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.