Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Goodbye Grey Sky, Hello Blue, There's Nothing Can Hold Me When I Hold You

My second day of three visiting Minsmere.
I was desperate to rise earlier after the previous day's fight for a seat in the Island Mere Hide but it's a real struggle to balance relaxing on a holiday to wanting every moment not to be wasted, especially as the earlier really is the better when trying to grab those extra special moments. It's when the natural world is usually more accommodating. Certainly when it comes to Birds and Mammals.

And so it came to pass, by the time I got my ass moving I was to arrive around the same time as yesterday. 6.30am. Not too shabby but what had I missed already I thought? 
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The rabbits in the car park took the opportunity to have breakfast before the scrum of cars were to arrive.
By the time I had reached the hide I was pleasantly surprised as it was half empty. The over spill from the Bank Holiday weekend had clearly dissipated.
I noticed some regulars here from yesterday. One chap was monitoring the Otter populations as he does all year round and two others were on holiday. One was dressed head to toe in camouflage gear, always strange when all you do is sit in a hide. The other chap was from Essex and very approachable. He showed me a photo he took at 5.15am of a mother and two Otter cubs just outside the window where we were sat. This inspired me to rise from my pit tomorrow just a tad earlier than I had done the previous two days.
On the opposite side of the pool the sound of a loud Grasshopper could be heard. This was no insect but a bird. Usually this would signify a Grasshopper Warbler which do breed here in very small numbers but this was an even rarer Savis Warbler which do not. Although they may be starting to colonize this country as small numbers have been seen on regular occasions with single males staying here for the season.
It was difficult to pinpoint but they do have a penchant for rising up on a dedicated perch to sing then dropping down when they finish.
It was pointed out to me in a small tree on the waters edge. It's song is almost identical to that of a Grasshopper Warbler but slightly lower toned. The bird itself is different in plumage too. 
Take it from me that the bird in the centre of the bush is the said warbler and a first for me. Just a shame it wasn't a little closer.
What was a little closer was the countless Reed Warbler territories hidden in the vast beige stemmed forest.
It takes patience and good focusing to pick out these tiny critters.





Another still warm morning beginning at the Island Mere was invigorating. Still no Bittern and Otter but a joy nonetheless.
I left and headed to the Bittern Hide with hope of some success in my quest.
The previously reticent Lesser Whitethroat was more available today albeit still cautious at my presence.
Much less ubiquitous than it's cousin but more tuneful in it's song.

As I reached the woodland, an early Butterfly, the male Orange Tip managed a brief pause in it's flight for a photograph which made a nice change. They normally keep on sweeping through especially in the heat of the day.
The Bittern Hide gave up the usual Marsh Harrier hunting over the reed bed. This is a male with prominent grey wing bars.
Apart from that, another quiet calm time. 

The visitor centre beckoned. Coffee and veggie sausage bap to warm the heart and forget about chances gone.
The North Wall and Dunwich Heath to the North of the reserve was calling me today. Common Whitethroats had the centre ground along the path towards the heathland and called out their territories.
The coastguard cottages sit on the promontory before the North Sea.
Along with the Whitethroats', the ever present Wren made itself known with it's song ten times bigger than it's body. I've always loved it's sound, one of the harbingers of Spring.


It was proving to be another very warm day and the Butterflies were starting to respond to the heat. Another Small Tortoiseshell. They were becoming a bit of regular sighting which flew in the face of it's current downward trend.

No sooner had I left the coast path and entered the heathland than a tiny green insect caught my eye. A Green Hairstreak. One of those tiny Butterflies that can be easily missed but is available to be seen in all sorts of habitats. The only green Butterfly in the British Isles, it can be mistaken for a tiny moth or other insect.
It's legs are lovely black and white striped along with it's antennae. They can allow close contact also but this individual wasn't staying long for a portrait.
They do zip along in flight and it's easy to lose them in the vegetation.

The heathland has several paths. I chose the lower which skirts several ponds.
Four Spotted Chasers, the most common species at this time of the year, pervaded.
On the sandy path there were many solitary bees burrowing in the ground for nests or fighting each other on the ground.

The path eventually leads of the heathland back in a circular direction towards Minsmere through woodland.
I kept seeing Dragonflies buzzing down the tracks through the trees and it took a while to get on them while they rested.
They were Hairy Dragonflies. This one being a male and as it's name suggests, has fine hair along it's abdomen and thorax.

Hornets are a favourite insect of mine. Much maligned and misunderstood they nest underground and although look and sound quite unnerving, I find them fascinating. This one was seemingly a little out of sorts, as though a bit drunk. I tried to obtain a decent shot through the grass but it departed suddenly before I had a chance. 


The Hairy Dragonfly kept allowing me close contact however.





I had come full circle and was back at the visitor centre.
It was so warm even the rabbits took shelter during the heat of the day.
I took the path back along towards the Bittern Hide. The season being so late, Bluebells still showed really well on the woodland floor.
I followed the Adder trail. Although it was too late in the day to see them I was rewarded with a favourite of mine, the Small Copper which basked on the floor where the Adders normally show.




Plenty of Bee Flies nectared on the Ground Ivy.



The Bittern Hide was busy with people so I walked onto the Island Mere Hide. The day was drawing in and I wanted to get an early night for an even earlier start the next day.
As the path skirts the bottom of the hill by the hide, I could see a Green Woodpecker feeding in the grass but some people walked passed me and disturbed it even though they could see I was looking at something. So it flew off but I did manage a couple of departing shots.

The Island Mere Hide was busy. The Savis Warbler was still singing occasionally from the same perch and the occasional Marsh Harrier floated by.
I decided to leave early but not before one last stop off. I had been given a tip off by the chap in the hide from this morning. He told me of a rare breeding bird just around the corner to the reserve. One I had always wanted to see but can be extremely difficult to locate. Either trying to find a breeding area or even if you find the area, it's so well camouflaged it can be hard to pinpoint it.
This sounded as though it was a foregone conclusion but I've heard all about that in the past.
As I neared the area he described, I could see a yellow electric fence in the middle of a field. This must be the place protecting the nesting birds from predation, probably by Foxes or Badgers.
As luck would have it for a change, there was a Stone Curlew right in front of me.
It's normally more active at night, hence the large eyes, but this was walking around feeding.
There was a bit of a heat haze so I decided a return in the morning was in order to try and capture it in a better light.

I found it's mate on the nest hunkered down. All that was visible was the top of it's head. Most probably sat on eggs.
I left them in peace and headed back to the campsite for food, shower and an early night.

The sun was still high which lit up the Airstreams beautifully. I had the place to myself again which was fine by me. I poured a beer and sat in the sun.
Kevin's wife Jenni came over and introduced herself. She gave me more information on the area and how they ended up in this stunning little corner of Saxmundham. She was so welcoming and made me feel right at ease as Kevin had done the previous day.
My Airstream Annie looked a bit special in the light.
As did all the others. This is Dee Dee.
The shower block and washing up area was so well kept and clean.
The information hut to the right is packed full of books DVD's and local information.


Elsie the little Cheltenham caravan looks so cute sat in the corner next to the old oak which was home to a myriad of bird species as I sat a listened. Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great and Blue Tit, Blackcap and Yellowhammer. This is only a snapshot of the 30 that can inhabit this mansion of a tree, not to mention the several hundred other species that can be found living in this leviathon. Not only many insects but some 300 different species on moss and lichen.  It was time for food and rest now though. Tomorrow was to be a very early start. 
 
Day 3.
At last, I managed to drag myself from the pit an hour earlier than the past two days.
I was up at 4am and out by 5am.
As I rounded the last bend into the road leading to the reserve, the Deer scenario raised it's head from the first day. This time a Doe and her fawn were ambling through the woodland. I had my camera to hand as before. These were Muntjac. The fawn stopped to look at me as the Doe walked on. 
Once parked and walked into the Island Mere Hide for the last time, just two men occupied the space. Otter man and the chap from Essex as of the previous day. My phone read 5.30am. I must be crazy, I thought to myself ?
A little overcast and slightly breezier than before, the Marsh Harriers were the first to show their hand.

The Greylag Geese were the ever present bird on the reserve, either through sight or sound.

Then, suddenly, a slight breakthrough. I was talking to the guy from Essex about a shot I had taken when I noticed his attention was drawn to something outside the window. Rather than him say what he saw, he raised his lens , took a couple of shots, then shouted, 'Otter!' By the time I had turned, I saw the mammal slip into the water from the edge of the reeds before I could get on it.
We stood hoping it might show itself again or at least show signs it was still around but Otters are the most surreptitious of species. They can vanish without a ripple and so it did. He showed me his shot of the master of the river in full frame. I couldn't complain, I'd seen a live Otter, albeit briefly, my first in the wild and I hope never the last. 
Then second breakthrough in minutes. A call of 'Bittern' went up. One had flown from the reed bed to the right and across the marsh away from us.

Always facing in the other direction at least a half decent view of this skulking Heron.
Some thoughts bantered about in the hides as to the reason for the reticence of the Bitterns. They were that the water was higher this year, so they have been feeding within the reeds. Also, the females could be on eggs whilst the males tend to keep hidden generally and 'Boom' every now and then.
Whatever the reasons, they decided to keep well out of the way from a decent photographic opportunity.  


Rising that little bit earlier definitely brought results in sightings, albeit limited ones but after over 3 hours I was flagging and it was only 9am !
A quick refuel at the visitor centre for coffee and veggie breakfast, I set off for Westerton just down the road and a return to the Stone Curlews.

I found the adult out feeding in the field. So much for it being a nocturnal feeder?

It isn't a true Curlew. It's name derives from it's Curlew like call. It is part of the 'Thick Knee' family and is amber listed in it's vulnerability to extinction in this country.   
They favour stony ground to breed on and can be difficult to see. Just 400 pairs breed in the UK. They migrate from Africa every Spring and have strongholds in Wiltshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.
I was so lucky to see these weird birds and they made up for the lack of Bittern and Otter action tenfold.
There are viewing areas to keep people from disturbing them but some are oblivious to this. I saw people dressed in bright colours peering over the fence far too close and frightening them off.
The main path was close by so I ventured into the woods and towards Dunwich Heath once again.
At the top of the heathland I could hear Dartford Warblers but sightings proved very difficult.
I reached the coastguard cottages and walked North back along the shoreline to Minsmere.


In the East Hide looking over the scrapes a Kestrel came in close and hovered to my left in search of food.









Back on the shore, there are a few dunes and low bushes. Whitethroats and Stonechats clearly had territories here.
It was here that I spoke to a retired chap who happened to be an expert on insects. Namely hoverflies. He was fascinating to listen to and answered a couple of questions I had. One was when I had seen a male hoverfly buzzing just above a female. This is a courting ritual apparently.

I ventured further South to the last path I hadn't walked as yet.
This gave commanding views across the reed beds and over to the Bittern Hide raised above them.
Out on the reserve, Kittewakes were flying back and forth gathering nesting material as they had before.




Black Headed Gulls would chase them again also, thinking they had food in their bills.




Grey Plover in their lovely Summer plumage fed on the shore as I peered from the South Hide
Redshank patrolled the edge of the pools.
And the Avocet kept a close eye on the Black Headed Gulls gathering nesting material. Maybe they were mugging the Kittewakes for this rather than the thought of food I surmised?


Time was moving on and my last day was drawing to a close at this wonderful reserve.
I could easily do with another few days here but I had three more booked for North Norfolk instead.

I wandered along to the Island Mere Hide as a final swansong.
I realised that the old platform sat on the hillside once formed part of the Springwatch hut (now demolished). No wonder they had planted it there. The views across the marsh are quite spectacular and gave me my first impressions of this idyll two days ago.

I'd had such a wonderful time. There was no doubt in my mind of my return. Not only to the reserve but to my accommodation too. Special times, places,people and ultimately Nature. For that is the draw, the inspiration.



Back at base, I poured a beer and reflected on my travels here.
One more little jaunt around the patch I felt was in order though.
The local Hares didn't let me down.



I'd like to give a huge thanks to Kevin and Jenni at Happy Days Retro Vacations. More warm and welcoming hosts you couldn't wish to meet. I was so lucky I chose here.
The title of this post is a line taken from the theme tune to the 1970's television programme Happy Days.