First, apologies for the lack of updates for a few days. No excuses really, but I ran out of time on Friday and had the day off on Saturday to spend with my parents who were visiting - and of course with my wife and son.
Second, I'm writing this update having not even seen Minsmere since Friday. I'm sat in the RSPB Information Centre at Snape Maltings, listening to oystercatchers calling outside. If you've not been yet, why not come over and see Matt or myself at Snape (not on a Wednesday though as we'll be closed) and find out more about our exciting new RSPB Snape nature reserve.
So, in my absence, what's been happening at Minsmere? The summer heat means that birds are often less active, and birdwatchers certainly are - though the light easterly breeze off the sea was pleasan tover the weekend.
With the breeding season still in full swing, many sightings can be predicted quite easily in late June/early July. Avocets, black-headed gulls and common terns are still busy looking after chicks on the Scrape - indeed, the first gulls are fledging now. Bittern feeding flights make the females easier to see - longer, higher and more regular flights mean that a sighting is almost guaranteed if you have enough patience - an hour in Bittern or Island Mere Hides should be enough. Marsh harrier chicks are beginning to fledge - the more flappy flight makes the darker youngsters quite distinctive. Warblers continue to sing, but far less frequently as they have lots of hungry mouths to feed.
Of course, not everything is so predictable. The ferruginous duck, for example, remained on Island Mere until yesterday at least - though it is actually a female, not the drake that was first identified. Ferruginous ducks breed widely in eastern Europe and central Asia, but are scarce visitors to the UK - usually in autumn and winter. Midsummer records are not unusual - it may be a bird relocating from elsewhere in the UK after spending the winter here, or a non-breeding bird that has headed west early. As usual, it is associating loosely with pochards and tufted ducks - they often join pochard flocks migrating from central Asia. Also, as usual, it spends long periods asleep.
Another bird renowned for sleeping is the spoonbill. Quite when some of them feed is a mystery, as you can often watch spoonbills sleeping for hours, flatly refusing to show you their impressive bill. Eight birds remain at Minsmere, roaming between the Levels, Scrape and reedbed. They are often out of site, or viewable only at a distance on the Levels.
One group of birds that are certainly not sleeping are the migrant wading birds that have started to trickle back from Arctic breeding grounds. There have been double figure counts of spotted redshanks most days - looking very dapper in the breeding finery - as well as the first returning ruffs and grey plovers. Two little ringed plovers over the weekend are probably failed breeders from elsewhere in the UK. July usually sees a build up of terns and little gulls at Minsmere too, so perhaps it's time for a visit, rather than a summer slumber. There's loads of insects and flowers to admire too - like the Norfolk hawker and emperor dragonflies at the pond or meadow brown and common blue butterflies.
Within seconds of my last post, a drake ferruginous duck was reported on Island Mere. An excellent record for this time of year.
I was asked a question today that was perhaps only part in jest: "Where's the big screen on the Scrape?" The reply from one of our volunteers was "how many birds watch football?" My reply to that, looking at huge picture of a robin in the reception area was "Robinho for one!"
OK, so perhaps that was a poor attempt at humour, but there is a serious point here. Some of us are having to miss the football today, being stuck in the office instead. It may be better for the nerves. However, given the choice, I'd probably be missing it today anyway and taking advantage of this superb weather by pottering around Minsmere, where there's more guarantee of some serious action, lots of winners and losers, and none of the stress of watching Messrs Rooney, Gerrard and Co kicking sperhical objects around a park in South Africa.
I did manage a quick stroll to South Hide at lunchtime to watch terns. There were good numbers of Sandwich and common terns, and about eight litlte terns, giving an excellent opportunity to compare the contrasting sizes of these three species. Although I couldn't find one myself, an arctic tern was reported at East hide this morning, but there's been no sightngs of the roseate tern today.
Also at South Hide were two ringed plovers, four oystercatchers, two black-tailed godwits and several lapwings. Encouragingly, several avocet chicks are very close to fledging on the Scrape. The ducks on the Scrape (mallard, gadwall, shoveler) are looking increasingly scruffy as they moult into their summer eclipse plumage, losing all their glorious colours in the process.
Strolling back to the office, a bittern gave a superb fly past, straight over the Scrape and heading towards North Marsh. Clearly a nest of hungry chicks to feed there. Althoguh I ddin't see any, nine spoonbills were reported this morning. They seem to be favouring the Levels. It's interesting that numbers are increasing here this year, rather than on Havergate Island, which is usually the best place to see them.
Two red kites were reported flying north over Island Mere at lunch time. They appeared to have a little battle with three resident marsh harriers. Kestrels and hobbies remain on show over the reedbed too.
The warm weather is tempting more insects onto the wing. I swa my first black-tailed skimmers today, along with four-spotted chasers and several common blue damselflies. There was a cinnabar moth near the visitor centre. As well as the impressive display of southern marsh orchids, yellow rattle, yellow flag and ragged-robin at North Hide, a large spike of common spotted orchid is flowering near West Hide and the car park verges have turned yellow with biting stonecrop in flower.