Minsmere Weekend

It was a fine morning as 32 members and friends boarded the coach that was to take us on our planned weekend to East Anglia. Our driver, David, welcomed us as we set off across the Peak District, and it was not long before Red Grouse was added to our weekend list – not a bird that we could expect to see at our destination!

On arriving at Frampton Marsh, we were met by Trish, a former member of the group, who had already found out what was about (though she didn’t manage to hold on to a Red Kite which had flown by only ten minutes before our arrival!) Compared with our previous visit to the site in 2008, the developing reedbed in front of the visitor centre held relatively few birds, although there were a number of Ringed Plover and Black-tailed Godwit, together with Pintail and Wigeon and a resting Cormorant.


The feeders nearby provided good views of smaller species, the most notable being the Yellowhammers which were almost glowing in the bright sunlight. The water level on the scrapes was quite high, and consequently they held a good selection of diving ducks, including Goldeneye, Pochard and Tufted as well as a single drake Scaup which showed well before deciding to have a nap. There were Redshank and Dunlin, Shelduck and Little Egrets, and variety was provided by an escaped Maned Duck, a long way from its natural home in Australia.

The wet grassland held the largest number of birds; flocks of hundreds of Golden Plover and Lapwing rested there before taking to the air, perhaps disturbed by a passing predator, and swirling around in changing formations before settling back in a different place. There were also a few Ruff which tended to keep themselves separate from the other waders. Matching the wader flocks for spectacle, it was fantastic to see the Brent Geese flighting in to bathe on the freshwater pools, their calls echoing across the landscape.


A short walk along the sea bank took us to an area of fields where a flock of Whooper Swans were grazing, and some of the group were fortunate to get excellent views of a Merlin perched on a post. The large expanse of saltmarsh beyond the seawall is a good place to look for raptors, and a passing male Hen Harrier showed well before a Peregrine made a swift pass across the marsh. All too soon, it was time to leave, and, with our numbers boosted to 33, we set off for our hotel in Great Yarmouth.

The family-run hotel, expertly found by Barbara, proved to be a really good choice, with its friendly atmosphere and tasty menu. Not only that, it had good birds right on the doorstep! Two Shore Larks had been reported from the dunes just opposite the hotel, so these were a challenge for those wanting to take a walk before breakfast. On the first morning, a single bird was seen by just a few of the party, but this soon took flight and was lost; the second morning proved much more productive, and two birds were seen well by all those who joined the search – a just reward for the early risers.


We had been joined at the hotel on Friday night by Tom & Jean, two more former group members, so 35 boarded the coach for our day at Minsmere. We stopped just short of the reserve at the Saw Mills area of Westleton Heath, and after a short walk and a careful listen, we picked up the descending song of a Woodlark as it displayed over the heath. We moved closer and were able to see the bird in flight, though it was still at some distance.

Minsmere was waiting, and we were met there by the Duty Manager who furnished us with maps, before we went on our various ways to explore the reserve. The Scrape is always the best place to see waders, but the high water level meant that there was not much exposed mud. It also meant that getting to some of the hides involved a short paddle, as the water flowed right across the path! There were a few waders, Knot, Common Sandpiper and Turnstone amongst others, but the highlight here was the two female Smew making use of the deeper water to dive for their prey.


The Bittern hide overlooking the reedbed was by far the most popular, having recently provided good views of both Bittern and Otters, though it was difficult to get into and noisy because of the assembled crowds. However, patience was rewarded, and nearly everyone got views of Bittern, with some being lucky enough to see one Bittern slowly make its way across the pools in front of the hide, giving tremendous views. Others were there when an Otter appeared and approached quite close to the hide. If you were there for both sightings, it was a real Red Letter day.

Marsh Harriers were regularly quartering the reeds, and they were also showing well at Island Mere hide where Great Crested Grebes were on the water, more Bitterns were seen in flight, and three Snipe were difficult to spot, even though they were only metres from the hide. The habitat at Minsmere is very varied, so other species added to the day’s total included Marsh Tit in the fringe woodland, Green Woodpecker over the grassland, and Cetti’s Warblers singing from waterside bushes. It had proved to be another fine day, and we returned to our hotel feeling well pleased with the day’s action.


We departed the hotel on Sunday (back down to 33) and headed north towards the Broads. Once we arrived in the area, and having stopped a few times to scan the fields, we came across a nice flock of Pink-footed Geese, and soon spotted four Cranes, elegantly feeding behind the geese, and everyone was able to view them through the telescope (thanks Chris). A stop at Sea Palling to take advantage of the amenities also provided sightings of Gannets and Red-throated Divers, and, moving on to Horsey Mere, a short walk to view the mere gave close views of a Black-throated Diver, often too close as it disappeared behind the near reeds.


More roadside stops allowed us to add Red-legged Partridge to our list and also gave close up views of a male Marsh Harrier which crossed the road right in front of the coach. Our final stops for the day were at Ormesby Broad and at Filby Broad, where we looked at the latter for a reported Slavonian Grebe, but without success. However we did get passing views of Egyptian Geese, which raised our total species seen or heard on the weekend to 104!

We set off for home, having had had a very enjoyable weekend, thanks to all those who participated, to our driver, David, and to those involved in the organisation of the trip. Now we can all look forward to next year!

Photos courtesy of Robert, Peter and Chris.



Click here for an additional gallery of photos from the trip on Sandpiper’s Page.

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