This has been an excellent week for spotting finches at Minsmere. The commoner species - chaffinch, greenfinch and goldfinch - have been increasingly common on the visitor centre feeders, and in flocks in the woods, but there have also been some more unusual sightings.
Bramblings are always exciting to see, and several lucky visitors have been spotting one or two feeding in among the chaffinches around the cafe feeders. These will be newly arrived migrants from Scandinavia. They may stay around the feeders for a few weeks, but will probably head farther inland for the winter. October and March are usually the best months for seeing bramblings at Minsmere.
There has also been an excellent passage of some of our smaller finches this week, especially lesser redpolls and goldfinches. Small flocks can often be seen, or heard, flying south along the dunes. There's still a few linnets in the dunes too.
Much more excitingly, a twite was spotted in the dunes near the end of the North Wall on Tuesday, and again today. Twite are rare visitors at Minsmere, although a small flock regularly spends the winter in the saltmarsh at nearby Dingle Marshes. These small, streaky finches breed in the uplands, where many populations are declining, before heading to the coast for the winter. Many of those breeding in the Pennines are fitted with colour rings to help researchers to learn more about their movements. Our bird was colour-ringed, but the combination could not be seen properly so we've not been able to find out anything about it yet. Twite are often confused with either female linnets or lesser redpolls, but in winter their yellow bill is distinctive, as is their pink rump.
Twite by Jon Evans
The twite hasn't been seen today, but there are several stonechats in the dunes, at least one wheatear, a Dartford warbler and a few meadow pipits - with more of the latter passing overhead. Other migrants can be seen in the scrub at the sluice bushes and North Bushes, though nothing unexpected has turned up there yet. There are, however, good numbers of goldcrests and robins, which is always a sure sign that birds are arriving from the continent. North Bushes is also a good place to look for our other resident finch, the bullfinch, especially early in the morning.
Out on the Scrape, there are still at least six little stints that are attracting a lot of attention. Other waders include a few dunlins, ringed plovers, grey plovers, snipe and redshanks, the odd turnstone, eight late avocets, good numbers of lapwings and up to 100 black-tailed godwits. There was great excitement this morning when one of our wardens thought he'd found a rare broad-billed sandpiper, but he soon realised that he was mistaken, and the bird was merely a slightly larger than usual little stint.
Little stint by Jon Evans
Another bird that has caused a few identification headaches over recent weeks is a very pale common buzzard. It spent the morning sitting along the edge of the wood west of North Marsh. Common buzzards are extremely variable birds, ranging from almost white to entirely dark brown, although most are brown above, white below with a broad brown breastband. This bird is so pale that is has been confused as a both osprey and honey-buzzard. Other birds of prey to look out for include kestrel, hobby, sparrowhawk and marsh harrier.
In the reedbed, as Hannah said yesterday, our wardens have now cut most of the vegetation in front of Island Mere Hide, improving viewing for visitors. How long will it be before the bitterns, otters and snipe are parading close to the hide? I gather the bearded tits were looking a bit puzzled there this morning though. Kingfishers are also showing regularly there and at Bittern Hide. Our starlings, however, appear to have deserted us for now, with only a few hundred seen last night.
Returning to the feeders outside the visitor centre, these have proved to be a good place to watch coal tits, marsh tits and a nuthatch this week, while treecreepers have been regular behind the visitor centre. We also have a stupidly tame juvenile woodpigeon that is prone to try to land on your head or shoulder. Quite why he has adopted this unusual behaviour is anyone's guess, but you have been warned!
A better behaved adult woodpigeon by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)