Trip reports

RSPB Minsmere (Coach Trip)

RSPB Minsmere (Coach Trip)
Bittern [Rich Hanman]

Sunday, 11 September 2016

RSPB Medway's annual coach trip to the flagship reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk is always filled with high expectations due to the variety of habitats which affords an unrivalled opportunity for a big day list. This trip was no exception with 84 bird species recorded.

Marie and Rob Tilley and Rich Hanman had the opportunity to travel ahead of the coach and in doing so extended their time in the field. In Rich's case this pre-amble around the reserve delivered fabulous views of kingfishers and also sightings of otter and muntjac deer.

The coach arrived at Minsmere at 10.30 am and our group were duly greeted and signed in by one of the reserve wardens. Some birders opted to do their own thing and meet back at the coach at 4.30 pm, while others were happy to be led by Rich around the reserve.

The feeders in the car park were being visited by a mixed flock of finches with an apparent hierarchy being played out which saw greenfinches dominant over chaffinches, who in turn exerted dominance over the lowly but beautiful goldfinches.

First stop inside the reserve for most was the Bittern Hide which produced .... yes, you've guessed it ... brief but multiple views of bitterns in flight. Other birds of note seen here were a small flock of bearded tits (working their way through the reeds), gadwalls, teals, mallards, cormorants, mute swans, marsh harriers, common buzzards and kestrels to keep the day list ticking over.

Next stop was the Island Mere Hide with views of open water. Cormorants rested with wings outstretched, great black-backed and black-headed gulls roosted, facing into the wind, and marsh harriers patrolled the reeds in the distance. Retracing our steps to the visitors centre we added common woodland birds to our list including wrens, robins, blue tits, great tits, coal tit and long-tailed tits. Our corvid count included jackdaws, carrion crows, rooks, magpies and jays.

We then set off on the Coast Trail stopping first at the viewing area for stone curlews but, alas, these birds hadn't been seen for a few days and were likely gathering ahead of their return to Spain. The temporary North Bushes trail delivered green woodpeckers and pied wagtails for most, and common whitethroats and blackcaps for Karen. As we walked along the North Wall we got our first views of waders including lapwings, dunlins and black-tailed godwits.

Our scan of the sea didn't produce any birds so we continued to East Hide for a better look at the waders on East Scrape. Here a small flock of spotted redshanks was the highlight for most, topped up with views of grey herons, little egrets, curlews, curlew sandpipers, redshank, snipe, ruff, golden plovers and ringed plovers. The water levels were noticeably very low which was probably having an effect on the variety and quantity of birds compared to previous visits.

We continued south along the coastal path towards the sluice gate stopping briefly at the open-deck viewpoint to get a second view over the scrape. Here we added shovelers, shelducks, wigeons, Canada and greylag geese to our list. We continued the Coast Trail loop back towards the visitor centre to take in views of the South Scrape and West Scrape which delivered reed warblers, reed buntings, a singing (but not seen) Cetti's, stonechats, house martins, sand martins, barn swallows, common sandpipers and green sandpipers.

As the time was getting on we squeezed in one more visit to the Bittern Hide and were rewarded with our best views of this iconic bird as it flew literally in front of the hide before disappearing in the reeds. As we assembled back at the visitor's centre, there were whisperings that the common redstart was showing well. These whisperings turned into confirmed sightings and best still they were on the mound just past the pond. The bird was showing really well, perching on a gorse bush and then feeding on the ground ... what a great bird to finish.

As everyone re-grouped for the return coach trip back to Medway, Pete Saville shared sightings of his family ramble with a big smile on his face ... Pete, Cheryl and Charlotte had managed to see great white egrets on the North Marsh and Dartford warbler on Dunwich Heath ... bonus points to the Saville Clan!

All in all, a great day with perfect weather. Thanks to Wendy and David for organising another successful coach trip ... here's looking forward to our return next Spring on Sunday 21st May 2017.

Rich Hanman