One of the things I love most about wildlife watching is the unpredictability. Even here at Minsmere, I'm often surprised by what or see, or frustrated by what I can't find. This week has been a perfect example of this.
On Monday, having strolled around the Scrape, enjoying superb views of ducks in the sunshine, I wandered south along the dunes to look for the lesser yellowlegs on Lucky Pool. Once again I failed to spot it, but what I did see was one of the most spectacular natural displays I've seen in a long time.
As I scanned the pools on the Levels, mayhem ensued. Up to 1000 lapwings took to the air, wheeling around in a flickering flock of black and white, while flocks of teals, wigeons and other ducks scattered in all directions. It was obvious that a predator was hunting, so I wasn't surprised when a female marsh harrier glided past, banking in pursuit of a hapless, but on this occasion very lucky, teal.
Lapwings in flight
What happened next, though was a surprise. A huge female peregrine shot low across the marsh in full pursuit mode. It's target? the same teal! Somehow, it too missed, but both raptors proceeded to spend the next five minutes sweeping back and forth across the marsh. Then, for the second time, both appeared to lock onto, and miss, the same target. At this point, the peregrine turned her attention to the two carrion crows that had been watching the action from a nearby gate. Three times she swooped up and stooped into a dive, aiming at the crows. Eventually, the peregrine gave up and settled on the ground for a rest, leaving the harrier to continue her hunting alone - until a second harrier drifted in too.
With so much action from these two impressive birds of prey, it was hardly a surprise that the ducks and lapwings had relocated to other parts of the reserve, so I returned to the Scrape hides to watch flocks of pintails, wigeons, teals, gadwalls, shovelers and mallards, along with several avocets, dunlins, curlews and black-tailed godwits.
At lunchtime today, my time was more limited, but I decided to have another try to get a good look at the lesser yellowlegs. I only had 30 minutes, and it usually takes about 20 minutes to walk to Lucky Pool, so I was a man on a mission. Despite that, I spotted avocets and dunlins on South Scrape and heard bearded tits nearby on my way out, and watched whooper swans, coots and tufted ducks on the pool behind South Hide on my return walk. Typically, with time so short, I was finally rewarded with superb views of the yellowlegs - but I only time to spend a minute or so watching and photographing it!
Lesser yellowlegs - slimmer and paler than a redshank with longer bright yellow legs.
One interesting piece of behaviour has been recorded by several visitors who've watched this North American vagrant. For some reason, it seems to have taken a lot of interest in a local redshank, which it appears to mercilessly attack at times. Although I've not yet seen this behaviour, it's likely that the yellowlegs is a male and is trying to court the redshank - which is a closely related species to which it looks quite similar.
Other notable sightings this week have included a red kite this morning, firecrest in the Rhododendron Tunnel on Monday, flocks of siskins around the Rhododendron Tunnel and Whin Hill, up to three great egrets around Island Mere, whooper swans behind South Hide, up to 30 curlews on the Scrape, and a wintering chiffchaff on Monday. Bitterns, bearded tits and kingfishers continue to be seen regularly around the reedbed, with stonechats and Dartford warblers in the dunes, and nuthatch, marsh tits and great sotted woodpeckers on the feeders, while a song thrush is often in full song around the Work Centre.
Song thrush by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Finally, with the milder weather this week, there has been the odd report of a basking adder, and it would not be a surprise to hear reports of red admiral or brimstone butterflies emerging from hibernation soon.
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