Places to see birds

Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk

Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk
Avocet by Andy Hall

Site Notes by Fred Twilley

Minsmere Nature Reserve - a gem on the Suffolk Coast, the most famous of all bird reserves and one which never disappoints at any time of the year. It sprang to fame back in 1947 when avocets returned to breed in Britain after some 100 years but it is the diversity of habitats that makes Minsmere a special place for bird watchers. Minsmere has marsh, reedbed and open water; it has mature woodland and damp scrubby areas and don't forget the heathland and, of course, the coast which borders the reserve.

The reedbeds are always fascinating and I usually make for North Wall a path which takes you through the reedbed and out to the coast. Either side of the path you will hear reed and sedge warblers and listen out for the distinctive call of bearded tits as they flit amongst the reed stems. Bittern feed along the channels in the reedbeds and in early summer often fly low over the bed taking food back to the nest deep in the reeds. Marsh harrier are regular gliding low over the beds, sitting in the few bushes or on posts. Watch and listen for water rail and reed buntings.

The bramble thickets along the path which takes you to the scrape hides are always good for whitethroat, linnet and meadow pipit, goldfinch and the ever present stone chats. The scrape is one of those places where anything can happen. The islands will be dominated by nesting black-headed gulls and common tern but look out for the wonderful Mediterranean gulls - one or two are present in some years. Other birds to look out for are the avocets and ringed plovers nesting on the stony islands and usually a few sandwich and little tern may be found.

The Island Mere Hide is another popular hide, but one which is time-consuming. The open water has great crested grebes, little grebe, mute swan and a large flock of feral greylag geese. But this is the hide to sit and watch for the bittern while marsh harrier and sometimes hobby fly overhead and bearded tit flit in the reeds in front of the hide. As you make your way to and from the Mere Hide listen out for grasshopper or Cetti's warbler in the scrub at the side of the path - probably the best place on the reserve for these two elusive species.

A day is not long enough to see everything at Minsmere but do try to see some of the woodland species. The areas along the road and around the Canopy Hide are the best places for one of my favorite birds - the common redstart but you will also see woodpeckers, treecreeper, blackcaps, garden warblers, chiff-chaff, willow warblers and marsh tits. Listen out here for nightingale and turtle dove. Minsmere always fills you with wonderful memories and wanting to return again and again.

The reserve at Minsmere is well endowed with facilities. The visitor and interpretation centre includes a shop and tearoom with adjacent picnic area. Binoculars may be hired to increase the pleasure of your visit. The toilets include facilities for disabled visitors. RSPB Members may visit the reserve free of charge on production of membership cards. There is a charge for non-members. More information is available from the RSPB web site.