) was clearly visible. With good views, bluethroats also have a distinctive rusty-red base to the tail feathers, which is easily seen if they fly.

    Despite showing well into the late evening last night, he had obviously refuelled sufficiently to continue his migration overnight, and sadly, despite several birdwatchers making an early start, he hasn't been seen this morning. There are, however, many other good birds to see, not least by standing on the North Wall. Bearded tits and reed warblers are very active there, and bitterns are frequently seen flying over the North Wall as the females begin their feeding flights. Sand martins and swifts dash through the sky overhead too.

    Elsewhere in the reedbed, bitterns are also showing very well at Island Mere, where several hobbies have been seen again. Three otters and a buzzard were seen there early morning, but the great white egret hasn't been reported today.

    There is some exciting news from the Scrape today, with the first avocet chicks seen on West Scrape, where three broods of chicks were spotted this morning.

    Avocet chick by David Tipling (

    Also on the Scrape today was the first curlew sandpiper of the spring, along with about 20 dunlins, two common sandpipers and the usual black-tailed godwits, redshanks, oystercatchers and breeding pair of little ringed plovers. A ruff has been reported too. Common terns and black-headed gulls are now nesting, and several little terns have been seen today. More unusual gulls included a second year yellow-legged gull, two little gulls and a few kittiwakes that are continuing to gather nest material on the Scrape.

    A spoonbil remains in the area, but was seen to fly north at 8.45 am and hasn't been reported since. Several sparrowhawks have been reported today, but the best raptor was a very late merlin that flew in from the sea. Another late visitor was a wheatear near the sluice.

    Another highlight today was a harbour porpoise close to shore, giving good views for the Minsmere Young Wardens Group. Other mammals this week included weasels, stoats and muntjac. Butterflies and dragonflies can also be seen in suitable weather. and a adders have been seen most days, although they are becoming less reliable.

    Finally, for those who have been watching the nesting moorhens on the pond over the last few weeks, the chicks hatched today.

    And, of course, you may spot the BBC cameramen around the reserve this week as they prepare for the start of Springwatch on Monday 25 May.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 14 May 2015

    Can you tell the difference?

    Guest blog by Catherine Mercer, Little Tern Warden

    If you’ve been out and about on Suffolk’s coast recently you may been lucky enough to see the arrival of little terns to our shores, marked by their high speed aerial displays and noisy chattering call. These summer visitors have completed a 3000 mile journey from Africa and are here in Suffolk to breed, at sites such as RSPB Minsmere, Kessingland beach, Felixstowe Ferry and Shingle Street.

    However, if you have been looking really closely, you may have noticed some rather more static, silent additions to beach.

    Along with my fellow little tern warden, I have been hard at work in the Minsmere workshop over the last few weeks making little tern decoys. These painted, plaster imposters have been installed at our Kessingland and Walberswick sites to try and attract interested little terns to the safety of our electric fences.

    Little tern decoys by Jesse Timberlake

    Each year these fences are erected by staff and volunteers from the RSPB, Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Natural England to provide a safe haven for little terns, and other ground nesting species such as ringed plovers, so that they can breed in peace and quiet away from the threats of disturbance and predation. Unfortunately nobody has told the little terns this, who have a somewhat frustrating habit of choosing to nest just outside the fence, where their eggs and chicks are at risk of predation and trampling.

    Decoys have been used at many sites around the UK to help attract little terns to safe breeding sites, sometimes even with the addition of a recording of their calls. Hopefully, by installing them we will build on the success of last year’s breeding season and see even more little tern chicks surviving to make the long return journey to Africa.

    So keep an eye out for little terns, both real ones and decoys. We may catch a few bird watchers out with our fakes, but are these decoys good enough to fool the little terns? Only they can be the judge of that...

    Real or fake? by Jesse Timberlake

    Remember, these birds are extremely vulnerable to disturbance. If you would like to see them try your luck on the South Scrape at Minsmere, where you can watch them from the hides without disturbing them - though they haven't nested on the reserve for a few years.

    We are always looking for help wardening the colonies and monitoring their success. If you’re interested get in touch with Jesse Timberlake at

    The real thing - a little tern in flight by Kevin Simmonds

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 11 May 2015

    Insects emerging

    The beautiful warm weather over the last couple of days has encouraged a wider variety of insects to emerge as adults and take their first flights - though sadly it looks as if the temperatures may be set to fall again later in the week.

    Two of our volunteers were out completing their weekly butterfly transect this morning and found an impressive (for early May) eleven species: brown argus, small copper, small heath, peacock, comma, speckled wood, orange tip, brimstone, green-veined, small and large whites. An unexpected bonus this morning was a broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth seen nectaring on ground ivy close to the Whin Hill Watchpoint - it was also seen there on Friday, so might be worth looking out for this week.

    Broad-bordered bee hawkmoth by Ian Barthorpe (this one was photographed on Buddleia last summer)

    There's an increasing variety of dragonflies and damselflies emerging too. Large red and common blue damselflies are quite numerous, with azure and blue-tailed damselflies now on the wing. Of the dragonflies the commonest are hairy dragonflies and four-spotted chasers, but one or two southern hawkers were also seen this morning - a very early record.

    I sometimes wish that computers allowed me to add smells too, as the coconut-scented gorse and the sweet scent of bluebells waft around the reserve, but you'll just have to enjoy the beautiful bluebells in this photo instead.

    Bluebells by Ian Barthorpe

    With all these insects around it's perhaps not surprising that numbers of swifts, swallows, sand martins and hobbies have increased this week too. Up to nine hobbies have been hawking over the reedbed, and the sand martin bank is looking very busy again.

    There is still only one nightingale singing around the visitor trails (near the Springwatch studio), but several can be heard around Westleton Heath on your way into the reserve. Warblers are in good voice now though, especially sedge and garden warblers and whitethroats - and the almost ubiquitous Cetti's warblers. There was a briefly heard grasshopper warbler along the North Wall this afternoon - and an even briefer golden oriole near the Work Centre on Friday morning.

    Within the reedbed, the great white egret remains and can sometimes be seen from Whin Hill. At least five different otters continue to be seen daily - the female with two cubs and two different dog otters. Bitterns are beginning to become more visible, and we expect females to start their feeding flights any time now. Marsh harriers are very active too, and bearded tits are quite showy at Island Mere (from the boardwalk) and North Wall.

    The Scrape is becoming much busier with about common terns joining the increasing number of black-headed gulls and about 40 avocets. We've had 12 little terns on South Scrape today too. Among the passage waders are grey and golden plovers (the latter in full summer plumage), greenshanks, bar-tailed godwits and dunlins, while the pair of little ringed plovers reamin on West Scrape and the stone-curlews continue to show occasionally from the North Wall. Finally, at least one spoonbill remains on the South Levels.

    Hobby by Oscar Dewhurst

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 5 May 2015

    A touch of colour

    I hope you all had a great bank holiday weekend, despite Sunday's rather wet weather - and this morning's! It looks like the April showers have arrived a little late this year - along with autumn gales in May, as once again the British weather bowls us a googly.

    I've just enjoyed a few days up north, watching the puffins, gannets and other seabirds at the stunning RSPB Bempton Cliffs, and noticed the verges were awash with colour. Now I'm back in Suffolk it's great to see the hawthorn (aka May blossom) bursting into flower, just as the blackthorn begins to fade. Crab apple blossom adds a welcome tint of pink to the hedges, while in the woods the bluebells are blooming and trees are rapidly greening as their leaves unfurl.

    Bluebells in South Belt by Ian Barthorpe

    With the warmer temperatures were seeing more damselflies emerging, along with the first hairy dragonflies over the weekend, and a variety of butterflies. Adders remain visible along the adder trail too.

    Numbers of migrants have swelled noticeably over the weekend, with garden warblers and lesser whitethroats singing from various parts of the reserve, and flocks of swifts, swallows and martins swooping above the reeds in pursuit of insects. They're not the only ones, as up to five hobbies have been seen too - sometimes chasing the martins themselves.

    The first lapwing chicks have been seen at North Hide, and avocets are nesting on the Scrape. A little ringed plover continues to be seen on West Scrape -  is its mate on eggs? An influx of black-headed gulls today suggests that they might still nest this year, if a little later than usual, and a few common, Sandwich and little terns are visiting the Scrape each day. One or two little gulls have arrived too and can sometimes be seen hawking for insects over the reedbed, or resting on the Scrape.

    Other waders on the Scrape have included varying numbers of black-tailed godwits and dunlins, a few whimbrels, grey plovers, greenshanks, common sandpipers and spotted redshanks and the odd sanderling and turnstone.

    Two pairs of bearded tits are busy feeding chicks close to Island Mere, where they are best watched from the boardwalk. Don't forget to look down off the boardwalk too, to spot our male sticklebacks guarding their nests. These beardies should be visible for the next couple of weeks.

    Male bearded tit with food for hungry chicks by Oscar Dewhurst

    Also lurking within the reedbed are eleven booming male bitterns and an, as yet, unknown number of nesting females. They are often seen, with patience, usually flying low over the reeds. The great white egret is hiding out there too, occasionally spotted flying to another feeding pool, and three otters are seen at some point on most days. Two spoonbills have returned to the South Levels, but can be difficult to spot.

    I'm sure that many more birds will arrive, pass through or start nesting over the next couple of weeks before the BBC Springwatch cameras roll on Monday 25 May. Make a note of the date in your diaries, set the TV to record, get ready to watch on the red button - and of course, come along and see the wildlife action for yourself.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 30 April 2015

    Swiftly does it

    On Tuesday morning a message came over the radio that there were good numbers of swifts over the reedbed. I looked at the date on my watch and remarked "28th April. Right on cue." Over the years I have come to expect the mass arrival of swifts to occur within a day or two on 27 April. Yes, we had a couple of early arrivals almost two weeks ago, but this was the first sign that swifts were arriving on mass. I haven't checked but I expect that there was a good arrival of swifts at many other sites that day too. A few house martins may be seen among the large sand martin and swallow flocks too.

    Swallows are back at the sluice too - photo by Jon Evans

    Other migrants have arrived this week too. Garden warblers can now be heard singing in several parts of the reserve - testing your ID skills as they are often singing close to the very similar sounding blackcaps. The first lesser whitethroats have arrived, while common whitethroats are much more noticeable too. Most of the songbird migrants are now present, though numbers will continue to increase over the next few days. Nightingales, in particular, remain in short supply.

    The first little terns are beginning to pass through the Scrape, along with a few Sandwich terns, but it's been a good week for waders with regular reports of greenshanks, spotted redshanks, ruffs, bar-tailed godwits, whimbrels, green and common sandpipers, the first wood sandpiper and good numbers of dunlins seen. The pair of little ringed plovers remain on West Scrape, and the stone-curlews are beginning to show more often from the North Wall watchpoint. Please only watch the latter form this location to reduce disturbance to these rare breeding birds. Also present on the Scrape have been up to six Mediterranean gulls, one or two Caspian gulls and a pair of garganey at North Hide yesterday.

    A great white egret continues to be seen around the reedbed, though generally remains hidden from sight. Similarly, four common cranes have been in flight several times this week - if you are in the right place at the right time. Two spoonbills flew west today, too. Bitterns put in occasional appearances but can be heard more easily, and the marsh harriers are in full display. At least three hobbies are now hunting above the reeds, and a peregrine is sometimes seen over the Levels.

    Otters are becoming less frequently seen - as is often the case in spring - but adders are still showing regularly along the adder trail. Orange tips are perhaps now the commonest butterfly on the reserve. 

    There's lots of greylag goslings around now too - photo by Ian Barthorpe

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 27 April 2015

    Amazing adders

    Minsmere's adders have proved extremely popular over the last few years, so we opened a dedicated adder trail this spring to make it easier to watch these amazing snakes without disturbing them. We also trained many of our guides to give them more confidence to find and talk about adders. Here's what one of our guides has to say about Minsmere amazing adders.

    Guest blog by Davene Everett, Minsmere volunteer guide

    I’ve always liked reptiles since owning a corn snake a few years ago, so leapt at the chance to be one of the volunteer guides on the Adder Trail. This is the perfect time of year to see adders as the males are searching out females and fighting for the right to mate with them. The Adder Trail at Minsmere is near a hibernaculum (where adders hibernate over winter) which is why it’s a good place to see them, especially on warm sunny days where, for a few short weeks, they forget their shyness and are very visible. 

    Early morning is a good time to catch them basking, curled up on a pile of leaves, ideally on a slight slope to get the maximum benefit of the morning warmth. Use your binoculars to scan the undergrowth systematically, concentrate on the sunny spots and you’ll soon spot one. They can flatten their body to get maximum exposure to the sun’s rays and in the earlier months, it isn’t uncommon to see a number of males curled up together.  Once they’ve warmed up, they’ll be off searching for food.

    Typical prey items are mice and voles, but small frogs, lizards or other snakes will all be taken. An adder only needs to eat a few times a year – once a month during the months they’re not hibernating is typical, as they don’t waste energy keeping warm as mammals have to. An adder is venomous and catches its prey by biting and injecting venom into the unfortunate victim. It will then follow the dying animal until it is safe to eat, swallowing it whole, head first normally as fur and legs don’t catch and cause problems that way (think how smooth an animal’s fur is when stroking head to tail rather than tail to head). 

    An adder will shed its skin occasionally, especially when it grows, normally by rubbing its chin on something rough to get started, then wriggling out of the skin as it turns inside out, like a lady taking off a stocking. In the run up to shedding (or sloughing) its skin, the adder will appear dull in colour and if you’re close enough to see its eyes, they’ll be opaque.  Once the cloudiness clears from the eyes, it will shed within a few days. Coming up to a slough, snakes will be very grouchy and irritable, so best to keep out of their way at that time! 

    Adders don’t see particularly well at the best of times, but they’re virtually blind when going through the shedding process (hence their irritability). Their best senses are smell/taste – the flickering tongue is taking scent to the Jacobson’s organ inside their mouth allowing them to track prey or a female’s pheromones – and vibration. A snake doesn’t slither away when it hears you coming, it feels you coming from the vibrations you make on the ground. So generally speaking you don’t have to keep silent when watching adders, but you do need to avoid stomping around.

    A male adder "tasting" the air by Steve Everett

    A female will only breed every 2-3 years and can mate with a number of males. The pair can be joined for 30 minutes or so and are quite vulnerable at that time, so they tend to be discreet and hide away so you’re very lucky to see it.  The female bears live young in September and doesn’t look after them; the young are venomous and perfectly capable of feeding themselves as soon as they are born. 

    Adders do get attacked by other species: herons, corvids and large gulls will have a go at them, but surprisingly their biggest enemy is the pheasant, which seems to go out of its way to attack an adder if it sees one. Adders are not large snakes, 2-3 feet is the maximum you’ll find (females are generally larger than the males) and can live for 30 years (if they can avoid predation).

    They won’t attack a human except in defence, but a bite will be extremely painful and the venom can be fatal, so it’s important to not antagonise them. If a snake rears up and hisses at you, you’re far too close and should back away. Photographers should use telephoto lenses, not macro, and no matter what the temptation, please do not try and take close up shots with a phone, you’ll be putting yourself in danger. Stay a respectful distance and enjoy watching these fascinating creatures in safety.

    Two male adders "dancing" as they compete for a mate - note the variation in colour of males, which can also be melanistic, or black adders. Females are brown and black. Photo by Steve Everett 

    (Note: these photos were taken with a large lens, from a safe distance)

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

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Your sightings

Grid reference: TM4767 (+2km)

Bee-eater (1)
27 May 2015
Little Crake (1)
10 May 2015
Avocet ()
29 May 2015
Cuckoo ()
29 May 2015
Cetti's Warbler ()
29 May 2015
Water Rail ()
28 May 2015
Little Gull ()
28 May 2015
Long-tailed Skua (1)
28 May 2015
Tawny Owl ()
27 May 2015
Kingfisher ()
27 May 2015

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Where is it?

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

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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.