Wednesday, 4 May 2016

30th April - RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk, Day One

Sunrise is just before 5.30am, we were up and away from the apartment just after 5.10am.  It was a cold clear morning, with hardly any wind, the temperature was just above freezing when we set off, and along the way there were signs of frost on the grass.  Our usual approach to the reserve would have been through Eastbridge but due to announced road closures we came in from the direction of Westleton.

There were a few cars in the car park when we arrived, and after we had wrapped up well we headed off in the direction of the Bittern and island Mere hides.

Along the way we passed a couple of Muntjac Deer, one of which had decided that if it didn't look at us as it crossed in front of us we wouldn't see it.  Over the last few years we have gone straight to the Bittern hide, but today we decided to change the habit, and start at the Island Mere.  The hope was that we would see Otter better from here should they appear.  We passed one of the many rifes of open water in amongst the reeds, mist was rising from the surface as the cold air met the warmer water.



As we walked along the boardwalk towards the hide we could see there was already somebody there.  As we came in I could see the dead still water of the mere, and out in front of the hide two Great Crested Grebes, their reflections almost perfect in the still, strangely white water.



The water conditions were down to the dawn light and stillness of the air, it didn't last long and soon the condition of the water changed.  As we settled down, we were informed that there had been an Otter present around 20 minutes before we arrived - typical!

Settled in, we could see two pairs of Great Crested Grebes.  the closest started to display to each other, bobbing and shaking the heads.



it was not the full on display you would normally see earlier in the year, but probably just the way of reinforcing the bonds between the two. Here they look like mirror images.



A Grey heron flew in, as it banked its wings caught the lovely golden light from the early morning sun.



Little Grebes called from the open water and the reed beds.  One pair were very vocal in the pool to the right of the hide, and when they appeared the light really set off the maroon red plumage.



Moving into the centre of the pool, and standing out in the reflections of the sky and the reeds.



This was clearly the best time of day, the light was just wonderful, the air was crisp and still.  to the right again in a willow tree in the reed bed a male Reed Bunting appeared and started to sing it weak two not song.



The "pings" of the bearded Tits could be heard from both sides of the hide, and every so often you would see one, then another fly up out of the reeds and make its way in a bobbing flight just across the top of the reeds and drop down and normally out of sight.

Every so often though one would put in a teasing brief appearance, but then one just sat there enjoying the sunshine.



Looking ever so wonderful in the morning sunshine.



The female appeared and as you can see not the same impact I'm afraid.



In this case the males stand out and are just superb.






The Bearded Tits then disappeared back into the reeds, and surprisingly were replaced by a female Wheatear that flew up from the bed of Iris close to the edge of the water.  It sat for awhile in a Willow bush.


There had been odd glimpses of Marsh Harrier, but as the sun warmed the air up slightly they started to move about a lot more.  This male came low over the top of the reeds close to the hide.



Head down scouring the reeds for voles, shrews or water birds.



This is a male bird, slightly smaller than the female, and with light grey patches on the upper wings.



As it drifted away it was mobbed by a crow, and it sort refuge away from the attacks in the reed bed.  Coming up again to hunt, almost hovering above the reeds and then twisting to look and then dive into the reed bed.



We stayed in the hide until almost 9.00am without any sign of an Otter, and only the briefest sighting of a Bittern as it flew away from us over the mere. 

In the pool the Little Grebes continued to call and appear from nowhere.



The conditions had changed the light now becoming much more bleached, losing that golden quality.  As we were deciding to leave one of the Mute Swans took offence at one of the Greylag Geese that had come to close.  It maintained the threat posture, even after the goose had gone and it had started to preen.



Leaving the hide we returned along the trail in the direction of the Bittern Hide, stopping by the Adder Trail to look for any sign of the snakes which there wasn't, and to photograph this Chiffchaff foraging through the blossom and seeds.



And this young Squirrel that was burying its head into the blossom for some reason.



The Bittern Hide was pretty much like the island Mere Hide, very quiet.  The highlight was a Muntjac coming down the track, and another close pass by one of the male Marsh Harriers.



We decided to try our luck on the dunes and the scrape (pina colada?), but stopped as we passed through the visitor centre to watch the many Sand Martin that were congregating around the holes in the sand bank.



First stop was the North Hide to look for the reported jack Snipe, but all we could find was a Pied Wagtail and a Male Shoveler - asleep.



We set out across the North Wall, stopping to peer through a heat haze (yes, as cold as it was there was a heat haze!) to see if we could see a Stone Curlew, then to watch a pair of Wheatear.



And of course to admire the little Rabbits that were soaking up the sun.



And attending to ablutions.



Last year a Greylag Goose sat in the blue water, it was there again today, the reflection again really lovely.



As we walked along through the dunes Sand Martin flew around us, it didn't take long to realise why as the whole sheltered area seemed to be teeming with midges and mayfly.

First stop was the South Hide, and in front of the hide were three Turnstone, they were squabbling over something on the ground, chasing each other away in an attempt to steal what ever it was.



The whole Scrape was dominated by the calls and sounds of Gulls the majority of which were Black-headed Gulls, this one though was completely calm.


Further out on one of the islands were several Common Terns.  This one on its own on sitting quietly in the sunshine.


As well as the Black-headed Gulls there were also quite a few Avocet, mostly paired up they would either be standing together or feeding side by side in the water.  A single Little Egret came too close to one pair and was chased off, the egret flying past the front of the hide.


We left the hide and continued on through the dunes.  A Whitethroat was singing from the bramble, and flew up into a nearby sapling to deliver from a more prominent position.  My first good photo opportunity with this summer visitor this year.


We popped into the Public viewpoint as Garganey had been reported the day before.  Unfortunately there was no Garganey, but still plenty of Avocet, some now flying around the scrape calling.


Back to the dunes, and better views of the Whitethroat.


As well as the Whitethroat there were plenty of Linnet about in the gorse and around the dune slacks.  Every so often one would pop up close to show yet another over looked pretty bird.


At the Sluice there was just a pair of Swallows about, both were sitting in a dead tree close to the Sluice, one easier to photograph than the other


We walked back into the reserve and along the path towards the South Hide.  Across the back of the Scrape there were three Dunlin, very distant, but with one showing summer plumage and the black belly.  As now seemed to be the case there were lots of Avocet, in all forms of activity, but for me they look so much more sophisticated and elegant when at rest.


A group of terns took to the air, mostly Common Terns there was though a few Sandwich Terns amongst them, and if you look closely here, at least one Little Tern.


yet another Avocet at rest on one leg, sometimes from the angle you see them you have to wonder how they manage to stay upright and don't fall over, it must be all about the centre of gravity.


We left the hide and set off for the cafe and lunch, we had been out over six hours and it seemed like the middle of the afternoon, but really it was just coming up to midday.

In the nettles by the side of the path a Comma butterfly was resting in the sunshine.


We had lunch outside watching the Sand Martins as they swarmed around the nest holes, we were also joined by a fearless magpie and this Black-headed Gull.  Here was the chance to look closely at the markings on the head.  The chocolate brown hood with the delicate white eye liner behind the eye, the red ring around the eye and the blood red bill, quite an impressive portrait.


I spent some more time photographing the Sand Martins, this was the best of quite afew shots.


We headed back to the Bittern Hide, this has always been our lucky hide here in Minsmere so we were hoping it would deliver this afternoon. The afternoon light is completely different from the morning, the angle being completely different, the hide was also quite busy.  The main entertainment was provided by the Marsh Harriers, and their interactions with the Crows.

There were several pairs that would drop into the reeds at the same spot indicating that they were probably intent on breeding.  We didn't see any food passes, but there was some twig carrying.  This large female appeared and flew past the hide.



Then from the reeds a pair of Crows appeared with just one aim, to run some innocent Marsh Harrier out of town.  A fight ensued, but for once in these corvid v raptor encounters the Marsh Harrier fought back.


As the Crow dived on the harrier, she turned on the crow, and repeatedly would fly at it chasing it away eventually allowing her to continue her lazy drifting flight across the reeds in search of either food or nest material.


Then the cry went up, Bittern flying right to left, and we had what was our best view of a Bittern for the whole trip.  A distant fly past of which all I could get  was this appalling record.  We probably used up all our Bittern luck on the two previous visits last year.


The other entertainer from this hide, the Water Rail had also been very quiet, but it finally put in an appearance showing at the side of the reed bed for a brief moment.


There were further quick sightings as it dashed across the open water to the reeds on the other side, and you would also hear the squeals from within the reeds, but that aside it too remained very much out of sight.

It was then left to the Marsh Harriers to keep you interested.


Plus of course the Cetti's Warbler that had been firing burst of song at us from below the hide, it finally came out into the open long enough for me to get a photograph.


We decided to move on to the Island Mere Hide, outside a Bee Fly was moving around the flowers.  Strange insects neither one thing or another, but always worth watching.


At the bottom of Whin Hill, just before the turn to the hide is a clump of gorse and this had been home to a Redstart for several days.  We had passed here several times today but without any luck, but as we came past now the male appeared on the grass by the side of the gorse.


it had been creating quite a bit of interest here as it is not a common visitor here n Suffolk, and had been around for awhile.  Always a lovely bird to see.  As a bonus a Lesser Whitethroat sang behind us, but never came out to show itself.

Over the hide we watched two Hobbys very high in the sky, they seemed to be catching mayfly that were about but  never came close enough to photograph.  Out above the water were six Common Terns flying back and forth.


the clouds were gathering and we were treated to a few showers that meant the hide became very full, and noisy, never conducive to good wildlife watching.  A Snipe feeding amongst the Iris raised some interest as it seemed to bob as it fed, but this was as a result of it pushing its bill into the ground, and it was just a Common Snipe.

Once the rain had cleared we headed back, it was now late in the afternoon, and we were coming up to having been out for twelve hours.  As we walked back a single Muntjac was at the bottom of the valley before the Bittern Hide, and again did its best not to look at me.


There was a few more showers as we drove back to Thorpeness, but towards sunset the skies cleared once again, and gave an impressive end to the day across the Mere.


The signs were once again for good dry but cold weather tomorrow, and we decided that we would head back to Minsmere once again, but maybe not such an early start.

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