In recent years there's been a surprising number of species colonising the UK for the first time. Many more are becoming more frequent migrants and could start breeding soon too.
Among the new colonists, herons have been particularly prominent. As recently as 1995 the only species of herons breeding in the UK were grey heron and bittern - and the latter was almost extinct here with only 11 booming males in the whole country. Little egrets began breeding in Dorset and Devon in 1995 and have rapidly colonised much of southern England and South Wales. Although they don't breed at Minsmere, there are colonies in Suffolk and little egrets are now seen daily. At least six were on the Levels yesterday.
The next colonist was spoonbill. We have long been expecting them to breed on nearby Havergate Island, which remains one of the best places to see them. However, they decided to set up home a few years ago north of the border, on the North Norfolk coast at Holkham where several pairs now breed. numbers are, as usual, increasing on Havergate and we have trips to the islnad on 21/22 July and 3/4 August to see them. Please reserve your place by calling us at Minsmere on 01728 648281. We've also had up to four spoonbills at Minsmere this week, dividing their time between the Scrape, Konik Field and Levels.
Several years ago we thought purple herons might breed at Minsmere until they were flooded out by spring storms, and we were eventually beaten to the first successful UK nesting attempt two years ago by RSPB Dungeness in Kent. Unusually, we've not even seen a purple heron at Minsmere this year. It's Somerset, however, that has stolen the headlines recently, with a massive increase in bittern numbers, as well the first cattle egrets and, this year, great white egrets to breed in the UK. A pair of little bitterns nested last year too.
Another heron that is seen increasingly frequently in the UK is the glossy ibis. It may be only a matter of time before they nest here. It's certainly been a good year for them at Minsmere with a bird present for ten weeks in early spring, and two on the Levels for the last fortnight.
Herons aren't the only recent colonists though. An unusal insect called an antlion was first found breeding in the UK in 1996 at Minsmere, and the visitor centre layout means that you now have good views of their larval pits in the sand beside the visitor centre. Dragonflies are arriving too. The Norfolk hawker had always been confined to the Norfolk Broads until spreading south over the ten years and they are now commonly seen at Minsmere in June/July. Perhaps we should adopt their European name of green-eyed hawker instead. Small red-eyed damselflies first arrived in the UK in the late 1990s too and now breed at Minsmere, while the willow emerald damselfly arrived in Suffolk three years and was first reported at Minsmere last September.
Of course, it's not just colonists that can be seen at Minsmere at present. The stone-curlews are still visible from the North Wall. On the Scrape you might spot little and Mediterranean gulls, little, Sandwich and common terns, black-tailed godwits and nesting avocets, while hobbies, marsh harriers and bitterns are regular above the reedbeds. Amazingly, the odd nightingale is still singing too. They're usually silent by mid June. What will you see when you visit?
Spoonbill by Jon Evans