Minsmere always gives us a great day out and this year’s trip was no different. A lovely sunny day, and with the added excitement generated by the recent Springwatch programmes, we were all keen to catch up with the avian and mammal stars of the show.
We arrived in great time (thanks to our driver, Neil, who found new “comfort-stop” facilities), and were soon checked in and on our various journeys around the reserve. First stop for most people was the sand martin bank behind the pond near the visitor centre. Here telescopes were trained on young birds as they lined the edge of the nest holes waiting for the adults to bring food back. Great to watch the activity as “meals on wings” brought copious amounts of insects back for the hungry mouths. The pale gapes of the young birds were easily seen with binoculars.
So on to the other highlights of the day: top of the show were bitterns and we all had great views of them. They were flying around all day, between various territories, and there were several nest sites distinguishable from their landing spots in the reed-beds. Some of us were lucky enough to hear them booming whilst others were more than satisfied with very close range views. At one stage two birds flew towards one of the hides, low over the reeds. The first bird landed in the reed-bed on the other side of the scrape, the second bird however landed nearby in the reeds. Neville kept his eye on that area and after a few minutes a bird appeared on the edge of the vegetation, proceeded to have a short bathe and preen, and then swam across a short channel between the reeds. I’ve never seen that happen before, but Malcolm spoke to one of the staff and apparently it is often noticed there, so another lesson in bird behaviour learned.
Next up has to be hobby. Again, we all had superb views. There were several over the main reed-beds feeding high up above the reed beds, others chose to hawk along the channels between the reeds where there were many dragonflies for them to catch. One bird was using this second method and appeared to be doing extremely well whilst I watched it. Flying up and down the same channel time after time, it was only seconds before the bird had a dragonfly in its talons, then it was easy to see the bird eat on the wing, before repeating the process.
The ringed plover family which featured on Springwatch last week were found by Malcolm. The adults were posted several yards apart and we saw three fledglings (or “babies” as they were affectionately termed – much to Malcolm’s disgust). The young birds were scurrying between the lumps of vegetation on the beach. When they stopped on the shingle their plumage gave them excellent camouflage, until they moved. As the larger gulls flew overhead they looked extremely vulnerable and we were also aware that our presence may not help their situation, disturbing the family, so we quickly retreated and left them to it.
Soap-box away! This year’s trip was slightly later than previous years, and unfortunately the growth in the “stone curlew” field was too high to give us views of this breeding bird, so we will have to content ourselves with the television camera view this time. Whilst we scanned this area we did see a pied wagtail family with two juveniles, and a cuckoo which gave good (if somewhat short) views relatively close.
The main scrape gave great opportunities to see young families going about their business with a flotilla of greylag geese, several black-headed gull chicks, oystercatcher on the nest, and adorable avocet fledglings which were feeding in a perfect copy of the style of their parents even though the bill has not yet fully “curved”. Waders were surprisingly thin on the ground with only one bar-tailed godwit, one black-tailed godwit and two redshank being seen.
Terns, however faired a little better with common, sandwich and little tern. The latter is a particular delight to find as we have lost many of the breeding little terns in Kent and East Sussex – with Rye Harbour in particular putting in huge efforts to encourage and protect them over the last few years. We couldn’t find them on a nest, but Irene did see them settled on one of the islands within the scrape. We did scan the fenced area on the beach but could find no evidence of breeding birds there.
Kittiwake were perched on one of the poles over the water and at one point we watched two of them pair bonding, with plenty of bill and head rubbing, much to the distaste of the juvenile lesser-backed gull beneath them. One of the kittiwake had a numbered colour-ring which has been sent off to BTO, to add to the data collection.
Swallow activity was high around the sluice and although nests were not easily viewed, from the noise the birds were making it was obviously being used as usual. As we left one of the hides a bird appeared in front of us at the top of the reeds, then a second joined it – a pair of bearded tits! Many of us had very good views of this delightful bird, before the pair moved off across the reed bed.
Little egret, grey heron, cormorant, canada geese and barnacle geese were all easily found, with shelduck and shoveler also enjoying the feeding on the main scrape. Cetti’s warblers gave their distinctive song from various bushes around the reserve, reed warblers were also heard, but only one person reported hearing a sedge warbler. Whitethroat, blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff all sang as we wandered around the more wooded areas.
Many starling moved around starting to gather in large flocks as they fed between the birds on the islands in the scrape. House sparrow, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, and linnet. To finalise the day list we had magpie, rook, crow and jackdaw.
Thanks to Sally for organising the trip for us, and to all those who attending and made it such a great success. Thanks must also go to Malcolm for guiding with his usual aplomb and finally to Ian for most of the photographs used in this post.