21 Jun 2007

Trip Report (Part 4): RSPB Minsmere

Peregrine's Birding Facts Marsh Harriers do not breed until their third summer.

I left Norfolk at around lunchtime and headed over to RSPB Lakenheath Fen. This is a remarkable site in that ten years previously it was a carrot field and now it is a wetland area with reedbeds and Poplar plantations. The plantations have a breeding population of Golden Oriole's one of only a few sites where this occurs in the UK. They hadnt arrived yet which was a shame but not too worry the reed beds were teeming with Sedge and Reed Warblers.

I also saw my first Hobby which was very exciting it was some way off though. The previous day there had been a passage of them going through Lakenheath because forty were counted!!! There was also a cuckoo calling from one of the poplar plantations and I could see it through my telescope but couldnt get a decent photograph.I approached it and it flew off just as I was setting up underneath it. :-(

Having walked around the reserve I left Lakenheath and headed to Minsmere where I have wanted to visit for a long time. Fortunately my Uncle lives within a ten minute drive from it. I have to say having driven around quite alot of England I found the signage to the RSPB reserves very poor. I had decided to spend a couple of hours at Minsmere in the late afternoon before turning up at my uncles house and then spending the whole of the following day there.

Minsmere is probably the most famous of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds' reserves. It had just celebrated its 50th anniversary celebrations. It pioneered the use of observation hides and management of wetland areas to allow visitors to see some of the huge range of birds that pass along the Suffolk coast. They have so far recorded 328 speies of bird and with about 230 seen annually (55 more than my list so far this year) Also if you are into Moths and Butterflies it is a spectacular place to go with 33 species of butterfly recorded and over a thousand moths. It has a variety of different habitats ranging from freshwater reedbed, heathland, dunes, salt lagoons and vegetated shingle.

I arrived at the visitor centre and picked up a sheet of latest sightings and then headed towards the sea where I immediately heard and then saw a Whitethroat

The one thing that I observed was that there were some serious photographers here with enormous lenses!! I met this guy Steve Morgan who had a very nice Canon 600mm lens attached to his Canon 1Ds his website is here.

On my way down to the shore I had five firsts. I heard my first Cetti's Warbler, I heard my first Nightingale, I heard and saw my first Turtle Dove, I saw my first Little Tern and I saw a Black Tailed Godwit in display flight which was pointed out to me by Adam Rowlands who works at Minsmere.

By now I thought I had better go and see my uncle so headed back to car and to his house in nearby Sibton. He wasn,t there!!! My phone was out of charge so I drove into the village and called my sister from a payphone to see if she could call him. No reply!! So I thought well I will head back to his house and wait for a while. On my way back I saw a Little Owl on the telegraph wires another year tick.My mood increased on seeing it. By ten o'clock the outside temperature had fallen to four degrees and I decided to wrap myself up and go to sleep in the car. 11pm some lights came up the drive and I was mightily relieved to see my uncle.

The following morning I headed back to Minsmere where I was determined to see a Bittern. I had been told they may be in front of the Island Mere Hide so I walked down there . On the way I saw a Chiff Chaff which was singing away.

I also saw a Muntjac Deer not something I would see in Ireland.

I arrived at the hide and was listening intently for a Bittern, even though I had never heard one before. They are unmistakeable when you do hear them.They sound like this. I was then very quietly trying to imitate them when I heard a couple at the other end of the hide say "Did you hear that Darling" I looked out of the hide and kept quiet from then on!!! Unfortunately I never got to see a Bittern but I did see a Hobby flying quite close by and I managed to get some poorish images.

Wow! they are a fantastic bird chasing after the dragonflies; so agile. One minute they are high in the sky before diving down at breakneck speed over the reed beds catching their prey and then feeding themselves in mid air. They were definately my bird of the reserve.

There was also a lot of activity with the Marsh Harriers feeding and displaying.

From the Island Mere hide you get a very good view of Sizewell A (The Nuclear Power Station)on the Suffolk coast. It is an operational twin reactor Magnox power station, generating 440 MW of electricity. On a typical day, the station supplies more than 10 million kWh of electricity - enough to serve the energy needs of a third of East Anglia.

I am of the view that Nuclear is the way forward as far as electricity generation goes. Windpower is a waste of time and money for its efficiency and the fact they are bad for the wellbeing of birds and are generally an eyesore. Fossil fuels are running out so I think the nuclear option is the way to go!!

Sorry I digress back to Minsmere where my other highlights of the visit were the Mediterranean gulls on the scrapes and the very confiding Water Vole.By this time the weather was very threatening and with pretty bad light I didnt get any more shots.

So after one visit I cannot wait to return and hopefully actually get to see a Bittern.


Andrew said...

I saw my first Bittern at Minsmere maybe 15 years ago when I was first getting interested in birds. I was with a group, scanning intently the far reed beds. Someone casually asked "what are you looking for?" and we said "A bittern". "Oh, you mean like this one?" There so close to the hide we almost had to lean out to look at it was the said bird. We had been staring over the top of it for ages. It gave great views but in those days I didn't carry a camera so no evidence. I also saw my first Ring ouzel that day and maybe my first Nightjar. The Golden orioles were not at Lakenheath then but at Fordham Bridge. Despite the male plumage being so garish they are darned tricky to see in a Poplar tree. Hope you catch up with one soon. BTW, I fell in love with Marsh harriers that day too.

brdpics said...

Good stuff as always, Peregrine! Can't go wrong at a productive marsh.

Hey, I tagged you with the 8 Random Facts meme- take a peek at BrdPics (http://brdpics.blogspot.com) to see what it's about. It's a gift that keeps on giving!! -Bill