Guest blog by Matt Livesey, Minsmere Intern

All photos by Matt Livesey

My first autumn spent in Suffolk has been a special one. I began my role as residential conservation intern at Minsmere at the beginning of October, and living at the heart of a nature reserve really is a magical experience.

Within my first week I saw stone-curlew and Dartford warbler, as well as the first whooper swans of the autumn briefly stopping by the East Scrape on 8 October. I caught up with a bittern for only the second time (the first being back home at Amwell Nature Reserve) on one of my first work parties at Dingle Marshes. Meanwhile at Minsmere, up to 11 hobbies filled the sky as we cut back the reeds in front of the Bittern Hide.

Being a dedicated wildlife photographer, the opportunities to photograph species rarely found in my home county of Hertfordshire are endless. I am also able to take opportunities to photograph more common but often unreliable species at short notice just by benefit of being on the reserve 24/7. During my first few days exploring the reserve, I came across an exceptionally confiding wheatear feeding on the dunes and returned several times to photograph it. If I laid down, it would come up to with 3 metres of me!

 

 Wheatear

I quickly prioritised trying to get images of the Dartford warbler, being a species that is non-existent in Hertfordshire, with the exception of the odd wanderer passing through every now and again. The benefit of being here in winter also meant that I could spend time with them outside of the breeding season, when they must not be disturbed due to their Schedule 1 status. I spent a fair few sunrises on the dunes at Minsmere trying to catch up with them, and often used the prominently perched stonechats as “marker posts” to guide me to the gorse bushes that the associating Dartford warblers would often be found in.

Dartford warbler

Within a few weeks of arriving, the warm early-autumn sunshine was replaced with chillier and damper weather. This heralded the emergence of a multitude of fungi species around the reserve. I’m always on the lookout for fly agaric to photograph in the autumn. Unfortunately, back home there few birch woodlands local to me to find them in. After spotting the odd few around the reserve, I stumbled across a fairy ring of what must have been between 80-100 in the woodland behind my accommodation. I wish I’d had a drone to be able to photograph the sheer scale of it, but did enjoy photographing lots of the individual mushrooms. Nearby I also found some amethyst deceiver.

  

 Fly agaric (above) and amethyst deceiver

As the nights began to draw in, I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to continue my photography after my working hours during the week, and so spent most of November building, squirrel-proofing and badger-proofing a winter bird feeding station that I can spend time at in the morning before work. Since it was finished in early December (after several prototypes were wrecked by badgers!) it has been attracting a good variety of species including blue tit, great tit, coal tit, marsh tit, long-tailed tit, chaffinch, robin and great spotted woodpecker. I’ve also seen a brambling flitting about in the trees behind it so I very much hope it discovers the food soon, as they are an awkward species to photograph that I would very much like to get shots of. The most exciting moment so far however has been a sparrowhawk swooping in and perching right in front of my hide - the ominous tail-off in bird activity foreshadowing its appearance.

  

Sparrowhawk

As autumn now turns to winter, an arrival of the so-called “grey geese” (white-fronted, pink-footed and bean) has descended upon Suffolk. At Minsmere, up to 70 Eurasian white-fronted geese have joined the flock of feral barnacle geese and are often found in the small field opposite the Chapel Field. This is a species I’ve always found very hard to photograph, as they are rarely confiding without the cover of a hide (unfortunately in public hides I can never really achieve the eye level angle I like to shoot from). Indeed, I got absolutely sodden from an unsuccessful attempt to photograph the birds at Minsmere. Luckily, I had more luck with a flock near Theberton, where I was able to pull up in the car and then crawl along the roadside verge behind the cover of some brambles. 

A family of white-fronted geese (two young, left) with two adults

As midwinter approaches, I’m looking forward to continuing to explore and get to know all the different parts of the reserve. Just after the New Year and into February is one of my favourite times of year, as the winter wildlife spectacles on show stave of the January blues! 

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