Monday, 8 August 2016

Saturday at Minsmere

A Purple Swamphen (formerly Purple Gallinule) had been at Minsmere all week. Although there have been a few previous records, all seem to have been presumed escapes, being subspecies from outside Europe. This one was different, being the Western subspecies from SW Europe, and since there had been a few out of range records from France recently, presumably due to drought it seemed a reasonably safe bet to be a British first.
I got to Colin's just after 5am and we reached Minsmere at 7am. We were not the first, there were already plenty of cars in the car park, and by the time we got to the south hide stake out there were something like 150 birders lined up along the edge of the pool, some having come from Cornwall and a seven hour overnight drive. Unfortunately the news wasn't good, there had been no sign since first light, and it had always been seen in the early morning. While waiting, two Marsh Harriers put in a very brief appearance, three Green Sandpipers flew over, and I had a very brief flight view of what could have been a Bittern. The pool was full of Little Egrets with maybe a dozen birds present-hard to be sure as my view was rather restricted. Water rails were screaming in the reeds, and Bearded Tits were pinging all the time, so it was a rather pleasant wait.
After about three hours we decided to go back to the car for a coffee-I had  suggested to one of the reserve volunteers that sending down a tea trolley would be a good idea but it never turned up unfortunately. The Buddlejas around the car park were full of butterflies now it had warmed up. Large numbers of Red Admirals, Peacocks and Graylings with a few Commas and my first Painted Lady for a couple of years, and a few Southern and Brown Hawkers were buzzing around as well.

After the break we decided to do a circuit and await news. More Hawkers were seen around the old car park pool, plus a few Emerald and Common Blue damselflies. A Small Copper (my first this year) was seen outside the Northern Hide. Not much seen from the hide, though I saw a very distant Common Sandpiper, in the same area that a Wood Sand had been reported.
Never did see the Stone Curlews on the heath, but we spent a bit of time with the Bee Wolves and Pantaloon Bees.

The East Hide was rather busy but we found a spot on the lower floor, being joined by a couple of the Tyttenhanger guys. The most notable sight was the large flock of Little Gulls-over 30 were present, in various states of plumage including a couple of near adults. Two Mediterranean Gulls were also with them. Three Spotted Redshanks were near the far edge of the reeds, and a big flock of Black Tailed Godwits held a few Ruff, one Knot, some Dunlin and singles of Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers. A Curlew Sandpiper was supposed to be out there as well.
The walk south to the sluice produced more butterflies and dragonflies but few birds in the bushes. A very brief sea watch revealed a couple of Sandwich Terns, some distant gulls and a passing Gannet. A juvenile Stonechat was in the sluice bushes and a juvenile Wheatear was using the gatepost as a perch.

Still no sign of the Swamphen as we reached the south hide, and the crowd had thinned out noticeably. Its a huge reed bed so there was some hope that it was still around, but having favoured one small bit for five days it looked like it might have departed, so after five and a half hours we called it a day. Before we left we spent a few minutes with the Ant Lion colony by the visitors centre. No feeding while we were there though I could see moving jaws (not sure if thats the correct terminology) in two of the nearest pits.
We went up to Walberswick and spent about an hour raptor watching. Two birds on show when we got there turned out to be a Marsh harrier and a Common Buzzard-both birds popped up again a bit later. Heard a Bullfinch, saw a juvenile Whitethroat, a Stonechat and a couple of Mistle Thrushes, and a Swift flew over. A couple of very distant raptors proved hard to identify in the heat haze, not helped by some also very distant corvids and gulls. However it did get a bit steadier at times and one raptor looked to be very good structurally for Honey Buzzard. About ninety minutes after we left, both Honeys were seen together, presumably rather closer this time.

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