It was an early start of 3am so we would arrive for lunch-time in the cottage which would be our family holiday base in Barnby, Suffolk. Our trouble-free journey from Scotland took exactly 8 hours. When we arrived we sorted our stuff out, relaxed in the wonderful grounds by the lake, swam in the pool and got ready for the following day to meet up with Suffolk wildlife expert David Walsh. I’d been fortunate to meet and get to know David who was one of the volunteer ‘guides’ at BTO Bird Camp the last 2 years.
On the Friday morning my Dad and I met up with David who was absolutely brilliant: so enthusiastic and knowledgeable! He showed us some great birding and butterfly/dragonfly sites around the Minsmere area. We started the day by seeing a turtle dove (almost as soon as we arrived!) At this site we were also shown silver studded blue butterflies. I even managed a fleeting glimpse of a garden warbler!
Having spent about 45 min soaking up the wonderful wildlife, we headed off to our next location and target – the shy stone curlew. Our first target site drew a blank, but with David’s extensive knowledge (and a bit of assistance from one of his many birding contacts) it wasn’t long before we’d located some at a nearby site – three to be exact!! We spent the next 20 mins watching the birds creeping around the field.
After this we moved on to our next target, Dartford Warblers, at Dunwich Heath. The birds were quickly located and were very obliging, the same pair going in and out of a bush multiple times with food to feed their young! After watching the parents for about 30 mins we walked along the network of paths stopping frequently to view a wide rage of colourful dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. It was absolutely magical! We spent a while viewing from wooden platforms overlooking mini ponds; it really was perfect habitat for dragonflies and time just passed as we marvelled at the different species whizzing around!
After a short time-out for lunch where we had to seek shelter under our car boot from the blistering heat, we were off on a butterfly hunt through the new dedicated trail at Minsmere. We’d had a tip -off that it would be worthwhile. IT WAS TRUE! The highlights were 2 silver washed fritillaries and 6 white admirals although we saw numerous other butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies: It was amazing!
Following another refreshment break, this time at the wonderful Minsmere café, we headed off to Whin Hill to try and get a glimpse of some Spoonbills that had been sighted earlier in the day. Using David’s scope we scanned across the North Levels for about 20 mins. Although we saw a number of waders including Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits we couldn’t find the Spoonbills. Not one to give in easily and given the wonderful run of luck we were on, David suggested should wait another ten and see what happens. Remarkably, our luck held and a spoonbill emerged from behind an island and continued feeding in clear view for about 10 mins (albeit very distant)!
Despite our success – we weren’t finished: David had some other wildlife treats up his sleeve. Off we went to another location in search of more damselflies and butterflies. again we were rewarded with a very obliging Azure and Common Blue Damselflies which landed next to each other providing a great photo opportunity and offering David the chance to deliver another ID masterclass. What that man doesn’t know about birds, butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies probably hasn’t been discovered yet!!! At least that’s how it seems. The highlight was a purple hairstreak butterfly which stayed in the same position near an oak tree for ages!
Sadly, our day had to come to an end and we were saying our farewells to David until next year. The day was undoubtedly one of mine and my Dad’s best ever experiences – made extra special by David’s infectious enthusiasm and vast knowledge. Thank you, so much!!
A few days later my dad and I went back to Minsmere in hope of seeing spoonbills closer. We did! We saw 7 right in front of the hide!!! We also had some decent photo opportunities of the other birds.
Having enjoyed some closer views of the Spoonbills my phone suddenly pinged with a text message. It was David saying that a new species of dragonfly to Britain had been spotted at Carlton marshes (5 mins away from where we were actually staying) we ran to our car and made to 50 min drive back in the hope of catching a glimpse. Unfortunately we missed it by a few mins and it NEVER showed again. However, as is ‘usual’ when you meet up with David – some good wildlife shows up! This time it was 3 wood sandpipers and a little ringed plover, juvenile yellow wagtail, marsh harrier and a red-eye damselfly: well worth the journey and pretty decent ‘compensation’ for missing out on the Yellow-spotted Emerald dragonfly!
I would like to say a special thanks to David Walsh for selflessly giving up his own time to educate others. He really does make a big effort to get younger people and adults interested in nature! Top work!!! @DavidWalsh22 my holiday wouldn’t have been the same without you.