The Spring Celebration weekend once again proved to be highly successful. The format is simple. Our wardens and volunteer guides are stationed around the reserve at key locations to help visitors to learn about Minsmere's special wildlife. The tricky part is the unpredictability of the wildlife that we were trying to show.
The success of the weekend can be summed up by some of the comments I received.
One volunteer said: "When I couldn't find the Mediterranean gulls it was great to get the experienced birdwatchers in the hide to help. It got everyone talking, then I enjoyed chatting to the newcomers about what they could see."
Tim Rose, Minsmere's visitor centre manager said: "Thanks for organising the rota to give me some time in the hides. It was great to get out and see some wildlife for a change - and help others to enjoy it."
A visitor stopped on Sunday afternoon and said: "I've never seen so many volunteers on the reserve."
I hope that if you visited, you were able to benefit from so many expert pairs of eyes. There were certainly lots of things to see. For many, the highlight was the mass emergence of four-spotted chaser dragonflies at the pond. It was fascinating to come back at different times during the day and see how each insect was getting on. The larvae climb a suitable reed stem or similar, then the outer case splits and an adult dragonfly slowly emerges. It then sits for several hours as the blood pumps through the veins of the wing and the insect dries out, before eventually flying off to patrol the pond and woodland rides insearch of smaller insects to eat.
Emerging four-spotted chaser - this one had climbed the door of the pond dipping equipment cupboard - by Ian Barthorpe
Four-spotted chasers weren't the only dragonflies seen over the weekend, with several sightings of hairy dragonfly, large red damselfly, azure damselfly and blue-tailed damselfly. Butterflies got in on the act too. Brown arguses were particularly prominent around the car park and pond areas. Small coppers seemed to be everywhere. Other species to look for at the moment include orange tip, various whites, red admiral, peacock and the jewel-like green hairstreak which favours gorse along the dunes.
One reason for the prominence of brown argus is the fantastic display of common storksbill in the short-grass areas, especially from the end of the North Wall. Storksbill is the foodplant of the brown argus caterpillar. It gets its name from the shape of the seed head - as can be seen in the photo below.
Common storksbill by Pete Etheridge
Of course, it was the birds that most people had come to see, and few will have been disappointed. Bitterns and marsh harriers put on a good display at Bittern and Island Mere Hides. Bearded tits proved trickier, until a newly fledged brood was found close to the North Wall on Sunday afternoon. Other youngsters attracting admiring glances were the lapwing chicks at North Hide, greylag and Canada goslings and mallard ducklings everywhere, and a recently born konik foal near the sluice.
There were some notable sightings too. A lovely summer plumage curlew sandpiper on the Scrape was popular, but a wood sandpiper was only a fleeting visitor - later heard over the visitor centre from the binocular and telescope demonstration tent. A black tern at Island Mere on Saturday, spoonbill over the Scrape on Sunday, the first spotted flycatcher of the year near the pond on Sunday morning and a short-eared owl at the sluice on Sunday morning were also brief visitors.
Spotted flycatcher by Jon Evans
Among the song birds, nightingales in North Bushes, lesser whitethroats in North Bushes and at the car park entrance and garden warblers in several locations were popular - if not easily seen. Cuckoos were popular, but a firecrest near the office was much harder to pin down.
An exciting new opportunity was the Whin Hill viewpoint. Whin Hill is the open hill opposite Canopy Hide, offering superb views over Island Mere. This has been used as an overflow car park for a few years, but with our newly expanded and resurfaced car park we won't need to park cars here again. However, we are keen to encourage visitors to enjoy this view, and the viewpoint will now be open to add a new experience to your Minsmere visit. On Sunday we recorded an amazing 61 species of bird from the viewpoint (despite failing to see or hear robin, blue tit or Canada goose). The undoubted highlight was a black kite that drifted south over Island Mere at about 4.30 pm. A new bird for my own Minsmere list, and one that helped take the reserve list past 200 for the year already.