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 (rspb-images.com)
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.