Tuesday, 20 May 2014

3rd May - Minsmere, Suffolk

We decided on an early start to beat the masses that were going to descend on Minsmere over the course of the day and indeed the holiday weekend.  It was a bright sunny morning but with a cool northerly wind, but it had eased a little bit from the blast we had encountered the evening before.

When we arrived in the car park there were several cars parked already, and a few people left over from the dawn chorus walk that had taken place.  We made our way towards the Bittern Hide, a favourite place where you get a lovely view across the reed bed, while also being able to watch open water.

There were people already in the hide, and they turned out to be friendly and informative, and we would continue to bump into them throughout the day.  Looking out from the hide all that was present was a drake Gadwall, in the open water looking stunning in the early morning sunlight.

On the other side of the reeds a Mute swan was also lazily moving back and forwards, probably standing guard over a mate on a nest.  Once again the shadows and the the reflections in the stillness of the water framed a lovely scene.

It wasn't long before a Marsh Harrier was up and flying low over the tops of the reeds.  This one is a male, the grey in the wings identifying it.

The drake Gadwall was joined by another, and they swam together for awhile before they slowly drifted apart.

A group of four Red Deer wondered down the path, and they were quickly joined by Jackdaws that were looking for either food or nest material from the deer or close to them.  This one seems to be carrying mud.

The deer themselves were making most of the shelter the reed provided from the cool wind to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

As we sat there we would be disturbed every so often by a burst of song from a Cetti's Warbler.  While being very loud in song it is not always that easy to see them.  But this individual was being very obliging and came out onto a dead branch.

It is the best views I have had of one, and it soon became clear that there were two, and probably a nest as they would keep returning to the same spot, and continue to bellow out the call.

The Marsh Harriers continued to drift by, although at a distance that made it hard for the best pictures

This is a female, slightly larger than the male she also has a yellow ochre head.  The male was about as well, and came close and hovered as if to hunt.

While watching the harriers I noticed something coming fast straight at us, and lifting the binoculars I could see it was a Sparrowhawk, a large female.  She flew straight at the hide low over the reeds then just in time up and over the hide.

As you continue to scan the reeds something will suddenly pop up.  This time it was the briefest of views of a Bittern as it came out of the reed bed, and almost as quickly dropped back down.

So it was back to the Marsh Harriers and they continued to perform in front of us, gliding slowly over the top of the reeds, then twisting back, hovering and looking down into the bed, and thenn on and again to continue scanning.

Cloud was beginning to roll in, and we decided to go and get some coffee and breakfast, you are though reluctant to leave a good seat because you never know what you will miss,m but there is also the draw of the other places.

We stopped quickly to check for Adders in a site we had been told of but we couldn't find any.  One had been seen earlier, but they are very sensitive to any disturbance, and apparently the one seen was shedding skin, and this makes them even more nervous.  So it was to the cafe, that Chris Packham describes as "wonderful" and a bacon and sausage sandwich.

The Sand Martin's are back at the the colony behind what is now the dipping pool but for me will always be the original car park.  The birds were busy clearing out the nest holes, and you could watch them flying in, and kicking sand out.

We walked along the north wall, and then around the scrape.  At the first hide the gulls were dominant with their calls ringing out while they fought and displayed with each other.  This Black-headed Gull was perched close to the hide.

Scanning through the gulls I found one then two with black legs and a very battleship grey mantle.  My immediate thought was Kittiwake, but surely not here on the scrape, but they were, and there were at least 12.

They stood there ground quite fiercely with the other similar sized guklls such as Common and Black-headed

But why were they here.  The mystery was further confounded when as we left the hide and walked along the beach we could see them flying out to sea with a beak full of mud and vegetation.  They could also be seen returning with empty beaks.  Where were they going with it?  Why were they here?

Another gull that caught my eye was a partially black full hooded gull, it was black not brown with significant black in the primaries.  The full black hood would be a Mediterranean Gull, but not with black primaries, maybe it could be a hybrid of the two?

Leaving the gulls and the scrape we walked on to the sluice, where this time of year the swallows can be found, and they didn't let us down.

We walked back into the reserve and along by the reed beds.  Reed Warblers were singing almost everywhere, and one was very close to the path, and with patience we were avble to watch it, although the reeds would partially hide it as the breeze blew them about.

Leaving the scrape we turned back towards the Bittern Hide and beyond there to the Island Mere.  On the way there were several Muntjac Deer feeding either side of the path.

At the Island Mere Hide it was quiet, but over the mere there were several Swifts, the first of the year for me.  I managed to photograph one.

There were two pairs of Great Crested Grebes out on the water, and a Little Grebe close in by the reeds.

Bearded Tits could be heard pinging around the reed beds, and they could be seen briefly as they flew past.  We could hear Bitterns booming but they never showed.  Leaving the hide Cetti's Warblers sang from the reeds, and one even showed, dancing on a log in front of us.

On the grass land close to the path were a few rabbits feeding, always a cute subject I couldn't resist.

Back at the Sand Martin bank I waited and caught one just as it was emerging from the nest hole.

We walked around the the north hide where there was little activity.  As we came out of the hide both a Blackcap and a Garden Warbler was singing.  The Garden Warbler was very difficult to spot, but it is there if you look closely.

We walked along the beach again, heading to the levels where there had been a Garganey reported.  On the short grass between the gorse a Small Copper butterfly was sitting out of the cool breeze.

A little further on a Whitethroat was singing from the top of the gorse.

The swallows were still active at the sluice, but would rest on the branches close by.  Once again I was able to get quite close.

At the levels there was no sign of the Garganey, just a few Redshank and an Avocet.  I did though manage to find a male Wheatear on the dried mud.  This is a poor shot but serves as a record.

We decided to walk back to the reserve, the sun was warm if you managed to get out of the wind by sheltering amongst the gorse, something this little rabbit was doing.

As we reached the sluice and entered the reserve I noticed two large birds flying over the reed bed.  Picking them up with binoculars I could see that they were Bitterns.  They continued to fly quite high around the reeds in front of the Bittern Hide.  I do not recall seeing Bitterns in flight for as long as these two flew about.  Finally they dropped down in a location that was probably in full view of the hide.

We popped into the South Hide, I wanted the chance to photograph some of the terns, and was fortunate to find three species sitting on one of the islands.

Here we had three Little Terns, two Sandwich and four Common Terns.  The little and common terns were chased off by a Black-headed Gull, but it did not seem to want to take on the Sandwich Terns.

The whole scrape did not have that many waders present.  What there was though was in summer plumage.  This Black-tailed Godwit.

And this Knot, showing why in certain countries it is known as the Red Knot, we typically know there as grey birds.

The dominant wader was of course the Avocet, the bird that made this reserve famous.  Some can be seen on their nests while other pairs are still courting.

We left the scrape and once more walked around the reeds knowing we were heading back to the Bittern Hide.  When we got there there were a couple of spaces free so we settled down again for another watch over the vast reed bed.

First up was a male Marsh Harrier, but this time passing close to the hide, out over the open water.

We were then treated to a bit of theatre and comedy involving a Water Rail, and fortunately the Marsh Harrier was not around.  In the morning a Water Rail would every so often run from one reed bed to the other across an open piece of water.  I never managed to capture it as it would suddenly appear and race across.  This afternoon as we sat there it started again.  the rail would appear from one side.

And after a while would come straight back.

Then it came back again.

Only to shortly appear again from the same place

How did it do that?  Had it managed to get back without us seeing?  Although soon became clear when two little bundles of black feathers appeared and raced across

They were then followed by three more

The clue was there in the second photograph above, the adult rail is carrying what looks like food, so we have to assume it was feeding the young or the other adult, then when the time was right the adults have led the young to a safer place that has a good food source.  Wonderful to watch, and there were cheers in the hide when the youngsters appeared.

The drama of the rails over, somebody picked up what was thought to be Cuckoo, but there was some doubt, maybe it was a falcon.  It was very distant, and wasn't perched like a Cuckoo.

Just as I got the telescope out to have a closer look it flew, and was unmistakeably a Cuckoo.

We continued to watch the reeds, and as if on call a Bittern flew up from the reeds, and then down again, this time the picture is a little clearer.

By now the Marsh Harriers were a little more active.  Both male and female could be seen regularly hunting the reeds, checking for ducklings, voles and maybe baby Water Rails.  The male coming closest to the hide.

Away to our right as we looked out over the reeds they seemed to have a nest.  following the male one time you could see it was carrying prey, and it headed towards the area of the nest.  As it got close the female flew out to join him, and they wet through with a food pass.  The pictures aren't the best but they show the ritual that helps maintain the bond between the two.

Unfortunately it looks like a young duck or rail.

The afternoon was turning into early evening, and we were joined by a group of Red Deer that emerged from the reeds and waded through the water to the main path.

By now were debating when to leave, this is always a difficult decision because you will always wonder if you have missed something, but you have to go sometime.  This time though we were given a sign.  From the reeds came another Bittern, but this time much closer and it also did not just drop into the reeds immediately, it flew right in front of the hide.

On that we decided it was time to depart and we headed back to the car and the cottage.  Another great day at a wonderful reserve which will soon be seen by many in ways we would never dream of I am sure.

1 comment:

  1. The Kittiwakes breed at Sizewell just to the south of Minsmere. They build their nests on the rigs offshore that housed the cooling water inlet and outlet pipes for the retired Sizewell A nuclear power station. When these rigs are dismantled this colony will have to find a new home.


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