Saturday, 23 May 2015

My First Visit to Minsmere in over 10 Years

13th May 2015

I first visited Minsmere when I was just 16, a most memorable day as warden and birding legend Bert Axell showed me my first Bittern. I visited the site several more times over the years, but then tended to spend more time in Norfolk, particularly Titchwell. So, after an absence of 10-15 years, Stuart and I decided to give it a go.

We decided on a clockwise circuit of the Coast Trail so set off down the North Wall. A quick look for the Stone Curlews drew a blank, but this was more than compensated for by a pair of Bitterns circling around at a height of some 200 feet over the reed bed in front of Dunwich Heath.

A few more feet and we were drowned out by the pinging of Bearded Tits. Plenty of sightings but as is their wont, they just dive in and although can be seen, are obscured by reeds.. Luckily there are exceptions to the rule and one or two did put on a display, but either a back view or a little too distant. You really need to sit down with a chair for a whole day to get superb shots, but I had other places to visit today.

Anyway, time to move on so on to the beach and a trudge through the soft sand. The sea was very quiet but there was some interest in and around the dunes like this lovely male Linnet and one of the many Whitethroats singing.

From the East Hide there was a good selection of waders although, as is often the case, many were on the other side. What was a surprise was the number of Barnacle Geese present, presumably escapees from the feral colony up the coast at Covehithe.

I photograph a lot of Turnstones during the winter months when they are both plentiful and tame along the Essex coast, but today it was an absolute pleasure to see a solitary individual in full summer plumage. Absolutely magic. The only other waders that came close enough for a photo were the compulsory Avocets, and although I already have 100s of photos of these charismatic birds, who can resist a couple more shots.

Now on to the Bittern and Island Mere Hides in the hope of some Bitterns or Otters, but no such luck. There were plenty of views of distant Marsh Harriers and Hobbys, but the only bird that came close enough for a shot was a Great Crested Grebe that swam up the channel towards the hide.

So decision time. It was now 3.30pm so how best to spend the remaining time. Stuart said that he had enjoyed the Coastal Trail so much that we decided to do it again, but in reverse. This time we called in to the Southern Hide which we had skipped on the first circuit. What I was totally amazed to see was a dozen or so Kittiwakes collecting nest material out on the scrape. I can't recall ever seeing this before at Minsmere so presumably they are nesting on Sizewell Power Station or one of the off-shore rigs.

We were just about to leave when I caught a rather belated glimpse of a 1st summer Little Gull flying off and not to return.

Well what a super day and to cap it off there was a small herd of Red Deer browsing on the edge of the Stone Curlew field. Unfortunately, the light was bad by then but good enough to get a few shots of this most charismatic animal.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Trip to Fingringhoe Wick in Search of Nightingales

10th May 2015

A last chance to see the Nightingales at Fingringhoe Wick before they start nesting, stop singing and are even more difficult to see. It was a nice sunny and calm day, so conditions were ideal. There were indeed several Nightingales singing, but as is often the case, from deep inside Brambles and bushes and I only got one glimpse of one bird which was partially obscured by an array of twigs and therefore no photographs.

However, by way of compensation there were lots of Whitethroats singing and fortunately these birds are far less reticent and are quite happy to sing away at the top of a bush or, as in this instance, a sallow twig.

So, as the day finished earlier than expected it was off to Abberton to see what the new hides were doing. The walk from the visitor centre brought the usual deafening chorus of singing Sky Larks, some of them cooperative enough to sit on a fence post to have their photo taken. This bird obviously saw something of concern overhead as he cocked his eye skyward. They say that Sky Larks are in decline but everywhere I go they seem to be doing well.

Now into Island Hide to see if any birds have ventured close since the water levels were raised. First up was a stunning pair of Shelduck that swan casually by with the drake looking very smart in the summer sun. Then, as if on cue, a Little Egret trotted past the window totally oblivious to his audience, although he did fly a few yards. The last two shots show him catching a small fish and tossing it back into his throat.

There were plenty of Common Terns around which were based on a nearby spit, but too far away for a photo. However, a couple of birds did eventually venture closer and took up position outside the left hand window of the hide, providing a few decent shots including some in flight.

But the star of the show today was this cracking male Garganey which was feeding in the water weed in the shallows. Initially it disappeared round the point but luckily came back in our direction and eventually within 25 yards of the hide. Garganey are difficult enough to find at the best of times and are then either asleep or a few hundred yards away, so this was an great result. Absolutely superb.