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just a little blog where I waffle on about my birding experiences here in Western Japan...
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Suffolk Birding article -Roundabout

Posted Saturday 13th March 2010 at 22:20 by lostinjapan
This is the full version..overly florid passages and all :) for Roundabout Magazine for the April 2010 edition

Bird article Spring birding in Suffolk

As the days begin to lengthen, the sun peeks through to disperse the morning dew a little more each day, and snowdrops poke through the hedgerows and ancient woodlands, my thoughts turn to spring, especially with this latest overly long, cold harsh winter.

Each day the anticipation of the first swallow powering through still cold fresh winds, or the chiff-chaff repeating its name from the tops of the trees along a country lane grows and grows.

Much of this change creeps upon us, subtly almost unnoticeable, but as the birds in your garden begin to slowly shrug off the cold and think of spring it becomes more apparent that it is just around the corner. Each day the dawn chorus grows in size and volume. The first song is the melodic scales of the bold cock robin, then the jaunty warble of the blackbirds atop roofs and aerials join in, the scratchy warblings of the retiring hedge sparrows come next, the sudden bursts of crescendo driven song come from sprightly wrens, the cooing of the eastern immigrant Collared Doves and the woo-wooing of the overstuffed Woodpigeons on garden fences all join in.

But from March onwards there is an inexorable movement of and change in the birds of woodland, hedgerow, reed bed, field, river and sea as the migrants begin to return first in a trickle and then an explosion of diversity. For me if you really want to see the wonder of birds and spring, you need to move beyond the garden, and bear witness to the really amazing movement of birds that occur as they pass en-masse from south to north in a bid for another year of survival.

To do this take time out to visit one of the wealth of sites in Suffolk, whether it be a woodland, heath, estuary or wetland . To visit these places from the end of March onwards will give you an indication of the sheer numbers and variety of birds from the tiny warblers to the majestic graceful Cranes that make Suffolk their home in the summer months or simply pass through on their migration journey.

The birds that show the true awesomeness (if that is a word) of nature are these long distance migrants, from the small passerines such as warblers, chats, swallows and swifts that battle across the Sahara, guns of Southern Europe and various natural predators to reach us every year to the terns, waders, and raptors that face similar struggles from even further south at times.

Where to go/What to see

Suffolk is blessed with several key habitats: Wetland, Woodland, Heath, Coast, Farmland and Estuary, which are home to many rare resident and migrant birds breed and pass through in spring. Minsmere perhaps more than any other is the king of all bird reserves as it has all but one of these key habitats.


Visit any medium size wetland be it natural and artificial and you will be able to see the first wading and marshland birds of spring. Minsmere on the East Suffolk coast and is perhaps the most famous site to visit and handily has all but one of the major habitats.

On its artificial scrape on a typical late April day you can see 100's of wading birds, the most famous of all and the RSPB symbol the Avocet can be seen majestically sieving the shallow waters with its decurved bill and fabulous 'mod' plumage or chasing away marauders from its precious eggs. But there are many other shorebirds passing through or setting up territory, Lapwings 'peewit' over head, while resident scarlet-legged Redshank and pied Oystercatcher mingle with migrant Greenshank, Dunlin and many other shorebirds frantically feeding up for the long journey north.

In the reed beds, the shy cryptically-plumaged Bitterns boom, ad occasionally give themselves away by climbing to the tops of reed stems or launching into the air and passing over the reed bed while Marsh Harrier mercilessly cruise the reed bed waiting to plunge on some poor unsuspecting rodent, Bearded Tit (more mustached) ping away, all this action is to the backdrop of Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler
loudly proclaiming their territory to ensnare a mate.

Dotted among the commoner Black-headed Gulls are the rare southern interloper the Mediterranean Gull a sign of our global warming with its spread from warmer climes tries to blend in with the commoner residents. However its deep black hood and white clown-like eye ring give it away as does its chuckling call.

Elegant Little Egret, another southerly import stalk and strut in the shallows picking out tiddlers with their long head plume (once seen more on ladies hats) buffeted in the breeze. They now outnumber their larger ungainly Grey Heron cousins.

Many ducks move between scrape and reed bed pools in their varied gaudy colors and if you are lucky you may just spot the little Garganey duck, seemingly quite drab except for the male with an amazing white flash above the eye.


Minsmere nestles right up to the sea and on its stony beaches in fenced-off areas the stunning white and black Little Terns try to blend in against the shingle while resident Ringed Plover rush between pairs courting, changing cover for the nest or just sitting on eggs. Other tern species or swallows of the sea from the large shaggy-crested Sandwich Tern to the gaudy red-billed Common Tern can be seen moving between scrape and sea going out to fish the abundant waters or return with food for their mates. Gulls, terns, sea duck, seabirds and other shorebirds may also be seen passing just offshore in the right conditions.


This is one of the most precious habitats in Suffolk, as very little heathland remains in the UK. On an early morning visit you can hear the 'little bit of bread and no cheese' song of the almost sponge bob yellow Yellowhammer singing from atop the gorse. Around him you might be lucky to catch the pebble-smashing call of the (appropriately-named) Stonechat with his flashy scarlet breast, dark black head and white belly. Other rarer inhabitants can also be found on the heath usually given away by song, be it the mellifluous song of the Woodlark (the Skylarks rarer cousin), the deep hooing of the Turtle Dove (yes the one from the 12 days of Xmas) and the recently arrived Dartford Warblers with their subtle deep scarlet breasts and brownish-grey plumage perfect for hiding amongst the heather. While over the top of all the songs a distant cuckoo may call signaling danger to all small birds on the heath, as well as woods and reed beds that they may soon be a victim of their parasitic ways.


At first light the woodlands come alive with the sound of dawn chorus, resident Wren vie for airspace with the multitude of migrant warblers, the melodious warbles of the shy Black cap and Garden Warbler, the chiff-chaff of yes the Chiffchaff and his similar green and white clad cousin the Willow Warbler with his descending crescendo of notes. However, the king of the woodland migrants is the rather drab chestnut brown Nightingale that makes up for it all with a song that has inspired poets over and over again.

The woodland at Minsmere is both deciduous and mixed and holds not only our familiar garden birds such as Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin and Chaffinch, but also scarcer skulking residents such as the perfectly camouflaged Treecreeper, sooty-capped (not aptly named) Marsh Tit and the loud powder blue Nuthatch and I almost forgot the woodpeckers too ! You may even be lucky enough to find a bright red male Crossbill peacefully feeding on pine cones above or the Goldcrests even showier cousin the Firecrest darting around Yew and Holly bushes.


Although Minsmere does not have this habitat there is a surfeit of estuaries in Suffolk from the mighty Orwell and Stour to the tiny Alde and Deben, these muddy saltmarsh lined waterways play host to 1000's of migrating waders, ducks and geese and many of the resident waders, ducks and 'brown' jobs that can be found in the wetlands. Perhaps the most obvious resident is the Shelduck, a showy bird with bright scarlet bill, deep green head and bolds bands of chestnut and black across his whiter than white belly. They waddle across the mud in search of food to take back to their mate and chicks in subterranean lairs in soft sandy riverbanks.

Well I hope this has given you a taste of what is out there. Even if you can't make it to the coast, many of the habitats are within easy reach of Ipswich or any of the larger towns in Suffolk. Below are some useful links to birding sites within the county and various bird or conservation groups for further information on the county's avifauna. Many of the local nature reserves will be holding dawn chorus, beginner birdwatcher and other great days out and courses to experience Suffolk's birdlife.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust:
Suffolk Birding:
Suffolk Ornithologists Group:
Suffolk Natural History Society:
Field Studies Council Flatford Mill:
Landguard Bird Obervatory:
BBC birdsong:
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