Firstly an apology for lack of recent sightings updates. As I'm sure you can realise, things have been a little bit chaotic this week as we try to work out exactly what's happening with the current Covid-19 crisis.

The most important thing at this time is that we make every effort possible to keep everyone safe - our staff, volunteers and visitors. As a result, as you may have read in my post earlier this week, the Minsmere visitor centre, like all other RSPB visitor centres, is now closed, with most of our staff working at home. Many of us, like many of you, will also be juggling child care and education with our work. This will bring about many challenges, but I will try to keep you informed of developments as much as possible. Most of our amazing wonderful volunteers have been temporarily stood down from their roles too.

I know that many of you will be self isolating for the next 12 weeks, which will be very difficult, and poses a variety of challenges, not least to your mental and physical health. In these circumstances, please try to find ways to maintain contact with nature, wherever possible, as this is a proven benefit to mental health. Perhaps you have a garden that will be getting more care than usual, or bird feeders that will continue to attract a steady stream of birds (don't forget that you can still mail order your bird food supplies from the RSPB Shop). Maybe you are lucky enough to have a local park or beach where you can safely walk the dog, or enjoy a refreshing walk whilst still being able to maintain the recommended social distancing of two metres. I hope that my blogs will also help to keep you in touch a virtual nature.

Although the visitor centre is closed, we are keeping the nature trails and hides open (as well as the toilets and car park), so that some of you, at least, can continue to enjoy the superb spring wildlife at Minsmere - remembering, of course, to follow the government's advice about social distancing.

It's going to be very strange for me not to be able to watch the advance of spring on the reserve this year, for first time since 2002! Having just welcomed back the first chiffchaffs, wheatears and sand martins in the last few days, just in time for the official start of spring today, we'd usually be waiting expectantly for the arrival of the first blackcaps, willow warblers, swallows and garganeys before the end of this month, followed by a flood of other migrants during April and May. Instead, I'll be looking out for some of these species around my home town, and making the most of the few trips I can into the wider countryside.

Chiffchaff by Ian Barthorpe

With this in mind, my blogs will take on a very different complexion over the next few weeks and months. Wherever possible, I will try to post at least a couple of times a week, but rather than updates from the reserve, the themes will include sightings from my daily nature walks at home or in my garden, insights into some of Minsmere's conservation success stories and key species, a delve back into the archives, or more general reflections on nature. I'd also love to hear about how wildlife is helping you to get through these difficult times - you can share your photos or experiences on our Forum, or via the social media links below. 

I'll set the ball rolling here with a report of beautiful rook devouring the suet sprinkles and mealworms on my feeding station this morning. This is only the second time I've seen it on the feeders in my garden, and it was interesting to see that even the starlings kept their distance - they're usually happy to stand on the backs of the woodpigeons if they get in the way!

Rook by Ian Barthorpe - note the pale face skin and shaggy trousers compared to bare-legged carrion crow

Talking of our starlings, my son informed me this week that they've started nesting in their usual roof cavities of nearby houses, which is good news. I heard a chiffchaff singing on my walk back from town yesterday, so expect to hear one from the garden soon. I've also been treated to the wonderful songs of song thrush, skylark and wren close to home this week.

As well as these blogs, you can keep up to date with news on Twitter or Facebook @RSPBMinsmere, or follow our national accounts - @RSPBEngland on Twitter and Facebook or RSPB Nature's Voice on Twitter and RSPB Love Nature on Facebook.

Finally, please stay safe everyone, keep in touch and we'll look forward to resuming normal service later in the year.

  • Sitting in the garden on this sunny West Suffolk Sunday afternoon, the wind is as cutting as any easterly at Minsmere but in my sheltered corner, it's almost still and 14degs. Above my head and giving it laldy is a great tit, well hidden in the pink and white of the blackthorn blossom. Only when the sound is funnelled to you do you take on the breadth of its' call. I now, after years of cursing the monotony, hear a fuller nuanced call and I look forward to tomorrow if the weather is repeated. Meanwhile there are, further along in the hedge, squabbling house sparrows all sparring to be heard; so good to hear these again after a lean time.