Explore, discover and enjoy nature at Minsmere. There's always something exciting to inspire a return visit to Suffolk's natural treasure.


  • High wind warning

    Please be aware that you are planning to visit Minsmere over the next few days there may be some disruption due to the forecast high winds.

    With a Met Office yellow warning for gales tonight and tomorrow, we will be closing all woodland sections of the visitor trails. This means that there will be no access from the visitor centre to Wildlife Lookout, or via Bittern Hide to Whin Hill. There will also be no access through the Rhododendron Tunnel, along the Woodland Trail, or into Canopy Hide.

    Island Mere Hide will still be accessible, via the entrance road and Whin Hill path, and access will be possible to all Scrape hides.

    We anticipate being able to re-open all trails on Saturday, subject to the extent of any damage, but we have already decided to cancel Sunday's guided walk.

    The adverse weather does mean that there is a likelihood of fallen branches or trees blocking some local roads too, and possibly also some localised flooding, so please take care getting to Minsmere too. If in doubt, I'm sure there will be updates via local radio. 

    If access arrangements at Minsmere change we will post information on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page and @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter

    Take care everyone

  • Species of the week: windhover (AKA kestrel)

    Continuing the theme of last week's blog, I'm pleased to say that there are lots of windhovers and riphooks around the reserve at the moment. Of course, this might not be such good news for the small mammals and dragonflies that they're eating, but for me it's an absolute joy. Windhovers, you see, are among my favourite birds.

    It all goes back to my childhood, when I first became a member of what was then known as the YOC (Young Ornithologists' Club), the RSPB's junior membership in the days before it became RSPB Wildlife Explorers. Back then, the YOC logo was a hovering kestrel, and I'll always remember wearing my badge with pride. This laid the foundations for a lifelong love of birdwatching, and the kestrel will always hold a close place in my heart.

    As anyone who regularly reads these columns will know, I often say that starling is my favourite UK bird, but kestrel runs it a close second. (Don't worry Clare, magpie is well up there too!) Any sighting of a kestrel will always bring a smile to my face, and I've spent many a long drive counting how many kestrels I can spot hovering above the roadside or perched patiently on a telegraph pole of convenient tree. 

    Not a great photo, but a typical view of a kestrel when on long journey

    Nowadays, whenever I see a kestrel, you're likely to hear me call "kezzie", and this always brings to mind Ken Loach's iconic film Kes, which is, in turn, based on Barry Hines' novel A kestrel for a knave. Time for a confession though. I have never actually read the book or watched the film, which is perhaps something I should rectify one day.

    It seems only right that I turn the attention on the kestrel in this way for this week's blog as it's harder not to see them than it is to see them at the  moment. The counts of birds hunting over the South Levels and reedbed between the Sluice and Island Mere have often been in double figures over the last few days, peaking at an impressive 15. At least two are often hunting over the North Marsh and North Bushes area, even perching close to the visitor trail for long periods, while other have been seen hovering over Whin Hill. Some of the best sightings have been from Bittern Hide, or hovering overhead as you walk along the beach.

    Kestrel hovering by Dene Carter

    With so many kestrels around, it looks like they've had a successful breeding season locally. Numbers may also be boosted by migrants from Scandinavia, as one or two have been watched flying in over the sea this week too. I love watching kestrels hovering and admiring the way their head barely moves as they hang in the air, intently watching and waiting for an unsuspecting small mammal to pass by. They're not exclusively eating mammals though, and our kestrels also seem to be capitalising on the glut of common and ruddy darter and migrant hawker dragonflies that are around, as I've watched several of them catching dragonflies on the wing. They're pretty good at this, but haven't mastered the technique anywhere near as successfully as the closely related riphook (AKA hobby), which is true master of aerial pursuit of insects. Several hobbies are hunting over the reedbed and Scrape at the moment, too, including a number of young birds.

    Hobby by Oscar Dewhurst

    Hobbies and kestrels aren't the only birds of prey that you can see this week, either. Marsh harriers, buzzards, sparrowhawks, and even peregrines are likely to be seen every day, and an osprey was seen again on Saturday. If you stay till dusk you may spot a barn owl or two hunting, especially from Bittern Hide, while I heard a tawny owl calling in South Belt at lunchtime today.

    For many visitors this week, the highlights have been the sightings of whinchats from the North Wall or around the Konik Field. Numbers vary each day, and they can be elusive at times, but there have been several in each location over the last few days. They're often feeding alongside a few stonechats, the odd wheatear, and flocks of linnets and goldfinches. The linnets and stonechats in the dunes are also sometimes accompanied by an elusive Dartford warbler or two.

    Whinchat by Jon Evans

    Otters have proved popular with those visitors who've been lucky enough to see them with several sightings of three today (presumably mum and two cubs), as well as the lone dog otter. All have been at Island Mere today, but they are also seen at Bittern Hide. The latter has been a good place to see water rails and kingfishers too. Other sightings in the reedbed include grey heron, bittern, little egret, little grebe, cormorant and mute swan.

    Out on the Scrape, waders numbers are generally lower than in recent weeks, but the variety is till pretty good with regular sightings of little stint, dunlin, ruff, green and common sandpipers and ringed plovers, as well as the occasional knots, sandrlings and curlew sandpipers this week. One or two bar-tailed godwits have been seen among the 60+ black-tailed godwits, and four avocets remain. The most numerous birds on the Scrape are teal, wigeon, gadwall, mallard, shoveler and lapwing. Among the ducks there are also a couple of pintails, and four pochards were seen yesterday.

    There's a good variety of insects still around too. Great green bush-crickets are always popular, while butterflies include small copper, comma, red admiral, common blue, speckled wood, and various whites, while there have also been a few sightings of clouded yellows this weekend. Wasp spiders remain the dunes too.

    Clouded yellow by Davene Everett

  • Riphooks, Devil Scritches, Bumbarrels & Clodhoppers

    My colleague Alex has been doing a bit of research into some of the names for birds that have been lost form regular usage. Some may have been in widespread use in the past, others were perhaps confined to a single county. Either way, there are some great names among them.

    This research was sparked by a conversation with one of our volunteer guides, Mick, who referred to a dunlin as a "plover's page"

    Alex's initial list of names was taken from the website http://wildlifearticles.co.uk/lost-bird-names/, and I'm sure that if you look on here you'll find a few more favourites of your own. I have added a few alternatives that I like in square brackets.

    Alex's favourite lost country bird names:

    • An eagle (either species) was called an ‘Erne’ – some mountain peaks or hilltops in England bear this name, revealing their old distribution, as does Loch Erne in Northern Ireland.
    • Owls had good names because of their unusual appearance and harsh calls; ‘Billy Wix’ and ‘Pudge Owl’ referred to the barn owl, ‘Horn Coot’ or ‘Hornie Hoolet’ referred to the long-eared owl, and ‘Ferny Hoolet’ to the tawny owl.
    • Possibly the coolest bird name ever is for the falcon now known as the hobby – ‘Riphook’.
    • Kestrels were called ‘Hoverhawks’ or ‘Wind-fanner’, for obvious reasons. [I personally love the name "windhover".]
    • No idea why but the merlin was once ‘Tweedler’.
    • Song thrush – also ‘Mavis’.
    • A bullfinch was called a ‘Nope’ or ‘Alp’ – maybe onomatopoeic?
    • ‘Shufflewing’ is now the dunnock – a good bit of behavioural observation.
    • The wren – ‘Stumpy Toddy’. I defy you to read that name without grinning.
    • The goldcrest was once called ‘Woodcock Pilot’ as it was once assumed they hitched lifts on the back of woodcocks to cross the North Sea on migration, as no-one believed such a small bird could make the journey by itself.
    • An apt description of the jay’s call – ‘Devil Scritch’!

    Devil's scritch by Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)

    • ‘Sheep-stare’ is now called a starling, retaining the latter part of the name.
    • Chaffinch is a common bird so it has a lot of old names, my faves are ‘Flackie’ and ‘Boldie’.
    • Great tits were known as ‘Pridden Prals’ for reasons I cannot fathom, also ‘Bee-biter’ which risks confusion with the bee-eater.
    • I love this one for the blue tit – ‘Pickcheese’.
    • ‘Black Hatto’ for the black-headed gull is a bit obvious.
    • We know magpie is a corruption of ‘Meg-pie’ but ‘Pianet’ is quite a poetic name for this oft-maligned bird.
    • ‘Aberdevine’ is a brilliant if confusing name for the siskin.
    • The whitethroat had a name that describes its song-flight: ‘Singing Skyrocket’.
    • ‘Bighead’ for greenfinch is just insulting!
    • Goldfinches are so pretty they were showered with lovely names including; ‘Sweet-William’ and ‘King Harry’. A more observational name is "Thistlefinch.
    • ‘Little Woodpie’ is a very cute name for the lesser-spotted woodpecker.
    • There is a touch of Roald Dahl to the name ‘Clodhopper’, or as we know it, the wheatear [this is also observational].
    • Redstarts are always trembling their tails when perched, which gave rise to their alternate name of ‘Flirt-tail’ [I actually ID'ed a redstart from this behavioural trait last week]
    • Nightjars have many alternate names, almost all referring to their weird ‘song’, if it can be called that, but the best might be ‘Scissors-grinder’. [I wrote a blog about nightjar names a couple of years ago. perhaps the most familiar is "goatsucker", which is also the literal translation of their scientific name, Caprimulgus]
    • Bittern - The many dialect terms for the bittern show alliterative playfulness with the bird’s reverberations: butter bump, bog bumper, bog blutter, raredumle- ‘reed-boomer’ miredromble, but the English language also adopted French bitour, which became ‘bittern’
    • Nuthatches were known as "nut-jobbers"
    • Eaves swallow is a fantastic name for the house martin
    • Saving the best ’till last, the ever-lovable long-tailed tit has hundreds of folk names among which some of the best and funniest are: ‘Bumbarrel’, ‘Jack-in-a-bottle’ and my absolute favourite – ‘Hedge Mumruffin’!

    Bumbarrel by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

    Many of these names will have been in use for centuries, but even in the New World there are some great great colloquial names, such as "Timberdoodle" for an American woodcock.

    And, of course, birds are not the only animals to have acquired a variety of names through folklore or local dialect, and I can't possibly write a blog about folk names without mentioning my wife's favourite: bishy barnabees (or bishy barney bees). Anyone from Norfolk or Suffolk is probably familiar with the term, but for those from the rest of the UK, like me, we know them as ladybirds. 

    A Bishy barnabee by Jodie Randall (rspb-images.com)