Happy New Year.
I hope that everyone managed to find some time to relax over the Christmas and New Year period, and also to spot some wildlife.
Here at Minsmere we were only closed for two days (Christmas Day and Boxing Day) so there was still plenty of opportunity to end the year with some relaxing birdwatching. As well as the species that we expect to see at this time of year - marsh harrier, bittern, various ducks, lapwing, redwing, woodpeckers, finches, tits, etc - there were a few exciting, more unusual sightings to end the year. These included four brief waxwings on Sunday, a flyover common crane on Monday, several goosanders, a couple of peregrines, and a firecrest. Oh, and starlings.
This is probably a good time to give you an update on our murmuration. There were 10000 birds over the west of the reedbed, near Eastbridge, over the Christmas closure, but on Friday the flock suddenly split, with some birds settling over Eastbridge, and others in North Marsh. Then they left! Yes, I'm sorry to report that the starlings have moved to pastures new. They haven't gone far, though, as they only moved a few miles up the coast to Dingle Marshes. Over the weekend, visitors were reporting watching them, albeit distantly at times, from the Dunwich beach car park. However, reports from yesterday suggest that the flock, which may now number 50 000 birds, over Westwood Marshes. Access is tricky to this part of the coast, which requires a long walk (not nice after dark) from either Dunwich or Walberswick, so we recommend watching from Dunwich.
Based on last year, when the starlings also deserted us over Christmas to move to Westwood Marshes, we hope that they will soon return to roost at Minsmere, when many of you will, once again, be able to enjoy the spectacle. In the meantime, please ask at reception for the latest information, or check the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page or @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter for updates.
Despite the (temporary?) lack of a murmuration, there's still plenty to see at Minsmere. At least 75 species of birds were reported by our visitors and guides on New Year's Day alone, and I've just been lucky to see a small flock of 14 waxwings right outside the visitor centre. This is probably the largest flock seen so far in Suffolk this winter. Unfortunately, while we were watching them, they were flushed by a sparrowhawk and flew north. Will they return?
Waxwing by Jon Evans, as I wasn't quick enough to grab a photo
In fact, these were just the latest of several scarce visitors to Minsmere that were seen today, with a firecrest seen in North Bushes again this morning, two tundra bean geese among a large flock of greylags on the Scrape, and at least one Caspian gull on the Scrape. A ringtail hen harrier was seen yesterday, and a flock of up to 14 goosanders has been on Island Mere too.
Other highlights from the first three days of the year have included the family of seven whooper swans behind South Hide, two peregrines on the Levels, three otters at Island Mere, regular sightings of bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tit around the reedbed, two avocets and three drake pintails on the Scrape, and up to four bullfinches in North Bushes.
There are large flocks of ducks on the Scrape - wigeons, teals, mallards, gadwalls, shovelers and shelducks - with eight tufted ducks also seen today. About 20 black-tailed godwits, a handful of dunlins and turnstones, several snipe and variable numbers of lapwings can been seen, as well as a variety of commoner gull species - black-headed, common, herring and great black-backed. A flock of 67 of the latter this morning was quite impressive.
With most of the hawthorn berries now eaten, the redwing and blackbird numbers in North Bushes are much lower, but a few remain, alongside one or two fieldfares and mistle thrushes. The mobile tit flocks usually include blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits, plus the odd marsh tit, goldcrest and treecreeper, while a great spotted woodpecker is a regular visitor to the feeders at the visitor centre. Small flocks of siskins can be seen feeding in alders near the pond, South Belt Crossroads or Rhododendron Tunnel, too.
Finally, it was great to see a full rainbow adding a splash of colour to the sky over North Marsh this morning as I dodged the latest passing shower, while vibrant golden blooms of gorse bring a reminder that spring is only a couple of months away.
What will 2019 have to offer you?
Great start for the new year Ian.
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