Archive for the ‘Minsmere’ Tag

27th June – 1st July 2015: visiting family and friends in East Anglia.   Leave a comment

Rather than make a number of separate weekend trips to visit friends and family this summer we decided to fit it all into a single ten-day trip, seeing Margaret’s daughter and my brother on successive weekends (as they are working) and seeing a number of retired friends during the week.

IMG_8003 John at the canal

We arrived at Maldon in Essex in the afternoon of the 26th. The following day we all cycled along the River Blackwater and the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal for a picnic. Here Margaret’s son-in-law John surveys the canal.

IMG_8002 John, Donna, Anita & M

Anita, Margaret’s daughter, also had her old school friend Donna (also from South Africa and now living in London) staying with her. L-R on the bridge over the canal: John, Donna, Anita and Margaret.

IMG_8811 Heybridge Basin

On the Sunday morning I did a little birding at Heybridge Basin where the River Blackwater and the canal flow into the sea. The footpath, popular with locals, takes you over the canal locks and along the river bank. It was a pleasant walk but the grey clouds seen above soon closed in and it started to rain.

IMG_8799 Heybridge basin

In the winter this estuary is teeming with waders such Avocets, Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits but in late June there was little but the local breeding Oystercatchers and Common Terns.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Late on Sunday we left Essex and drove to Cottenham near Cambridge to stay with my old friend Jennie. I met Jennie in 1972 during my last year at University whilst she was doing her PhD. From 1973 – 1976 we shared a house with three others until I got married to Janet in the September of that year.

IMG_8826 Lakenheath

Jennie is a keen naturalist but unlike me hasn’t specialised in birds. She does volunteer work at the nearby Wicken Fen, but it was to the larger and more distant RSPB reserve at Lakenheath that we journeyed. The visitor centre’s floor is covered with hundreds of beige coloured tiles, but just three are green with a sign that says the beige tiles represent the area of East Anglia that was once covered by fen and the green ones represent what is left!

IMG_8824 Marsh Harrier edit

We saw some good birds including a Crane with its head poking out of the reeds, great flight views of a Bittern and several Hobbys but it was the local Marsh Harriers that put on the best show. Here a male returns with a full crop ….

IMG_8814 Marsh Harriers food pass

… but earlier we saw a male carrying prey fly over the nest site and performed a food pass, the female (left) rose up, the male dropped the prey which the female caught in mid-air.

IMG_8841 Large Skipper

Butterflies abounded in the hot weather, I saw some Essex Skippers, a butterfly I haven’t conclusively identified before, but only this Large Skipper posed for the camera.

IMG_8886 Stone Curlew

Later we visited the nearby reserve of Weeting Heath, just over the border in Norfolk. Here we had good views of several Stone Curlew a species that now is very hard to see in Dorset or its environs.


On the 30th we headed for friends in Lowestoft but on route we detoured to Hickling Broad in the Norfolk Broads.

Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio machaon britannicus). Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Our main aim was to see the endemic UK race of the Swallowtail Butterfly which has its UK stronghold in the Norfolk Broads. I have seen this species many times in Europe but I’ve never been to this area at this time of year before. After some searching we saw three but they were fast flying and I failed to photograph any. This photo is taken from the Norfolk Broads authority website.

Pacific Golden-plover Ken Harvard Hawaii

We headed south to Lowestoft and stopped off at Breydon Water near Yarmouth where a Pacific Golden Plover had been seen for the last few days. We had reasonable views but the heat haze was pretty bad and the bird often hid in the spartina grass. This photo comes from the Internet Bird Collection and was taken by Ken Harvard in Hawaii. The bird we saw was moulting out of breeding plumage unlike this one which was moulting into it and had less gold spangling on the upperparts but was similarly plumaged on the face, breast and belly. Pacific GP is a close relative of the American GP and breeds across arctic Siberia into western Alaska. The wintering range is huge, from eastern Africa across the Indian Ocean , SE Asia and all across the Pacific. There have been 83 previous records of this species up to 2013 and this is the third I have seen in the UK.

IMG_8896 Debbie, Alan & M

Then it was on to Lowestoft, the most easterly town in the UK to visit my old friends Alan and Debbie. I have known Debbie since 1974, but I met Alan in 1969. Whilst relaxing in a coffee bar at Leeds University I heard Alan defending the performance of Derby County Football Club, asking if he was from Derby I found that he not only had lived in the same area as me but in the same street! I had met his sister back then but not him. He joined us in the infamous Fraser Terrace ‘slum’ for the next three years and we have remained friends ever since.

IMG_8895 Debbie, M & Alan

It was one of the hottest days of year with temperatures around 30c, so relaxing in the garden with a bottle of wine seemed the order of the day. Note the only one falling asleep is Margaret who was only drinking water.

IMG_8934 Minsmere

South of Lowestoft lies the RSPB’s flagship reserve of Minsmere. This was the subject of this years Springwatch TV series.

IMG_8935 Minsmere

The reserve consists of extensive areas of reed bed, open water, muddy pools, heathland and woodland. In the distance is the Sizewell B nuclear power station.

IMG_8930 M at Minsmere

Behind the beach lies ‘the scrape’ an artificially built pools that are a haven to breeding waders and migrants alike.

IMG_8900 juv Avocet Minsmere

Perhaps the most famous breeding wader is the Avocet. Heavy predation of Avocet chicks by Badgers has resulted in the scrape being ringed by an electrified fence, which certainly worked as ‘the scrape’ is full of juvenile Avocets this year (compare with the Avocet chicks I photographed in Hampshire on 28th May to see how much they can grow in a month).

IMG_8918 Oyk

Other breeding waders included this Oystercatcher ….

IMG_8920Oyk pullus & Turnstone

… and the Oystercatcher’s chick wandered around in the company of this Turnstone, fresh in from the high Arctic.

IMG_8911 Spot Red

The best sighting on ‘the scrape’ was a flock of 50+ Red Knot, some still in their orangey-red breeding dress and a flock of 16 summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank (above). This species nests in boggy woodland in the arctic and uses a system of sequential polyandry, ie the female mates with one male then leaves him to incubate and raise the chicks, then may mate with another male who does the same. The females then migrate, so breeding plumage females can arrive in the UK from late June on their ‘autumn’ migration south. This species used to be much commoner in Dorset than it is today and partially breeding plumaged birds were often seen in Poole Harbour in April on their way north, but now it is mainly a scarce winter visitor to the area, a time when they are in their grey non-breeding plumage. Eastern Britain at this time of year is probably the best place to see these beautiful birds in all their finery.

IMG_8944 Framlingham

For various reasons our friends couldn’t see us in the most convenient order so by the time we arrived in Framlingham we had almost done a full circle.


Terry, David and Margaret. Margaret was friends with Terry when she lived in South Africa. Recently Terry moved to the UK where she met and married David. David has a strong interest in natural history, particularly birds, and being completely blind has a great interest in their vocalisations. At the temperature was in the 30s away from the coast we spent the afternoon indoors discussing music and bird song. I took this photo in a nearby church in 2014.

On 2nd July it was thankfully a little cooler. We left Terry and David after breakfast and started the long drive to Leeds in Yorkshire. This, along with a visit to Derbyshire will be the subject of the next post.

17th – 20th January 2014 – East Anglia   Leave a comment

After leaving Cambridge on the evening of the 17th we drove to the small town of Framlingham in Suffolk where we stayed with Terry and David for two nights. Terry is an old friend of Margaret’s from Plettenberg Bay in South Africa who came to the UK in 2002 after the death of her first husband. Here she met David and they married soon after. Margaret has only recently got in touch with her so, having not seen each other for over 15 years its was a great reunion.

David and I got on very well, he is very interested in birds and wildlife and in particular bird vocalisations, he has traveled extensively around the USA and hitch-hiked and camped all around Europe, he loves music, has a great collection of blues and folk, plays the guitar and keyboards and has met many famous musicians like Dave Gilmore and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. All of this would be quite an achievement but when you realise that David has been totally blind since the age of 12 it becomes almost unbelievable. We both agreed that David was truly inspirational.

On the 18th we spent the morning at the RSPB’s Minsmere reserve before heading north to Blythburgh and back to Framlingham.


Terry, David and Margaret in Blythburgh Church


Minsmere is the RSPB’s flagship reserve. The area was flooded in WWII to deter invasion and rare birds like the Avocet soon returned to breed. The reserve consists of extensive reedbeds, woodland, heathland and a large wetland scrape.


A view over ‘the scrape’. To the south of the reserve is Southwell B nuclear power station.


Moe unusual birds seen that day included Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Tundra Bean Goose, Peregrine and Red-throated Diver but this flock of over a thousand Lapwing wins ‘spectacle of the day’. There was a single Golden Plover in there somewhere, we did manage to find it.


A close up of a few of the Lapwings. David really appreciated hearing their haunting calls

To hear the calls of Lapwings click on this link


Greylag Geese where very common and unlike the birds we see in Dorset,  were wild wintering birds from Iceland. Again David appreciated their constant vocalisations.

For Greylag Goose vocalisations click on this link


Birding done, we called in to see Blythburgh church and then visited a friend of Terry and David who lives in the village. Although a church has stood on this site since 654 the current church dates to the 12th century.


One it’s most important features is this ancient wooden ceiling with ornately carved angels.


Margaret explored a narrow spiral staircase only to find that it ended at a spy hole in the church wall.


Before we left Framlingham on the 19th we called in to see the local castle.


Later we visited the pretty village of Walberswick. I used to visit this area a lot in the 1980’s often seeing Snow Bunting and Twite in the area plus many birds of prey but today all I saw was a few Red-throated Divers offshore and a few Mediterranean Gulls.


However later that day just south of Lowestoft we came across this flock of 27 or so Snow Buntings.


They blended in perfectly with the shingle. Most British wintering Snow Buntings are of the Icelandic race insulae, but an increasing number of the Scandinavian nominate race are seen in East Anglia


A number of birds were coloured ringed. As all the colour rings were of the same type I would imagine they have been ringed locally. If I can find anything m,ore about them I will post it later.


In increasingly cold and blustery conditions we visited Lowestoft Ness, the most easterly point of the British Isles.


We stayed overnight with my friends Alan and Debbie who live in Lowestoft. Although originally from Derby and living in the same road as me, I didn’t meet Alan until we both went to Leeds University in 1969. He was one of the ‘famous five’ who lived in the decrepit slum in Fraser Terrace and we have kept in touch ever since. I met Debbie in 1974, just before they were married. As I mentioned earlier about Jennie, visits have been less frequent in recent years and the last time I saw Alan was at our ‘Leeds reunion’ in 2003.


On the 20th we called in to the seafront at Great Yarmouth where after quite some effort we located a single Horned (or Shore) Lark. Wishing to avoid rush hour chaos on the M25, we only stopped briefly in Norwich where we made another ecclesiastical visit, this time to Norwich Cathedral.


As with the other churches visited this weekend, Norwich Cathedral is a magnificent building.


Many of East Anglia’s churches had their stained glass windows destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops, who considered such beautiful works to be ‘superstitious ornamentation’. Fortunately Norwich’s cathedral largely escaped unscathed.


A quick look around the cloisters before we set out on the long drive home.


Posted January 23, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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