After last week's sightings blog in which I celebrated the arrival of spring, this week has seen the weather take a step backwards towards winter. Thick fog made birdwatching very challenging on Monday, and today has brought regular snow, sleet and hail showers and gusty north-easterly wind that made it feel particularly cold outside.
Given this wintry weather, it should, perhaps, not come as a surprise to hear that the pair of smew have been relocated at Island Mere, alongside two whooper swans and two pochards. Another visitor from the Arctic was found on Tuesday with a very tame snow bunting feeding in the dunes behind East Hide. So tame that it flew out from under my feet yesterday and almost hopped onto the feet of one of our volunteers! In addition, a large flock of redwings was feeding on Whin Hill yesterday and a brambling has been spotted in the woods.
Snow bunting by Les Cater
Another long-staying species that remains is the glossy ibis which now seems to be favouring the South Levels. At least six great egrets are present, too, and are best seen either on the South Levels or from Whin Hill, looking at the pools to the east of Island Mere. Several little egrets and grey herons can be seen around the reserve, and bitterns are now booming deeply around the reedbed. If you are lucky you may spot one, too.
Elsewhere within the reedbed, the Cetti's warblers are very vocal, and April is a good time to catch a glimpse of them while the vegetation remains more sparse. Bearded tits are currently best found along North Wall or around South Hide, although you are more likely to hear them than see one. Water rails are also more likely to be heard than seen. In contrast, reed bunting are easy to see now as the males are sitting high in the reeds or on nearby bushes to proclaim their territory. Little and great crested grebes can be seen displaying at Island Mere, too.
A rare sighting of a singing Cetti's warbler by Paul Lloyd
The other long-staying rarity, the lesser yellowlegs, may have moved to pastures new as it hasn't been seen since last Wednesday. It could, however, still be hiding somewhere out on the Levels. It would not be a surprise if it has migrated north, as wader migration has definitely started to pick up this week with the first reports of grey plover, bar-tailed godwit and sanderling on the Scrape alongside the more regular dunlins, black-tailed godwits and turnstones. Avocet numbers have increased notably this week, while lapwings, redshanks, oystercatchers and ringed plovers are all displaying on the Scrape.
Also on the Scrape, several Mediterranean gulls are present alongside the growing numbers of black-headed gulls, kittiwakes are starting to collect nesting material, and there is a notable passage of common gulls. The first Sandwich terns have been spotted too. A few pintails remain among the decreasing flocks of wigeons, teals and gadwalls, with shovelers and shelducks becoming more obvious.
In the woods, you are now rarely out of earshot of a singing chiffchaff, wren, robin or chaffinch. Nuthatches continue to visit the visitor centre feeders, where great spotted woodpeckers and marsh tits are also regular. The first blackcaps are back, and we may even hear the first nightingales towards the end of next week.
Chiffchaff by John Bridges (rspb-images)
The colder weather, combined with the emergence of the first females, has meant that the male adders are much harder to find this week, and there aren't as many bees or butterflies around this week.
Finally, a reminder that spring is indeed around the corner. It is great to see the blackthorn coming into flower along our entrance roads, and the gorse in the dunes smells wonderful - the scent of coconut fills the air around the vibrant yellow flowers
Why not book onto a guided walk and get our volunteers to help you to find some of these amazing species - http://www.events.rspb.org.uk/minsmere
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