Well, that headline has probably got your attention.
We've talked about Minsmere's lions before - antlions, that is. But that's not the subject of today's blog, although form the number of larval pits outside the Visitor Centre it looks like it's been a good year for them.
No, on this occasion I'm talking about a trio of rare birds of prey that were seen in Minsmere's skies yesterday. First up was a beautiful Long-eared Owl that was roosting in a pine tree in the North Bushes until disturbed by a flock of mobbing songbirds. It was then seen by some of the Waveney Bird Club ringers as it flew inland early morning, and sadly couldn't be relocated. But how does that fit with the headline, I hear you ask? Well, Long-eared Owls are often known by birdwatchers as LEOs, and Leo is the scientific name for Lion (Panthera leo). So that's the Lion!
Long-eared owl - this one was more obliging a few years ago
Next up came reports from visitors that they had seen a White-tailed Eagle being mobbed over the reedbed, seen distantly from the Public Viewing Platform. Not long after these early reports came in, there was a second sighting, this time watch flying north towards Dunwich by some of the Waveney Bird Club ringers. Despite being such enormous birds, White-tailed Eagles can be surprisingly difficult to spot as they often soar so high that they're easy to miss without using binoculars. What was presumably the same eagle was seen again in Suffolk today, with reports over nearby Dunwich then further north up the coast towards Lowestoft.
A White-tailed Eagle that flew a bit lower two years ago
Many eyes, including mine, were now trained on the skies, where we were treated to several Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels, including several Buzzards that were displaying. Then the radios crackled into life again as the Waveney Bird Club ringers struck lucky for the third time with views of a Goshawk powering over the North Bushes. Seconds earlier, I had been scanning that very patch of sky and seen what I had initially assumed to be a large female Sparrowhawk - a much more likely species at Minsmere. The timing was too much of a coincidence. I realised that I had just seen a Goshawk at Minsmere for only the third time - I've seen more White-tailed Eagles here than that!
Clearly, yesterday provided the perfect conditions for raptor migration. The owl was definitely a new arrival. The Goshawk was flying inland, suggesting that it too had just arrived. The eagle may also be a continental bird, or could be a wandering bird from the Isle of Wight population. Either way, it was a great bird.
It wasn't only big birds of prey on the move yesterday. The first Snow Bunting of the year was on the beach, and it may go down in history as Lesser Redpoll day. So many of the small, scarce finches were migrating the more than 100 were ringed during yesterday's ringing demonstration. It would be great if some of these are recaptured on the wintering grounds, or better still where they breed next spring, to give us more information about where these birds can be found. I also saw a Goldcrest being ringed, suggesting that one or two of these tiny birds might also be arriving on our shores.
Lesser Redpoll by Terry Proctor, from our archives
While some birds are arriving, others are now leaving, with very few recent sightings of Swallows or House Martins (they seem to have left early this year!) just the odd Wheatear in the dunes. Wader migration is winding down, too. There are still one or two Ruffs, Green Sandpipers and Bar-tailed Godwits with the Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits on the Scrape, and a late Little Stint was seen earlier in the week. More unusually, at least 21 Avocets are still on the Scrape - they've usually all moved to the estuary by now. In contrast, there are increasing numbers of ducks, especially Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler on the Scrape.
Apart from Marsh Harriers, a few Hobbies are still hawking dragonflies over the reedbed, and Bearded Tits are very vocal around South Hide and Island Mere. They tend to be easier to see in the early mornings, though. Cetti's warblers are easily heard around Bittern Hide, where our wardens and volunteers have been busy cutting reeds and willows to open up the views this week. One or two Little and Great Crested Grebes and Pochards remain at Island Mere, and Bitterns continue to put in occasional appearances.
Bitterns are far from the only herons around though. Little Egrets and Grey Herons are both easy to see on the Scrape, several Great Egrets remain in the reedbed, and two Cattle Egrets have taken up residence on the South Levels, where two Common Cranes were seen during the week. Kingfishers also continue to be seen on a regular basis from various hides.
Finally, the pond continues to draw many visitors' attention, with the Water Voles still putting on a good show, Grass Snakes seen regularly, and good numbers of Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies remaining.
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