Saturday, 9 May 2009

Bird Trip To Minsmere

Arriving at RSPB Minsmere Nature Reserve the six of us headed off towards the northern footpath, stopping first to look at the sand martin bank, a few sand martins were overhead but none entered any of the nesting holes while we watched. As we approached the first bushes at the start of the trail a nightingale could be heard singing to our left and then another on therighthand side of the path. Both were in quite dense bushes, but moving past and looking back one showed well in the open and everyone had great views through the telescope. As we passed through the reedbeds, both sedge and reed warbler singing along with the loud bursting song of a cetti's warbler. We soon picked up the 'pinging' calls of bearded tits, the north trail is on a higher elevation to the reeds, so viewing was excellent looking down in to the large reedbeds on either side of the trail. A pair of bearded tits showed amazingly well, regularly calling as they crossed the path often between the gathered on-lookers! It appeared that they probably had a nest with young on one side, but were gathering food from the other. The views were down to just a few yards in the edge of the reeds in clear view and often dropping on the ground beside the track gathering food....wonderful!

A second-summer Mediterranean gull was first picked on call as it circled over our heads with the black-headed gulls. Four or five pairs are now breeding at Minsmere along with 1100 pairs of black-headed gulls. Later we found two Mediterranean gulls on the scrape sitting on their nests. As we approached the beach a male stonechat showed well sat on top of a small bush.

On the sea common and little terns were constantly flying backwards and forwards over the shingle beach to the scrape. An adult kittiwake flew past close to the shoreline heading north. From east hide excellent close views of a pair of avocets and a summer plumaged turnstone on a small island close to the hide. Around 40 black-tailedgodwits were on the scrape, nearly all still in their winter plumage, these seemed really plain compared to the summer birds still around in South Essex! A good fifty or so dunlin were present, looking very dapper with their black bellies. Among the hundreds of black-headed gulls were good numbers of common terns, many of which were pair-bonding as they nosily offered their partners small fish titbit's.

On to the sluice and a female wheatear showed very well, the swallows were a photographers delight perching on the sluice fences and footpath signs and allowing a close approach. Beyond the sluice a single greenshank. On the footpath between south and west hide, was this large caterpillar, which I later identified as the drinker moth. This very dark, large hairy caterpillar can be seen from April to June and August to September. Cuckoos can eat them but probably no other birds. The caterpillars feed on coarse grass and reed, hibernating from October to April when they resume feeding. Their long-recognised habit of drinking drops of dew from plants gives us the common English name. The caterpillars pupate in June. This large moth is common and widespread in Great Britain, and can be found in gardens where there are stands of coarse and lightly managed grasses.

From west hide the little terns were sitting on the islands alongside common terns offering a great opportunity to compare size and plumage differences. Probably the scarcest bird of the day was picked up in flight as it headed south over the scrape, black-tips to some of the primaries identified it as an immature spoonbill, an impressive sight enjoyed by all

Lunch was taken back at the visitor centre, where we also found a small copper butterfly before heading off to the woods. Coal tit was heard but remained elusive, but not quite so elusive were great spotted woodpecker and treecreeper, although everyone saw marsh tit, well almost everyone, I couldn't get on it! As we approached island mere hide a bittern could be heard 'booming' and continued to boom while we were in the hide. I never realised just how difficult it was to pin down where the sound was coming from, in fact it was hard to work out which direction it was coming from! Of course the marsh harriers performed beautifully, just as we knew they would, after all this is Minsmere!

Hobby was seen three times but each time we were on the woodland trails and only had views through gaps in the canopy. We moved on to Westleton and Minsmere Heaths which had three dartford warblers singing, none of which showed really well giving only brief perched or flight views. Whereas a pair of stonechats showed very well as did a yellowhammer and flypast green woodpecker. On Westleton two nightingales had a singing competition, one of which showed very well in the open. The last bird but not least bird of the day was a woodlark seen as we were at the cars preparing to leave, it showed fairly well but all too briefly in a gnarled stump of a tree. We finished the day having seen 78 different species and having had a very pleasant relaxed and friendly day