Monday, 2 November 2015

27th October - RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk

The intention was to always go back to Minsmere, but with the possibility of heading off somewhere else in the afternoon.  We were not sure what to expect when we open the blinds in the morning, the roads sounded wet, but the cars did not look like it had rained.  the reality was that mist had rolled in off the sea making everywhere grey and damp.

We set off after breakfast, a little later than Sunday and it was a little brighter, but it still felt quite damp.  As we arrived in the car park it was not that busy, but no doubt it would fill up later.

As usual we headed off along the path to the east through the woodland, it was not as spectacular as on Sunday when the sun was lighting up the bracken, the light today was now a little weaker, and there was a hint of mist in the air.  

At the Bittern Hide we were faced with a singing Robin on the sign post, possibly the same bird that was whistling at us on Sunday.  

We passed the hide and headed on to the Island Mere Hide.  On arriving we learnt that we had just missed an Otter in the reeds in front of the hide.  The hide wasn't as busy as Sunday so we were able to find a good window to look out of, and once again settled down to watch and wait.

Scanning across the reeds I found a Marsh harrier flapping its wings while perched on one of the many markers dotted around the reed bed to help watchers provide directions to the birds.

The cry went up Bittern heading across the reeds and I turned and managed to get a reasonable flight view of a single Bittern as it flew across the reeds from our left, over the mere and then once again dropping out of sight into the distant reeds.

After one false start, where I wrongly called a Moorhen as an Otter swimming across the back of the mere, I picked up one just behind the reeds in front of the hide.  It only stayed up for a brief while, and we suspect it headed down the channel that leads into the mere on the left hand side.

There was another brief snatch of one diving in a similar place a little later on, but I couldn't get on to it before it too just disappeared.  we sat and waited for any other sightings but nothing did.  we then decided to head to the visitor centre for a coffee and assessment of the days plans.

As we came past the heath area there was a single Red Admiral resting on the brambles, a sign that the day was warming up.

Over a coffee we decided to stay at Minsmere through to dusk, and hopefully another Starling spectacular.  But for now were heading off to the scrape and the dunes, but before we did I took the chance to check the birds on the feeders and was rewarded with some excellent views of the reported male Brambling.

A stunning looking bird, standing out quite clearly from the many Chaffinches

We set off for the north wall, and had to stop once again to allow me to photograph a very confiding Stonechat in some lovely light, and with the perfect background.

On the beach the sea was completely different from our previous visit.  The wind appeared to be coming from the south east, and there were waves today where on Sunday it was just a little ripple.

As we walked through the dunes Brent Geese passed close to the beach heading south.

We stopped in the East Hide where once again there was mostly duck.  There was a little more action close in though today with some Teal feeding in front of us.

They then headed off in pairs to one of the islands for a wash and brush up before going back to what they do really well, doze.

there was no sign of the Avocet that were present on Sunday, but there was a large group of about 40 Black-tailed Godwits at the back of the pool.

We moved on walking through the dunes, off shore more Brent Geese passed, the numbers steadily increasing.

Once again there were large flocks of finches on the beach, they were still mostly Greenfinches, but with a few Linnets present.  we came back through the bushes at the Sluice, and walked back into the reserve.  The next stop was the South Hide.  There was no sign of the Shore Lark, but the Curlew Sandpiper was a little more visible if still atthe back of the pool.

There were quite a few Lapwing settled on the Scrape, this one casting a nice reflection.

And a few Wigeon were grazing on one of the islands, with every so often a little whistle.

Back on the main path we passed a few bushes where there were calling Goldcrests.  There were in fact up to tern birds in the bush, one posing quite nicely as the others flitted around noisily in the bushes.

We debated going into the "Wildlife Viewing Platform", so decided to check and found it to be quiet.  In front of the hide sat a Grey Heron.

But it decided it didn't like the spot.

And flew away.

A few Shoveler were close to the hide.  In general these duck appear to have not managed to acquire their full breeding plumage, still showing signs of the eclipse feathers.

Apart from the brief look early on Sunday morning we had not been in the Bittern Hide, so we decided to go and have a look.  There were several people in there and the board showed that there had been some sightings of note today and over the last few days.  However we sat there for about 30 minutes and nothing happened.  Looking out of the hide the view was also not that inspiring and you can see how overgrown the reeds have become compared with how it was in May when there was plenty of open water.

Giving up on the Bittern Hide we returned to the cafe for lunch, and then back out onto the north marsh and the dunes.  We were heading for the South Levels in the hope that we could find the owls we saw on Sunday. 

As we came out of the bushes a Marsh Harrier flew across the wall.

The lazy flapping flight that allows it to travel at slow speed over the marsh while looking for prey giving me the opportunity to get some close shots.

Then out over the reeds and away from us.

The conditions were perfect on the South Levels, and we walked out to the chapel to watch over the marsh.  It was a perfect afternoon, the wind had dropped and there was a slight mist.  

A lovely afternoon, but unfortunately we couldn't find the birds we were hoping for.  We saw a nice male Marsh Harrier hunting on the edge of the reeds, and there were small groups of Starlings feeding on the remaining blackberries on the brambles.

It was in fact the Starlings that provided the interest, from the brambles they would fly up to a nearby tree.

We picked up a Kestrel flying towards us, and it flew up to the tree.

The Starlings seemed not to care, and the Kestrel flew past only to turn quickly, and speed into the tree.  The Starlings scattered and the Kestrel was unsuccessful, but you have to winder about the Starlings, why did they not consider the Kestrel a threat?  Was it because they could see it close and knew they could react quickly?

We wanted a cup of tea, and needed to get back to the visitor centre quickly in order to get the tea, and to make it to the North Wall in time for the Starlings, so it was a brisk walk back around the southern part of the Scrape, pausing only to take in the nice low sun behind the Abbey Chapel.

And a pair of Mallard in the orange water.

Back at the cafe with a cup of tea we sat watching the birds repeatedly coming to the feeders.  It was nice to get the opportunity to photograph a Greenfinch.

As the sun was setting the skies began to clear, and the sun came out lighting the reed beds, and turning the seed heads a golden colour.

As we stood waiting a Bittern flew up out of the reeds and flew low over our heads giving some great views as it headed off across the reeds and towards the Scrape.

Then as a further appetiser for the main event a large flock of Canada Geese flew up from the South Levels, and proceeded to fly around the Scrape area contrasting against the orange sky.

Then the main event, small groups of Starlings were flying around, eventually collecting over the North Marsh.

The numbers grew and grew, but the behaviour was completely different from the show on Sunday.  They kept low then flew up like a huge flock of midges, the flock almost blocking out the view of the Coastguard Houses up on Dunwich Heath.

This video shows the completely different behaviour to that we saw on Sunday, maybe they have learnt that if you put on a song and dance you are going to get recognised and maybe for the wrong reasons.

After swirling around in front of us it became clear there was not going to be any sky dancing tonight, and many dropped into the bushes and reeds, while others flew out on to the heath where they covered the ground and trees.

More and more Starlings flew in from the south and west the numbers increasing all the time.  We stood waiting for the big moment, but it never came.  The Starlings started to fly back into the reeds settling all around on the bushes.  other flocks continued to fly in to join them.

Then they all dropped into the reeds and we were left feeling we had missed out on something.  We stood watching stragglers arrive and flow into the reeeds as it got darker and darker.  Then a Kestrel appeared and in the gloom we could see it dive into the reeds, then after awhile appearing again.  Just as we were about to leave the noise from the Starlings rose and a lot came up out of the reeds.  The reason became clear, a Marsh Harrier was hanging above the reeds with legs dangling causing complete panic.  The harrier then slowly moved away and the Starlings settled down.  

It was now very dark and reluctantly we pulled ourselves away from the scene and the reserve.  Our time in Suffolk was over, it had been a wonderful four days visiting several different sites and seeing some real quality birds. 

Birds Seen On The Trip:

Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Brent Goose
Egyptian Goose
Tufted Duck
Red-legged Partridge
Red-throated Diver
Black-throated Diver
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Marsh Harrier
Curlew Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Spotted Redshank
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon

Collared Dove
Barn Owl
Short-eared Owl
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Carrion Crow
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Marsh Tit
Bearded Tit
Shore Lark
Cetti’s Warbler
Long-tailed Tit
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
House Sparrow
Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
Reed Bunting


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