It's been a strange autumn. After the unusually mild September, we've had variable weather to start October, though falling overnight temperatures are finally giving the suggestion that winter isn't too far away. Autumn is typically a time to admire nature's colours in all their glory: crimson hawthorn berries and rosehips adorning bushes, juicy purple sloes hanging in the hedgerows, leaves turning from green to every shade of gold, orange and brown, and wonderful pink and orange sunsets bringing a glorious end to another beautiful walk around the reserve.

If there is one thing better than enjoying a stunning Minsmere sunset, it's watching huge flocks of starlings wheeling around in a balletic display against the backdrop of an orange sky, the setting sun reflecting on the water, as clouds turn a deep purple. The sight of 20 000 starlings is spectacular enough. The sound of the wind whooshing through thousands of wings as the birds twist and turn low overhead simply adds another level to the display, then as the birds descend to roost in the reeds a constant twitter pervades the gathering gloom until, suddenly...Silence!

Minsmere's murmuration is currently viewable from about 5.15 pm onwards, and is best seen around the South Hide/Konik Field area, though you can also watch from the dunes, Bittern Hide, or more distantly from the North Wall, before the birds roost behind South Hide. Don't forget to allow yourself time to walk to your chosen viewing area, where plenty of warm clothing - you could be standing around for up to an hour - and adjust the timings for the gradually progressing earlier arrival of dusk each day.

We hope the starlings will continue to gather at Minsmere for several more weeks, but once the peregrines, sparrowhawks and marsh harriers discover them, they may move off elsewhere, so if you'd like to witness of our natures greatest spectacles, get yourself along to Minsmere ASAP.

Until the end of October you can also enjoy another of our not to be missed natural spectacles: the annual red deer rut. The deep-throated bellows can be heard over long distances as the stags posture and strut for the attention of the females, hoping to mate with as big a hareem as possible. As mentioned in my last blog, you can watch the action from the footpath that runs along the southern edge of Westleton Heath (please walk from the Natural England car on Westleton Heath to avoid blocking our entrance road) or for the ultimate red deer viewing experience why not book one of the few remaining 4x4 red deer safaris (very limited availability, so hurry and book). You can find full details at www.events.rspb.org.uk/minsmere.

Autumn should be a good time for spotting fungi, though the warm, dry weather in September has delayed their emergence this year to the extent that I have yet to see any parasols - usually our most obvious fungi - never mind the white-spotted red caps of fly agaric. I did, however, notice that the first tiny nests of common bird's nest fungus were starting to emerge near the pond earlier in the week.

Another autumn phenomena is migration, and this week has seen the first noticeable arrival of winter thrushes - redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds - from Scandinavia, as well as a gorgeous male brambling feeding beneath the feeders at the visitor centre. Goldcrests are starting to appear, but there have been no reports at Minsmere yet this autumn of any of the scarcer warblers, such as yellow-browed warbler.

Offshore there has been a steady stream of dark-bellied brent geese, various ducks, a few waders and the odd skua or shearwater passing by, while on Wednesday I enjoyed incredibly close views of a full summer plumage red-throated diver just a couple of metres offshore near the sluice.

Perhaps the most notable bird this week was a cattle egret that has been seen on both the Scrape and Levels at times, though it seems to favour the grazing marshes at Eastbridge, just off the reserve. Just a few years ago, this would have been a major rarity. In fact, 30 years ago even seeing a little egret was a red-letter day, yet now it's possible to see little, cattle and great white egrets on the same day at several sites in the UK!

Cattle egret (above) and little egret (below) for comparison. Both photos by Steve Everett

On the Scrape, the most numerous birds are teal and barnacle geese, with good numbers of wigeon, gadwall, shoveler, mallard, shelduck, greylag and Canada geese also present. Along with lapwing and black-tailed godwit, the pick of the waders have been a late curlew sandpiper and three green sandpipers. In the reedbed, bearded tits continue to show very well at times, while bitterns, marsh harriers and hobbies remain more elusive. Time and patience are definitely the name of the game if you want to spot them.

Finally, it's a great time to spot two of our most popular woodland birds. Jays are roaming far and wide in search of food following a failure in the acorn crop this year, and that might also help to explain why a couple of nuthatches are spending so much time around the feeders at the visitor centre.

What will you find this autumn?

Jay by Steve Everett

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