There was a noticeable drop in the temperature this morning, resulting in ice on my birdbath for the first time this winter. After scraping the frost off the car windows, I was tempted to stop several times on my drive to work, such was the incredible light across the Suffolk countryside.
As i reached Minsmere, the temperature was still falling, so it was little surprise to hear that part of East Scrape were frozen this morning, or that the North Bushes were, once again, full of migrant thrushes: redwings, fieldfares and continental blackbirds.
These thrushes, many of which will have arrived from Scandinavia overnight, are busy feeding on the rapidly diminishing crop of berries, particularly hawthorn. I say diminishing, but there is one bush towards the far end of the North Bushes trail that seems to have as many berries now as it did six weeks ago. Is it more exposed than the others, so birds are more easily disturbed. It's certainly stands alone, rather than in a cluster of other bushes, and it's adjacent to the path. Whatever the reason, it looked absolutely stunning in the low late afternoon sun.
Hawthorn is an important food resource for many birds and small mammals at this time of year, as its firm red berries remain on the trees much longer than the softer fruits, such as blackberry, elderberry or guelder rose, that have already succumbed to the cold.
If you don't have a good beery bush in you garden, it's worth finding a local supply of windfall apples or pears and spiking them onto branches in the hop of attracting flocks of thrushes, starlings, or even waxwings. There haven't been many of the latter in Suffolk yet this winter, but there are some good sized flocks farther north, so it may prove to be a good waxwing winter.
It wasn't only thrushes in the North Bushes, either, as our guides reported goldcrests, a firecrest, bullfinches, goldfinches and flocks of tits this morning, as well as green woodpecker and Cetti's warbler. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the firecrest when I headed out this afternoon.
Next stop was North Marsh, where the light was amazing. The reeds almost glowed orange in the low sun, and the complete lack of wind made for perfect reflections in the dyke. I spotted a grey heron feeding in the ditch, where our guides had seen the regular great white egret again this morning. A female stonechat fed along the North Wall, too.
The light was superb over the sea, too, with the tops of the breakers reflecting the orange sun. I've rarely had a better view of Southwold from Minsmere.
I could see a large raft of common gulls settling down to roost on the sea, but earlier one of our volunteers, Michael, was lucky enough to see a shag passing by - this is a very rare sighting at Minsmere, with only one or two records per year. There was also a huge flock of common scoters in the distance off Dunwich, and a steady passage of red-throated divers this morning.
Farther along the beach, sightings today included two Dartford warblers and three turnstones near the sluice.
The ice on East Scrape, combined with a rise in water levels following last week's heavy rain, meant that wader numbers have fallen noticeably. There was no sign of the last remain avocet this morning, and only four black-tailed godwits, three dunlins, a handful of snipe (compared to 100 over the weekend), with even lapwing numbers being lower than of late. The ducks were all still present and correct, though and I was greeted on my arrival at East Hide by the familiar whistling of wigeon grazing in front of the Public Viewpoint.
The most notable sighting on the Scrape today was a pair of Bewick's swans that arrived late morning and spent the afternoon asleep. It's likely that they had flown here from the Netherlands or Denmark on the latest stage of their long migration from Siberia. The seven whooper swans (two adults and five young) were seen on the pool behind South hide again, before flying north over the Scrape and on towards Dingle Marshes as dusk approached.
As I sat in East Hide enjoying the setting sun, I also watched a small group of starlings gathering to bathe, until they were spooked by two hunting marsh harriers. About 200 starlings eventually but a tiny mini murmuration, but there is still no sign of the main flock arriving at Minsmere. They came in mid January last year, so we're hoping for a repeat performance.
I didn't get any father around the reserve, but our guides also had a good morning at Island Mere, where a bittern fed close to the hide, two whooper swans were seen (were they part of the seven, or different birds) and at least seven marsh harriers hunted. Three otters continue to be seen regularly, too, while a red admiral braved the winter sun yesterday.
One of the other highlights of the last week has been hearing the regularly dueting of tawny owls in South Belt just after dark. They've also been heard a few times during the day, especially around the Rhododendron Tunnel, where a small of siskins may also be spotted.
I had hoped to spot a woodcock as darkness faded, since the first visitors around the trails in the mornings have seen a few this week, but I wasn't lucky on this occasion. I was, however, pleased with this picture of the new moon rising.
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