If you've been visiting Minsmere over the past couple of weeks, you'll probably have noticed a lot of work happening on the Scrape. In particular, you may have encountered a dumper truck loaded with shingle on the Sluice track, or a digger moving that shingle around on South Scrape. You may have wondered what's been going on.

We've been preparing the islands on the Scrape ready for next spring. By spreading more shingle onto the four long thin islands in front of the Public Viewing Platform, we've created the perfect habitats for the nesting terns and gulls when they return next year. In particular, we hope that this might attract little terns to nest alongside the common and Sandwich terns and avocets. These all prefer to nest on bare stony ground, whilst the black-headed gulls are happy to use the other vegetated islands elsewhere on the Scrape.

The shingle before it was spread out. Photo by Louise Chapman

This important habitat management work is part of our Life on the Edge project, a large-scale funding initiative that is funding multiple landscape-scale RSPB projects across the country. Further habitat enhancement work will be undertaken on the Scrape next autumn as part of Life on the Edge.

You may have also have noticed an area of concrete that has been laid to the north of East Hide. This is in preparation for the expansion of the hide, allowing more birdwatchers to enjoy the incredible birdwatching spectacle on East Scrape. We anticipate construction work to take place in February. This is the first phase of an exciting project that will include the construction of a new accessible path between North Wall and East Hide, allowing all visitors to reach East Hide. This project is funded by the National Grid Landscape Enhancement Initiative, Waveney Bird Club, and legacy donations, and we hope to start work on the new path in autumn 2022.

Our wardens and volunteers are now working mainly in the reedbed or on the heath. In the reedbed, the main work at the moment is to remove some of the scrub that is encroaching, helping to keep the reedbed in the perfect condition for birds such as bearded tits, marsh harriers, bitterns and reed warblers.

Even with all of the management work going on, there were still plenty of birds to watch on the Scrape. As usual at this time of year, ducks dominate the sightings, with several hundred ducks present of at least five species: teal, mallard, gadwall, wigeon, shoveler, shelduck and pintail. Most of the greylag, barnacle and Canada geese are now feeding off the reserve during the day but often come to roost in the evening.

Pintails by Steve Everett

Winter is not typically a good time for watching waders, which tend to be limited to lapwings, black-tailed godwits and snipe, plus a small flock of curlews coming to roost at dusk. However, this week has been quite a good week for waders with up to 100 black-tailed godwits, 30 curlews and 12 dunlins seen, as well as a green sandpiper yesterday, up to seven avocets and the odd turnstone. There have also been several sightings of woodcocks, usually flushed from the dunes or woodland, but occasionally even seen flying in over the sea.

Woodcock by Clare Carter

Other birds to look for on the Scrape include little egrets, grey herons, moorhens, pied wagtails and meadow pipits, with the possibility of spotting a water pipit too. 

Whilst walking around the Coast Trail, it's also worth keeping your eyes peeled along the dunes, where there are regular sightings of stonechats and Dartford warblers in the gorse and brambles, or meadow pipits, reed buntings and a few snow buntings on the shingle beach. Also look out for bearded tits, which are very active along the path between the sluice and Wildlife Lookout.

Bearded tits, bitterns and marsh harriers are also regularly seen at Island Mere and Bittern Hide. All of the same duck species as on the Scrape are also seen at Island Mere, along with coots and a few little grebes, while a single whooper swan has been seen alongside the mute swans on several dates this week.

In the woods, the main interest is roving flocks of tits and finches, including a couple of small siskin flocks (the alders by the pond seem popular at the moment) and the odd brambling of bullfinch. Green and great spotted woodpeckers and jays are possibly almost anywhere, while the visitor centre feeders continue to attract marsh and coal tits and up to four nuthatches, And, of course, don't forget to check for fungi around the woodland.

Nuthatch by Ian Barthorpe