After the recent run of unsettled weather, followed by several dreary winter days with no hint of the sun breaking through, it was quite a relief to wake up this morning to a fabulous pink sky and thick frost coating the car windows. It finally felt like winter had arrived properly, at last.

It wasn't just me who appreciated the improvement in the weather - I don't mind the cold, providing I have enough layers on, but dull dreary weather can get very depressing at times. The wildlife clearly liked it too, and came out to play to celebrate. So much so that one of our volunteer guides, David, described his morning as perfect - just how he would want to show it to visitors.

East Scrape by Ian Barthorpe

There is certainly something special about the early morning light on a sunny winter day, and this clearly highlighted the spectacular colours of the hundreds of ducks on the Scrape: delicately patterned grey and brown of drake gadwall; orange and grey heads and speckled pink breasts on teal; cream flash on the forehead of the drake wigeon; bottle green head and white flank patch on drake shoveler. Similarly, the black-and-white plumage of shelducks and avocets seems to gleam even brighter. Unusually, we seem to have several avocets overwintering on the Scrape this year, with at least 11 seen again today.

Drake teal by Ian Barthorpe

Nothing better reflected David's perfect winter morning than his experience in Bittern Hide. A bittern performed superbly as it fed in the channel to the right of the hide for about an hour, while bearded tits flitted around, a Cetti's warbler flew across the ditch (a brief, but rare view)and even a kingfisher put in an appearance. Above the reeds, several marsh harriers were engaging in some early sky-dancing, calling regularly as they indulged in their switchback display flights. It's amazing how many birds start their courtship so early in the winter!

Bittern by Steve Everett

I was lucky enough to witness this courtship over Island Mere at lunchtime, while on the mere itself I watched two female goldeneyes, two drake goosanders and three tufted ducks swimming among the coots, gadwalls and mallards. I couldn't see the whooper swans that are usually on the mere, but I could hear them calling loudly as I returned to the visitor centre. Another small group arrived yesterday, bringing this winter's count up to seven.

Two of my colleagues also had a very close encounter with several bearded tits close to the sluice yesterday, proving that even a dull day can be brightened up by a good sighting of an elusive species, while another volunteer found an overwintering chiffchaff near Bittern Hide.

Bearded tit by Jon Evans

Even if you are only visiting the shop for some last minute Christmas shopping, or treating yourself to a delicious snack in the cafe, there's still plenty of wonderful wildlife to spot just outside the visitor centre. The feeders are a constant wave of activity, with marsh and coal tits, nuthatches and a great spotted woodpecker sharing the food with the more numerous blue and great tits, chaffinches, robins and grey squirrels.

Marsh tit by Les Cater

Finally, a quick reminder of our opening hours over the Christmas and New Year period.

  • Thurs 23 Dec - normal winter opening (shop 9 am - 4 pm, cafe 10 am - 3.30 pm, hides and nature trails dawn to dusk)
  • Fri 24 Dec - shop and reception close at 3 pm, cafe at 2.30 pm. Hides and nature trails locked by dusk
  • Sat 25 & Sun 26 Dec - all facilities are closed, including hides and nature trails. Public footpaths remain  around the perimeter of the reserve, so if you want to enjoy some birdwatching you can still do so. alternatively, why not visit RSPB North Warren.
  • Mon 27 Dec - all facilities open again from 9 am. Normal winter opening
  • Tue 28-Thurs 30 Dec - normal winter opening
  • Fri 31 Dec - shop and reception close at 3 pm, cafe at 2.30 pm
  • Sat 1 & Sun 2 Jan - shop and reception open at 10 am (rather than 9 am)
  • Mon 3 Jan - normal winter hours (subject, of course, to any changes enforced by the government)

Which just leaves me to wish everyone a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas.

Robin by Jon Evans