It's been an interesting week so far, with some exciting sightings, dramatic weather and near misses, and today has been no exception.
As reported in my last blog, the week started with the discovery of a rough-legged buzzard that spent most of Monday afternoon resting in a tree alongside the South Levels, where it was viewable distantly from Bittern Hide. Unfortunately for anyone hoping that it would linger at Minsmere long enough for them to see it, there was no sign of it the following morning. There have been no reports of the roosting hen harrier since Sunday either, though it did fly over the reserve on Monday morning.
On Tuesday we once again witnessed the power of nature as the combination of a high spring tide and strong north-westerly winds caused another tidal surge to hit the Suffolk coast. While not as destructive as the last big surge in 2013, there was still extensive flooding to parts of the Suffolk coast. Here at Minsmere, we escaped quite lightly, with waves lapping over the dunes in places to leave a few puddles between the dunes and seawall, and the profile of the shingle beach has changed again, but damage was minimal.
Farther north along the coast, the sea once again flooded large parts of Dingle Marshes, as can be seen from our volunteer, George Hannan's photos.
As always when surge tides are threatened, the wardening team were out and about moving livestock to higher ground and ensuring the sluices were closed as necessary. Much of the site will recover, providing it doesn't flood again too soon. Luckily the large area of reedbed known as Westwood Marshes, where the starlings are currently roosting, seems not to have been affected.
There has also been flooding at Havergate Island, as you can read in Lyndsey's blog, but hopefully this will not cause much lasting damage as the habitats on Havergate are brackish anyway.
By Wednesday the winds had died down and visitors and wildlife were able to settle back into the rhythm of winter. It certainly felt wintry too, with the northerly wind adding quite a chill to the air. The highlight of my lunchtime walk yesterday was a beautiful lesser redpoll feeding in the alder trees close to the Rhododendron Tunnel. The same flock of birds included several chaffinches and long-tailed tits, plus marsh tit and treecreeper, and I spent an enjoyable five minutes watching their comings and goings.
Today was a much more miserable winter day, with low cloud and a damp feel to the air, but my lunchtime wander around the North Bushes was brightened by a stunning flash of fire as I finally managed to spot one of the firecrests that has been loitering there all winter. Somehow I have missed these tiny birds on my regular strolls through North Bushes over the past few months, but there was no missing this bird.
Whilst watching goldcrests and blue tits in the trees above my head, I glimpsed movement low down alongside the path. Lifting my binoculars for a better view I was immediately struck by the broad white supercilium (eyestripe) that is a giveaway ID feature of firecrest. The bronze shoulder patches and golden crown also clearly stood out in the gloomy light as the bird flitted closer.
Time for a photo, I thought, getting my camera ready, but the bird had different ideas and zipped across the path. I spied it again in a low bramble and slowly approached closer, but a photo proved impossible as it stayed towards the back of the bush. Amazingly, as I tried to locate this tiny bird through my viewfinder as it moved among the foliage, I realised that it was gettign closer...and closer. Suddenly it popped into the open just 18 inches from my kneecap! Inevitably, it just as quickly flew off behind the nearest oak tree before I could react, so you'll have to have another chance to admire Les Cater's stunning photograph of a firecrest from three years ago.
The North Bushes is also the best place to see bullfinches, and turning around from watching the firecrest, I was alerted to the presence of five of these chunky finches by their distinctive white rumps as two males and three females flew from the nearest bramble to patch to an adjacent oak. The males' bright pink breasts added another welcome touch of colour to the gloom - as did the green woodpecker that quickly excited stage left.
Elsewhere around the reserve, there were plenty of other exciting sightings to keep visitors and volunteers entertained. Two otters, a bittern, two goosanders, a couple of snipe and several marsh harriers were among the highlights at Island Mere, and a great white egret flew over the reedbed near Bittern Hide. The family of seven whooper swans remains, while a Caspian gull was just one of six gull species on the Scrape. Three avocets, several black-tailed godwits and large flocks of ducks are also still on the Scrape.
Finally, the visitor centre feeders are teeming with activity as flocks of blue, great, coal and marsh tits, chaffinches and goldfinches vie with pheasants, magpies, robins and grey squirrels for their share of the food.
A cheeky grey squirrel that didn't avoid the camera in North Bushes
ACT NOW to help protect Minsmere
Between 4 January and 29 March 2019, EDF Energy is consulting on their plans for Sizewell C nuclear power plant to be built next to the southern edge on Minsmere nature reserve. This development has the potential to cause significant harm to Minsmere's precious habitats and wildlife if EDF fails to ensure their plans keep Minsmere safe. The RSPB is asking people who know and love Minsmere to tell EDF it must be protected from harm. To add your voice to our call for EDF to protect this special place with our quick and simple e-action, visit loveminsmere.org
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