There's been a world cup feel to Minsmere over the last few days, as three species from three different continents have attracted most attention. The continents: Africa, Arctic Europe and South America. The species: nightingale, spotted redshank and Chilean flamingo. The reasons for a visit: to breed, to refuel after breeding, and because they are lost!
Nightingales, of course, are one of Minsmere's star species in April/May as their songs fill the air with a glorious melody, after returning from a winter spent soaking the rays of Africa sunshine. Although the odd burst of song is still heard, probably from males that have been unsuccessful in their search for a mate, by mid June it is usually very difficutl to find nightingales. Indeed, it is always difficult to see one, especially to get a good view, as they are notorious skulkers.
Not this year though. One pair has very obligingly decided to nest within a few metres of the path to North Hide. They have chicks now, and spend much of their time feeding on the path or in the open nearby. This is providing some superb views - providing you give them a bit of space to go about their business. If you're coming to see them, please watch from a safe distance, and do not stop in the area they are feeding in. If you hear an alarm call, it's time to move on!
Spotted redshanks, too, are regulars at Minsmere during migration time. They are the first indication of a change in the seasons. Why? Becasue sometime in mid June we start to get the first birds returning in their stunning black full summer plumage. When I say returning, I mean heading south, having already been to the high Arctic. These early birds are most likely to be females. They've either failed to breed, or laid their eggs and left the more industirous males to incubate them and look after the females. Yes, girls, role reversal is alive and kicking in the wader world (indeed, some species take this to an extreme and the females are the more colourful sex, doing most of the courtship - take dotterel or red-necked phalarope for example.
Anyway, our first spotted redshansk arrived this week, overlapping with what are probably northbound dunlins and knots. They'll soon be joined by the first returning ruffs and green sandpipers as "autumn" migration really kicks off in July!
And so the flamingoes! Where did they come from how did they get here? We don't know for certain, excpet to say that they are definitely escapees. Althoguh first identified as greater flamingoes - the species that breeds in the Camargue or southern Spain,s o could conceivably turn up here - they were in fact Chilean flamingoes. The clue was in their red knees on grey legs! As the name suggests, Chilean flamingoes originate in South America, where they are quite common. They are also widely kept in captivity in Europe, and frequently escape - but from where? we may never know.
Bizarrely, two Chilean flamingoes arrived on the Scrape yesterday, but they haven't been spotted today. Even more bizarrely, there was lesser flamingo (an Africa species) on RSPB Havergate Island last week - perhaps it will still be there for visitors to Havergate's Signs of New Life event this weekend.
And what of the travellers from Norfolk? One was Robert Coleman, site manager at RSPB Titchwell Marsh who spent the week at Minsmere learning more about how visitors enjoy Minsmere to help us with future development plans. You may have met Rob last week - he's now heading back across the border to Norfolk. The other was not strictly a traveller from Norfolk but a recent colonist: the Norfolk hawker dragonfly. Several are now flying near the pond and up the entrance road.
Other sightings this week include: buzzard over Westleton Heath yesterday, regular bitterns and marsh harriers, breeding Mediterranean gulls, common terns and avocets, singing lesser whitehtroats and garden warblers, and a good selection of butterflies and damselflies. The flowers from North Hide are impressive too: yellow rattle, yellow flag, southern marsh orchid and ragged robin. Why not come and have a look.