15th July and the first visit this Covid-hit year to Minsmere. Our hopes of sunshine for the insects had disappeared under a forecast of cloud and wind, and we were without Dave due to injury, so feeling a little glum to be without a team member. Still, here Mike and I were at my favourite reserve.
If, reader, you are Dave, you didn't miss much mate. It was cloudy and windy, so zero insects, and the birds were nice but just the usual. No point in reading the dull details. Best to stop here and go and get a cup of tea.
If you are not Dave, Wow! What a day! The fun started on the North Wall when a look up an open ditch revealed a hind Red Deer and a fawn. Here in their natural habitat they grow larger than they do on the hills of Scotland (apparently), and this hind was huge; nevertheless it slipped into the reed bed and disappeared.
Down the beach with Common Terns like a swarm of super-size flies buzzing low over us, then straight dow to the South Scrape public viewing platform to see if the long-staying Roseate Terns were around. They weren't but we had c20 Little Terns, 3 really smart adult/2cy Little Gulls, and a few Sandwich Terns. A fellow birder pointed out 3 Arctic Terns loitering on the mud. I think of these as having grey-breasts and short legs, but in reality that's Common Tern. Arctics have really deep grey breasts and absolutely tiny legs. Also could see the small-dagger shape bill in comparison to Common. Nice - can't rely on seeing these annually in the absence of being able to pop down to a suitable reservoir and
string see them in Spring. Also Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, c20 Dunlin, a Turnstone, and Mike had a brief view of a mini-wader, probably a Little Stint. We searched, but could not relocate. Oh and a few Barnacle Geese too - nice easy year ticks these. Of course they are wild.
Back up to East Hide, and the full glory of the breeding bonanza was in front of us. C200 Avocets including chicks, Common Tern chicks everywhere, some Ruff, more Spotshanks and Blackwits, and tucked in a corners a Green Sandpiper.
Round the remaining hides, back to the car park for lunch, then out to Island Mere. 2 Hobbies gave a hunting display dashing across the mere - surely one of the best wildlife sights available anywhere, a couple of Marsh Harriers, then on leaving a Great White Egret flew past. On to the Bittern Hide, and from our elevated viewpoint an actual flying Bittern and more Marsh Harriers cruising the area.
Just time to return to South Scrape to see if the Roseate Terns had reappeared. Scan their favoured island in the southern corner, and what's this? Two light-pink flushed breasts amongst the mass of Sandwich and Common Terns? pale ivory-grey backs - check; all black bills - check; bright red legs - check; metal leg-ring - check. OH MY GOD Mike! Mike! THEY ARE HERE! We spent a good half hour plus marvelling at these beauties. Slightly bull-headed, a funny trotting walk, and really quite aggressive - one bird chased off the Little Gulls. We put some others onto them (between the Little Gulls and the Arctic Tern, yes that's it, with a Med Gull just behind it). Whilst we were revelling in these birds Mike spotted 2 Spoonbills flying in to join the third one just in front of us (What? How does a Spoonbill slip in near to you unnoticed?). They fed, pecked, argued, generally gave a great display, then flew up to the East Scrape, then West Scrape.
After an hour or so when we admired a summer-plumaged Sanderling, another Ruff, and the various waders, we realised we couldn't find the Rosy terns any more so we set off back. Just a quick look off the beach at all the terns, a couple of littles in there with their much faster wing beats, then another tern with a faster wingbeat, not a Little Tern, all black head and bill, and smaller and paler than the passing Commons - we'd found another Roseate, presumably one from the scrape.
It's not just the breadth of species, its the scale. Minsmere is full of people just out for the day, or who bird watch occasionally, and why not? An obsession with lists, rarity, and species count can blind one to the spectacle, both visual and aural, of a mass of breeding and post-breeding birds. Being on the platform on the south scrape is like being a kid in a toy shop; fantastic birds wherever you look. Both variety and quantity. Just an unbeatable place when it is on form like this.