After more than 70 years as an RSPB nature reserve, it's not often that we are able to a new species of bird to our already impressive reserve list, so it seems rather apt to have done so on the eve of the Global Bird Weekend, organising in part by our partners at Birdlife International.
The latest addition to Minsmere's list - a dusky warbler - is another tiny leaf warbler that breeds in Siberia and usually heads to south-east Asia for the winter. Closely related to last week's Radde's warbler, the dusky warbler was found in the sluice bushes by Minsmere volunteer guide, Clive, at lunchtime yesterday. Remarkably, Clive had arrived here yesterday with the aim of finding a dusky warbler, making his discovery even more special.
Dusky warblers look like dark chiffchaffs, with an obvious dark eye stripe, pale supercilium (eyebrow), and dark ear-coverts. They are scarce but annual autumn visitors to the UK, so this was a long-overdue addition to the reserve list. Although typically elusive, the dusky warbler did show on several occasions yesterday, and has been seen again today. Annoyingly for those who had been waiting for a couple of hours to see it yesterday, I walked down after work and spotted it within a minute of arriving at the Sluice Bushes. For once, my luck was in!
The dusky warbler fed alongside several goldcrests, just a small part of a large influx into the reserve this week. There continues to be a regular passage of thrushes and finches, too: redwings, fieldfares, song thrushes, blackbirds, siskins, chaffinches and lesser redpolls. Among these there have been a few common crossbills, bramblings and skylarks passing through.
Goldcrest by Jon Evans
Other migrants have been noted offshore, including good numbers of gannets, red-throated divers and dark-bellied brent geese. Other species seen offshore have included a few goldeneyes, eiders and red-breasted mergansers and singles of both great northern and black-throated divers and little auk.
For most of our visitors this week the highlights have been two of our reedbed species: bearded tits and hobbies. The former are often seen gathering grit from the path to the sluice, or feeding on reed seeds along the North Wall or at Island Mere. On calm sunny mornings, like today, they all erupt from the reedbed in small flocks, flying noisily at heights of up to 100 metres above the reeds, as they start to disperse to other sites.
Bearded tit by Matt Parrott
Hobbies can be seen catching various flying insects along the woodland edge, especially at Bittern Hide, the Whin Hill watchpoint, or over the car park - a reminder to have your binoculars ready as soon as you get out of the car! Last Sunday there was an unusually high autumn count of 22 hobbies, and although several are still present, we would usually expect the last ones to migrate south within the next week or so.
Elsewhere within the reedbed, there continue to be regular sightings of bitterns, otters, marsh harriers and kingfishers, while coot numbers have increased notably on Island Mere. Duck numbers are also increasing both there and on the Scrape, with most having now acquired their full plumage again after their post-breeding moult.
Drake shoveler by Ian Barthorpe
There are still good numbers of insects around too: common and ruddy darter and migrant hawker dragonflies, small copper and red admiral butterflies are most likely to be seen, but several other species are also still on the wing.
Finally, a quick update on our facilities.
This morning we re-opened North Hide, leaving only Canopy Hide closed. Please remember that if you are planning to visit any of the hides then you MUST wear a face-covering at all times. We also ask you to maintain social distancing, so if you can sit more than 2 metres from other groups then the hide is full. Similarly, face coverings must be worn in the toilets, which also operate with one-household-at-a-time, so you may have to queue at busy times.
There's also exciting news from the Visitor Centre, where we have been able to provide a few indoor seats in anticipation of the onset of cooler weather
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