It's been another exciting week on the reserve, despite the windy and, at times, wet weather, with scarce birds visiting us from both east and west.

From the west, the lesser yellowlegs remains on the Levels. Often difficult to locate due to the distance and huge flocks of lapwings, it is easier to see when it moves onto Lucky Pool. This morning it decided on a change of scenery and moved to the back of the Konik Field, where some visitors enjoyed great views from the Eastbridge footpath. No doubt the presence of a peregrine and marsh harrier hunting in tandem over the Levels may have something to do with the yellowlegs' relocating.

From the east, we've finally welcomed our first smew of the winter - a lovely pair. These beautiful ducks are becoming much scarcer in the UK, and arriving much later in the winter at Minsmere. This probably reflects the warmer climate, with most now "short-stopping" and spending the winter in Denmark or the Netherlands, rather than continuing across the North Sea. 

Quite aside from their scarcity in the UK, smew are always popular birds with birdwatchers because they are simply stunning birds. The drakes are mainly white with a series of narrow black markings and delicate grey patterns, giving them the nickname of "white nuns". (I've never worked out why the males are called nuns, but I guess it's because the markings look similar to a nun's habit.) The females are pale grey with white cheeks and a chestnut crown, earning them the nickname of redheads. Young birds are generally indistinguishable from females. Smews  are the smallest members of the sawbill family, and their larger cousins, goosanders, have been regular on the reserve this winter.

The smew have been very mobile around the Scrape since they arrived on Sunday. After three failed attempts earlier in the week, I finally found them roosting on West Scrape today, but they were too distant for a decent photo, so here's one from previous winters, taken by one of our visitors, Lesley Hickinbotham.

Also from the east, a jack snipe was located close to North Hide this week. Jack snipe are smaller and shorter billed than their common cousins, with very different head markings (a split supercilium and lack of central crown stripe being key features). Like the smew, they breed in Scandinavia and Siberia and visit the UK in varying numbers each winter. They are also probably the hardest of all our wading birds to actually get a good view of!

Like snipe, jack snipe are extremely well camouflaged, especially when feeding in long grass and among cut reed stems. Their small size and striped plumage help them to blend into the surrounding vegetation, especially if they aren't moving. Luckily, jack snipe have a habit of bobbing up and down, a bit like a jack in the box, and it's often this movement that gives them away to patient birdwatchers. Such was the case for me this week. Twice on Monday I couldn't locate it, despite being given precise directions to where it was skulking. Yesterday I was in luck as the jack snipe bobbed three times as I picked up my binoculars, but as soon it stopped I lost sight of it completely! Once again, though, a photo was out of the question, so here's a more obliging bird from several years ago by Jon Evans.

All three of these scarce birds have attracted interested from our visitors, but there's been plenty more to see this week too. The first oystercatchers have returned to the Scrape, joining avocets, dunlins, curlews, black-tailed godwits and the odd turnstone alongside the huge flocks of ducks. Whooper swans remain behind South Hide, with another small group (along with several Bewick's swans) sometimes visiting Island Mere when disturbed from their daytime feeding site in fields north of Westleton. A great white egret is often seen in the reedbed, as are bitterns, bearded tits, water rails and marsh harriers. Large flocks of siskins are still in the woods, and marsh tis and nuthatches are regular on the feeders.

Male siskin by Les Cater

When the sun shines, you might also be lucky enough to find a basking adder below the sand martin bank, with a couple of males having already emerged from hibernation.

Finally, work has been progressing well on the extension to East Hide - see photo below. The hide was due to reopen by Monday, but this may be slightly delayed by the arrival of Storms Dudley and Eunice. We may even have to close the reserve on Friday if the winds are as strong as forecast. Please check our Facebook and Twitter pages for the latest news on sightings and potential closures.

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