Friday, 5 June 2015

June 5th Minsmere

In case you are unaware (or from another country), Minsmere has been taken over for three weeks for a second year by the BBC for their live wildlife series, Springwatch. The reserve is bugged with cameras spying on the lives of the animals that call this place their home. The objective of the series since it first aired 11 years ago is to get the viewer involved with nature and see the wildlife in this country in a new light. You can watch the wildlife they are focusing on via webcams that are on 24/7 during the three weeks the show is on. Today, I am at Minsmere to check out behind the scenes.

Sand Martin chicks
I begin my self-guided tour at the visitor centre. The sand martins at the sand cliff outside is truely busy with the birds going back and forth every few seconds. Looking closely at the nest holes, you can see the reason for the non-stop action. Peering outside, waiting for food to arrive are the chicks. Some of these holes are crammed with up to three hungry faces poking out at the same time. The fact that they are at the entrance like this means that they are nearing time to fledge. In the next few days time, these holes should be empty for another year. I find it strange that with so many nests to choose from, sand martins, for a second year running, are not part of the Springwatch line up.

Male Bearded Tit
Walking towards the beach, a few other visitors tagged along with me for a bit (two were Aussie tourists) and I helped them see a species everyone seemed to be after. It wasn't hard, they were flying around us and over the path we were on. The sounds of pinging in the reeds betrayed the presence of bearded tits! A few of them showed themselves for a short pose on the reed stems. The females orange-brown with a few streaks, but it is the male everyone wants to see. He is a handsome bird with a blue-grey head and black 'moustache' stripes. Bearded tits are one of the highlights of this year's series as for the first time, viewers can watch a bearded tit nest. These birds are elusive and secretive, so it is really exciting to see what new behaviour we can observe from them at this rare occasion.

Thrift or Sea Pink
Viewing from the hides on the beach, the scrapes had some very nice birds on offer. Avocets with chicks, little ringed plover, black-headed gulls, kittiewakes, common terns, little egrets, lesser-blacked gulls, shelduck, barnacle geese and oystercatchers were all either feeding or nesting in this area. The scrapes have been another highlight of the show but for a different reason. Last year, while the show was filming it's first series based at Minsmere, they caught on camera a badger swimming across to the islands at the scrape and it fed on every chick and egg there. It was devastating news to watch for most and this year, the RSPB has built a better fence that will hopefully keep the badgers out. To be honest, I found this silly and has kept the badgers from a food source, but I can understand why it is put up, to protect birds like the avocet (a protected species).

Little Ringed Plover
Avocet chick
Adult Avocet
Swallow deciding which way to go
Cetti's Warbler
Follow that wire!
As I made my round the scrapes, seeing some linnets and a flying bittern along the way, I start to notice something neatly placed to one side. I follow miles of cable lying on one side of the path in the undergrowth. It reaches two of the reserve's hides. The wire travels up onto the roof of the hides and back down again on the other side. When the wire reaches areas of trees and into the woods, the lengths of wire is tied to the branches. The trail of one length leads me back to the visitor centre, where I stopped for lunch.

When wire meets hide
After lunch, I went to Bittern Hide. In front of the hide was a man sitting in a chair belonging to the BBC. Inside the hide, an RSPB volunteer was helping visitors by showing a bittern that was poking it's head out just outside. Another flew in the distance. The brilliant sunshine at this point was replaced by a thunder cloud and the sky rumbled. A storm was coming! So, I decided to try and reach the Island Mere Hide before the rain did. It started to drizzle when I got to the hide, but I got there without getting really wet at all.

Cameraman at work!
Springwatch HQ
On the way to the hide, you pass by the building the BBC uses as the show's HQ. I have a proud fact for you. My uncle works here and makes the signposts you walk past on the reserve. He has also helped build this HQ building. I am also proud to tell you that next week on Springwatch Unsprung (the show's spin-off which asks viewers questions and talk to guests about various wildlife themed topics), I will be in the audience on Wednesday night (9pm BBC2). So make sure you tune in and see if you can spot me in the background!

Anyway, back in the hide, the storm grew stronger and the rumbles got louder. Forks of lightning flashed in the sky. I spot 6 spoonbills flying over the reserve, appearing as white as the flashes going on around them. A pair of great crested grebes were doing the weed dance (surprisingly late I know), but were too far away to photograph. Eventually, the storm faded out to sea and the sunny weather returned. I could now go have a look at the area where the ultimate stars of Springwatch are being filmed.

Stickleback Cams
 Under the raised boardwalk that lead to the hide, two underwater cameras were placed in the shallow pool of water below. They are filming two nests belonging to two different male sticklebacks christened Frisky Phil and Spineless Simon (don't ask why). The viewers are going crazy for these two small fish guarding their eggs and attracting females to lay more into their nests, which are like small tunnels in the mud. I think they have their own Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, its madness!
Stickleback Fry. Whose their daddy?

Maintenance work on one of the Stickleback Cams
I was heading back to Bittern Hide, when I noticed a couple staring at the ground over the rope marking the adder trail. Was there an adder? There sure was! A beautiful female coiled in the undergrowth. She soon became active and began slithering around the spot. At Bittern Hide, the bittern was still walking around the green reed shoots that formed a bridge of sorts connecting the two reedbeds. Yet another bittern flew over. Thats five sightings at five differnt times now! My final addition to today's epic sightings list was a great spotted woodpecker chick poking it's head out of a nest hole in a 'dead' tree calling to be fed, which one of it's parents did.
Southern Marsh Orchid


Great Spotted Woodpecker chick

1 comment:

  1. A brilliant day and a fab post! Very interesting to see another view of Springwatch - I'll be watching on Wednesday.