The weather for the last few weeks has somewhat unpredictable, with bright sunshine one minute followed by heavy rain the next, so I took advantage of one of the drier days today and enjoyed a stroll around the Scrape in the gorgeous autumn sunshine.
There's something special about this time of year. On calm sunny days, like today, the light is just perfect, casting long shadows and highlighting the golden colours of the autumn landscape, or reflecting the blue of the sky in any patch of water, be it a shallow puddle or a larger lake, as can be seen looking across South Scrape.
This clear, crisp light, is perfect for picking out the intricate details in the plumage of the large flocks of ducks, geese and lapwings that are feeding and loafing on the Scrape - providing you keep the sun behind you, because otherwise you'll be looking at dark silhouettes against the sun. Therefore, it's usually best to visit East Hide in the morning and South Hide/Wildlife Lookout later in the day.
Although you can usually see all, or most of our six commonest ducks (wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard, shelduck and shoveler) from each of the Scrape hides, it's noticeable how each hide offers a subtly different mix of birds. West Scrape (viewed from Wildlife Lookout) is great for teal, shelduck and mallard. South Scrape is best for wigeon. East Hide usually has teal and shoveler very close to the hide (as pictured below) and is the hide at which you are most likely to find one or two pintails. A few gadwalls remain on the Scrape, but most of them seem to have moved to Island Mere and the smaller reedbed pools for the winter.
Alongside the ducks are varying numbers of geese. At the moment these are mostly greylags, but one or two Canada or barnacle geese may be present too - a few of the latter were also on the South Levels today - and bigger flocks often come in to roost in the evenings. There was no sign of the Bewick's swans today, for the first time in 12 days, but they, too, may return to roost. The lone whooper swan, however, remains on the small reedbed pool behind South Hide. This is pool is now known as the Pool of Dreams in expectation of the next big rarity to arrive there, as it is the spot where both black-browed albatross and western purple swamphen were seen in recent years.
Male ducks should not pose any real ID headaches at this time of year, but the same is certainly not true of gulls, and there are plenty of the latter to test your skills and patience. By far the most numerous gulls at lunchtime today were the largest of the all, the enormous great black-backed gull. I counted 128 on South Scrape and estimated at least 200 on East Scrape. Large gulls can take up to four years to mature so the variety of plumages is particularly bewildering for beginners. It's worth persevering, though, as among them I found at least 100 herring gulls, a few lesser black-backed, common and black-headed gulls and an adult Caspian gull, while a yellow-legged gull was spotted earlier, too.
If you are daunted by ducks or befuddled by gulls, then why not join one of our guided walks this weekend. Phil and Derek are leading an amazing autumn wildlife walk at 9.30 am on Saturday, and David has a beginners walk on Sunday at 10.30 am. Booking is essential.
Among all of the gulls, geese and ducks, there are a few other species to look for on the Scrape itself, including 15 avocets and five black-tailed godwits on East Scrape, 200+ lapwings on South Scrape and at least half a dozen snipe hiding among the vegetation on the banks on West Scrape. There should also be one or two little egrets and grey herons, as well as more familiar birds such as magpie or pheasant on the Scrape.
As you walk around the Scrape, following the Coast Trail, you might also find a few bearded tits in the reedbed (but last week's penduline tit disappeared as quickly as it arrived), one or two stonechats and Dartford warblers in the dunes, and perhaps a small flock of common scoters on the sea. There were nine turnstones on the Sluice outfall this afternoon, and if you extend you walk south of here you can enjoy great views over Lucky Pool and the South Levels, where you may spot other gulls, geese or herons.
If you walk to Island Mere and Bittern Hide then you should be rewarded with sightings of marsh harriers and perhaps hear a Cetti's warbler. With a bit of luck and patience, you may also see a bittern, great white egret, kingfisher or otter, which are all seen daily, but are not necessarily showing well at the moment.
However, if you are not feeling so energetic, or if the weather turns wet, then a walk to North Hide is an ideal option. You will see most of the species on the Scrape from here, and can also stroll slowly through the North Bushes in search of tit and finch flocks or migrant thrushes. Bullfinches are regular here, and I watched a lovely flock of 40 siskins near the pond this afternoon. You might even be lucky enough to spot a brambling or lesser redpoll, as both were seen on the feeders at reception yesterday! And, of course, a walk through North Bushes will be rewarded with some fantastic autumn colour, such as this field maple.
Finally, it's that time of year when people ask us about starling murmurations. Unfortunately, we don't have here yet this winter, but there are a few thousand at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Hen Reedbed reserve, near Southwold. We hope they'll move here at some point this winter - watch this space for updates.
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