Yesterday, 2 February, was World Wetlands Day. This is one of the most dates in the conservation calendar as it celebrates the signing of the RAMSAR Convention on the protection of wetlands of international importance. This international agreement was first signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar on 2 February 1971, and there are now more than 2400 sites across the world that have been declared as RAMSAR sites, of which Minsmere is just one.

RAMSAR sites are important, not just of the significant populations of wetland birds that live in them, but also because wetlands provide people with access to food and clean water, as well as helping to fight climate change - providing we value them and don't destroy them.

The RSPB has been managing Minsmere now for 75 years, providing a variety of different wetland habitats, including freshwater reedbed, brackish lagoons (the Scrape) and lowland wet grassland (the Levels). These, in turn, are home to hundreds of different birds, mammals, invertebrates, plants and fish.

What's more, many of these wetland birds, in particular, fly thousands of miles each year, visiting Minsmere for just a part of their lives. Without this vital stopover, many would struggle to complete their annual migrations as Minsmere provides both a refuelling stop and safe roosting site. 

Here are just a few examples of how far some birds have flown to be with us right now.

Bewick's swans - a flock of 11 landed on Island Mere last night. The nearest breeding colony is on the Tamyr Peninsula, Siberia, more than 3500 km away

Whooper swan - a flock of seven were still on the pool behind South Hide yesterday. They breed in Iceland

Wigeon, teal, pintail, shoveler and even mallard may have flown more than 3000 km from Russia to winter here

Goosander (up to 30) and goldeneye (two females on Island Mere) may have bred in Scotland or Scandinavia

Black-tailed godwits - the birds the visit Minsmere breed in Iceland and some may have travelled all the way to West Africa for the winter

Ringed plover - the first returning birds of the spring were seen yesterday. These may have moved from estuaries in SW England, but some will head as far as West Africa

Lesser yellowlegs - one continues to move between Lucky Pool and the South Levels (where it is tricky to find), having flown here from North America!

Redwing, fieldfare and siskin all winter in the UK and breed in Scandinavia. 

Of course, many of wetland birds are resident, or only move locally within the UK, including bitterns, bearded tits, marsh harriers and avocets. Others, like our swallows, sand martins, reed and sedge warblers, will still be in Africa preparing to start the long arduous journey north to Minsmere.

We also had a surprise visit from another long distance traveller this week, though most of the staff, volunteers and visitors failed to spot it. G463 is an immature white-tailed eagle. Released on the Isle of Wight in summer 2020 as part of a reintroduction programme for this majestic bird of prey, he grabbed the headlines in April 2021 when his GPS tracking device showed that he had crossed the Channel from Dungeness in Kent to northern France. This was the first time an eagle released in the UK had made the short crossing to Europe. From there he headed north to Germany and Denmark, to an area that has a healthy population of white-tailed eagles. Wanderlust soon took over, and G463's travels took him back south into France, before he returned to Germany for the rest of last summer. You can read more about these travels here.

White-tailed eagles are long-lived birds and don't breed until they are at least five years old, so it is not unusual for young birds to roam around and explore new areas. Other birds from the Isle of Wight have visited Scotland, the Peak District and North Norfolk - where Michaela Strachan saw G461 whilst filming for BBC Winterwatch last month. It was therefore expected that G463 would eventually return to the UK, and last Thursday afternoon his GPS reading showed that he was in Minsmere airspace. Despite their size, white-tailed eagles can be difficult to spot as they either soar at a great height or perch to rest in woodland, and G463 wasn't actually seen at Minsmere until Sunday morning. After being spotted by birdwatchers at various sites between here and the Blyth Estuary, he returned south and roosted on Westleton Heath. After leaving his roost early on Monday morning, he has once again disappeared. Will he return?

One of last year's white-tailed eagle sightings

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