What a strange week we've had for the first week since the lifting of the stay at home guidance. What started out as a couple of days that felt more like midsummer than early spring, has ended with a return to winter as northerly winds grip the east coast. What's more, it looks like we're in for some even colder weather early next week, with the chance of some wintry showers. That's not good news for the butterflies and bees that emerged during the sunshine at the start of the week, or the early spring migrants that have arrived.

Before I get onto the sightings in a bit more detail, though, here's a quick recap of what's open, and what's not. Please remember that the government guidance is still to stay local and minimise journeys where necessary. Unfortunately this means that some of you will have to wait a little longer until you can visit us.

So, what's open?

Car park - dawn to dusk

Meet and greet 9 am to 5 pm. Half price entry for non members (adults £4.50, children £2.50), free for members. All visitors must now leave their details for Track and Trace - sign in to the NHS App if possible.

Toilets - 9 am - 5 pm

Cafe grab and go - 10 am - 4 pm (please note, there is no seating available indoors or outdoors). The menu includes hot and cold drinks, snacks, sandwiches, scones and cakes.

Nature trails - dawn to dusk.

Public viewpoint - dawn to dusk.

What's closed?

Shop - due to open 12 April

Cafe seating area

Hides - hopefully open from 17 May. (This includes the photography area beneath Island Mere Hide).

Full entry fees from 17 May when all facilities are open.

What's been seen? 

Sand martins have returned in good numbers and can usually be seen feeding over Island Mere during the day. While it remains cold they may delay the excavation of their burrows for a little while. One or two swallows have been seen this week too.

Sand martin by Steve Everett

The first sedge warblers and blackcaps have returned to joined the growing numbers of chiffchaffs singing around the reserve. Cetti's warblers are in full song and great spotted woodpeckers can be heard drumming in the woods.

Other smaller migrants seen this week have included a black redstart in North Bushes on Tuesday, one or two wheatears in the dunes and two firecrests in the Sluice Bushes.

The warm weather early in the week also brought out several comma, brimstone and red admiral butterflies, buff-tailed bumblebees and mining bees, including what may be the first reserve records of early colletes bees near the sand martin nest bank. You can see a video of them here. Adders, too, have been seen in various places, and if they are showing there is usually a guide helping you spot them in the North Bushes.  

Spring has definitely returned on the Scrape, where numbers of avocets are increasing daily. Several pairs of Mediterranean gulls can be found among the hordes of black-headed gulls, with lots of courtship behaviour from the latter. Up to six Sandwich terns have been present for a few days, and a lovely first summer little gull (born last spring) has been seen for the last couple of days. The first ruff of the spring passed through yesterday, as did a couple of grey plovers, and there are now several black-tailed godwits present as well as several pairs of redshanks, lapwings and oystercatchers. 

Although most of the duck species do also breed here, numbers are always highest in winter when birds that breed in Siberia and Scandinavia join them on the Scrape, so numbers of wigeon, teal and pintail have declined noticeably in the last couple of weeks. Gadwall and shoveler are more numerous, and both can be seen displaying alongside the more familiar mallards. These, and other birds on the Scrape, can be seen from the dunes, Public Viewpoint and path near South Hide, although binoculars are highly recommended and a telescope is very useful.

If you look carefully among the ducks, you might even spot one of the two drake garganeys that have returned. This scarce duck is unusual in being the only species of duck that is a summer visitor to the UK, which has earned it the nickname of cricket teal.

Garganey AKA cricket teal. Photo by Ian Barthorpe

One of the most obvious birds on the reserve at the moment is the marsh harrier, with several pairs indulging in their switchback sky-dancing display above the reedbed, or causing chaos as they cruise across the Scrape. Hidden within the reeds you should hear, but probably not see, the bittern, whose booming call carries for several kilometres on a calm day, or the squealing call of a water rail. You can scan Island Mere from the boardwalk to the hide, or, more distantly, from Whin Hill, and there you might spot a pair of displaying great crested grebes, a handful of pochards alongside the tufted ducks, or perhaps an otter surfacing on the mere. Look out in the reedbed, also, for both little and great white egrets, especially as they fly from one pool to another.

Marsh harrier by Jon Evans

Finally, late March saw the arrival of several rare visitors to Minsmere, including at least three sightings of white-tailed eagles, a common crane, raven and several red kites. The eagles were particularly impressive, especially the one that drifted low over the visitor centre. That one appeared to be a wild bird, trying to return to Scandinavia via the shortest sea crossing, but at least one of the others was a bird from the re-introduction scheme on the Isle of Wight. These youngsters are wandering around several English counties as they explore in their youth, and will hopefully settle to breed back on the Isle of Wight once they reach five or six years old!

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