The summer sale is underway in our shop with some excellent bargains on offer. We have 30% off selected items until 19 July. Our promotion on mealworms and suet balls has also been extended to 19 July. Another bargain offer in the shop is our RSPB Digital photo frames. These are an excellent way to display your photos. The frames usually retail at £99 but until 12 July you can pick one for just £59. That's three great reasons to visit the Minsmere shop month.
Another excellent reason is to see the display of art work by pupils at Snape Community Primary School that was inspired by a talk from staff at RSPB Snape. The exhibition runs throughout July in the Minsmere tearoom.
The recent hot sunny weather has been ideal for insects at Minsmere. Even yesterday's heavy thundery showers should have limited effect on the good numbers of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects currently one the wing.
July is one of the best months to watch insects, and with the birdlife settled for the summer many birdwatchers begin to take more interest in smaller flying beasties.
One of the star insects at Minsmere is the Norfolk hawker. Until ten years ago these dragonflies were confined within te the UK to the Norfolk Broads, but they have recently spread further south and now breed widely on the Suffolk coast. Like most hawkers, these are big dragonflies. They are mainly brown with a small yellow triangular spot in the centre of the thorax (from which they get the scientific name Aeshna isoceles) and huge green eyes. The latter give them their more familiar name across the rest of their European range - green-eyed hawker. Given their recent range increase, perhaps we should adopt this descriptive name, since Norfolk & Suffolk hawker is a bit of a mouthful. Norfolk hawkers can be easily seen in June and early July along ditches and woodland rides. Yesterday there were four hunting midges around the bramble flowers at South Belt crossroads.
Norfolk hawker by Malcolm Bigg
One of my personal favourites is the banded demoiselle. This is a large blue damselfly with mainly black wings. They favour slow moving rivers and at Minsmere are most easily seen along the New Cut at Eastbridge. This is also a good spot to look for red-eyed damselflies resting on floating lily pads. The red-eyes are distinctive on this species, though beware the otherwise similar and more widespread blue-tailed damselfly, or the recently colonised small red-eyed damselfly which should emerge later in July.
Another easy dragonfly to spot in July is the black-tailed skimmer, which often rests on paths and fence posts. The males are grey-blue with black tails, the females are black with large yellow spots down their flanks. Look out too for southern hawkers, the huge bright green emperor dragonfly (our largest species) and several other damselflies.
Our star butterflies in July both favour mature woodland. White admirals are large black and white butterflies that can often be seen feeding on brambles. In contrast, the purple hairstreak sticks almost exclusively to the oak canopy where it can be extremely difficult to spot as it spends long periods at rest. The purple is a sheen on the upperwing, but as they usually rest with their wings closed you should look for a grey-brown triangle with a narrow white zigzag and a row of small of orange spots on the underwing. The best place to look for these lovely butterflies in Canopy Hide, where you can easily search the canopy without straining your neck. This is also a good spot for white admirals.
There are many other butterflies to look for at present. Familiar, showy species such as red admiral, peacock and small tortoiseshell should be easy. The ragged winged comma and white-spotted brown speckled wood are distinctive. Other species to look for include ringlets (dark brown with several black-centred white spots on the underwing), small and Essex skippers (very similar orange-brown butterflies best distinguished by checking the colour of the underside of the antennae!), large and small white and common blue.
Look out too for migrants. The first hummingbird hawkmoth was spotted on brambles at South Belt Crossroads yesterday. Painted ladies, red admirals and clouded yellows could begin to arrive in good numbers soon, while a silver-washed fritillary that has been seen several times over the last week without ever posing for a photo is only the second reserve record.
There are a few interesting flowers to look for now as well. Around the car park you may see tiny yellow stars (biting stonecrop) or tall yellow spikes (great mullein). The southern marsh orchids and yellow flag are going over, but the first purple loosestrife, hemp-agrimony and marsh mallow will be out within the next few weeks.
And what of the birds? Not much change really. Today's spoonbill count was eight. The flamingo remains on the Scrape. Migrant waders include three spotted redshanks and one green sandpiper. Avocet chicks are beginning to fledge. Common terns have young and Sandwich terns are now moving through. The ferruginous duck has not been reported for a couple of days but could still be on Island Mere. Garden warblers, chiffchaffs and lesser whitethroats are all still in full song near the wardens' office. Bitterns and marsh harriers continue to feed young.
Guest blog by Ricky Whelan, Minsmere Reserve Assistant
After 15 short months at Minsmere it is time to move on. Having served as a volunteer for 6 months and then moving on to the role of Reserve Assistant for the remainder, I have witnessed Minsmere through the seasons, through floods and droughts, through different site and area managers, through King Eiders and Audouin’s Gulls and I have reveled in it all.
Minsmere has been fantastic and has had a profound effect on my life both personally and professionally. During my months here I have learned so much about birds and wildlife and I have definitely learned the meaning of hard work.
Being a green horn arriving 15 months ago to the reserve I was a very nervous young man but I was quickly made feel welcome by all the staff and volunteers here at Minsmere. I was and still am truly impressed by the hard work and determination shown by everyone involved here. Minsmere has the reputation of being the best and it takes serious effort to get the reserve to this stage and keep it in tiptop shape.
This autumn will be a challenging time with all the new developments coupled with the regular annual workload. I do not envy the task but in the long run it will only improve an already amazing place.
The staff and volunteers here are top class, true professionals and I can only hope some of their knowledge, skills and attitudes have rubbed off on me.
I am moving on to Ouse Fen (Hanson – RSPB project) in Cambridge so I will still be within the region and in regular contact with my friends and colleagues here at Minsmere.
I can’t thank everyone here enough for the experience they have given me and I look forward to visiting as a civilian in the near future.
As we say back home
Slán agus beannacht leat
Pardon mon ami. Je fait en vacance a la France.
I hope that says "Sorry, friends. I have been on holiday in France." Although I've been back to France for what has become a regular trip in recent years, I must admit that my command of the language remains very poor. Yes, I did successfully pass O-Level French, but that was 24 years ago, and i haven't used the language much since. We did, however, try to teach Thomas a few words. He mastered "au revoir" successfully, and his "framboise" (raspberry) was excellent. Perhaps when we go back next year we need to try a bit harder.
For a two-year old, Thomas is building up a good list of birds and orchids. When a griffon vulture flies low overhead you know he's actually seen it, while the orchids obviously don't move. For me, the highlight in the Cevennes this year was a new mammal - not something that you add to your list every day. This was a gorgeous stone marten (or beech marten, depending which book you use) crossing a bridge just a few metres from me in broad daylight. I also added a few butterflies and a new dragonfly to my growing list, while my wife finally got to see her first hoopoe - stunning roadside views too.
Why am I mentioning this? Two reasons really.
One because incredibly rich wildlife areas across Europe are dependent on suitable management, whether by conservation organisations or farmers, and this management relies on payments through the European Union's agri-environment programmes. Worryingly, we're hearing that these payments are under threat. Please help us to persuade the EU's Agriculture Minister not to cut these vital funds by supporting our campaign here.
Secondly, because since my last blog there have been some interesting "exotic" birds seen in Suffolk, if not quite reaching Minsmere. Of course, being in France, I missed the first roller in Suffolk for 20 years. We took a phone call at Minsmere on Monday 13th to report a possible roller on Hollesley Common, close to the boundary of the Woodbridge airbase. One of our volunteers confirmed the record, and most of the Minsmere wardens on duty that day made an impromptu lunchtime trip southwards to see one our Europe's most colourful birds. It was a good job they did, since it was gone the next day. Then, on the Tuesday, a bee-eater was heard calling as it flew south over RSPB Dingle Marshes, but if it continued south over Minsmere it did so silently as no-one managed to locate it here.
Other exotic birds remain at Minsmere too, with the flamingo and up to seven spoonbills gracing the Scrape each day. The purple heron hasn't been seen for a couple of weeks now though, so that has presumably headed for pastures new. Although less exotic in terms of plumage, a moulting female ferruginous duck arrived on Island Mere on 16 June, and reamins today, although she can be elusive at times. This is a scarce visitor to the UK from southern Europe or Central Asia, and is presumably the same bird that arrived at the same time last year. She appears to have arrived with a couple of pochards - typical "host" species for ferruginous ducks. On a personal note, it was great to catch up with this "fudge duck" (as they are affectionately known by birdwatchers) on my first day back in the office on Tuesday - especially as that was my 40th birthday!
The fudge duck is not the only returning migrant this week. Several spotted redshanks, looking gorgeous in their black summer dresses, are on the Scrape. These will be females, heading south again after laying eggs in the Arctic tundra and leaving their mates in charge! A few teals are also beginning to return.
The flamingo is not the only escapee to have visited Minsmere recently, either. While I was away, three bar-headed geese called into the Scrape. What was presumably one of these was on Island Mere for a few hours this weeks too. Bar-headed geese breed in China and SE Russia, and migrate over the high Himalayas to spend the winter in India, but they are widely kept in captivity in western Europe and do occasionally escape.
Elsewhere on the reserve, chicks have been the order of the day. Our first bittern and marsh harrier chicks fledged this week, although several parents continue to feed their chicks. The first seven avocets chicks have fledged with seven more close to doing so and more nests still on the go. Common tern chicks are hatching now. Although only four pairs of Mediterranean gulls have been found nesting so far this year, Thursday saw a reserve record count of 57 birds and some of these showed signs of nesting late. Many of our small birds now have young families around the reserve too: I watched newly fledged lesser whitethroats being fed by their parents near the car park entrance this morning.
Insects are also increasingly popular in mid summer. Butterflies now include a few ringlets and meadow browns, while on the heath numbers of silver-studded blues are already declining, but the star species was a potential silver-washed fritillary near Bittern Hide this week. Reported twice, it will be only the second reserve record if it's ID can be confirmed. As for dragonflies, there are still a few Norfolk hawkers to look too.
Mid June is a strange time of year for watching birds. With so many species actively feeding young, many birds are settled, making it fairly predictable which species you'll see on any given visit. Yet other birds are on the move. The last of the northbound wading birds have been moving through Minsmere this week - two little stints on South Scrape yesterday, the odd dunlin or tundra race of ringed plover, for example. Yet, by the weekend it's quite possible that we'll see the first southbound migrants arriving.
These will be female spotted redshanks and green sandpipers that have been to the Arctic, laid eggs, and left the males in charge. Job done, they quickly return south to milder climates, and can be expected to arrive at Minsmere during the third week of June, sporting their stunning summer plumage. The first teals may return before June is finished, too.
Another group of birds arriving in June are gulls and terns that have presumably failed to breed successfully elsewhere. One example is the roseate tern that has been at home on the Scrape for a week now. Little gulls have also begun to arrive. Water levels permitting we may expect as many as 100 of these dainty gulls during July.
Returning to the settled life of our breeding birds, there are lots of young to see at present: avocets, black-headed gulls, shelducks, mallards, gadwalls and moorhens on the Scrape; mute swans, little and great crested grebes and coots in the reedbed/Island Mere; blue and great tits, robins, etc in the woods. Bitterns are busy feeding young, and with a bit of patience can be reliably seen flying from their nests to feeding areas. One bittern that is nesting in front of Bittern Hide feeds on North Marsh, so regularly flies over the Scrape and gives superb views to visiting birdwatchers. Likewise, marsh harriers are actively feeding young - I watched one carrying an unfortunate water vole on Sunday.
Even our scarcer visitors appear to be settled at present. Two spoonbills are dividing their time between the Scrape and north levels, the purple heron continues to show to the luck few in the reedbed, and Fiona, our now resident flamingo is at home on the Scrape.
There is a wider variety of dragonflies on the wing now, including Norfolk hawker, emperor dargonfly and black-tailed skimmer. Flowers, too, are putting on a good show: southern marsh orchids on the paths to Island Mere and West Hide, yellow flag iris in all wetland areas, hounds-tongue at the car park entrance.
Talking of wildlife on the move, I'll be leading guided walks in France next week, so will not be able to update until 21 June. I hope colleagues will have a chance to post some entries, but you can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for further updates.