Minsmere wildlife and nature reserve is my favourite place to visit throughout the year. The reserve has many different habitats to offer which are full of wildlife, many of which you dont see unless you look carefully. The bird population is excellent with many waders in the winter, small birds like the bearded tit and many other species, not to forget the Bitterns and Marsh harriers. The spring is a good time to find the birds, like most places Minsmere is very busy that time of year and the resident birds will be getting ready for pairing off and nest building, so when the migrating birds arrive Minsmere bird population will be very active indeed. There are mammals like the red deer, ponies, otters, stoats and weasels. There are insects with many species of dragon flies, moths and butterflies. The plant life is abundent with many forms of tree species, plants and lichen, in fact there is so much to be found and is just a wonderful nature reserve to visit throughout the year.
The Marsh Harrier One of the largest raptors found at Minsmere and over the last few years it has been growing in numbers which has increased the population. They are a wondrous bird to watch in their courting display and when they pair off in the spring, the male will give the female what we would call a small gift parcel in mid flight, as they make contact they lock claws so the parcel is passed from one bird to the other. Through the day over the mere you can often hear them calling to each other which is simular to the buzzards, eagles and other small raptors.It is a calming and pleasing sound especially late evening or early morning. As raptors they do take their fair share of the smaller birds on the reserve, but one day I saw one male swoop down into the reeds and disappear completely, only to rise up and fly off with a full grown female teal duck. The teal is nearly as large as a mallard duck and that is quite big bird to carry off.
Bearded Tit one on Minsmere's colourful little birds that live in the reed beds. The male and female are simular in plumage but the male has distinctive head markings (photo on the left) with a blue cap and a black mustache under both eyes. They spend most of their time in the reeds out of sight, but in the spring and autumn they do come to the top. In early spring they are fliitting about pairing off ready for the nesting season and often come up in groups, flying and chasing each other about to bond and get ready for mating period. In the autumn after a very busy nesting and chick rearing time, they will come up to the reed heads that are full of seeds and feed on them, to prepare for the winter ahead. Bearded tits make a lovely pinging sound when flying about and a chit-chit when moving through the reed stems, so you can often hear them but you cant see them. The Bearded tits build their nests in the reeds off the ground but not to high so to protect them from predators but not to low because of the ever changing water levels in the marsh.
The Bittern One of Minsmere's most popular and larger birds that visitors come to see from all around the world. They are well known for their wonderful plumage and when they are in the reed beds they are almost impossible to see, as it helps them stay safe when they feel threatend by hiding in the reeds. A bittern fly by is often greeted with, Oh look a bittern and people get very excited at the sight of one in flight. The number of Bitterns at minsmere have increased over the last few years and are doing well with the population pretty stable at this time. They often come out in front of the hide in the early morning light or at the end of the day, although sometimes they have been seen fishing all day. When they catch a fish which can take a bit of time, because they creep very slowly into the water's edge in the reeds, stretch out their long neck and slowly lower their head to the water and the beak goes just under the surface, and at this point, the tongue will be extended into the water and be wriggled about like a worm. Such is the mechanism of the bittern to lure and catch a fish, wondrous indeed.
Male and Female in a rarely seen mating ritual.
Minsmere has many bird species with a healthy population, and like most coastal sites you do get the odd rare migrant that is blown in on a storm that you would not normally see in Britain. When they arrive its great to see another species and many people come from all over the country to see them and Minsmere has had a few this year. One recent sighting a few weeks ago was a little bittern, they have not been seen at Minsmere for over fourty one years, so another brilliant moment for Minsmere and that's why it is a wonderful place to visit as often as I can.