As I type this sightings update, it’s hard to believe that it’s mid May, as it feels and sounds much more like November outside. The wind is whistling through the tree canopy and rattling the windows in the hides and there’s a dampness to the air that feels very unspring-like. Quite a contrast to the start of the week!
Despite this unseasonal weather, our guides have some amazing views of bearded tits around the Island Mere boardwalk today. This is unusual as these tiny birds prefer to keep low in the reeds in windy weather.
Bearded tit by Matt Parrott
The boardwalk is a great place to watch most of the reedbed wildlife, especially as social distancing means that capacity is reduced in the hides. From here you can watch hobbies hawking for St Mark’s flies and dragonflies over the reedbed, marsh harriers quartering the reeds, or bitterns emerging for their brief flights between feeding pools.
Another good place to watch for bitterns is along the North Wall, where the raised bank gives great views across the reedbed. From there you should also hear reed, sedge and Cetti’s warblers and reed buntings singing as sand martins, swallows and swifts dash around you in pursuit of flying insects.
Other warblers are in full song in the woods – blackcap, garden warbler and chiffchaff – and along the dunes – whitethroats. The latter area is also a good place to look for Dartford warblers, but these beautiful scarce birds are easily disturbed so please watch them from a distance and move on if you hear their harsh alarm call.
The Scrape seems strangely quiet compared to recent springs as there are fewer pairs of black-headed gulls nesting and only one or two pairs of Mediterranean gulls. The kittiwakes are still collecting nesting material to take back to their nests on the Sizewell rigs though, and there are varying numbers of common, little and Sandwich terns on the Scrape. A second-year little gull has been seen a couple of times this week, too.
Common terns by Steve Everett
It’s been a generally quiet spring for wader migration too (late summer is always better for waders at Minsmere), with just small numbers of dunlins, knot, sanderlings, black- and bar-tailed godwits, whimbrels, greenshanks and turnstones seen, which made the brief sighting of a pectoral sandpiper on Tuesday all the more surprising. This wader breeds in North America and eastern Siberia, migrating south to South America in our winter. They regularly occur in the UK in the autumn but are scarcer in the spring.
In contrast to the gulls, there seem to be good numbers of avocets present, with 170 counted today. Several pairs of lapwings, redshanks and oystercatchers are nesting, too. The most obvious breeding birds on the Scrape are the geese, with several broods of greylag, Canada and barnacle geese as well as a pair of bar-headed geese that have chicks for at least the fourth year. The latter have presumably escaped from captivity somewhere in the UK or northwest Europe as in the wild they migrate between China and India.
The weather is not conducive to watching insects, but there are several species of damselflies and butterflies on the wing, as well as lots of St Mark’s flies. There’s also a good variety of spring flowers in bloom, including impressive display of bluebells in the woods.
Finally, if you are planning a visit, please remember that you will need to bring your face mask with you to use any of the buildings, including the hides and toilets, and that all adults must sign in to NHS Track and Trace. The shop and café continue to operate on reduced hours of 10 am to 4 pm, and on Thursday 27 May the visitor centre will be closed until 12 noon for staff training.
Marsh tit by Les Cater - one of the species to look out for on the feeders outside reception
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