Apologies for the delay in posting sightings updates. There are two main reasons. Firstly, I was working on my sabbatical project last week so didn't get the chance to update any of our social media myself (I'll tell you more about this project in due course). Secondly, the last couple of weeks have seen one weather front after another passing through, bringing wind, rain, and even hailstones yesterday, which has not always been conducive to wildlife watching.
That said, there has, of course, been some great wildlife to spot, and with the return of calm, sunny weather this week, it's a more people friendly too.
The first bit of news is that our male adders have continued to perform, even in the cooler, wetter weather. The two most frequently seen males, nicknamed Stranger and No-name, are very variable in colour, with one being much darker than the other. They can be often be seen curled up together along the Adder Trail absorbing the sun's rays. Mornings are usually the best, but they've been on show all day today. The females will probably start to emerge in early April.
This is the adder called No-Name basking in the leaf litter
The second news is that our three smew (one male and two females) continue to move between the Scrape and the freshwater pool behind North Hide, where they are best watched from the mound beside the pond.
Most of the other birds that were reported in my last update continue to be seen everyday, though numbers may have changed. There are several bittern sightings each day, although they've not been so vocal in the windy weather, while marsh harriers have continued to nest-build in the reedbed. Several Cetti's warblers are singing, especially at Island Mere, Bittern Hide, North Wall and Wildlife Lookout, and there have been a number of bearded tit sightings despite the wind. The two early sand martins were join briefly by another two birds, but there have been no reports of them since Thursday - hardly a surprise given the weather. The rain has, however, led to flooding along the entrance path to Island Mere hide, so wellington boots are recommended and you are unlikely to be able to reach the hide in anything less than good walking boots.
Mediterranean gull numbers on the Scrape have increased to more than 150, and there is a definite increase in the volume of the gulls on the Scrape. Our keenest gull-watchers have patiently picked out both yellow-legged and Caspian gulls on a regular basis, though you may the assistance of our guides to find them. Other gulls on the Scrape include black-headed, common, herring and both great and lesser black-backed. It won't be long till the first Sandwich terns return.
Black-headed gulls practicing their synchronised preening
Numbers of avocets are also increasing, and the first redshanks have now returned to the Scrape. They and the oystercatchers are quite noisy at times, while the lapwings have started displaying outside North Hide. Other waders include black-tailed godwits, dunlins, curlews, turnstones and snipe, while slightly larger wading birds ont he Scrape include little egret and grey heron.
As well as the smew, there's a good selection of ducks on the Scrape, with up to four pintails seen among the wigeon, gadwall, mallard, teal, shoveler and shelducks. Several pairs of greylag, Canada and barnacle geese are defending territories, as are a couple of pairs of coots and little grebes. There were still seven whooper swans on Saturday, too.
Among the smaller birds, the Dartford warblers in the dunes remain very popular with visitors. They are now nest-building and are easily disturbed, so please watch them from a distance. There are also several stonechats and linnets in the dunes.
At least two firecrests have been reported most days, but they seem to be mobile, with reports from East Hide, North Bushes, Bittern Hide and the Rhododendron tunnel. Bullfinches are also regularly seen in the North Bushes, especially first thing in the morning - please note that the temporary North Bushes trail will close for the breeding season later this week. Other birds to look for in the woodland include goldcrests, treecreepers, marsh and coal tits, siskins, jays and both green and great spotted woodpeckers. The first chiffchaffs have returned and started singing, too.
Chiffchaff by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
The marsh harriers are not the only birds of prey around either. Buzzards, sparrowhawks and kestrels are seen every day, and peregrines are regular - one even flew over the visitor centre today. There have been a couple of red kite sightings this week - we usually expect sightings to peak in April. A barn owl was hunting along the North Wall and dunes last night, too. The best large bird sighting of the week, though, was a hooded crow that was spotted flying over the South Levels on Friday. Hooded crows are the northern equivalent of our familiar carrion crow, and will be familiar to anyone who has birdwatched in northern Scotland or northern Europe. They are, however, very rare visitors to Suffolk, so it's worth checking through any local corvid (crow) flocks, just in case it's settled in the area rather than simply passing through.
Minsmere has also been a good place to spot mammals over the past week or so, with regular otter sightings being the main highlight. Island Mere and Bittern Hide are the best places to see them, but last week I also spotted one fishing in the pool behind North Hide. Our stoats seem to more active, with increasingly frequent sightings, while rabbits, grey squirrels, muntjac and red deer tend to be easier to spot. Our popular koniks Polski ponies have, however, been moved off the Scrape ready for the breeding season, so they're not quite so easy to spot now. Look for them around the Leiston Abbey ruins.
The koniks were quite at home on the Scrape and have done a great job controlling the vegetation, but they've now moved to their summer home
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