It's great to have been welcome visitors back into the shop, cafe and hides since Wednesday. We've made the visitor centre feel a bit more Christmassy, with trees in reception and the cafe. This year we've also treated the birds to their own Christmas tree: we've cut down a Corsican pine from the dunes and strung a variety of fruits, nuts and fat cakes to the branches. This tree, and the adjacent feeders, continue to attract a large mix of garden and woodland birds. Blue and great tits and chaffinches are the most numerous, with several marsh and coal tits, regular pheasants, grey squirrels and magpies and an occasional goldfinch or two. The star birds here have been a couple of nuthatches and a pair of great spotted woodpeckers. A pair of sparrowhawks have also been regular. Their success rate is low, but they do cause consternation among the smaller birds.
The male sparrowhawk has often been seen perched near the feeders
Talking of Christmas, we have a few small changes to our usual visitor arrangements over the Christmas period this year. The reserve will be closed completely on Christmas Eve, as well as Christmas Day and Boxing Day. This means the nature trails, toilets and hides will be closed, as well as the visitor centre - the hides and toilets will be locked from late afternoon on Wednesday 23 December and 9 am on 27 December. In addition, the visitor centre, shop and cafe will also be closed on Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 January, although the hides and nature trails will remain open on those two days.
If you are planning a visit this week, please make sure that you bring your wellingtons with you. Last week's heavy rain has seen water levels rise noticeably and the path from South Hide to the Sluice is currently closed due to flooding. Boots are also recommended on the approach to Island Mere, though water levels have dropped a little there today.
High water levels have made a difference to the mix of birds on the Scrape, too, as some of the islands have disappeared beneath the water. Deeper water has enticed a couple of scarcer diving ducks onto East Scrape: a drake scaup and a pair of pochards looked quite at home there this afternoon. Several goosanders have regularly been coming to roost in the Scrape, too.
Drake scaup - this one was photographed a couple of year's ago when it came close to one of the hides
The commoner ducks on the Scrape are still numerous: wigeon, teal, gadwall, shoveler, mallard, pintail and shelduck. Waders, however, are restricted, as is usual at this time of year, to large flocks of lapwings (which may be feeding elsewhere during the day) and one or two snipe and turnstones, plus a few curlews that return to roost on the Scrape.
For the last few weeks there have been up to 300 cormorants resting on the Scrape throughout the day - and on Saturday and incredible count of 2300 was made offshore. However, I only saw about 20 today - the lowest count for several weeks. Gulls, too, were less numerous today, with only about 30 great black-backed gulls (down from almost 300), along with a few herring, common and black-headed gulls and a single lesser black-backed gull. There have also been several Caspian and yellow-legged gulls, especially at dusk.
Marsh harriers have been the most visible of the reedbed birds, with up to a dozen quartering over the reserve during the day. A ringtail (female or juvenile) hen harrier has been seen at dusk and early morning on a few dates recently, and both barn and short-eared owls have been seen regularly. One of the owls was obviously roosting in East Hide while the hides were closed as I found three owl pellets inside the hide when I cleaned it last week!
A barn owl was seen over Island Mere during the afternoon on Saturday. Photo by Steve Everitt
Bitterns, otters, water rails and bearded tits are also still present in the reedbed, but all are proving to be quite elusive at present. Likewise, the Cetti's warblers can be heard, but are seldom seen. Unusually for this time of year, one great crested grebe remains on Island Mere. Three whooper swans have been regular on the mere, but the Bewick's swans seem to have moved elsewhere, for now. Upto 180 white-fronted geese have sometimes been seen over the reserve - they appear to be feeding in local farmland during the day.
A small flock of siskins has been seen in the woods, especially around the rhododendron tunnel, and at least 100 goldfinches are usually feeding on the pirri-pirri-bur seeds north of the North Wall. The stonechats and Dartford warblers are still regular in the dunes, too.
We know that some of our local visitors were lucky enough to be able to enjoy watching a starling murmuration over the reedbed during the second lockdown, but sadly these appear to have relocated elsewhere just before we re-opened fully.
Finally, if you missed the recent Love Minsmere Live event, you can still watch this on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibW81_qxMb8. Please also sign our e-action to help us to ensure that Minsmere is protected in the face of the proposed construction of Sizewell C. You read more about this, and add your signature, at https://e-activist.com/page/71193/petition/1?ea.tracking.id=LMdomain - more than 22000 people have already signed, so thank you all for your support.
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