28 April 2017

Hunting high and low

Recent months have seen plenty of birds, but not much birding. How many times in The Hornet's Nest have I written that, or something like it?!

By which I mean of course that while dedicated birding trips have been few and far between, I never stop seeing, hearing and experiencing birds in my surroundings. From the Peregrine which flew low over my train as I headed south out of Banbury to the Cetti's Warbler which exploded into life as I crossed a river bridge on a recent lunchtime stroll, birds are always with me.

But now, having said all of that, I need to record a few notes (largely for my own benefit) regarding a recent, actual, proper birding trip to that most birding of birding destinations - Minsmere RSPB.

With Southwold being our base for a couple of days, I was able to spend the night before exploring the land to the south - Town Marsh and across the river to Walberswick.

It's a remarkable landscape to find so close to the town itself, and I had a great time with great birds: a lone Snipe among the Sand Martins on the marsh, plenty of Oystercatchers and Redshanks along the river, a few Curlews here and there, Little Egret and then a glorious one-two of Marsh Harrier gliding above a fox (Aha's classic 80s Hunting High and Low album immediately sprang to mind at this point...).

I was honestly concerned that I might have spoiled my Minsmere day by seeing so much the night before. I needn't have worried - Minsmere in April was never going to disappoint.

There were great birds to find and watch from start to finish - just short of 70 species on the day, plus some lovely non-avian moments. A detailed account would run to many pages, so I shall confine myself to a few bulleted highlights:
  • A male Ring Ouzel, a lifer (previous sightings have been unconfirmed, a couple of tails diving into hedgerows)
  • Plenty of Wheatear spread across the same field - still one of my favourite birds, rarely seen this closely or in this number
  • A spread of Sandwich Terns (if I may be permitted to invent my own collective noun) - such a striking and handsome bird
  • The usual smorgasbord of waders, including Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Snipe and Oystercatcher
  • Mediterranean Gulls in a much larger number than I have previously watched - I'm not much of a gull man, but these are superb birds
  • The most extraordinary displays in front of Bittern Hide by one particularly showy male Bittern. Watched, snapped and filmed for 15 minutes but I suspect he's still there now, a full week later!
  • Snatched glimpses of Bearded Tits in flight, always a thrill
  • Great views of a male Adder, dressed in snappy green and black diamonds, and less than 2 metres from me on the edge of the woodland. Spellbinding.
Bird of the trip: Bittern (Botaurus stellaris). Perhaps it should be the Ring Ouzel as a lifer, or any of the other wonders on view among a trip total of 70+ species (the Avocet for example, one of the RSPB's highest profile conservation triumphs). But Bittern views like this don't come along every day / year / decade, and it was a spell-binding, breath-holding moment. 

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