Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Dodging the downpours at Minsmere

On Sunday I was off again with the West Midland Bird Club for our monthly jaunt, this time to RSPB Minsmere. As it was forecast to pretty much start raining when we arrived there and finish when we left, we were feeling some trepidation about the day in store! Upon arrival it was indeed raining quite heavily; this did at least mean though that the hundreds of Sand Martins around the bank where they nest were feeding low down, giving us nice views. I also saw a Water Vole in the pool next to the bank, swimming away with a large piece of reed grasped in its teeth! 

Sand Martin bank and Water Vole pool.
The first half of our day consisted mainly of us scuttling quickly between hides and spending extended periods within them, sheltering from the rain. I had been planning to go over to Dunwich Heath to look for Dartford Warbler and Woodlark, but there was no chance in this weather - disappointing but there'll be another day for that. Plus a couple of our group did head up there and saw nothing but a Stonechat so at least I didn't miss out! From the various hides we did particularly well for waders, picking up loads of Black-tailed Godwits, Common and Spotted Redshank (in full breeding plumage!), plenty of Avocets (some with very tiny chicks), Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Dunlins in breeding plumage, Ringed Plovers, Turnstones, Lapwings and one solitary Knot. I even had time to do a couple of sketches of Avocets:

Avocet sketches.
Common Terns were everywhere too, and they looked to have had a successful breeding season with a couple of the islands being full of toddling tern chicks. We also saw a couple of Mediterranean Gulls in their super smart black hoods. Elsewhere around the reserve there were Reed Warblers everywhere; around the sand dunes we had a few Linnets. As usual I was on the lookout for new plants to try and learn, I saw a few around the dunes that were now familiar to me thanks to my Gronant trip a few weeks ago, as well as a couple of other new ones:

Actually I already knew this one but I like it and hadn't seen any for a while! It's Sheep's-bit (Jasione montana).

This looks like Yellow-horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum), it has weird-looking very long seed pods.

I think this might be Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum).
Luckily by the time we'd sat in the East hide for a good while, it had stopped raining and it remained relatively dry for the rest of the afternoon. We saw Swallows at the sluice although unfortunately it appeared that several Swallow chicks had drowned there - very sad. It was unclear how it had happened - maybe their nest had collapsed, or perhaps the water level had risen and engulfed them. Walking back towards the visitor center we saw two watchful Red Deer in the reedbed, as well as some of their distant bovine relatives further along, and I found another couple of plants to try and identify. 

Cattle helping with habitat management. Very impressive horns!
Black Horehound (Ballota nigra).
I think this is Marsh-mallow (Althaea officinalis).
Back at the Bittern hide the sun finally came out, bringing raptors - Hobby and Marsh Harrier. We also heard a few pings of Bearded Tits but they were keeping low in the reeds.

Nice light from Bittern hide as the sun finally began making a tentative entrance.
Although I was disappointed not to have been able to visit Dunwich Heath, it had been a pretty good day in spite of the weather, and as Andy M pointed out it's better to get soaked early on then dry off later, rather than the other way round!

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