Tuesday was a bit of a red letter day for me. First news broke, via our wonderful volunteer guides, that a couple of shore larks had been discovered on East Scrape, alongside six snow buntings. While the latter are relatively regular on the beach, they are very unusual on the Scrape, and the former are relative rarities at Minsmere, full stop.
As I was working in the visitor centre for the morning, I had to wait until after lunch to go out to look for them myself. I wished I had my telescope with me, as the shore larks were eventually relocated on one of the more distant islands, where they were difficult enough to spot, even when they moved. Luckily, I was able to borrow another volunteer's 'scope for slightly better views, as I don't see shore larks every year. They are certainly worth seeing, with their yellow and black face patterns distinguishing them from any other small brown passerines.
Shore lark - this one was photographed at the UK's most easterly point, Ness Point in Lowestoft, a few years ago
The snow buntings were a little easier, feeding on seeds on the nearest island to East Hide. A further group of 17 were spotted flying along the beach, too. At least one shore lark and two snow buntings remain on the Scrape today, though both can be mobile.
Female snow bunting by Les Cater
Scanning across the rest of East Scrape, it was obvious that we'd had an influx of lapwings joining the black-tailed godwits and large flocks of ducks - wigeon, gadwall, shoveler, mallard, teal and a few pintails and shelducks. A couple of dunlins also accompanied the godwits.
On reaching South Hide, I noted that six avocets remained, and a large flock of great black-backed gulls had gathered. Among these, I was pleased to spot an almost adult plumaged Caspian gull. I often to struggle to pick out these gulls, which were only recognised as a separate species a few years ago, but this one was immediately recognisable with its long slim legs, long straight-edged bill, small eye and clean white head with dusky shawl - the herring gulls have very dirty looking heads at this time of year. Both Caspian and yellow-legged gulls are regular on the Scrape at this time of year, especially in late afternoon.
Back at the visitor centre, the feeders were so busy that at one point I watched five coal tits feeding together - an unusually high count - as well as the regular nuthatches and marsh tits.
Coal tit, waiting its turn on the feeders
As I made my way through the car park to the wardens' office, a distinctive screech caught my attention! It couldn't be, could it? If I was in Delhi, or Barcelona or London's Hyde Park, I'd have no hesitation in identifying that call. But here, at Minsmere? Surely not!
Looking up, I spotted it. A bright green dart skimming the tree tops as it zoomed north. If it hadn't called, I'm sure that I'd have missed it, but now there was no doubt at all. Ring-necked parakeet. An unexpected addition to my already lengthy Minsmere list. It's not the first for the reserve, but there haven't been many records. No doubt they will become more frequent as a small population in Ipswich continues to grow and occasional sightings are made in other Suffolk towns.
Ring-necked parakeet - this one was photographed in London by Ben Andrew, rspb-images.com
My week had started well too. After visiting our excellent Makers Market on Saturday (more to follow next year), we enjoyed a lovely walk around the Scrape, where we spotted a female red-crested pochard (another scarce bird originating from captive stock in the UK) and a small flock of goosanders that came in to roost. By Monday morning, the pochard had relocated to Island Mere, where it joined the lone whooper swan and the regular flock of ducks, mute swans and cormorants. Then, this afternoon I found a female goldeneye on the small pool closest to the viewpoint by the pond. This has become an increasingly scarce bird in recent years, so I was pleased to find it.
It could have got even better too, as a raven was spotted a couple of times this week - another bird that is only rarely seen here but is likely to become more frequent. I failed to spot either bearded tit or bittern this week, though both have showed well at times. Likewise with kingfisher. I have, however, had good views of marsh harriers over the reedbed, long-tailed tits and treecreepers in the woods and siskins near the pond. There are also still several common darter dragonflies on the wings, enjoying this lovely autumn sunshine. And, on Saturday wwe almost came face to face with a small group of red deer near South Belt Crossroads.
Common darter in typical pose - perched on a fence or bench
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