Minsmere’s old retainer

The early morning at Minsmere is warm and humid under a blue sky. The view from the Island Mere Hide is a huge reedbed enclosing a long shallow waterbody where mute swans and great crested grebes idle on the water and cormorants and common terns perch on horizontal wooden poles. Male terns catch small fish and fly in to present them to their partners. The fishing is good this morning; one brings in a fish and sidles up to a to a bird that already has one; both look at each other not quite knowing what to do next.

Minsmere bitterns 2
Island Mere Hide at Minsmere

Black-headed gulls and a single Mediterranean gull feed on a swarm of insects just over the reeds. A male reed bunting repeats its zinc zinc calls from a low willow; reed warblers occasionally chatter and bearded tits ping briefly. A hobby dashes over the water, pulls a dazzling twist, then glides as it dismembers a dragonfly.

A distant bittern briefly flaps just over the reedbed before crashing in; it is easily confused with the many, floating marsh harriers that quarter and circle.

In the nearby Bittern hide, dark clouds crowd the sky from the west, the humidity rises; a distant rumble foretells the approaching storm. The tension and temperature build; then lightning strikes somewhere across the reeds and thunder deafens the valley from above. Flocks of frightened black-tailed godwits and wild ducks fly round in wide circles. The rain crashes in and drowns the view in a grey mist.

A solitary bittern lopes into view, perhaps escaping the drenched reed and hunches, like a world-weary old retainer, in a patch of Eleocharis. The storm moves off across the North Sea; the rain soon wanes then peters out; the bright sun emerges, the wind strengthens from the west and the reeds are blown and bowed in waves; small birds sing above the constant rush and swish; and dragonflies dance in the freshened air.

After the rain, the bittern moves slowly into the sun, and there preens and stretches. The wind catches the back of the neck and the feathers are blown dry.

After preening, the bittern hunts; standing upright and alert, then leaning forward at an improbable angle to pick off a frog. The unfortunate prey is swallowed and the bird walks slowly into the dense reed, perhaps to feed its young in a nearby nest.

One Comment Add yours

  1. John Parr says:

    Lovely photos, Steve, from one of the best birding sites in the UK. I have always loved Minsmere !

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