It's that time of year when birds are on the move, and you never quite know what to expect. That has certainly been the case over the last few days, with sightings of a very late swift and a juvenile cuckoo yesterday despite a sudden drop in temperature and a late autumn feel to the weather. 

Yesterday's cuckoo, by Clare Carter

A shift in the wind to a northeasterly on Sunday saw the arrival of a beautiful juvenile red-necked phalarope on the Scrape. This tiny wader is always a popular bird, in part due to its unusual behaviour - they swim extremely well and habitually spin like a top as they feed on tiny invertebrates. Red-necked phalaropes breed across the Arctic areas of Europe, Asia and North America, before spending our winters at sea in the vast Indian and Pacific Oceans. Recent evidence suggests that the tiny Scottish breeding population is overspill from the Greenland population, rather than Scandinavian, with "our" birds migrating all the way to the Pacific coast of South America!

Sadly the phalarope soon continued it's journey south, but another scarce wader that flew over yesterday turned out to be the "one that got away." Seen only by one very experienced birdwatcher it was one of the golden plover species, but it's call was wrong for "our" European golden plover. Whether the was an American golden plover, or more likely a Pacific golden plover, we may never know, but once again it proved the old adage to expect the unexpected.

There is still a good variety of wading birds visiting the Scrape, with one or two little stints and curlew sandpipers seen among the dunlin flock, as well as green and common sandpipers, ruffs (see photo below), little ringed plovers and up to 20 ringed plovers. About 30 avocets remain, and snipe are increasingly widespread.

Herons have been quite noticeable in the reports form our guides today, with sightings of a cattle egret on East Scrape and a great white egret over the reedbed, as well as the regular little egret, grey heron and bittern sightings. Two spoonbills were reported yesterday too.

One of the most popular birds at Minsmere is always bearded tit, and autumn is typically a good time to see them. Our volunteers reported them from several locations today, including Wildlife Lookout, South Hide, the Konik Field and Island Mere.

Bearded tits feeding on the boardwalk at Island Mere by Andrew Bennett

There have been regular sightings of otters at Island Mere and along the North Wall, while hobbies, peregrines, kestrels, sparrowhawks, buzzards and marsh harriers have all been seen this week. Another predator to keep an eye open for is the wasp spider, with several present in the dunes, but the residents of Digger Alley have now largely gone to sleep for the winter.

Finally, to return to the beginning, there are several migrants to look for still, including whinchats, wheatears, common and lesser whitethroats, blackcaps, reed warblers, swallows and house martins.

Wheatear by Jon Evans

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