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Yesterday was a red letter day for me in many ways. I had a rare full day birdwatching, saw my earliest ever swift, and found the rarest bird I've actually found for myself at Minsmere - and that's on my day off!
I usually only manage to have a quick lunchtime walk, or visit one or two hides with my family, but yesterday I visited with an old college friend for a proper day birdwatching. I brought my family along with me, and Thomas was rewarded with some excellent wildlife sightings too. What we saw summarises quite nicely the variety of wildlife to be seen at Minsmere this spring.
On arrival we heard that three common cranes had flown west early morning. Sadly they didn't reappear, but our day started promisingly with the sand martins around their nesting bank,though we just missed a stoat at the start of the North Wall and couldn't find any stone-curlews from the watchpoint. (The two stone-curlews have been seen today, along with a female redstart and a wheatear.)
Along the North Wall we listened to sedge warblers and reed buntings singing, and had brief views of bearded tits, but the star bird was a cuckoo. Initially difficult to spot, it eventually perched in the open, so that Thomas could get good views too, as it flitted from bush to bush. Bitterns were booming loudly too - there are now eleven boomers on the reserve. A grey seal fished close to shore, and a few red-throated divers flew north on the horizon, but otherwise the sea was quiet.
Cuckoo by John Bridges (RSPB-Images.com)
Not so the Scrape. On entering East Hide we saw a sanderling, two dunlins and two ringed plovers on the nearest island, good numbers of black-tailed godwits and avocets, and a few redshanks and oystercatchers. Two volunteers leading a guided walk located a second calendar year Caspian gull - a tricky bird to ID but it showed all the salient features of long legs, long straight bill and clean white head. A whimbrel flew north, calling, but we couldn't find the two Sandwich terns that had been reported. (A common tern has been seen today too.)
As we strolled along the beach we enjoyed views of linnets and a male stonechat, then watched konik ponies feeding close to the sluice. Sadly there was no yellow wagtail among them, but one has been seen on the Scrape today.
South of the sluice we looked across the Levels, where the guided walk leaders again came up trumps, finding a spoonbill feeding near the windpump. This was a consolation for being unable to locate the five ring ouzels on the Chapel Field - they had moved a few hundred metres west to a favourable gorse patch, where they remained today. A grasshopper warbler was singing nearby today too.
South Scrape yielded a nice moulting spotted redshank and a winter plumage knot, as well as five grey herons and five little egrets. Egrets, avocets and black-tailed godwits were on West Scrape, with good views of teal and shoveler too. (West Scrape has been very productive today with a pair of displaying little ringed plovers as well as greenshanks and spotted redshanks.)
Approaching South Belt Crossroads we watched a pair of treecreepers close to the path - they are building nest here so have been very obliging for visitors.
After lunch we headed to Bittern Hide, where three red deer posed for Thomas to take some photos.
The adder trail was unproductive due to the cool cloudy weather, but they've put on a good show again today.
Island Mere always comes up with something good, and yesterday was no different. No fewer than seven great crested grebes were present, as well as coots, tufted ducks and mute swans, Marsh harriers quartered in all directions and a peregrine cruised through. Overhead, among the growing flock of sand martins, we picked up a few swallows and at least two swifts - my earliest ever record, though Minsmere's first of the year was on Friday. Outside the hide we spotted a few sticklebacks but the cooler weather had put the males off displaying. They are always entertaining to watch though.
As we strolled up Whin Hill to the watchpoint I casually scanned back across Island Mere hoping to find the spoonbill or cranes feeding on the North Levels. What I did see was a small falcon that I initially assumed to be an early hobby. A second look revealed it to be slightly paler than a hobby, with darker underparts and no white face markings. I could clearly see the red leg feathering that confirmed the identification as a superb adult male red-footed falcon - a scarce visitor from SE Europe. It circled Island Mere for five minutes, then flew towards Eastbridge, circling the village before eventually heading off NW.
Yet the good sightings didn't end there, as driving out of the reserve we were amazed to see a stone-curlew flying on the other side of the hedge, then crossing the road immediately in front of the car. What a way to end the day!
Of course, with migration in full swing we missed some species. Other sightings today have included redstart, reed warbler, bar-tailed godwit, otter and hobby. With yesterday being cloudy the only insects of note were bumblebees - white-tailed, red tailed and common carder. Today though we've had sightings of early large red and common blue damselflies and the first small copper and green-veined white butterflies. Oh, and a lesser spotted Chris Packham doing some filming for Springwatch.
Posted by Ian Barthorpe
Is it really mid April? With the thermometer hitting the mid 20s Centigrade yesterday and today it feels more like mid July than mid April - and with the unseasonably warm weather have come scores of migrant birds, flooding onto our shores.
Such has been the variety of migrants arriving this week that our What's About blackboard in reception has been full by lunchtime, and everyone has had the chance to spot something of interest. Each habitat has hosting notable birds, alongside buff-tailed bumblebees and butterflies such as comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood and red admiral.
By far the rarest visitor was seen on briefly by a lucky few this morning when a red-rumped swallow circled over North Marsh at about 8.30 am. A less than annual arrival from Iberia, these spring overshoots usually arrive in late April or early May, typically on southerly winds, so this was a little earlier than expected. Sadly it didn't stay long. Several pairs of sand martins are already excavating nests, swallows are becoming more common, and the first house martin was seen on Monday.
Sand martin at the nesting bank last spring by Oscar Dewhurst
Next best were two common cranes that cruised in from the north yesterday morning, drifting over the visitor centre before settling for an hour or so on the North Levels then drifting off again. Cranes are increasingly to be expected on sunny spring days, and it was also no surprise to see red kite and multiple counts of common buzzards reported over the last couple of days: at least ten buzzards flew north this morning.
A star attraction for many today was a lovely male redstart, visible from the stone-curlew watchpoint at the west end of the North Wall. It showed on and off, but sadly wasn't visible when I wandered down to look at lunchtime. At least two ring ouzels were also popular on this field, but the stone-curlews were not seen after 8.30 am today. If they decide to settle on this field this year our guides will often be present to help you to find them. A lovely male wheatear was seen today, and also present on this field are a couple of curlews, lapwings, oystercatchers and a small flock of linnets - plus the ubiquitous bunnies. Ring ouzels were also seen in the dunes yesterday.
Warblers have arrived in good numbers over the last few days, with chiffchaffs and blackcaps singing throughout the reserve, several sedge warblers in the reedbed, willow warblers in North Bushes and at the sluice today, the first reed and grasshopper warblers along North Wall yesterday and a whitethroat in North Bushes this morning.
The first cuckoo was seen on Monday - an early arrival - and birds have been singing in North Marsh and South Belt today. Two nightingales have taken up residence near the BBC Springwatch studio, with others already on Westleton Heath. Hopefully one will return to the area outside the wardens' office soon s that I can listen to it while I work!
Nightingale by Ian Barthorpe
Out on the Scrape a few of us were treated to brief views of a pair of dapper garganeys at lunchtime today, and at least one of the elusive jack snipe lingers at North Hide. Lapwings are nesting at North Hide, and avocets are beginning to settle on West Scrape, but it's eerily quiet with the black-headed gulls having decided to nest elsewhere this year! Among the waders seen this week, highlights have been little ringed plover, grey plover, ruff and greenshank, while 100+ black-tailed godwits have been much easier to spot. Most of the ducks have left us for the summer already though.
There have been a few migrants found on the dunes this week too. A very confiding snow bunting was near East Hide for a couple of days, and a short-eared owl on Monday was another late winter visitor. Two yellow wagtails flew in from the sea this morning, possibly landing on the Konik Field, and a white wagtail (the continental race of our pied wagtail) was on East Scrape today. It's nice to see a pair of stonechats establishing territory near the sluice.
Yellow wagtail by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Within the reedbed, we now have at least seven booming male bitterns, marsh harriers are nest building,bearded tits can often be seen at North Wall and Island Mere, and you can sometimes hear the pig-like squeal of a water rail. A kingfisher was at Island Mere yesterday, and the otters continue to be seen most days. A stoat and a pair of coots were having a bit of set too at Bittern Hide this afternoon - the coots presumably have a nest nearby.
And let's not forget our resident woodland birds. Treecreepers, marsh tits and long-tailed tits are nesting in South Belt, green woodpeckers are very vocal, and the tawny owls can often be heard hooting by day. Adders are enjoying the warm weather too, with three seen on the adder trail this morning and another in North Bushes at lunchtime.
What will the next few days bring?
Treecreeper by Jon Evans
The breeding season is really getting underway now, with nests and displaying wildlife appearing throughout the reserve.
One of the most popular species at this time of year is always our great crested grebes. If you are lucky you may spot their famous famous weed dance - though usually only snippets of the full display. At least three pairs are at Island Mere, with one pair nesting close to the hide and providing a superb show for visitors. Their smaller cousins, little grebes, are also courting, so listen out for their whinnying calls around any reedbed pools.
Great crested grebe with nest material by Oscar Dewhurst
Marsh harriers are actively displaying above the reeds, and can often be seen carrying sticks or reeds to their growing nest within the reeds. At least five bitterns are booming, and are regularly seen. Bearded tits are also showing well, especially along the North Wall - though less so in today's wind.
Female marsh harrier carrying reeds by Oscar Dewhurst
Many of our small birds are nesting now too: long-tailed tits, marsh tits, treecreepers and robins have all been reported already in woods, and reed buntings and Cetti's warblers are singing around the reedbed. It won't be long before we start seeing families of fledglings around the reserve.
Out on the Scrape, lapwings and redshanks are nesting in front of North Hide, while avocets, oystercatchers, ringed plovers and black-tailed godwits are all beginning courtship. At least 80 avocets and 120 black-tailed godwits make the Scrape look a bit busier. Other waders seen this week have included dunlins, knot, curlews and the first whimbrel of the spring yesterday. Two jack snipe are at North Hide, but are typically hard to spot. Be careful, as there are several common snipe there too.
Also on the Scrape we've seen the first Sandwich terns this week, and Mediterranean gulls have peaked at six. Both Caspian and yellow-legged gulls are seen most days, but the adult Iceland gull on Wednesday only stayed for the day. The first two common terns were at Island Mere yesterday.
It's great to see the sand martins already beginning to excavate their burrows outside the visitor centre. Other migrants arriving this week have included blackcap and sedge warbler, with the first nightingale reported at lunchtime today and a ring ouzel on Westleton Heath yesterday. A stone-curlew was seen from the end of the North Wall this morning, though they haven't been regular there yet this year. Outgoing migrants include fieldfares and redwings in the North Bushes yesterday and the three tundra bean geese at Island Mere were last seen on Thursday.
Rarer visitors this week have included two common cranes over Island Mere this morning and a spoonbill on the Scrape today. The otters have been seen on the mere a couple of time today too.
Another species that is busy displaying this week is the adder, with both males and females seen in our adder watching area, often engaged in their courtship dance. There's at least one black (melanistic) adder there too.
With the arrival of warmer weather and spring sunshine, insect activity has increased, with sightings of small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral and speckled wood butterflies, several species of bumblebees, and my favourites: bee flies. The latter are best looked for feeding among ground ivy in open grassy areas.
Bee fly by Sue Stephenson-Martin
Finally, with more flowers emerging, it's nice to see a good display of coltsfoot just off the North Wall, where I took this photo yesterday.
The cool temperatures and persistent easterly and northerly winds over the past week have delayed the arrival of some our expected early migrants, but with southerlies forecast for a few days, and a rise in temperature, hopefully a few more will arrive this week.
Sand martins and swallows have slowly started to trickle in, though only in ones and twos so far, and chiffchaff numbers remain relatively low. There was a small passage of black redstarts last week, with one showing well around the sand martin bank over the weekend. The first two Sandwich terns flew north over the weekend, and a white wagtail was seen yesterday. We are, however, still awaiting the first blackcaps, sedge and willow warblers and garganeys, all of which usually arrive in late March.
Although it's been cool and breezy at times, the sun has at least put in an appearance, and with it our reptiles and insects have become more active. Today was noticeably warmer than of late, and several pairs of adders have been spotted dancing around the adder trail area. These reptiles are most visible at this time of year, but to avoid disturbance please stay within the designated area. They can often be spotted with binoculars basking int he early morning, before becoming more active as temperatures rise later in he day.
When I wandered down to look for adders this afternoon I was lucky enough not only to spot a nice male, but to also be shown a lovely common lizard by one very excited young visitor.
Visitors watching a basking common lizard
This brought my reptile total for the day to an impressive three species, as our volunteer guide Nick has found a beautiful slow worm during this morning's adder walk. This lovely lizard was kept in a suitable box, among dead leaves, in the visitor centre reception this afternoon so that visitors could admire it, before being released back where it had been found.
Today's slow worm in the hand
As well as the adders and lizards, the adder trail is a good spot to look for one of my favourite insects. Bee-flies are best seen in April, feeding among the purple flowers of ground ivy. They look superficially like small bees, behave like a cross between a hoverfly and a hummingbird hawkmoth, and have an incredibly long proboscis that is perfect for extracting nectar from the long narrow ground ivy flowers. Other insects in that area today included bumblebees and peacock butterflies. We've aslo had reports of pipistrelle bats ont he wing during the day near bittern Hide today as they emerge from hibernation.
Not a great photo, but here's a bee fly feeding on ground ivy last year
The sunny weather also proved attractive to buzzards, with several seen passing over today. A red kite was over the Levels this morning too, and a peregrine was hunting over the Scrape. Marsh harriers are already busy nest building, and my adder watching was accompanied by booming bitterns and a calling tawny owl.
Black-tailed godwit numbers have increased significantly on the Scrape, with up to 100 now present. Avocets are slowly increasing too, with some courtship starting, and lapwings are actively displaying in front of North Hide. Among the snipe on the Scrape have been a couple of elusive jack snipe. Other waders include redshanks, curlews, oystercatchers and the odd dunlin and ruff. Black-headed gulls remain strangely quiet, althoguh there's plenty of time for them to return yet. Other gulls this week have included Mediterranean, yellow-legged and Caspian gulls.
At Island Mere, there are three pairs of great crested grebes displaying as well as good numbers of coots and tufted ducks. Among the latter is a hybrid, looking superficially like a ring-necked duck.
Firstly, apologies for the delay since my last sightings blog. I’ve spent much of the last week in conferences or meetings (more of that later), and then the Community pages had to be closed for maintenance. At last they are back on line, so here's an overdue update.
The last time I updated we were buzzing with the excitement of a white-tailed eagle soaring over Island Mere. Since then we’ve had a few more notable records of large soaring birds.
Firstly, two common cranes cruised over Island Mere last Saturday morning (21st) and remained visible from Whin Hill Watchpoint on and off all day. They flew west early on Sunday morning, when the eagle also flew north again. Another four cranes were seen over the car park on Friday morning, before being reported ten minutes later circling over Leiston. These cranes are likely to be part of the Broads population, which typically disperse widely in the spring.
Red kites have also been seen on most dates this week, with sightings over both Island Mere and the Scrape on Friday. Buzzards, too, have been daily occurrences.
The three spoonbills have remained until at least yesterday, though one seems to have taken to wandering more widely away from the others. They have sometimes been seen on the Scrape, where they are much easier to spot than on the Levels.
These are all typical birds of sunny spring days, and there have been plenty more signs of spring this week too.
The first wheatear, a lovely male, arrived on the field behind the visitor centre last Tuesday, visible from the North Wall, where it remained for a few days. A female was present there on Friday. Chiffchaffs are now singing from various parts of the reserve, and the first sand martins finally arrived on Saturday.
With work now completed on replacing the predator-proof fence, birds are quickly returning in numbers to the Scrape. At least six pairs of lapwings are displaying outside North Hide, and wader counts last week included 97 black-tailed godwits and 50 avocets. Hundreds of black-headed gulls were on Island Mere on Friday, and they’ll soon be setting up territories on the Scrape, where a Mediterranean gull was present on Thursday.
At Island Mere, two pairs of great crested grebes are displaying, little grebes are whinnying, marsh harriers are sky-dancing and bitterns are booming, signalling that the breeding season is already beginning.
Great crested grebe by Oscar Dewhurst
At least two of the bitterns are regularly showing well close to the hide too, as is a little egret, Some of our regular photographers have had some great photos recently. The three otters continue to be seen too.
A more unexpected sighting on the cut area close to the hide has been a group of three tundra bean geese – a species usually seen distantly out on the levels or surrounding farmland. When I popped down to see them on Friday a lovely summer plumage water pipit was feeding among them.
Tundra bean geese at Island Mere by David Baskett
These aren’t the only lingering winter visitors, with sightings of jack snipe (a typical March/April bird at Minsmere) at both Island Mere and North Hide during the week, a brambling still on the visitor centre feeders, and a few pintails on the Scrape. The smew, however, do appear to have moved on, with the last report on Monday 23rd.
Finally, we’ve still got a small murmuration of starlings at Island Mere in the evenings, though I don’t expect them to remain for long.
I’ll be away over Easter so will post another update on my return, by which time a few more migrants should have arrived, but you can continue to receive updates on sightings on our Twitter pages (@RSPBMinsmere).
Wow! I'm still trying to get my breath back after running to the Whin Hill watchpoint to see one of the most impressive of British birds, a juvenile white-tailed eagle, circling low over Island Mere. With a two metre wingspan and broad wings, these truly are impressive birds, and it totally dwarfed the crows and marsh harriers that mobbed it as it slowly gained height before drifting off south.
It's not often that you can successfully predict something turning up at Minsmere, as I did in a recent blog, but that's perhaps an advantage of knowing how these scarce migrants have behaved on previous occasions that they've appeared in East Anglia. As they are prone to following the coastline, trying to work how to fly back to Norway, it's certainly not impossible that it could reappear in the next few days.
I didn't grab my camera before I ran - and it didn't quite come close enough anyway, so instead, here's a photo taken in Scotland by Ian McCarthy (rspb-images.com)
With such a big bird of prey circling, it's perhaps not a surprise that the crows, gulls and ducks all scattered to a safer distance. Even the greylag geese and grey herons took flight around the reedbed. One bonus was that the three spoonbills flew from the South Levels, coming in to land on the North Levels pools as we watched. Earlier today they had been joined on the South Levels by a fourth bird.
Other sightings at Island Mere today included the regular otters, water rails, bitterns and marsh harriers, as well a flock of tufted ducks and the displaying pair of great crested grebes.
The eagle wasn't the only surprise today, as a male Dartford warbler was found in the gorse around the Wild Zone this morning. It was even singing, but I suspect it's unlikely to stay there for long and will soon relocate to the nearby heaths.
Dartford warbler by David Fairhurst
The Scrape was quite quiet today as the finishing touches are completed on the new fence - we expect it to be completed by the end of next week. However, this didn't mean that there was nothing to see - just smaller numbers than usual. Sightings included the two redhead smew, oystercatchers, black-tailed godwits, turnstones, dunlins and a yellow-legged gull.
Despite the chill wind there was also lots of birdsong, including goldfinch, marsh tit and nuthatch close to the Work Centre, chaffinches, blue, great and coal tits, wrens and robins.
So, having successfully predicted the arrival of the eagle, let's hope that we have clear skies tomorrow morning for the solar eclipse, and in the evening for our star gazing event. There's no need to book, so turn up at the Discovery Centre at 8.30 in the morning for the eclipse or 7.30 pm for star gazing.
There are many good reasons to be looking at the sky this week.
On Friday and Saturday evenings we are working with two local astronomy groups to bring you star gazing at Minsmere. These events, which are free, take place in the Discovery Centre from 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm, and there is no need to book. Let's hope for clear skies on both evenings, especially as the events coincide with BBC Stargazing Live.
Perhaps even more exciting is the solar eclipse that will occur on Friday morning. It's not quite a total eclipse at these latitudes - you'll need to visit Iceland or the Faroes for the that I think - but it will close enough to plunge us into darkness at its peak. Our astronomy friends are joining us in the Discovery Centre from 8 am to 11 am with special equipment to allow you to watch the eclipse in safety. Again, this is a free event.
I remember the excitement of the last total eclipse, in 1999, though I working indoors that day and will be at a conference this time, so may miss the excitement myself.
If the skies go dark before Friday, it could be because the sun is blotted out by a flying barn door - aka a white-tailed eagle. A juvenile eagle, presumably from Norway, was spotted in Essex on Saturday, and photographed in west Suffolk yesterday morning. It has spent today touring North Norfolk before heading south along the Norfolk coast. As eagles dislike long sea crossings, it is not unusual for stray migrants such as this to tour the East Anglian coast for a few days, trying to work out how to get back to Norway, so keep your eyes open for the huge broad wings of Europe's biggest eagle.
Our resident big birds of prey, buzzards and marsh harriers, are engaging in full display now, especially at Island Mere, and at least five bitterns are now booming. Island Mere continues to attract the crowds, with regular sightings of the otters - either mum and two cubs or the big dog otter, as well several snipe and the occasional bearded tit. Ducks on the mere today included 16 tufted ducks and three pochards. There's a great little video of our great crested grebes displaying that you can watch on our Facebook page.
Pochards by Ian Barthorpe
On the Scrape numbers of waders continue to fluctuate, with the return of colder weather leading to a fall in avocet numbers. Work is almost finished on the Scrape fence, and milder weather is forecast, so we should see numbers starting to increase again. A few ruff, black-tailed godwits and dunlins are present on either the Scrape or Levels, and the two redhead smews remain in residence. The three tundra bean geese were feeding on the Chapel Field today, alongside several barnacle geese.
We're still waiting for the arrival of the first wheatear, sand martin and garganey, though a few are now being reported in the county. No doubt they'll arrive when the winds switch back to the south. One migrant that has arrived, unseen by us, was a stone-curlew, which walked in front of a camera trap in the early hours of Thursday, but hasn't been seen or heard by any of us yet. If they return to the usual field behind the visitor centre we'll once again open up viewing opportunities for visitors.
Finally, a Dartford warbler has been seen in the sluice bushes today - though it's easier to find them on Westleton Heath where you might also hear singing woodlarks.
What a fantastic few days we've had. The spring sunshine has led to unseasonably high temperatures, reaching well into double figures, and prompted the emergence of various insects, reptiles and amphibians.
Several people reported seeing adders over the weekend, especially between Bittern Hide and Island Mere. If you are looking for adders, please take care and stay as close to the paths as possible. We will often have volunteer guides around to help you find them, especially in the mornings. Better still, why not book on a reptile ramble to look for these beautiful snakes with one of our expert guides. These guided walks start at 9 am on 31 March and 1, 7 and 8 April. Places are limited, so if you want to book, please call us on 01728 648281.
Adder by Nick Burfield
As well as adders, the first common lizards were seen over the weekend, and frogs and toads are becoming more active.
The first butterflies are now on the wing too, with sightings of brimstone, comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell and red admiral over the weekends, as well as white-tailed bumblebees.
Comma by Ian Barthorpe
Further evidence of spring is the bursting of blackthorn blossom in the hedgerows, while the daffodils are now dancing behind reception and primroses line road verges in the surrounding countryside.
Bitterns have responded positively to the spring sunshine too, with birds booming in North Marsh and at Island Mere this morning. Marsh harriers are displaying over the reedbed, as are great crested grebes at Island Mere. On the Scrape, the avocet flock is up to 41 birds today, and two Mediterranean gulls were seen yesterday. The first three ruffs arrived on Saturday, and six were on the Levels this morning. All three spoonbills were on the Levels over the weekend too, and a firecrest was singing near Island Mere.
Firecrest by Pixellence
Perhaps surprisingly, we've not heard chiffchaff singing yet, but no doubt they'll arrive this week. There have been reports of sand martins in many parts of the country too, so I won't be surprised to hear news of one at Minsmere soon. Similarly, garganeys should be with us any day now.
With all this talk of spring, it's worth noting that the two smew and three whooper swans are still present, and three tundra bean geese continue to feed on the North Levels or in fields near Eastbridge. Several red-throated divers and common scoters remain offshore, and there were sightings of a black-throated diver and two velvet scoters on Friday. Gannets are seen most days and a fulmar flew past today.
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.
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.
Grid reference: TM4767 (+2km)
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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.