There's no doubt about the bird that has been centre of attention this week. A beautiful Shore Lark was found around the dunes near the Sluice on Monday afternoon, and continues to show well in the dunes to the north of the Sluice today.
Most larks easily fit the description of "Little Brown Job," or LBJ as birdwatchers often refer to them. LBJ is a catch all term used when struggling to identify small brown birds, such as larks, pipits, warblers or sparrows. Typically they lack obvious ID features, making them harder to identify, although the term LBJ may also be used simply to refer to a bird not seen well enough to identify properly.
Shore Larks may be small and brown, but if seen well they can hardly be referred to as LBJs. Their gorgeous yellow and black face markings make them very distinctive, although they can be hard to pick out among the sand, shingle and short grass that they typically inhabit.
Shore Lark by Les Cater
Shore Larks breed in the mountains and coastal tundra of Scandinavia and Siberia and mountainous areas of SE Europe, Central Asia and Morocco. (They also breed across Arctic Canada where they are known as Horned Larks.) Northern birds are scarce winter migrants to UK coasts. They don't get seen at Minsmere every year, and typically only stay for one or two days, with October probably being the peak month for sightings. As this bird has now been around for five days it has proved to be very popular with visitors, especially as it sometimes approaches just a few metres from visitors, even sitting on the concrete tank traps, as shown in this picture, also by Les Cater.
There have been a few other LBJs around the dunes this week, too, include Wheatear, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats and Wrens, while a Rock Pipit was an unusual visitor to the Scrape today. Sightings on the Sluice outfall have also included Turnstone, Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper, while offshore there have been passing Red-throated Divers, Gannets, Common Scoters and Red-breasted Mergansers. Last weekend saw a huge passage of Brent Geese along the coast, accompanied by a variety of ducks and waders.
Apart from the Rock Pipit, highlights on the Scrape have been a couple of Spoonbills, a late Little Stint and one or two Bar-tailed Godwits and Green Sandpipers. Unusually for October, there are still around 30 Avocets feeding with the Black-tailed Godwits, and it's good to see most of the ducks finally acquiring their brightest plumage again after the post-breeding moult.
While most of these birds can be seen on East and South Scrapes, on West Scrape you can watch diggers in action as we continue to improve the habitat for breeding and passage waders and terns. As well as restoring a varied topography to West Scrape by creating deeper hollows, we're turning over islands and reprofiling the banks. This work is scheduled to continue for a few more weeks. One or two Little Egrets seem to enjoy feeding in the shallow pools created by the diggers, taking no notice of the machines working close by.
In the reedbed, Bearded Tits are definitely stealing the show, although they've not been so obvious in today's windy conditions. North Wall, Island Mere and the South Hide area are the best places to look for them. Marsh Harriers can usually be seen hunting over the reeds, and with a bit of luck or patience you might spot Bittern, Great Egret or Kingfisher flying above the reeds. There are also still a couple of Hobbies around Island Mere, and over the last few days we seen a steady passage of late Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins, especially around the North Bushes, where they've even been taking short rests.
Finally, the pond continues to be a good place to see Water Voles, Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers, as well as the occasional Grass Snake, while visitors have reported seeing Weasels, Stoats and Otters around Bittern Hide, and the red deer rut is in full swing on Westleton Heath.
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