After the glorious late summer weather over the weekend, it was a bit of a shock to the system to wake up to dull, wet and windy weather this morning as autumn arrived with a vengeance.
In fact, it has been looking more and more autumnal over recent days even before the change in the weather. As I sit in the office I can see beech trees with golden leaves standing out among the dark green oaks, while bramble bushes are heavily laden with blackberries and deep red berries are ripening on the hawthorn hedges.
The last of the summer migrants are still passing through, with common and lesser whitethroats around the North Bushes and the occasional whinchat or wheatear in the dunes. A redstart was around the car park at the weekend, too. Our local swallows and house martins have left early this year, but small flocks can still be seen passing through on most days. Hobbies remain in good numbers though, with up to five hunting dragonflies (mostly migrant hawkers and common darters) over Island Mere and Whin Hill.
An obvious sign of the encroaching autumn has been the regular passage of flocks of meadow pipits this week, including a notable flock of 50 feeding on South Scrape one morning. One or two skylarks and linnets have been mixed in with these flocks, and the Waveney Bird Club ringed a grey wagtail last Thursday - the first one they've ringed at Minsmere.
The first fieldfares have been seen in Suffolk this week, and we expect the arrival of redwings, bramblings and siskins any day, so it is certainly worth arriving early for a stroll around the newly opened North Bushes Trail to see what migrants may have arrived (please note that this trail will be closed on Thursdays for the ringing demonstrations). This is also a good place to see bullfinches, especially early in the morning.
Another place where the changing seasons are obvious is the sea. Our guides are reporting small skeins of dark-bellied brent geese passing by on most mornings, on route from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas on the estuaries of Essex, Sussex and Hampshire. We've also seen the first red-throated divers, eiders and common scoters passing by offshore, as well as one or two Arctic and great skuas. A Manx shearwater this morning was real bonus for one of our intrepid seawatchers, while a visitor spotted a harbour porpoise yesterday.
A walk along the dunes may also be rewarded with sightings of stonechats, Dartford warblers and great green bush-crickets in the gorse scrub, or small flocks of linnets, greenfinches and reed buntings feeding among the shingle.
Wader migration is still ticking along, with two curlew sandpipers, two little stints and both green and common sandpipers seen on the Scrape throughout the week and the long-staying pectoral sandpiper continuing to favour the Konik Field until yesterday. Our guides haven't seen it today, but the pools in that field are also a good place to see snipe, water rail and bearded tits. Bearded tits are also best seen early in the morning.
A typically camouflaged snipe photographed close to East Hide by my 10 year old son, Thomas
The latter three species can also be seen around the margins of the Scrape, but the little egrets feeding on West Scrape may be easier to spot. Up to 30 avocets remain on the Scrape - good numbers for this late in the year - as do a few dunlins and black-tailed godwits. One or two pintails have been seen among the growing flocks of wigeons, teals, gadwalls, shovelers and shelducks. Many of the ducks have now acquired their full plumage again too. The most numerous birds on the Scrape, though, are the feral geese, with up to 400 greylags present as well as varying numbers of Canada and barnacle geese.
Some of the greylags come very close to the hides
Out in the reedbed we're still getting regular sightings of bitterns in flight, especially at Island Mere, as well as at least six marsh harriers. Other birds of prey to look for include kestrels, sparrowhawks, common buzzards and peregrines. Otters are seen most days, usually at Island Mere.
We know that many visitors would like to know when we plan to cut the vegetation in front of both Island Mere and Bittern Hide. This work cannot take place before 1 October under the terms of our Countryside Stewardship agreements, due to the possibility of late nesting reedbed birds, and then we'll cut it as soon as water levels have receded enough to allow easy access.
With the red deer rut about to start, don't forget to pay a visit to Westleton Heath to catch a glimpse of the action. Please ask for directions at reception. Please note, too, that our popular 4x4 safaris have been fully booked for several weeks. If you'd like to book one for next year, please check our events pages from 1 July when bookings will open.
Finally, if you are visiting on Thursday, please note that the shop will be closed from 2 pm for a full stock-take. The cafe will remain open as usual, as will all other facilities, and the shop will re-open as usual on Friday morning.
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