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Recent sightings

  • 3 March 2015

    Celebrating World Wildlife Day

    Today, 3 March is the UN World Wildlife Day. In celebration, I thought I'd share a pictorial overview of some of Minsmere's amazing wildlife.

    Let's start with otters. Late winter and early spring is always the best time to see these popular mammals, and they put on a particularly impressive show yesterday morning. A female and two cubs spent quite a bit of time close to the hide, while the male also appeared at the far end of the mere. At one point the cubs caught a huge tench - estimated by visitors in the hide to be at least three pounds in weight - and fought over who was going to eat it first. A few lucky visitors had their cameras to hand to capture the moment. Here's a photo by David Savory.

    Also at Island Mere, one bittern continues to grunt, but there's been no proper booming yet. Several snipe continue to hide in front of the hide, a pair of great crested grebes is displaying, and at least marsh harriers are displaying on sunny days like today. A pair of buzzards can be seen displaying over Sizewell too.

    Last night the starlings appeared to be gathering over Island Mere when I went home at 5.30 pm, but they've tended to put on a good showing over North Marsh and behind the visitor centre at dusk. Last year they roosted near Island Mere throughout March, so hopefully they'll stay a little longer yet.

    Starlings at dusk last autumn by Ian Barthorpe

    Out on the Scrape, despite the ongoing fence replacement work, wader numbers and variety are slowly increasing. Sightings today have included at least 12 avocets, four turnstones, two ringed plovers, plus dunlins, redshanks, oystercatchers, lapwings and curlews. The two redhead smews were seen again this morning, and a few pintails remain among the commoner ducks.

    I wandered down to the Wildlife Lookout at lunchtime to see the spoonbill that was present - the other two had dropped in earlier, and probably simply moved back to the levels. Unusually, the spoonbill was very actively feeding; swishing its long bill from side to side to catch fish and invertebrates in the spoon at the end.

    Spoonbill feeding by Jon Evans

    In the woods, with birdsong increasing by the day,and only a matter of days before we expect the first chiffchaffs to arrive, there are already of signs of nesting among some of our resident species. Long-tailed tits always nest quite early, and one pair were behaving very territorially today, and several great spotted woodpeckers are drumming. Before the chillier weather returned yesterday, we had the first sightings of adders this spring on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. I'd recommend leaving it another couple of weeks before coming to look for them though, and then choosing a sunny morning, making sure you arrive before 10 am. Better still, why not join us on guided walks to spot adders at the start of the Easter holidays.

    Adder by Sue Stephenson-Martin, photographed last March

    A woodlark was singing over the car park on Sunday morning, but Westleton Heath is a more reliable location to hear this beautiful song. March mornings are the best time of year. Nearby, I watched about 80 red deer grazing close tot he road as I drove home last night. It won't be long before we welcome the stone-curlews back onto the heath either. 

    Of course, with spring having started (or starting in the three weeks, depending on who you listen to!), there are a few flowers to look out for already. Snowdrops at the car park entrance and daffodils outside the visitor centre may be familiar from home, but look out too for hazel catkins dangling like lamb's tails (a colloquial name) in the woods, early blackthorn blossom (I haven't seen any yet) or pussy willow. I saw a small patch of coltsfoot on the Scrape today too.

    Hazel catkins by Ian Barthorpe

    Two common cranes flew over on Sunday morning - a little earlier than usual, but they are regular on passage in spring - and a red kite has just flown south. Red-throated divers, great crested grebes and gannets are regular offshore. We also still have two whooper swans around the Konik Field, and three tundra bean geese have been feeding among greylags at Eastbridge this week.

    Finally, don't forget to look for the tiny bird's nest fungus which is still attracting a steady stream of admirers on the pond boardwalk. You have to look carefully though as the cups are only 5 mm across.

    Bird's-nest fungi by Ian Barthorpe


    Don't forget that you can see more regular updates from Minsmere, Lakenheath and other RSPB work in Suffolk on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page, or follow @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter for the latest news.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 27 February 2015

    Mud, machines, fences and avocets - an update from the Scrape

    It's been a while since I posted an update on the ongoing work to replace the predator-proof fence around the Scrape.

    When I let you know about our plans before work started, in a blog back in November, we were expecting to finish the work this week. While work has progressed well, we're not quite complete, so with the permission of Natural England we will be continuing for a few more weeks.

    Recognising that one of the difficulties in maintaining the old fence was its location alongside a wet ditch, we decided to erect the new bank entirely on dry ground. This has required building a  low bank around much of the Scrape, onto which the new fence will sit. Around much of the Scrape the bank and fence are complete, apart from few finishing touches.

    The banks look a bit bare and exposed in places, but the vegetation will soon grow over so that banks blend into the landscape better. 

    Where we've built the bank up around South Hide, the ground remains very soft in places, as ground conditions were wetter than anticipated. Therefore, we're giving it a couple more weeks to consolidate before completing this section of fence, with the aim of completing the project during March. 

    The remainder of the work will be carefully planned to minimise disturbance, especially as waders are beginning to return to the Scrape. We're confident that the extended project will not impact on breeding birds as the avocets, oystercatchers and black-headed gulls don't usually begin nesting until mid April. The first few avocets back don't seem too concerned about the ongoing work anyway - numbers have reached 18 today, with East Scrape remaining the best place to watch them. The first birds to nest on the Scrape are usually the lapwings, but even they don't lay until the end of March, and we have almost finished work around North Hide.

    Other waders already returning to the Scrape include oystercatchers, redshanks and ringed plovers, while a few black-tailed godwits, dunlins and turnstones are beginning to pass through. The two redhead smew remain too.

    One consequence of the movement of machinery along the path to the sluice is that it's a bit muddy in places, but that's only to be expected at the of the winter, and once the work is completed we'll look to repair the path to ensure it is accessible for most wheelchairs and pushchairs. 

    Once this project is completed, we hope the avocets and gulls will once again be able to nest safe from mammalian predators, ready for the arrival of the Springwatch cameras again later in the spring.

    Elsewhere on the reserve there is increasing courtship activity. Marsh harriers are sky dancing on sunny days. One bittern is grunting at Island Mere. Tits are beginning to explore nestboxes. Birdsong is increasing, and great spotted woodpeckers are drumming. It won't be long before the first butterflies and adders emerge either.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 24 February 2015

    More Minsmere murmuration magic

    Yes folks - after a couple of months away from Minsmere, our starlings have returned! Since the middle of last week we've had about 10000 starlings roosting in the North Marsh reedbed at dusk. The flock, which usually forms at about 5 pm, is best watched from the North Wall, or even from outside the visitor centre, as they carve patterns through the evening sky. I've been away for a few days so haven't had a chance to see them yet.

    We've had some amazing sunsets this week, providing a stunning backdrop for the starling spectacular, including this sunset over Island Mere last night - I'm sure the sky looked just as impressive over the North Wall.

    It's been quite exciting watching the night sky this week too, with both Venus and Mars visible, close to each other, in the western sky soon after dusk. 

    Talking of the night sky, we are joining together with two local astronomical societies to organise two nights of star gazing next month, to coincide with the BBC Star gazing Live broadcasts. Our events will be on the evenings of Friday 20 and Saturday 21 March. On Friday 20 March we are also running an event to watch the total solar eclipse, using special sun watching equipment. For full details of both events,and all other guided walks and family activities this spring, click here, and let's hope for some clear skies.

    Of course, the starlings, sunsets, stars and planets are not the only recent sightings of note at Minsmere. Our single redhead smew has finally been joined by a second redhead - numbers of this beautiful duck are down at Minsmere this year, possibly reflecting the relatively mild weather on the near continent where most of them winter. The whooper swans look to have left, and Bewick's swan numbers are rapidly declining though, indicating that winter is beginning to relinquish its grip.

    The three spoonbills continue to favour the South Levels, where they've now been resident for two weeks. Let's hope they stay into the spring and perhaps try to nest at RSPB Havergate Island, where we've constructed some special platforms for them (note: all trips to Havergate are full until our spoonbill weekend on 1/2 August.)

    Further signs of spring are the increasing numbers of waders visiting the Scrape. Some, like the oystercatchers, redshanks and ringed plovers, may stay to nest. Others are simply passing through on their way further north. Black-tailed godwits have reached double figures this week, and other highlights have included grey plover, turnstone and dunlin. We still only have one avocet so far though.

    With birdsong increasing by the day, we're almost counting down the days to the arrival of the first chiffchaff - probably within the next fortnight. Woodlarks are already singing well on Westleton Heath, and the first bittern has been grunting intermittently near Island Mere for a couple of weeks already. Over the next few weeks we expect more to start tuning up - and eventually begin booming properly.

    Bittern by Jon Evans

    Bitterns continue to be seen every day at Bittern Hide and Island Mere, as do otters, marsh harriers, snipe and kingfishers (most days), while bearded tits can be seen well on some days but remain elusive on others and Cetti's warblers are now  in full song but rarely seen (as ever).

    Although they are not truly wild, the snowdrops are flowering around the car park entrance, and the first daffodils are now out behind the visitor centre. I expect to see the first blackthorn blossom soon too.

    The bird's-nest fungus continues to attract a lot of attention for something so tiny. Every time I walk past the pond there seems to be someone on their hands and knees or lying prostrate on the ground trying to get a photo of this fascinating little fungus.

    The other regular sighting last week was nestboxes -  more than 200 children made themselves a new box to give nature a home in their own gardens. Some were beautifully painted too, like the one below. We're now planning for our Easter family events.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 14 February 2015

    Love is in the air

    Couples across the world may be celebrating Valentine's Day today, but did you know that 14 February is an important day in the natural world.

    Today is traditionally the day that ducks pair up for the year, and certainly there's been a lot of amorous behaviour on the Scrape for the last few weeks. Many ducks do indeed pair up on their wintering grounds, returning to the breeding sites as a pair in the spring. But it's not the case for all species though, as most males pochards winter in the UK, but the females head further south to the warmer climes of Spain. Conversely, all species of swans and geese form lifelong pair bonds, though they will reaffirm these bonds with regular display.

    A pair of gadwalls with displaying drake by Ian Barthorpe

    It's not just the ducks that are thinking of pairing up. When the sun shines our marsh harriers are already displaying, and late February into March is the best time to look for sparrowhawks and goshawks displaying (though the latter are not found here at Minsmere). Great spotted woodpeckers are busy drumming and many of our woodland birds are now in full song. The woodlarks have begun singing on Westleton Heath too.

    Another reason why 14 February is an important date for nature is that it's the start of National Nestbox Week. Started by the BTO several years ago, National Nestbox Week is a celebration of all things related to nestboxes. It's a reminder to clean out any boxes that you have in the garden, ready for the tits to find them in April, and a call to action to put out new boxes if you have space.

    We're celebrating National Nestbox Week at Minsmere, as families can join us to make nestboxes this week. Every day, from Monday to Friday, there will be the sound of nails hammered into wood at the Discovery Centre, with excited children taking their boxes home in the hope of attracting blue tits or great tits to nest in them. There's also quizzes, crafts and fun facts about nests. Boxes cost £5 each to make, and there is no need to book.

    Of course, there are many different types of nestboxes, suitable for starlings, house sparrows, robins, tawny owls, barn owls, bats, hedgehogs, insects and a variety of other species. And if, like me, you're not very handy with a hammer and saw, then come along to the Minsmere Shop to choose the best suited to your garden, farm or school grounds.

    There's also a great range of other goodies in the shop, including birdfood, feeders, books and gifts. Our staff and volunteers all have a good knowledge of the range of binoculars and telescopes available in the shop, and are happy to spend as long as needed to help you to choose the model that suits you. We always have a good range, and next weekend we have our first binocular and telescope open day of the year, so if you're looking for new binoculars or a 'scope, why not come along for a chat and some advice. 

    While you are visiting you might decide to enjoy a relaxing walk, and perhaps you'll spot an otter, bittern, marsh harrier or snipe. All have been showing well at times today from the reedbed hides, with black-tailed godwits, redshanks, turnstones and pintails among the ducks on the Scrape.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 11 February 2015

    Biting off more than it can chew?

    One of our volunteer guides spent some time seawatching this morning and was rewarded with a dramatic encounter between two large scavengers. Pomarine skuas are usually passage migrants in the UK, but one or two often spend the winter off the Suffolk coast, and one has been seen occasionally all winter. Like all skuas, they are pirates - chasing other seabirds to force them to disgorge their last meal, or even catching smaller seabirds.

    What was unusual about this morning's encounter was that the target of the piratism.  A juvenile pomarine skua chased a juvenile great black-backed gull - the largest of our gulls and one that frequently attacks smaller seabirds itself. Having been unsuccessful in trying to get the gull to disgorge its dinner, the skua grabbed the bigger bird by a wing and flipped it over, before settling on the sea for a few minutes.

    This wasn't the only action out at sea as there was an passage of red-throated divers, as well as several great crested grebes. There are usually a few common scoters offshore too, and a grey seal was seen earlier today.

    Another slightly unseasonal species present for the last couple of days is spoonbill, with three birds settled on the South Levels. One of these is colour-ringed, confirming that it's the same three birds that have been spending the winter at RSPB Havergate Island and Orfordness NT, and have also visited RSPB North Warren. Spoonbills are more typically seen at Minsmere in April and May.

    Two immature spoonbills in flight (note black wing tips which help to age these as juveniles)  by Jon Evans

    More typical for the time of year are the wildfowl, although we still only have one redhead smew, a couple of pairs of pintails and two whooper swans alongside the large flocks of commoner ducks. The Bewick's swan flock is up to 37 birds, but they spend most of the day feeding in fields near Blythburgh, returning to Minsmere at dusk.

    Look carefully among the ducks on the Scrape and you might spot one or two waders, as the first redshanks and black-tailed godwits are beginning to trickle in - though our lone avocet appears to have moved back to a nearby estuary as it hasn't been here for a couple of days.  Up to four turnstones can be seen either on the Scrape or the sluice outfall, while a few curlews are often seen on the Scrape, or feeding in nearby fields.

    A turnstone eating a mussel by Jon Evans

    Up to four otters are still seen every day at Island Mere. Bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers are regular from the reedbed hides, and up to five snipe may be spotted hiding in the cut reeds at Island Mere. Kingfishers are probably best looked for a Bittern Hide, though sightings are unpredictable, but the pair of stonechats on the North Wall are a bit more reliable.

    And after the discovery of the bird's nest fungus last week, which continues to attract quite a bit of interest, we've just found a great diving beetle outside the front of the visitor centre. We don't often see the adults away from the pond, especially at this time of year, so it was a nice surprise to find this one.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 9 February 2015

    A bird's nest in February?

    There was great excitement this week following the discovery of these nests close to the visitor centre! Nests with eggs in February. Surely not?

    When I posted the pictures on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page  on Saturday, more than one person thought they were chocolate cups filled with white chocolate eggs - and I can certainly see why they might think that. Look a bit more carefully though and you can see leaves and a blade of grass. Then you realise that these nests are only about 5 mm (less than 1/4 inch) across. That's smaller than even the smallest nest in the world - that of the bee hummingbird from Cuba.

    So if it's not a bird's nest, perhaps it belongs to an insect? Not that either. In fact, these are a type of fungi that, perhaps not surprisingly, is called common bird's nest fungi (Crucibulum vulgare). It's a widespread fungi, one of several similar species worldwide, but is probably often overlooked as it is so tiny. it has been seen at Minsmere before, but was a new species for many of the staff, volunteers and visitors, so attracted quite a bit of attention over the weekend, after being found by one of our wardens late last week.

    The tiny white "eggs" are held in the cup by fine hairs, and when a rain drop hits them the hairs break and the "eggs" bounce out, dispersing the spores and helping the fungi to spread. Therefore, you can often find empty nests alongside the full ones, as you can see in this photo.

    Being so tiny, it's easy to miss this beautiful fungus, but as it's growing on the end of the boardwalk across the pond, the clump at Minsmere should be easy enough to find - and it's only 100 metres from the warmth of the cafe's delicious cakes and scones! 

    This is another great example of the incredible variety of wildlife at Minsmere, and a reminder of how amazing nature is. Please help us to keep t that way by putting nature at the forefront of the political agenda. The RSPB is working with our friends at the Wildlife Trusts to campaign for a Nature and Wellbeing Act. Please help by emailing your MP. There's more details on our website here. Please also support the Vote for Bob campaign, as a vote for Bob is a vote for nature. Bob's even been visiting Minsmere today as the latest stop on his tour of Eastern England - and saw an otter while he was here.

    Of course, the fungi is not the only interesting species seen over the weekend, with sightings of otters, bitterns and kingfisher at Island Mere, bitterns, kingfisher and a red fox at Bittern Hide, avocet, black-tailed godwit and smew on Scrape, a male hen harrier over the reedbed, goldcrests, treecreeper and bullfinches in the woods, and more more besides.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 2 February 2015

    One avocet doesn't make a summer

    No sooner had the first avocet returned to the Scrape, signalling the imminent arrival of spring, then the temperature dropped and the snow showers arrived. It's still bitterly cold today, with both the Scrape and Island Mere largely frozen this morning, but at least the sun is shining and the days are lengthening. Which reminds me: as from yesterday we have switched back to summer opening times, so the reception and shop are now open 9 am to 5 pm, and the cafe 9.30 am to 4.45 pm.

    Despite the freeze, the avocet remains on East Scrape today, alongside two black-tailed godwits and five turnstones. A pair of pintail are still amongst the ducks, too, but the redhead smew has relocated to Island Mere. Also on the mere this morning were the two whooper swans and a female pochard, while bitterns, marsh harriers, bearded tits and otters have also been seen there.

    The freezing weather has kept the visitor centre feeders busy, with a constant stream of tits and finches, and the occasional visit by the great spotted woodpecker. On Thursday one of our volunteers counted no fewer than 51 visits to two feeders in one minute. Quite how many birds were involved is difficult to tell - I'm certainly glad I didn't try to do a Big Garden Birdwatch count from our visitor centre! I hope you all managed to carry out the survey and have by now submitted your results. If you haven't there's still time to submit them at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

    Some scarce garden visitors have been showing themselves off quite well at Minsmere this week. A small flock of song thrushes are regular at the start of the North Wall (alongside a few meadow pipits), while the redwings are busy foraging through the leaf litter in South Belt. Siskin flocks roam around South Belt and nearby alder trees, while several bullfinches have been showing off in both South Belt and North Bushes. Goldcrests are always easier to see at this time of year, but a firecrest near Bittern Hide yesterday was a bit more elusive.

    Bullfinch by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)

    Other highlights over the last couple of days have included a peregrine over the Scrape this morning, a tawny owl in North Bushes on Saturday, and the pair of stonechats on the North Wall.

    For those of you that live close to Minsmere, there's a chance to hear an excellent talk on Friday evening by RSPB Senior Wetland Ecologist Graham White and Norwegian birder and architect Tormod Amundsen. The talk is free, and starts at 7.30 pm, but if you'd like to come please call us on 01728 648281 or email minsmere@rspb.org.uk.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 28 January 2015

    Minsmere is number one

    That's what you tell us anyway. 

    We're now rated as the number one visitor attraction in Suffolk according to Trip Advisor, with 97% of reviews rating Minsmere at least four out of five. We really enjoy reading reviews on Trip Advisor. Many reviews thank our amazing volunteer guides and reception volunteers for their great welcome and help. Others rave about the delicious food in the cafe - cakes and cheese scones come in for high praise.

    Of course, some have their gripes , and we're working hard to improve our customer care even further to reduce these gripes. A few are unhappy at the cost of entry to Minsmere, which is of course free for all our wonderful members. If you love Minsmere, and have had a great visit here, why not share your thoughts with a review of your own.

    There's still time to help Minsmere to win the BBC Countryfile award for Nature Reserve of the Year, as nominated by Chris Packham. The deadline for voting is Saturday 31 January, so if you haven't done so already please vote for us here.

    Winter can be a quiet time to visit Minsmere, though when the sun shines many of you still come along to enjoy some winter wildlife. It looks like we've finally got a small group of 14 Bewick's swans roosting at Island Mere, but it's not easy to see them. They seem to leave soon after first light, returning after dark from their chosen fields somewhere north of Westleton - I haven't seen them yet. Two whooper swans are a little more reliable on the mere. Over the weekend we also had a small roost of starlings - though at about 800 birds it's nothing to shout about yet. They seem to have moved from North Warren, so if anyone knows where there are any starlings roosting on the Suffolk coast, please let us know.

    Bewick's swans by Jon Evans

    Other wildlife at Island Mere this week has included up to nine snipe, regular bitterns, bearded tits, otters and kingfishers, and several marsh harriers. A ringtail hen harrier was seen earlier in the week. I was lucky enough to walk into Island Mere Hide on Monday lunchtime when a dog otter was porpoising across the mere, then to watch it eating a fish. The coots weren't happy though.

    On the Scrape we still have a single redhead smew, a few pintails and our first avocet of the spring, with one or two black-tailed godwits, dunlins and redshanks present most days, as well as four turnstones. There are, of course, large flocks of commoner ducks and lapwings too. A short-eared owl has been spotted on a few occasions too.

    In the woods there are flocks of redwings, siskins and long-tailed tits, red deer and drumming great spotted woodpeckers. A great spot is also regular around the feeders at the visitor centre, which we're having to fill up three times a day due to the numbers of tits and finches feeding there. This is a good time of year to spot marsh tits on the feeders. Bullfinches don't visit the feeders, but are often seen around the car park.

    With cold weather forecast this week, maybe we'll find more smew or swans dropping in over the next few days.

    Bullfinch by Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 24 January 2015

    Spring is round the corner

    Next Sunday, 1 February, we switch to summer opening at Minsmere. This means that the visitor centre remains open until 5 pm, and the cafe hours switch to 9.30 am to 4.45 pm. To help us to get ready for spring, the cafe will be closing early on Monday, at 2.30 pm, for a deep clean, so if you're planning to visit that day make sure you get your refreshments early.

    Our opening times aren't the only impending signs of spring, as the first avocet returned to the Scrape yesterday. It is still present today.

    Even more surprisingly, I saw a cow parsley plant in full flower on my way to work on Thursday - that's at least three months early! Of course, snowdrops are flowering in many gardens now, and our daffodils are already sprouting nicely.

    It has felt rather springlike today too, with almost unbroken blue skies, though the breeze has made it feel chilly at times. Apart from the avocet, there have been some good sightings too. The redhead smew remains on East Scrape, along with a pair of pintails, and was joined today by a dunlin and four turnstones. Bearded tits showed very close to the path between South Hide and the sluice. Bitterns were seen at Bittern Hide and Island Mere. Two whooper swans were on Island Mere, where the female otter and two cubs were seen, followed later by the lone dog otter. Redwings, goldcrests and bullfinches were all seen in the woods and a stonechat along the North Wall.

    And, of course, our feeders were extremely busy, with a constant stream of tits and finches feeding on them. I hope you feeders are well stocked for the Big Garden Birdwatch tomorrow - or that you did the count today. Don't forget you can enter your results at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch 

    A coal tit by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com) - one of the birds on Minsmere's feeders

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

How you can help

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

We're setting up an emergency fund that we can use to get our reserves back into shape and repair the damage caused. Please help us rebuild from the worst storm in 60 years.

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Your sightings

Grid reference: TM4767 (+2km)

Avocet ()
5 Mar 2015
Cetti's Warbler ()
5 Mar 2015
Bean Goose (Tundra) (3)
4 Mar 2015
Smew (2)
4 Mar 2015
Tawny Owl ()
3 Mar 2015
Spoonbill (1)
28 Feb 2015
Whooper Swan (2)
27 Feb 2015
Marsh Harrier (3)
27 Feb 2015
Short-eared Owl (1)
27 Feb 2015
Kingfisher (1)
27 Feb 2015

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.