It's been a glorious winter day today: clear blue skies and an absence of wind, making for the perfect conditions to enjoy a relaxing winter walk. The wildlife certainly obliged when I headed out at lunchtime, too.
But first, some excellent news. We've already had an incredible 55000 people sign our Love Minsmere e-action, helping us to fight the potentially devastating development of Sizewell C. If you haven't yet supported this extremely important campaign, please add your voice at www.loveminsmere.org
So, onto the sightings, and you don't have to walk far as the wildlife was pretty good around the visitor centre: a nuthatch continues to be a regular visitor to the feeders, alongside the flocks of blue, great, coal and marsh tits, and a great spotted woodpeckers puts in several appearances each day, too.
A stroll through the North Bushes at the moment should produce good views of redwings and blackbirds feeding on ripe hawthorn berries, while today I also watched both robins and bullfinches enjoy the same seasonally red fruits. A handful of fieldfares flew west this morning, and the large flock of goldfinches continues to feed on pirri-pirri-burr seeds in the field to the north of the North Wall.
Along the North Wall itself, it was my ears that detected the birdlife hidden with the reeds: pinging bearded tits, squealing water rails, and the strident song of a couple of typically elusive Cetti's warblers.
It made a change, after recent wind-blown walks, to scan across a flat calm sea, and my efforts were rewarded with the sighting of several red-throated divers resting on the water.
The path from the Sluice to South Hide remains closed due to flooding - it was above welly-top depth yesterday - so I only walked as far as East Hide, but that was perfect for some amazing views of our wintering ducks - always a personal treat, as ducks are one of my favourite groups of birds. Among the usual throng of wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard, shoveler and shelducks, it's great to see that numbers of pintails remain much higher than usual this year: counts of 50 or more have not been unusual this winter. The highlight on East Scrape was the small flock of seven redhead goosanders - redhead is the term used to describe the female and immature plumages of the merganser family (smew, red-breasted merganser and goosander), which all have chestnut-brown heads that help to differentiate them from the brightly coloured males. In fact, up to 20 goosanders have been regular on the Scrape, especially towards dusk when they return to roost after a day feeding on nearby fish-filled lakes and pond.
Redhead goosander by Jon Evans
Other birds to look for on the Scrape include lapwings, curlews (especially at dusk), snipe and various gulls - the latter often include one or two Caspian and yellow-legged gulls alongside the more familiar herring, great black-backed, common and black-headed gulls.
My walk today didn't take me down to Island Mere and Bittern Hide, but our visitors continue to report good numbers of marsh harriers and daily sightings of bitterns from the reedbed. There's also a regular barn owl hunting along the New Cut or over Island Mere at dusk. In fact, it must spend part of the night roosting in East Hide because we've now found several barn owl pellets actually inside the hide: we leave the windows of the hides open at all times to ensure good ventilation during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, please note that the shop, cafe and visitor centre will be closing early tomorrow (Wednesday 16 December) so that our staff and volunteers can enjoy their virtual Christmas party with colleagues. The hides, nature trails, toilets and car park will, however, remain open. Also, a reminder that all facilities, including the hides and nature trails, will be closed from 4 pm on Christmas Eve until 9 am on Sunday 27 December.
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