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.
I'm reliably informed that my French was a little wrong. It should have read - "j'etais en vacances en france"! Thanks Heather.
Grade D- tried hard but must do better, I think!