It was touch-and-go whether we would go out with an unsettled weather forecast, but just 15 minutes before our start time the rainclouds cleared, and a beautiful double rainbow appeared over the scrape.
We started through the woodland looking for signs of badgers, some lovely lilac bonnet fungi and a little herd of red deer – which our sharp-eyed youngsters picked out from the bushes. It’s always surprising just how well camouflaged these animals are, especially as they are the UK’s largest land mammal.
Navigating the puddles towards South Hide we spotted a patrolling marsh harrier and then with excitement a peregrine swooped past at low level before flying up to perch in the trees by Bittern Hide. It had obviously spotted something interesting as it came past us again, and just around the corner we spotted a likely candidate – starlings.
In the last couple of years we’ve had some good starling roosts and murmurations along the Suffolk Coast, but it’s still quite early to see a big display as we haven’t had the right winds to bring in the masses from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. We watched the birds dropping into the puddles to bathe and drink, but as we slowly approached it became clear that there was an awful lot more of them sitting in the bushes and reedbed by South Hide, a rough count put them around 1,000 in number. The peregrine stirred them again and all at once the whole flock took to the air, wheeling low over the reeds for about ten minutes before they fell back into the tall reeds on the Levels. Will they return in greater numbers tonight?
As the light faded we arrived at the Sluice, a good viewpoint to look across the Levels. This is when I decided to cheat a little bit, and had brought along a thermal imaging monocular to make it a bit easier to pick out our nocturnal residents. It didn’t take long to spot the konik ponies grazing in their field, another larger herd of red deer grazing by the ruins of the old Leiston Abbey chapel, and it was here that we saw our superstar – the barn owl.
Barn owls can be hard to find at Minsmere, as they like the grasslands on the South Levels perimeter or the heathland closer to Westleton, so it was fantastic to see one quartering the fields around the red deer herd as it looked for voles and mice.
The Sluice is a good location to find bats, especially Daubenton’s bats which like to hunt over the wetlands and we had several low flypasts on the walk back towards the woodland. With our trusty bat detectors to listen out for the bat’s distinctive clicks we also identified soprano pipistrelles and possibly a serotine on the edge of the woodland. Minsmere also holds populations of noctule, common pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats.
Altogether a thoroughly good walk with some lovely people and some special species.
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