Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Suffolk......part 1

I'm now blogging from the comfort of home, having returned from my wanderings yesterday. Postings were prevented by dodgy signals & lack of time. This is a round-up of the highs & lows of the last few days of the Mystery Tour.....

Ever since we've been birding, Mary & I have been meaning to visit Minsmere RSPB on the Suffolk coast. We finally made it on Friday & we weren't disappointed. It's a mixture of woodland, wetland, heathland & coast & has a large visitor centre & lots of hides.
As we were driving into the reserve I mentioned that it was nice to be going birding rather than twitching for the day, at least we couldn't dip again. At that moment we came across a couple of cars parked up & several scopes & cameras all pointing in the same direction. Of  course we stopped to investigate & there it was, a Glossy Ibis. After 2 failed twitches in Dorset & Essex, we had come across one by accident!

In the reserve we started off by walking East along the North Wall where we saw a couple of Bearded Tits, followed by several Red-throated Divers a few minutes later from the beach. So far so good, all new birds for Mary.
Minsmere looking South from Dunwich , with Sizewell in the background
We diverted North onto the adjoining Dunwich Heath National Trust reserve when we were told that Dartford Warblers & Whinchats were cavorting in the bushes, but we didn't find either, or even a Stonechat, despite the enormous expanse of Gorse & Heather. However, what we did find was a chap with a huge lens who showed us photos of a Stone Curlew which he'd taken on his way into the reserve. That would be a new UK bird for both of us. I think we were particularly cool, staying for another 10 mins of Whinchat hunting before heading back to the van.

Mary doing some  relaxed Whinchat hunting
We added a Firecrest to the list on our way back to the car park, a nice bonus for Mary.

We easily found the spot where the Stone Curlews had been seen. We scanned the field for a while & had just taken a photo of the location where Stone Curlew had been (as usual) when we found an oddly shaped stone....

There were 2 of them & we managed to get quite good views of them from the road. Mary even managed to take a video with her Lumix down the scope. We were 2 very happy bunnies & celebrated with a late lunch before heading back to the Visitor Centre.

A Garganey & a Caspian Gull had been seen in the morning. I got quite excited, thinking I'd be able to put into practice the Caspian Gull lessons from Gavin's 'Not Quite Scilly' blog....however, as soon as I found out that it was a 2nd Winter bird & not the 1st Winter that I've been trying to get to grips with, and that it was in with loads of other juvenile gull, I decided to give it a miss. I know when I'm out of my depth!

We headed to the South Levels to look for the distant Garganey, which of course we couldn't find, but we did find a rather nice Spotted Redshank. It was changing from Winter to Summer plumage so looked quite different to the one I'd seen on the Exe back at the start of March.

A raptor in a tree in the distance dropped down into the reeds before we could identify it. As we walked back towards the Bittern Hide we came across a couple watching a Sparrowhawk eating a Snipe. They'd seen it fly into the edge of the pool with the Snipe & hold it under the water for a couple of minutes to drown it before tucking in! It was probably the same bird we'd seen drop into the reeds. We watched it have tea, eating the only Snipe we've seen on the trip. I don't think we can put it on the list though.....

As we walked into the Bittern Hide a chap was just leaving & kindly pointed out a Bittern that was just emerging from the reeds below the hide. We've heard plenty of booming on the trip, but it was really nice to actually see one.

View from the Bittern Hide. The Bittern was in the right/front of the reeds. 
We finally left the reserve at about 7pm, having spent the whole day there & still not having had time to go round the woodland loop or visit all of the hides. I would definitely recommend a visit.

By the end of  Friday Mary had added 9 new birds & was on 115 + 1 Sub-species. I had added the Stone Curlew & was on 163 +1

There are so many sites nearby in the 'Where to Watch Birds' book that on Saturday we were spoiled for choice. Our direction was determined by a Great Grey Shrike that was shown on Birdguides about 20 mins to the South of us on Hollesley Heath. It had been there for a few days, either on the wire fence of an MOD property or on the wires by a pig farm. We found a spot that fitted the bill & a 2 minute scan found the bird on the MOD fence. We actually got fairly close & watched it flit between the fence & nearby trees.

Mary photographing the Shrike
We stayed in the vicinity & birded around the Alde estuary. It was very pleasant, but we didn't find anything of note. At least Mary finally added Dunlin to her list at number 117!

Iken Cliff on the The River Alde..... no Cliffs in sight
North Warren RSPB had a very impressive list in the book. We went there with high expectations & were totally unimpressed. It was an area of wetland but we struggled to figure out how to access it & when we finally found a path, there wasn't much to see. It was so boring I didn't even take a site photo! We'd lost interest so didn't even try to find the area of woodland. The extremely naff RSPB map didn't help as usual. We've complained to RSPB staff whenever we get the chance. They're all style & no content, & certainly don't expect to navigate by one.

No birding trip would be complete without a visit to a sewage works/ chalk pit/ quarry/ outfall or power plant. Being next to Sizewell, the choice was easy! We started at the beach to see the Kittiwake colony on the offshore installation (not quite sure what it is exactly). There were hundreds of them & they were a new bird for my Year List.

Kitttiwakes & Cormorants

A nice back-drop!
We then treated ourselves to a coffee in the Sizewell Cafe before having a nice wander around the Sizewell Belts, an area of woodland & meadows that borders Minsmere & the power station. It was quite a long pleasant walk although we didn't see much until we were heading out as it was starting to get late. As we passed an open area in the trees I said "there should really be a Barn Owl quartering over that field". Cue Barn Owl! Mary is now calling me a witch! We sat & watched it for at least 20 minutes, it was fabulous. It was also a new Year bird for us both

Looking for dinner.....
Mary had added 7 new birds & was on 122 + 1
I had added 2 & was on 165 + 1

To be continued......

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