Minsmere throws open its doors

MINSMERE is throwing open its doors to everyone for free this weekend to encourage us to join in its 60th anniversary celebrations.The reserve was taken over by the RSPB on 25th April 1947, and the freehold was bought by the society 30 years later after a massive nationwide appeal.

MINSMERE is throwing open its doors to everyone for free this weekend to encourage us to join in its 60th anniversary celebrations.

The reserve was taken over by the RSPB on 25th April 1947, and the freehold was bought by the society 30 years later after a massive nationwide appeal.

This weekend entry is free to the reserve to everyone - not just RSPB members - and staff and volunteers are all geared up to help visitors see and understand what is on show.

A number of guided walks with volunteers have been arranged to show visitors what can be seen, and to point out what is on view.

The walks last about 90 minutes and start on the hour from the visitor centre between 10am and 3pm each day. Booking is not required, but they will be run on a first-come first-served basis and are expected to be very popular if the weather is fine.

The guides in a hide scheme will be operating from 10am to 4pm pointing out species of birds to visitors - they will also be on footpaths pointing out interesting features during the day.

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There will be a display of binoculars, telescopes, and other optics at the visitor centre, giving people the opportunity to try these out.

A pair of binoculars or a telescope is vital equipment for anyone hoping to see birds. Binoculars range in price from about £20 to several hundreds of pounds - but £50 will buy a good general-purpose pair which is fine to get started birdwatching.

The demonstrations give visitors the opportunity to try out various optics before deciding what is best for them.

Younger members of the family will love to go dipping in the pond that was created on the site of the former car park 10 years ago.

This pond is alive with invertebrates, amphibians, and fresh-water crustaceans.

There are two two-hour pond dipping sessions on each day at the weekend, from 10.30am to 12.30pm and from 2pm to 4pm.

At this time of the year you will probably find insect larva, shrimps, and even small newts in your net.

The pond is also shared by one of Britain's most endangered mammals, the water vole, and while they should stay away from the nets you may see one on the opposite side of the pond.

The reserve is open every day from 9am to dusk and the visitor centre is open from 9am to 5pm (it closes at 4pm in the middle of the winter).

It is signposted from the A12 at Yoxford and from nearby Westleton village.

Over the weekend there will be a special Minsmere birthday cake on sale at the visitor centre's popular café.

See tomorrow's Evening Star for a personal view of Minsmere.

VISITORS to Minsmere can find a range of birds around the reserve - in the one reserve there are many different habitats which each attract their own varieties of birds.

To help you work out what there is to see, officials produce a “what's about” sheet everyday that can be

The paths around the reserve are essential in a figure of eight pattern, each section about a mile and a half long and the two sections have a very different character.

The loop around the Scrape takes walkers from the visitor centre to the beach, along the seafront for about half a mile to the sluice and then back to the visitor centre along a path with the Scrape on one side and reedbeds on the other.

There are four hides overlooking the Scrape, which is in fact split into three distinct habitats. One lagoon is full of seawater, one of fresh water, and one of brackish - partly salty - water.

Each attract different birds although many species are not too fussy about what kind of water they have, gulls are particularly adaptable.

Avocets, one of the reserve's star species, particularly favour the brackish water which often has the greatest interest for birdwatchers. These are best seen from the east hide which is approached through a gate from the beach

There is also a public viewing platform which is accessible from the beach - that overlooks the salt water as does the south hide which also has good views over part of the reedbed.

Gulls and terns tend to prefer the salt water lagoon - and can often be seen mobbing each other for scraps of food.

The north and west hides give a very good view over the freshwater lagoon which is very good for waders like redshanks and dunlins.

The two loops meet in the wood near the visitor centre - from there you can turn right and return to the centre for refreshments or turn left through the wood to continue the walk.

At this time of the year the trees are alive with songbirds preparing their nests or looking after their eggs.

The next stop is the relatively-new bittern hide overlooking the reedbeds.

You will be extremely lucky to see a bittern in the reeds but at this time of the year you should hear them booming.

There are usually waterfowl - ducks, geese, moorhens and coots - to see here, and if you look to the sky you may well see one or more marsh harriers.

Carry on walking through the woods and you will come to the island mere hide, many birdwatchers' favourite spot on the reserve.

Again this overlooks the reedbeds but there is a large expanse of water in front where you can always see something special.

Wildfowl, grebes, and herons can usually be seen here at this time of the year, and at the edge of the reeds there is always the chance of something very interesting.

Water voles are not uncommon here, and if you are going to see a bittern in the reeds then this is the most likely place for that.

Carry on walking round the reserve and you need to have your binoculars in your hand as you pass through a boggy area leading to a rhododendron tunnel. This is always alive with songbirds - blackcaps, bluetits, great tits, long tailed tits and many other species.

The last part of the walk is on the road leading to the visitor centre, but cars do not travel fast and there is no shortage of wildlife here either.

The last hide is high in the trees and you have to climb up into it - it's the canopy hide.

As its name implies the intention of this is to give visitors the chance to see what is in the top of the trees. However many of the trees that it was level with were blown down in the hurricane of 1987 so it does stand out now.

It's a bit of a hit miss affair whether you see anything from this hide. But occasionally it can be very special - foxes and deer have been seen on the floor of the wood from here.

The entire walk is about three miles which is enough for many people. But if you want a longer stroll, it is worth walking along the beach as far as the boundary of the Sizewell B power station.

That is quiet, but it is often alive with birds including woodpeckers, stonechats, and wheatears.

Walk north from the east hide and you eventually reach Minsmere cliffs and the National Trust Dunwich Heath nature reserve.

This is home to more species and there is a public footpath across the heath into the woods which eventually brings you round to the private road from Westleton to Minsmere visitor centre.

OFFICIALS at Minsmere have been planning this weekend's activities for some time - but there are special events at the reserve throughout the year.

The changing of the seasons bring many changes to see, and a visit in April or May is a very different experience to a trip in October or November . . . although that can be equally rewarding.

One of the most popular events at Minsmere is the dawn chorus walk.

This takes place on several occasions during the spring and summer and gives people the chance to see and hear the reserve as the birds wake up at the start of the day.

The guided walk starts at 4am and finishes with a hearty breakfast at the visitor centre café - anyone taking part will have earned that.

A popular event that happens regularly throughout the year is birdwatching for beginners walks.

These always take place at civilised times - mainly starting at 9.30am - and as well as showing people where the birds are, the guides can also show you how to get the best out of your binoculars.

There are other regular walks around the reserve at more reasonable times, including morning walks over the next few weeks to identify nightingales and warblers.

Themed walks are a feature of the programme - giving visitors the opportunity to find out in detail about aspects of the reserve they had never known about before.

There are regular optics days at the reserve to give visitors the opportunity to try out new binoculars.

The reserve has an annual family day in early August, and this year's event will once again have a 60th anniversary theme,

And youngsters have the opportunity to find out more about aquatic mini-bugs at other pond-dipping events during the spring and summer.

Full details about all the events planned at Minsmere over the spring and summer - and RSPB events elsewhere in Suffolk - can be found by visiting the society's website, www.rspb.org.uk and clicking the “things to do” icon.

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