With Storm Barra already lashing many parts of the country, and our guides reporting that the wind was rapidly picking up, I timed my stroll around the Scrape at lunchtime today to perfection. Yes, it was a little breezy along the dunes, but as I was walking north I had the worst of the wind behind me as I watched the waves rushing in and rolling up the shingle onto the dunes. Better still, the rain held off until I was almost back at the visitor centre. Now, as I type this week's sightings round up, the wind is whistling through the trees, rain is hammering down onto the office roof, and it's almost dark - despite only just turning 3 pm.

Remarkably, given how wild the weather is, it's been a great day for birdwatching. As regular readers will know, winter tends to be quite a predictable month, with six or seven species of ducks, four or five species of gull, flocks of lapwings, a few snipe, and flocks of tits and finches accounting for most of the sightings. It is not, typically, a good time to look for waders - apart from the aforementioned lapwings and snipe, a regular flock of black-tailed godwits, and a handful of curlews coming to roost in the evenings. However, rather against expectations, sightings on the Scrape also included 27 avocets (an exceptionally count for December), 15 dunlins, a redshank and a golden plover (not a common bird at Minsmere at any time of year). Even more surprisingly, I didn't actually see a lapwing today!

Golden plover by Paul Chesterfield (RSPB-images.com)

Six of the regular seven species were still present in good numbers, though pintails were strangely absent from the Scrape - this is always the scarcest of the regular species here, despite being common just down the road at RSPB North Warren. Our guides did, however, spot two female goldeneyes at Island Mere and up to 12 goosanders (only one of which was a male) flying over the mere. The three whooper swans remain on Island Mere, too, and I watched four dark-bellied brent geese fly in from the sea, think about settling on the Scrape, then continue their journey south into the teeth of the wind. This small, dark goose is typically only a migrant here at Minsmere, passing along the coast on their way to estuaries farther south.

For the more dedicated (or foolhardy) birdwatchers, stormy autumn weather means good seawatching opportunities as birds that would usually be far out to sea are blown closer to shore. That's certainly been the case over the past couple of weeks, with several reports of species that we rarely see at Minsmere. In most cases, these have been spotted as a reward for many hours spent staring through a telescope, often in inclement weather, but you never know, you might be lucky. For example, there have been several sightings of both little auk and puffin, as well as razorbill and guillemot. None of these auks are regular here, with puffins being particularly noteworthy. Sadly they don't have their brightly coloured beaks in winter though. Little auks are tiny - starling-sized - birds that breed in huge colonies in the Arctic but only rarely stray as far south as Suffolk.

Two little auks

Unfortunately, I have not managed to see any of the auks here this year, but I did spot another seabird that has occurred in higher than usual numbers recently when I found a shag riding the waves near the sluice today. This smaller, exclusively marine-dwelling relative of the cormorant prefers rocky coasts and is most likely to be seen in Suffolk sheltering in harbours, such as Lowestoft or Ipswich, after winter storms. It's only the second or third time I've seen one at Minsmere.

Other notable seabirds over the past week or so have included a great northern diver among the much more numerous red-throated divers, plus one or two eiders passing by.

The windy weather is not conducive to watching small birds, other than around the feeders. In contrast, yesterday I had a productive walk through the words, where the highlights included an impressive twittering flock of 150+ siskins, bullfinch, green woodpecker, and two gorgeous goldcrests. Most surprisingly, both of the latter were in full song, something that I don't think I've heard in midwinter before.

Goldcrest, in warmer, calmer weather

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