After a week spent watching the amazing seabird spectacle of Bempton Cliffs, we then headed down the coast to Minsmere – another popular reserve that I had not been to previously. Time to rectify that.
Our accomodation was to be a lovely cottage that backed on to the reserve and had a populated Barn Owl box in the back garden. I had my hide with me and was hoping for those elusive close ups of a Barn Owl, preferably with a feed for the chick(s). After a pretty straight forward drive I couldn’t help but quickly unload the car and walk to the reserve (without my gear) just to get a feel for the layout. It was soon clear that although the reserve is technically within walking distance, it’s actually quite a way and when carrying 2 stone of kit it’s going to be too far to walk each day. No problem, one of the other things I like about RSPB reserves is that you can get in at any time even if the visitor centre was closed, and Minsmere is no exception.
The reserve is some size and has lots of different environments from reedbeds, woodland, scrapes, heathland and beach. I just knew this was going to be a successful week.
Heading back to the cottage and the light was already starting to drop, a quick look out of the bedroom window revealed the Barn Owl coming in with the first feed of the evening. Lovely views!
A quick scan of the weather showed that despite it being June, and alledgedly summer, the very next morning looked like the only good sunrise to be had for the forseeable future. Argh! Plans were made for a very early start.
At this time of the year the alarm has to be really early to catch that sunrise and so I was up and on my way for 4.30am and after the short drive was unsurprisingly the first person to arrive. I had decided that I would head for the East Hide so that the rising sun would be behind me and would bathe the scrape in lovely golden light. Once you start walking through the reserve the thing that really struck me is just how tame the rabbits are. Great place for kids as you are guaranteed to see wildlife of some kind.
My first encounter was to be after heading across the North Wall and going through the gate to the beach / dunes. As I had the sun rising behind me and there was barely a breath of wind, when I spotted a Red Deer hind feeding in the long grass on the bank, she had no idea I was there. I slowly levelled the camera and let her approach…
I’ve been told that the deer here can be quite accommodating but not having any experience in this area I was being careful – no sudden movements or noises. The shutter noise barely received a glance.
This hind really had no idea I was even there and was getting closer and closer. It’s a perfect start to have a willing subject like this so I made the most of it and took plenty of images. Eventually she was so close I could only fit her head into the frame and she finally realised that “something” was there ahead of her but still couldn’t work me out. Alot of sniffing and staring ensued –
Finally, after a fantastic experience, her waryness got the better of her and she skipped over the top of the sea wall, stopping for once glance back as she went.
Carrying on towards the East hide, there were swallows and Sand Martins flitting over the sand and the air was alive with birdsong. Mornings like this are a tonic for the hassles of everyday life, I could happily lose myself in this moment for hours an hours (and frequently do!). I spotted a recently fledged family of Cetti’s Warblers in the scrub just outside the hide but was not able to get a single image. Shame but lovely to see.
The East hide (like many on this site) are in two storeys. I chose to sit low down to get the best angle and was greeted by a scrape full of life. I would class my home patch as Rye Harbour in Sussex and, although there are now a healthy population of Avocets at breeding time, they do seem well spread out. Not so here at Minsmere, they had gathered into a large feeding flock and were in a sifting frenzy –
Avocets are a bird you just can’t help point a camera at. They are elegant yet feisty and full of character and always give something of interest to photograph.
Even just a side shot with that fantastic beak is worth photographing!
But where they really excel is protecting their young. They won’t tolerate ANYTHING near them and will vigorously defend against all comers regardless of size.
It’s an interesting situation that two birds that have struggled greatly in the past are now cramping each other’s style. Great to see them both thriving.
It’s always worth keeping an eye out for other activity too as birds are always coming and going and often it’s easy to miss opoortunities by not being prepared. This fly past from a Barnacle Goose was a good example. I watched it coming from some distance and grabbed some shots as it dropped down over the edge of the reedbed and descended onto the scrape at a distance. This isn’t a bird I often see on my home patches.
Redshank aren’t scare by any means but getting a flight shot is normally quite hard – this time of year (juneish) when they have young they will fly and alarm call so listen out for the advance warning.
For now I’ll leave you with a closeup of a Little Egret, a bird I’ll be returning to in the next update, along with Spotted Redshank, Bearded Tits, House and Sand Martins and a close but no cigar shot of a Bittern encounter. I’ll also let you know how the Barn Owl opportunities were.
Hope you liked. Thanks for looking.