Written about a trip to Minsmere in October 2015.
The sun shines down on another glorious October day at RSPB Minsmere. The air is crisp and cool but the sun has risen and is warming everything nicely. Time to take out all the extra jumpers, woolly hat and waterproofs from your backpack before embarking on a day’s exploration of Minsmere, thankfully now with a lighter bag.
Minsmere is the well known RSPB reserve which has hosted Springwatch for the last few years, located on the Suffolk coast. There is no doubt about its popularity, with an abundance of habitats to its name, and star species like bearded tit, bittern and marsh harrier making regular appearances.
Entering through the gift shop and embarking on the walk in spring you would be welcomed by nesting sand martins, but they have all since departed for their wintering grounds in Africa, leaving their sandy nesting bank speckled with empty nest holes. The dragonflies are out in abundance though, a nice occurrence on an autumn day. Walking along the North Wall the breeze is chilling but a huge expanse of the reedbed can be seen. Reaching East Hide you can settle down to great views of the scrape covered in a huge numbers of ducks, including shoveler, wigeon and teal. The RSPB logo is showing well with one avocet standing on a bank right by the hide and another wading through the shallows while characteristically searching for prey by moving its bill from one side to the other through the murky water. ‘Spotted redshank!’ ‘On the island to the left, next to the rocks’ – should have no problem finding that then. You scan for what seems like forever before seeing a redshank right at the back of the scrape. A quick picture to look at it in more detail later (albeit later reflection revealed a fuzzy blob in the distance), then back to the binoculars as a harrier appears and all the ducks take flight, the raptor flies along the edge of the scrape before disappearing back into the reedbed. The whoosh of rapid flight is replaced by the calming dabbling of feeding waterfowl once more.
Continuing on along the beach then turning along the path past the konik ponies, and a visit to the hides along the way, leads you back to the visitor centre where a welcome lunch is waiting at the café. Setting off again, this time the path leads you through the cool shade of the woodland before reaching Bittern Hide. Clambering up the steps, you open the door to the warmth of the towering hide. Half way through attempting to swing your legs over the long benches someone calls ‘kingfisher’ so you immediately, albeit clumsily, jump into your seat as the movement catches your eye, and are rewarded with a great view of this dazzling blue bird perching on a reed. Several marsh harriers and three bittern flights later you depart for Island Mere Hide where the cormorants gather and a hobby is spotted. The otter has eluded us for the day, although its presence is revealed by the footprints left behind in the mud. A temporary path for visitors is currently open which leads you to the top of the hill, by the Springwatch studio, where you can see a breath-taking view of the entire reserve, it is no wonder so much wildlife comes here with reedbeds, marsh, woodland and grassland present.
A final stop at the café for a spot of afternoon tea and slice of cake, although the day is not quite finished yet. A trip down the road to the heathland, and a walk along the public footpath leads you to an opening where the red deer rut is in full swing. You can hear the stag bellowing before he is in view, appearing from behind the bushes to the area where his hinds are gathered. His antlers are a very impressive display in themselves, with the animal itself being equally extraordinary. The roar can be heard again as he struts behind the bushes, the tips of his antlers visible, two other young males move off, no challenge there. The day is coming to a close, and the journey home begins.
It is no wonder Minsmere is so popular with its abundance of wildlife, from birds and insects to mammals. It is not just this though, but its calming atmosphere and bursts of excitement which create a joyous comradery in the hides, with people sharing their species spots so all can have a good day. The café is a must visit, it even has gluten-free recipes which are all the rage these days. Whether you are an expert birder or a novice, a great day can be had for all. Thanks again Minsmere, see you soon.