Thursday, 4 May 2017

30th April - RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk - Day Three

Sunday morning deserved a little lie in so we didn't actually arrive at the reserve until just before 9.00 am this morning.  The weather was different once again, the sky was full of wispy high clouds, while the wind was from the east to south east and quite cool coming off the sea, in fact from the car park you could hear the waves crashing on the beach.  Despite the weak sunshine it was cool, and we still required the winter coats.

First stop was the Bittern Hide, but looking out across the reeds it looked as if this could be one of those days when nothing much shows.  We sat for almost an half an hour with no sign of even a Marsh Harrier, and if it hadn't been for the Cetti's Warblers bursts of song below us there would have been little evidence of any birds.  The wind was probably one of the main reasons, so we decided to move on.

Coming out of the hide we decided to search for Adders.  Despite the cool temperatures, in a sheltered spot there would be sufficient radiation to warm up these cold blooded reptiles.  We searched an area of Gorse and Bracken, looking at the base around the dead leaves.  In one sheltered spot I heard the rustle and saw the movement of the leaves as something was disturbed.  We stood and waited and sure enough the rustling returned and a head followed by a black zig zag pattern on brown moved through the dead leaves, stopping with the majority of the body in the sunshine.


The Adders are sensitive to any interference and can hear and detect any movement.  This one had been sunning and I had not seen it when I disturbed it, but fortunately it came back.  There is an Adder trail here that is roped off, but I believe it has become a victim of its own success with the Adders moving on due to the disturbance.  The adders are still about but not necessarily where they are supposed to be.

By moving carefully and slowly we were able to get a good view of the head and the sharp red eye.  By the condition of the skin and the clarity of the eye this animal had probably recently shed its skin.


Leaving the Adder to enjoy the sunshine we continued on our way to the Island Mere hide.  On the grass by the side of the track a pair of Jays were foraging at the base of a tree, and both flew off as we approached.  One was carrying an acorn, and I can only think it had recovered one that it had cached there last autumn.


Yet another Small Copper was on the path in front of us, showing that again despite the cool temperature in the sheltered spots the sun was very warm.




Yesterday evening as we left the Island Mere Hide we were shown a rare plant growing just below the bridge.  At the time I must confess to not being sure what I was looking at, so that evening I checked on the internet, and this morning I knew what I was looking for, the Round-leaved Wintergreen recognisable by it round basil-like leaves.  Apparently the flowers that appear in July are quite impressive.



In England it usually grows in damp, calcareous sites including fens, disused chalk-pits and dune-slacks.  It has undergone a marked decline since 1930, despite some local increases in disused quarries.   The most serious declines, have been its near extinction in East Anglia, such as here in Suffolk as a result from changes in fen management.  The concern here at Minsmere is that this small clump is now being swamped by other plants

In the hide we were presented with a very similar scene to that we had encountered from the Bittern Hide, there were plenty of Sand Martins hawking low over the water, the Common Terns still sitting on the bench out in front of us, and several Mute Swan, that were joined by one that came in with a very heavy landing.



One of the pairs were also engaged in their display which involves bobbing of the heads close together, which when seen from a particular angle can look like them forming the shape of a heart. 



As I have said on previous days it is all about looking from the hides, because something has the chance of turning up at anytime. There was a discussion going on behind me about a Hobby, and as I scanned the water in front of me, I thought I saw one pass low over the water.  Watching it the grey colour was similar to that seen yesterday, but the flight seemed wrong.  When it rose and twisted in the way more associated with a tern I realised it was an adult Black Tern, and called it for the rest of the hide residents.



It flew up and down the water twisting and turning as it hawked the insects that were also interesting the Sand Martins.



It then flew higher above the water, but this brought it closer to the hide.



Smaller than the Common Terns present in breeding plumage the Black Tern is a sooty grey colour on the wings, with the majority of the black being on the body and head, leaving a white undertail and grey rump and tail.

They breed in freshwater marshes, and are often associated with Black-headed Gulls that provide protection.  It is usually found on migration from April onwards.  This was my first in this country for quite awhile, I have though seen many in Europe and the US.



Its stay though wasn't long and it moved around the Mere, and then headed east over the reeds.  It was reported from the Bittern Hide and North Hide on the Scrape, but did not stay for long.

As the Black Tern left I returned to scanning the water and almost immediately picked up a Whimbrel flying across the reeds at the back of the Mere and heading east as well and out of sight.

That was then the end of the small purple patch, and it was back to watching the Sand Martins, and the Common Terns.  We decided it was time for a coffee, and headed out of the hide and then along the path at the bottom of the hill.

There was a Wheatear once again around the rabbit holes giving some good views.



In the Hawthorn tree by the side of the track there is always a Cetti's Warbler that mugs you with its song as you pass.  For the last two days there has also been a Whitethroat that has sang while keeping out of sight.  This morning though the song was coming from high up, and we managed to find it out in the open, but also against the bright sky.



As we watched the Whitethroat in the bushes behind the Whitethroat tree there was the reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler.  It reeled twice in short bursts but unfortunately never again, and I could find the bird.

As we walked through wooded area there was a Speckled Wood sitting in the sunshine on a broken log.



After a stop for coffee, we headed out along the north wall, where once again the very brisk south east wind was suppressing the bird song, the only birds about were Sand Martins low over the reeds.

From the dunes the sea looked a lot different from the calm conditions of yesterday.



It is on days like these that the north sea looks very unappealing as the waves stirs up the sand.



We walked through the dunes and past the East Hide, instead we chose to visit the Public Hide.  This is really a platform, but as it is located a little further to the south along the hide it provides access to parts of the Scrape that appear to be preferable for waders.  First though I scanned for the single Little Tern that had been reported.  I couldn't find it, and could only see Common Terns and Sandwich Terns.



Out in front of us were several Grey Plover, all in various stages of plumage.  This one almost there in its breeding plumage.



Here you can see the full summer plumage, partial and winter plumage.



In full summer breeding plumage the Grey Plover looks quite spectacular, the full black chest and belly, and the grey speckled back.



It then conveniently moved into one of the small pools which provided a lovely reflection.



On the far side there were three Black-tailed Godwits, normally these are the dominant Godwit but today they were outnumbered by the Bar-tailed Godwit    A good number having turned up overnight, as is the case at this time of year on the east coast.  In fact on Sunday there were good counts along the south and east coast of a significant passage of these birds.  Along with the Bar-tailed Godwits in this picture there were also four Knot in partial summer plumage, 6 Dunlin, two Ringed Plover and a single Turnstone.



We walked the circuit once again, and probably for the last time this trip.  We stopped for lunch, then made our way back to the Bittern Hide.  The highlight here was a Bittern that flew across in front of the hide.



After the Bittern it went quiet again, and we decided to leave and follow a different route for a change.  This took us past the Island Mere hide and on the path towards Scotts Hall.  Just off the path we came across a Red Deer that was feeding just off the path, and was totally unconcerned about us



We then took the road to Westleton, and turned onto the bridleway in the direction of Dunwich.  There were bluebells on the verge, and it was interesting to see that these flowers were a lot shorter that those we see at home in Hampshire.



A speckled Wood settled on a leaf above us offering a different perspective.



The path took us through Scots Pine and Silver Birch and then out onto Dunwich Heath.  The heath was almost birdless as is usually the way with the heath on a windy day.  the path then took us along the beach, and back into Minsmere via the north wall.  A nice walk but there was very little about of interest.

Before going to get a cup of tea we popped into the north Hide, as we hadn't be in it yet.  There wasn't much about, aut again a little patience can provide some interest.  A Lapwing displaying in amongst the Redshank and Greylag Geese.



There are plenty of Greylag Geese all over the reserve, but both the Canada Geese and the feral Barnacle Geese seem to prefer the Scrape.



In the pools close to the hide a pair of Shoveler were feeding close to the reeds.  The male looking quite splendid with the bottle green head, and that amazing bill.



Coming out into the open, and again showing the impressive bill.



Following the Shoveler were a pair of Gadwall.



After yet another cup of tea, we took the final trek around the woods and the reed bed.  First stop for the last time was the Bittern Hide.  The first bird of interest was once again the Marsh Harrier coming in from the right hand side.



Then from the reeds in front of us a Bittern flew up and headed towards us.



It flew just above the top of the reeds and appeared to be looking for a suitable place to drop in.



Hovering above the reeds almost in the same manner as a Marsh Harrier.



it still hadn't dropped into the reeds and we were now willing it come all the way to the front of the hide.



But then the legs went down and the Bittern dropped into the bed of Reeds right in front of the hide, but out of sight as usual.

And as usual we sat, waited and looked in the hope that it would appear again.  The interest was maintained by, of course, the Marsh Harriers, a male flying low over the open water in front of the reeds.



We left the hide when it was clear the Bittern was not going to appear, and as we came down the steps we came across a small herd of Red Deer.  Once again they seemed totally unphased by us and we could walk quite close.


The last stop was to be the Island Mere, the first hide we had visited three days earlier.  This hide too was very quiet, so we decided it was time to say goodbye to Minsmere, and walked up the hill, and finally into the car park.

Once again it had been a great three days, the first time we have spent so much time here.  Each day produced something different, from the Otters on Friday, the Bitterns and Hobbys on Saturday and the Adder and Black Tern today.  I never tire of walking around the reserve or sitting in the hides, it really is a wonderful place, and lets hope it continues to develop.  We had spent 28 hours here this weekend, and it has delivered 96 species of bird, 6 species of butterfly, 3 quality mammals and a reptile.  A great time.

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