Almost every time this silver traveller goes there’s something new to see at Minsmere. Let the Springwatch madness subside and you can walk around the site, to the beach, through woodland or across heath, and never find more than two or three people passing. It’s busier in the hides of course, but an overcast day leaves the beach almost deserted, and space enough in most if not all of the hides.
For waders, the Scrapes – three of them – are the best though not the only sites. It’s always worth starting in that area. You gain orientation as well as a feel for the birds in residence. A check on the recently spotted list, always provided at reception, shows where most people are likely to be as well as items of interest or surprise. For our visit the surprise was that an otter had captured (and presumably eaten) a grey lag goose the day before. Reception will also tell you if a Minsmere guide will be available to help with identification in any hide. Each hide has its own board with the day’s sightings that can be added to, and some have pictorial aids too.
The East Scrape had grey lag and Canada geese, several lapwing, black tailed godwit and the emblematic avocet, whose young (thanks to the badger-proof fencing paid for by Springwatch) were approaching maturity. Black headed gulls, little gulls and terns were in evidence, along with a variety of duck. We are beginning to think we can now identify redshank from greenshank as well as the godwit.
As for the non-water fowl, we spotted a raptor, possibly too small for a marsh harrier, early on but it did not emerge from the shrubs where it had probably made a kill. There had been a marsh tit along with other tits and finches outside reception. The sand martins just beyond had been an attraction too, but we had need to walk off the copious ploughman’s lunch we’d been served at the cafe. They were in evidence at other places too, along with swallows, still skimming the water for insects.
It isn’t only birds though. Otter have been noted; seals are possible offshore, though we failed to spot either. Konik ponies feed on the salty grass: again, not seen. The Highland cattle are another matter, however: how could anyone miss them?
Yet our biggest surprise – back to birds – came as we were heading towards the exit. On a small island in a pond away from normal viewing were four great white egret. The little egret, once a stranger here, is now almost commonplace but its great white relation remains an occasional visitor. And there were four, with a little egret that flew off but not before it had served for comparison.
We never miss an opportunity to visit Minsmere. When family are with us it has to be in the late morning or early afternoon. Once on our own, after the summer holidays, we promise ourselves earlier morning or evening visits. At these times there is even more to be seen.