We would be lying if we said that Springwatch didn’t play a small part in our decision to visit RSPB Minsmere last Thursday. In all honesty we had been thinking of visiting for some time and the BBC coverage combined with so many positive Facebook posts and blogs about the reserve finally saw us make the three hour journey.
We approached the reserve under a canopy of sun-spangled trees emerging into bright sunlight as we parked up. I have never seen so many RSPB staff and volunteers at a reserve before, certainly the Springwatch factor was having a huge effect. After getting some friendly advice at the entrance and picking up a free map we made our way firstly to the Bittern Hide.
The hide was pretty full but seats became available soon enough and we took time to scan the reeds, noticing the Springwatch remote camera that was monitoring the well publicised Bittern nest. Although the reeds were devoid of much activity we soon had at least two Hobby’s sweeping over them, their legs dropping to catch an unlucky dragonfly or other insect. In the distance over Sizewell a Buzzard circled high but our attention was drawn immediately back to the reeds as an almost golden Bittern appeared from nowhere, gliding just above the reeds before disappearing into cover.
If that was not enough for the first twenty minutes, we had regular fly-pasts from a Marsh Harrier. One of the volunteers in the hide had his scope trained on a bush where it had landed, offering everyone a chance to get a close up. Apparently the Marsh Harrier’s had a nest in this location but the Springwatch team were unable to place a camera there without disturbance. Three raptors and a Bittern in our first half hour, could the day get any better?
We made our way around the extensive reserve, stopping to check out the Green Woodpecker hole. Like our own Green Woodpeckers at Cranford Park there was plenty of activity around the nest from both the woodpeckers and corvids. Sneaking in a photo among the branches in the way proved a bit of a task though.
On our way to the Island Mere Hide we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful Southern Marsh Orchids blooming along the boardwalk leading to the hide.
Among the colourful orchids and greenery we also came across this Thick-legged Flower Beetle.
The Island Mere Hide was alive with hunting Hobby’s, at least one Marsh Harrier and as the breeze picked up, a Grey Heron appeared from the reeds, battling the wind.
Also seen on the water here were two Little Grebe’s, a Great Crested Grebe with chicks and a gathering of half a dozen Cormorant. Collective noun alert, that should be a gulp of Cormorants.
In the near distance our second flying Bittern of the day put in an appearance, gracefully landing and disappearing among the reeds.
Our next sighting and one of my favourite moments of the day took place at the Sand Martin holes. As we arrived the whole bank was alive with the perpetual motion of Sand Martin in and out of the nesting holes. Young birds would pop heads out as parents would arrive with food and leave almost immediately for more.
All of a sudden all the airborne activity stopped, as if a switch had been flicked to turn off the Sand Martins. We scanned the sky above the bank and had our answer, a single Hobby was overhead. Dragonflies and insects are one thing, but Hobby’s will happily hunt young hirundines once they have fledged. With the disappearance of the speedy raptor, the switch was flicked again and the Sand Martin hustle and bustle was back on. Superb experience.
There was wildlife activity everywhere to be seen or heard as we made our way around the reserve. Goldfinch, Linnet, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were seen and heard, colourful Pheasants were crossing the field in front of the Springwatch studio.
This Speckled Wood butterfly happily posed for us as we headed for the Scrape.
The Scrape was noisy and lively. Dominating our view from the hide were the Black-headed Gulls.
As we watched the commotion, half a dozen Avocet landed in the middle distance, bobbing on the water and heading for dry land at the far end of the Scrape.
Also present on the Scrape were Mallard, Tufted Duck, Lesser Black-backed Gull, a single Shelduck and Redshank and these two Sandwich Terns.
It was now around 5pm and as we made our way back towards the visitor centre a number of volunteers had their scopes focused on an area quite some way away. When we asked what was getting their attention they told us it was a Stone Curlew. Now this was worth delaying refreshments for. An elusive bird to say the least and chances to see these summer visitors are few and far between. “Got it, got it” came the shout from one of the volunteers and as is the way with birders, he was happy to let us take a look through his scope. Despite the distance and vegetation we both managed to get a clear sighting of this almost prehistoric looking bird. A mega tick for us!
We were just about to move on, thinking that the Stone Curlew was a perfect conclusion to the day when yet another Bittern (our fifth of the day) was seen flying in and yet again disappearing. Chuffed enough with this sighting we were then treated to a boom. A Bittern boom! At first only Mrs Sausage heard it, then a few minutes later another boom, then another and another. A very special moment and even a Cuckoo calling nearby couldn’t beat the sound of a booming Bittern!
Not a great photo day for me at Minsmere with some of the best birds seen only when airborne (Bitterns, Hobby and Marsh Harrier) or at a scoping distance but the reserve itself is wonderful. The varied habitats giving home to a lot of different species. Our count on the way home was at least forty different bird species and that was without trying too hard. It’s easy to see why Springwatch chose Minsmere for this season. Regardless of the nationwide coverage, it’s a superb reserve with an awful lot to see and we will certainly be back.
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