It seems that the curse of going on holiday struck me again this week as several really exciting birds were seen at Minsmere in the second half of last week, while I was visiting family in the Midlands. At least I can console myself with the thought that none of them hung around for long so I would probably have missed them anyway.
The first rare visitors were two penduline tits that were seen feeding on seeding reedmace in North Marsh on Thursday before flying north. There have been several reports of these tiny wetland songbirds at Minsmere in recent years, so perhaps they'll reappear somewhere within our vast reedbed in the coming weeks.
Penduline tit by Jon Evans
Even briefer was a report of a first winter rose-coloured starling flying inland with a starling flock on Friday, never to be seen again. This species breeds in the far east of Europe and central Asia, with a handful visiting the UK each year, but they have never hung around at Minsmere. One day!
Also on Friday, a beautiful merlin was found resting close to South Hide, having presumably just completed the long crossing of the North Sea. Once rested, it flew off inland. I have never managed to find one of these tiny falcons at Minsmere, but one of our volunteers captured a stunning photo which can be seen here.
The stormy weather over the weekend produced ideal conditions for seawatching, with good numbers of gannets and great skuas seen as well as a couple of Arctic skuas, while nine whooper swans arrived on Island Mere and an incredibly late swift was seen over the car park in the evening.
The seawatching has continued today too. This is a strain of birdwatching that really needs patience, perseverance and a telescope, as the birds can be very distant, but with luck you may spot a few of the more unusual birds from the beach even with binoculars. For example, I was lucky enough to spot a couple of juvenile pomarine skuas at lunchtime today, as well as some more distant gannets. Our dedicated seawatchers had more luck, with highlights including 15 great and two more pomarine skuas, 22 eiders, seven goldeneyes, lots of gannets and a few brent geese. There were also several flocks of starlings arriving from Scandinavia, and I watched two grey wagtails coming ashore.
Great skua by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Even more exciting was the arrival of Minsmere's third grey phalarope of the autumn on East Scrape this morning. It has proved to be quite mobile and elsuive at times, but was still present mid afternoon. Other recent arrivals seen today have included a woodcock that was flushed from the North Bushes trail this morning and a brambling in the North Bushes - one was also on the feeders over the weekend.
Of course, non of these species appears on the 70 species to spot at Minsmere list, but several of those species have also been showing well today. These have included 14 avocets and 32 black-tailed godwits on the Scrape, alongside large flocks of wigeons, shovelers, gadwalls and teals, several shelducks and a few lapwings and snipe (several of these do appear on the challenge list). Bearded tits have been seen at East Hide and Island Mere, and at least four marsh harriers are at Island Mere, where bitterns have also been seen occasionally.
However, with the nights drawing in, and the winter nights upon us, I've chosen one of our most colourful species as this week's star species, and they've certainly been performing well today. I spotted not one, but two kingfishers perched in the reeds alongside the Scrape on my visit to East Hide at lunchtime, and our volunteer guide watched another two at Island Mere this afternoon, They are also regualrly seen at Bittern Hide and South Hide.
Kingfisher by Jon Evans
Kingfishers are, without doubt, one of our most popular birds, although they can be frustratingly difficult to see. If facing you, the orange breast is superbly camouflaged. But when they turn around and reveal the electric blue feathers on their back they are unmistakable. They are often best found by hearing their distinctive whistled call, then looking for a small bird darting at high speed low over the water. Autumn and early winter is a good time to see kingfishers as the young birds are pushed out of their parents' territory and forced to fend for themselves. Any sightings is sure to brighten a winter walk too, so keep your eyes and ears peeled as you wander around the reserve this week.