Sunday, 2 June 2013

RSPB Minsmere :: 29 May 2013

School half-term and therefore a 3-day short break was called for. We decided on a visit to the Suffolk coast and a stay at the Westleton Crown. It turned out to be a beatutiful day and so on the way there we stopped off for lunch at the Quy Mill Hotel, just outside of Cambridge. Their 2 and 3 course set lunches are always a hit.

Then to the Westleton Crown and on check-in we decided the girls would all like a cream-tea while the eldest daughter got on with some GSCE exam revision. Off I trotted for a couple of house on the RSPB Minsmere reserve - a mini visit for a couple of hours. I'd stated that the main reason for the visit was to get a photo of a bearded tit and so I chose to make for the reed beds between 'Bittern' and 'Island Mere'. Marsh Harrier ariel combatOn the visitors listings it suggested that the best place to see a bearded tit would be on the second passing place on the entry ramp to the 'Island Mere' hide. There were flocks of swifts skimming the water and reeds, marsh harriers quartering the area and we had two bitterns fly past, unfortunately from left field on both occasions. Although generally quiet we were entertained by the marsh harrier showing off their acrobatics and we were Bearded tit all excited to see a sparrowhawk attempting to hunt swifts over the 'Island Mere' - I was surprised to see it and was dubious about his likely success but started to hear that both the sparrowhawks and hobbies had been having a go, with observed successes. On leaving the hide I had another pause to see if I could spot a bearded tit and on-cue one turned up. More amazingly I managed to get a shot off while the reeds were not completely in the way.

It wasn't until a couple of days later that we got back to the reserve. The forecast didn't look promising but we hoped that it would be a little inaccurate, as it had been the previous day. From the Visitor Centre we headed out towards the East Hide and the coast. We thought that we would attempt to see the stone curlew that were said to be nesting in a field off the track. Unfortunately, since the young had hatched the birds seem to have retreated back into the bracken and out of view. We were unsuccessful. Just a 100 metres on we came across a bearded tit, soon joined by one of it's young - a partially formed tail helping age the youngster. Beautiful to see. Then, as we walked along the coastal path we felt a spot of rain. Fortunately we were just about to go into the East Hide and we managed to stay dry. What a noise from the assembled birds, especially when one of the larger gulls flew overhead and the smaller gulls prepared to protect their eggs and young. The shower lasted less than 10 minutes and was the last rain we had.

Our previous visits to Minsmere have all been in the autumn and so we have never seen avocets there before - they have always moved on before we arrived. However there were a good number of these beautiful birds wading and feeding at the edge of almost every pool. Consistently around the rest of our circuit we heard the many warblers singing, particularly the reed warbler, but also some sedge warblers. We stopped off for lunch in the reserve visitor centre and then I dropped off the girls for another revision session (and more cream-teas).

I returned to the reserve and set-off for another visit to the 'Bittern' and 'Island Mere' hides. HobbyAnother short view of bittern on the Island Mere was all that was of any significance, and no bearded tit. Slightly disappointed I headed back for the Visitor Centre, partly as there appeared to be no progress in the hide and partly as I needed to visit the loo! However, as I passed the 'Bittern' hide I heard an odd call and stopped to investigate. On entering the hide I was greeted by the sight of two bittern, one starting to boom and reports of hobby on some distant trees. The following hour and a half were a magical display of bittern booming, hobbies hunting dragonflies and my first sighting of a cuckoo. It was non-stop action with some specularly good views of the hobby. One was quite comical as it dived into the grass to catch a dragonfly and then it struggled to walk out and then pose for some time on the ground opposite us. A worthwhile stop.

The next morning was our last and on checking-out we decided to have one last walk. We opted for Westleton Heath, Dartford Warblerdue to its proximity and the fact that I'd read of someone seeing dartford warbler there - a species I hadn't yet seen. Hopeful, but suspecting that turning up to see a specific species on a portion of the heath would prove fruitless, we set off from the car-park. We had great views of red deer but no sign of our target bird. Then after an hour and on our way back to the car, a burst of song and there he was! Another life check. This was coupled with more views of cuckoo - buses eh - and a jay. A superb end to a great holiday.

So the final list of sightings (67) were: chaffinch, house sparrow, carrion crow, rook, jackdaw, swift, mallard, tufted duck, black headed gull, mute swan, coot, marsh harrier, sparrowhawk, bearded tit, great tit, blue tit, greenfinch, goldfinch, barn owl, marsh tit, magpie, pheasant, woodpigeon, collared dove, starling, swallow, house martin, robin, herring gull, lapwing, mediterranean gull, raven, oystercatcher, linnet, shelduck, shoveler, gadwall, redshank, avocet, kittiwake, arctic tern, common tern, greylag goose, barnacle goose, moorhen, dunnock, sedge warbler, little egret, reed warbler, wigeon, great spotted woodpecker, reed bunting, red legged partridge, stone curlew, canada goose, green woodpecker, cormorant, great crested grebe, sand martin, bittern, little grebe, buzzard, hobby, cuckoo, kestrel, jay and dartford warbler.