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Birding London Trip Report, 23rd May

Minsmere, Suffolk with Margaret and David Crouthers and Mary Jo and Bill Collins – led by Gary Elton and Jack Fearnside


Itinerary and weather

Our trip started soon after 6.15am in central London when we picked up Margaret and David from the Hilton Metropole and Mary Jo and Bill from the Thistle Victoria before heading north east out of the city.

The weather was overcast and breezy but the clouds lifted as we approached Suffolk and the day was generally sunny if a little too windy. Our journey took something over two hours driving through Essex into Suffolk and we arrived at Westleton Heath nearing 9.00am.

We had breakfast while enjoying a little birding before driving on to Dunwich Heath to park near the coastguard cottages. A short walk out onto the specialist habitat of lowland heath, consisting here of mainly Gorse and Common Ling (Heather), eventually provided all with views of the rare Dartford Warbler, as a pair of males disputed their territories.

We then proceeded to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ reserve at Minsmere, hesitating only shortly at a muddy pig farm for Stock Dove and Rook. After signing in our guests we started on our first circular walk around the saline lagoon area known as ‘the Scrape’. Here we saw plenty of Pied Avocets and an excellent view of a Great Bittern in flight over the north reedbeds. We arrived back at the car park as storm clouds brewed and ate our picnic lunch sheltering from a heavy shower. As the weather cleared we started on our second loop around the fresh-marsh and woodland areas. The wind dropped for a few minutes and we were able to hear and see some of the singing birds such as Chiffchaff, and even managed to glimpse the rare Cetti’s Warbler. The Island Mere Hide provided both Little and Great Crested Grebes (enjoyed by David). Our final stop was at the Canopy Hide where a small rush of new species finished the day and views of Spotted Flycatcher and a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were a good finale.

A total of 90 species was seen or heard during the day.


Species list

Little Grebe — One summer plumage adult crossed Island Mere in the afternoon.

Great Crested Grebe — A pair were on Island Mere with one close bird providing good views while another sat on its nest on the far edge of the reeds.

Great Cormorant — Two sub-adult birds slept on the central bank of the Scrape’s south lagoon.

Great Bittern — Exceptional and long flight views were had of this difficult skulking species as a bird flew from the north reedbed southwards.

Grey Heron — A single adult gave good views on Island Mere as it came in to land and then departed. Usually more common, they were presumably all at breeding colonies.

Mute Swan — Birds were present on a number of waters including the Scrape and Island Mere.

Greylag Goose — Small numbers of adults, some with small young, were on the Scrape.

Canada Goose — Family parties were on the Scrape.

Common Shelduck — Several pairs were sleeping or feeding in the Scrape area.

Gadwall — Seen in small numbers on both brackish and fresh waters.

Common Teal — A drake was upending with Common Pochards on the Island Mere.

Mallard — Common. Even seen flying over the heath.

Northern Shoveler — A few drakes were on the Scrape.

Common Pochard — Several pairs were feeding on the Island Mere.

Tufted Duck — Pairs were on the Scrape and fresh marsh areas.

Ruddy Duck — A single drake was seen displaying in a small channel from the Bittern Hide.

Western Marsh Harrier — Pairs were seen well over the eastern reedbeds from the Bittern and Island Mere Hides.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk — A distant female circled over the heathland during our breakfast stop on Westleton Heath, and a bird was seen flashing through the feeding area from the Canopy Hide.

Common Kestrel — The first birds were seen on our journey, hovering over the roadside, and one circled over Dunwich Heath near the Dartford Warbler site.

Hobby — A single bird was seen by most (but not Jack!) at the northern reedbed as the Bittern flew over.

Common Pheasant — A bird fed under a garden bird table on the woodland loop, and another fed by the roadside a little further on.

Common Moorhen — Common in all wetland habitats.

Eurasian Coot — Common in all wetland areas.

Eurasian Oystercatcher — The first flew past the coastguard cottages on Dunwich Heath and a few were later found on the Scrape.

Pied Avocet — Large numbers waded, swam, flew and called on the Scrape.

Ringed Plover — Several pairs frequented the Scrape area.

Northern Lapwing — Always a special bird. The first gave good views from the North Hide at the Scrape.

Dunlin — A single bird fed with Ringed Plovers on the Scrape.

Black-tailed Godwit — A small flock were seen from the North Hide and were later seen in flight.

Common Redshank — Small numbers were seen on the Scrape.

Black-headed Gull — The commonest gull, many pairs were actively breeding on the Scrape, and birds were watched at close quarters as they came for bread in the car park.

Common (Mew) Gull — A single immature was found by Gary resting on the Scrape.

Lesser Black-backed Gull — Good numbers were at the pig farm, Scrape and Island Mere. All adults appeared to be of the British subspecies graellsii.

Herring Gull — Small numbers were on the Scrape and Island Mere.

Great Black-backed Gull — One adult was seen in flight over the heath at Dunwich.

Common Tern — Nesting in good numbers on the Scrape.

Little Tern — One was resting on the south Scrape, with an Oystercatcher. This species has been split by some authorities from the North American Least Tern from which it differs in tail plumage and voice.

Feral Pigeon — Seen at various sites from London to Minsmere.

Stock Dove — Good views of this subtle and unassuming pigeon were had at the pig farm on the way to Minsmere. The green neck patch was particularly noted.

Woodpigeon — Common in all habitats.

Eurasian Collared Dove — Noted sitting on wires and rooftops, particularly in Westleton village.

Common Cuckoo — A distant bird was heard calling from the woodland area.

Common Swift — Present overhead throughout most of the day.

Green Woodpecker — The laughing call was heard in the distance on at least two occasions during the woodland loop walk.

Great Spotted Woodpecker — After two flight views from the car park, we were treated to exceptional views of a pair which fed around the Canopy Hide.

Skylark — Good views from the car of one on the grass at Dunwich Heath, plus others singing high in the air at other sites.

Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) — Birds were constantly in flight around the open areas and we looked at a breeding colony in the sandy cliff near the dipping pond at Minsmere.

Barn Swallow — Common over the heath, car park, etc.

House Martin — This white-rumped swallow was first seen around the houses in Westleton village.

Meadow Pipit — Close views on a bird on Dunwich Heath. Also birds in parachute song flight along the sand dunes at the beach.

Pied Wagtail — First seen at the coastguard cottages on Dunwich Heath, birds were seen at several sites through the day.

Eurasian Wren — This vociferous singer was heard in scrub on numerous occasions during the day, but only glimpsed a few times, including one high bird near the visitor centre.

Dunnock — This unassuming accentor was seen well near the facilities on Dunwich Heath where two males chased each other through the pines and scrub.

European Robin — This small chat was seen and heard in most woodland sites.

Eurasian Stonechat — A male showed well on Westleton Heath and another sat on Gorse on the cliff top near the coastguard cottages.

Common Blackbird — Commonly seen and heard in wooded areas.

Mistle Thrush — A distant bird was singing near the Dartford Warbler site, and two flew over the car park at lunch time.

Cetti’s Warbler — This loud and scarce warbler was glimpsed as it flew across the path near the Island Mere Hide.

Sedge Warbler — Good numbers were singing in the willow/reed scrub and one showed well (even the red inside of its bill) near the north reedbed.

Reed Warbler — The high winds did not aid seeing this reed skulker but one showed well in a ditch near the windpump.

Dartford Warbler — The windy conditions made the appearance of this rare warbler unlikely, but two males in territorial dispute eventually gave everyone satisfactory views.

Lesser Whitethroat — A singing bird was seen in a large bush near the North Hide.

Common Whitethroat — Although birds were heard in song at various points, only one was seen fleetingly near the house on the woodland loop.

Garden Warbler — One sang, but would not show, near the North Hide, and one was seen in the lane hedge on our final return to the car park.

Blackcap — A pair were tracked down in woodland near the Bittern Hide at the start of our woodland loop.

Chiffchaff — Our first, a close singing bird, proved impossible to track down in the windy trees near the North Hide, but one was eventually seen well singing and moving through birch and pines approaching the Island Mere.

Willow Warbler — Singing birds were on Westleton Heath during breakfast but we had to wait until our woodland walk before we had views of the phyllosc.

Goldcrest — After Gary heard the weak song we eventually tracked down Britain’s smallest bird moving through the low branches of a Holme Oak.

Spotted Flycatcher — One bird was ‘scoped from the Canopy Hide during our woodland walk.

Bearded Tit — Although the wind made it unlikely, several birds were seen buzzing over the reeds and at least one male gave reasonable flight views. In better conditions we would have hoped for birds to sit on top of the reeds.

Long-tailed Tit — One family party moved through the willows near the Island Mere Hide.

Marsh Tit — A single bird was seen at the far nut feeder from the Canopy Hide.

Coal Tit — At least one bird frequented the close feeder near the Canopy Hide.

Blue Tit — Common in woodland and scrub areas and on the visitor centre feeders.

Great Tit — Common in woodland areas and on the visitor centre feeders.

Common Treecreeper — One bird, creeping up the underside of a large bough in the woodland seemingly disappeared on reaching some cracked bark and may have entered a nest site.

Eurasian Jay — A single bird was seen in the woodland near the visitor centre.

Common Magpie — Common in all habitats.

Western Jackdaw — This small crow was seen on the heathland and around the Minsmere reserve.

Rook — Seen well on the ground at the pig farm where the grey base to the bill showed well.

Carrion Crow — Common in all habitats.

Common Starling — Seen on our journey out of London and in small numbers throughout the day.

House Sparrow — Particularly noted in Westleton village and on our journey out of London.

Common Chaffinch — Common in the heathland and woodland. The males seen well were particularly attractive.

European Greenfinch — Singing males were seen at close quarters near the toilet block on Dunwich Heath.

European Goldfinch — Poor views of a pair near the North Hide.

Common Linnet — Common on the heathland and beach areas. The adult males looked very good through the ‘scope.

Bullfinch — A male flew out of the hedgerow just as we approached the car park at the end of our day.

Yellowhammer — A male showed well at our breakfast stop on Westleton Heath.

Reed Bunting — A male was seen on the north path on our way to the shore.