New Year's Day always brings birdwatchers out of the woodwork as they look to start their year list off with a bang. Many of them will head to Minsmere, where there is always a good chance of spotting some of our elusive species and getting them on the list early: bittern, water rail, bearded tit and Cetti's warbler will all be among the target species, for example.
For those visiting Minsmere on New Year's Day this year, there was an even bigger bonus, as a green-winged teal was discovered on the Scrape. This is the North American equivalent of our teal (also known as common or Eurasian teal), and looks very similar to its more familiar cousin. In fact, the females are indistinguishable in the field, so all British records of the small North American duck are males. They are told from the common teal by a white line across the side. In common teal this line runs horizontally, as in the picture below. In green-winged teal this horizontal stripe is missing, replaced by a shorter vertical stripe between the breast and the flanks. With 1500 teal spread across the Scrape, finding the green-winged teal is a challenge akin to searching for a needle in a haystack, but with patience most people looking specifically for it have been successful, although no-one has yet managed a good photo of it.
[Edit, 10 January. One of our volunteers, Julie Potter, has managed to get a photo of the green-winged teal this morning that clearly shows the differences and similarities to common teal. The green-winged teal is back righthand bird in the photo below. Photo by Julie Potter.
As well as 1500 teal, there are excellent numbers of most other ducks on the Scrape. These include, in descending numerical order, wigeons, gadwall, mallard, shoveler and shelduck, plus up to 20 pintails. With a further 40+ of this elegant duck on the South Levels, pintails are easier to see at Minsmere than they have been for a long time. There are also one or two tufted ducks and pochards visiting the Scrape, while up to 20 goosanders have been roosting at dusk, with smaller numbers present on either East Scrape or Island Mere during the day.
Five whooper swans continue to favour Island Mere, but also visit the Scrape from time to time, while 11 Bewick's swans are roosting on East Scrape each evening before heading north to feed in fields alongside the B1125 during the day. There have a couple of sightings of pink-footed, white-fronted and dark-bellied brent geese since New Year, and three tundra bean geese were present on 3 January.
Tundra bean geese by Christine Hall
With water levels continuing to fall (all paths are now fully accessible, though waterproof shoes are still recommended), and islands re-appearing on the Scrape, we've also enjoyed sightings of a few dunlins, turnstones, black-tailed godwits and snipe, as well as one or two avocets on the Scrape.
As well as the whooper swans, Island Mere has been a great place to see snipe, with up to nine feeding or sleeping in front of the hide. Bitterns, little egrets and grey herons are regularly seen there, while bearded tits, Cetti's warblers and water rails are more often heard than seen. However, for many visitors over the last couple of weeks it's been the otters that have stolen the show, with such regular sightings that it's worth sitting there and waiting as you are likely to be rewarded. In fact, i was only in the hide for five minutes this morning before one swam past, while another spent at least half an hour catching fish outside Bittern Hide - as both were seen at the same time we know they were different animals.
Otter by Clare Carter
Our contractors have been busy undertaking important reedbed management this week too. We have two of the special amphibious reedcutting machines, called Truxors, on site. These are used to clear reed from pools and ditches, and to cut wetter patches of the reeded as part of our annual rotational cutting programme, which helps to keep the reedbed in perfect condition for bitterns, bearded tits, otters, Fenn's wainscot moths, and the many other species that live there.
Truxor at work. Photo by David Baskett
The Truxors have already been used in North Marsh and at Bittern Hide, and today they were in the reedbed west of Island Mere. It's great to watch these machines at work, and once they've finished the reedbed looks fantastic - as you can see from this photo from Bittern Hide this afternoon.
Of course, there's plenty to see in the woods and around the visitor centre too, including regular bullfinches, marsh tits, long-tailed tits, treecreepers, green and great spotted woodpeckers, muntjac, red deer and stoat, while stonechats and Dartford warblers continue to be seen along the dunes.
Finally, after such a stunning afternoon, here's another view Bittern Hide in the afternoon sun.
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