Wheatear at the Sluice, Minsmere RSPB
I arrived at Minsmere RSPB at 6am, which is a very early start for me! A Green Woodpecker flew up from the approach road, just before I turned into the car park. There was a handful of cars in the car park before me. It was cool first thing which was a refreshing change from the sticky hot weather we've been having of late.
I refused to believe that the Western Purple Swamphen had disappeared and hoped that it would re-appear today. I headed off through the wood to the South Hide. It was a lovely walk alongside the scrub and reed-lined path. In a dyke on route, a shoal of perch had replaced the sticklebacks that were supposed to be there, according to the sign, which I found amusing. At the pool opposite the South Hide, there were 10 Little Egrets feeding, where there should have a been a Purple Swamphen – it was obviously hiding extremely well! Birders had been standing here since dawn with no sign of this mega bird, so I didn't stay here long – there wasn't much point standing in one place for hours on end, when the reserve had been searched thoroughly yesterday – I wasn't going to let it spoil my day.
I headed to the sluice to find several birders watching a very beautiful and obliging juv Wheatear, who favoured a small sandy slope to feed on, which was adorned with yellow Ragwort. Swallows were perched on the fence posts and a Linnet and Reed Bunting landed on the path briefly. A Kestrel was perched on a post along the south path and I saw a Whitethroat and a couple of Swifts adorning the clear blue skies. All the birders departed and a little while later I found myself sitting alone with the Wheatear and with careful fieldcraft there was only yards between us. I got some cracking photos of this gorgeous little bird – it didn't seem bothered by my presence at all. It would often fly off to the sluice to catch something and return to feed on the sandy patch – one time it brought back a large cricket (well that's what it looked like to me) and had a real battle to eat it – after bashing it to death, it preceded to eat different segments until it was devoured completely – fascinating to watch!
After taking far too many pictures of the Wheatear, I decided to head north along the footpath to East Hide, where I saw a male Stonechat on route. From East Hide there were a huge number of Little Gulls – 44 in all! Good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Shelducks, Curlews, Greenshank, a Reed Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Herons x 2, Shelducks, Little Egrets, Avocets, Dunlin, Redshanks, Grey lag Geese, Canada Geese and a good number of Pied Wagtails.
There were huge numbers of butterflies today, the most I have seen in one day all year, including: Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Peacocks, Tortoiseshells, Commas, Walls, Gatekeepers, Small Coppers, Common Blues, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Brown Argus – there were especially large numbers on the huge Buddleias outside the visitor centre. Also saw a few stunning Banded Demoiselles, but none of them landed long enough for me to obtain a decent shot. Good numbers of Dragonflies also around, but too windy for any of them to land.
I walked along the North Wall and onto the Stone Curlew patch, where I luckily saw a pair along with a big fluffy chick! Fabulous views of these through the scope, but too far for the camera. Greenfinches and Goldfinches were in a hawthorn bush along with several Magpies hopping around. Back at the visitor centre I watched 2 female Blackcaps in the same bush, a Robin and a Blackbird. The large buddleia was adorned with butterflies – a wonderful array of colours! The Sand Martin cliff was just awesome to watch – with all the Sand Martins zooming in and out of the nest holes.
I browsed in the visitor centre and although there were lots on offer to buy and to eat, I didn't succumb at all! Returned to my car for lunch and sat in my comfy deckchair and chilled. It was incredibly hot now, but luckily I had parked my car where there was a small patch of shade from overhanging trees. I spent a long time sitting here, I felt very tired after my early rise. My small patch of shade rapidly disappeared and there was no escape from the intense heat.
I walked through the cool wood and returned to South Hide in hope that something purple might come out of hiding, but alas the swamphen did not appear. I spent quite a while in South hide trying to (and failing miserably) to assist RSPB volunteer Peter with the ID'ing of a small wader that was sat asleep (for most of the time) on the furthest scrape from the hide and along with a few others, after much discussion we concluded that it had to be a Sanderling, but it just didn't look right.
Walked back to the visitor centre and spent a good while photographing dragonflies and an unusually tame magpie around the pond. Returned to my car and left at around 6pm – was home by 8pm and promptly crashed out on the sofa!
PICTURES TO BE ADDED