We've had a couple of days of welcome winter sun this week after what has, at times, felt like one day of rain and gales after another. Today has, at times, felt almost springlike, helped by the robins whistling their melancholic winter songs. Even on the wetter days, though, the weather has often improved just enough to give us some stunning sunsets, as with this one taken from the Whin Hill watchpoint earlier this week.
Winter swans continue to be a popular attraction to many visitors. The Bewick's swan flock peaked at 22 earlier this week. They're usually feeding in fields south of Island Mere, moving to the mere or Scrape at dusk. The two whooper swans seem to favour the pool behind the Wildlife Lookout, though they do sometimes join their smaller cousins. Out on the levels our feral geese have been joined by three tundra bean geese, while North Warren's white-fronts paid us a visit this week too.
Earlier this week the whoopers were unceremoniously chased away from their favourite pool by two playful otters. These sleek mammals have become regulars in this pool, or at nearby Bittern Hide, although they continue to be seen regularly at Island Mere too.
Otters aren't the only mammals proving popular at Minsmere. Our red deer, rabbits and grey squirrels are much easier to see, while a grey seal has been seen by several visitors just offshore today.
The sea is an often neglected part of the the reserve when it comes to looking for wildlife, but for those patient enough to scan the waves there have been good numbers of red-throated divers and great crested grebes, several (usually very distant) auks and kittiwakes, and the odd great skua - including one this afternoon. A young Iceland gull has been feeding around the rigs at Sizewell this week, paying occasional visits to the Minsmere levels or our beach.
Water levels are slowly falling on the Scrape - and the path to the sluice is now passable in walking boots - but huge numbers of ducks remain. Among them a drake goosander was a real bonus this morning, while two drake goldeneyes were on Island Mere yesterday. Several pintails are present too, but you may need to scan carefully through the flocks of teals, wigeons, gadwalls, shovelers and mallards to spot them.
Our male hen harrier hasn't been spotted for a few days, but the marsh harriers remain in good numbers - two were even displaying over North Marsh this morning. Peregrines are regular (there are now three around Sizewell), a merlin was spotted on Westleton Heath on Tuesday, a short-eared owl was in the dunes last Sunday, and sparrowhawks and barn owls are regularly seen. The tawny owl near Bittern Hide has been heard during the day too.
In the reedbed we've had lots of reports of bitterns today, though kingfishers haven't been reported today. Cetti's warblers are vocal, but bearded tits are remaining a bit more elusive than usual - probably due to the wind.
Among the waders, lapwings dominate int he winter, with huge flocks on the Scrape and Levels. The black-tailed godwit flock on the Levels has increased ot 175 today, with a few curlews and snipe around the reserve. A turnstone was on the sluice outfall earlier this week and the odd dunlin, knot, grey plover or black-tailed godwit have been seen passing offshore or settling briefly on the Scrape.
Our woodland birds have been showing well in the calmer conditions today, with several sightings of siskins, treecreepers and goldcrests, as well as the regular feeder visiting tit flocks. Bullfinches are regular in the North Bushes and near the car park entrance, but the winter thrushes remain completely absent. With colder weather due, perhaps they'll arrive this week.
Talking of feeders, don't forget to top yours up ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch in a fortnight. When you submit your reports online we'll send you a voucher for 15% off when you spend £25 int he shop - that's another great reason for taking part in the world's biggest garden wildlife survey. If you want to brush up on your garden bird ID skills then join us next weekend for our Big Garden Birdwatch quiz and bird feeder-making event.
A gorgeous great tit by Jon Evans - one of the species to look for during the Big Garden Birdwatch