Midsummer is often a quiet time for birdwatching at Minsmere, but luckily there's some fantastic wildlife to spot wherever you are on the reserve.
Insects probably take centre stage right now, especially with the glorious sunny weather we've been experiencing this week - at long last. Butterflies are always popular, and although numbers of many of our commoner species have yet to pick up, Minsmere's special species have been showing very well. The woodland trail is probably the best place to spot white admirals, which often come down to feed on bramble flowers. It's also a good place to look for purple hairstreaks, but as this butterfly tends to stay high in the oak canopy, your best to see one well is from Canopy Hide. Unusually, I had one land close to me while walking through South Belt last week, giving me an excellent chance to see the narrow white line on the underwing that lends the species its name. On the heath, silver-studded blue butterflies canstill be seen, though numbers are down from their peak.
Dragonflies are also very popular. Look for brown, southern and the last remaining Norfolk hawkers, the first common and ruddy darters, black-tailed skimmers, and all our common damselflies, either at the pond or along woodland rides.
There's a variety of bumblebees and mining bees around, although I'm not an expert and would struggle to name the different species. There is one large yellow and black insect that I do know, which although superficially like a bee or wasp is actually a harmless sawfly. Thisis the horntail - a large insect with very long ovipositor - and several were seen in the Wild Zone today.
And the barbeque of the title? Well, If you're like me, I'm sure you enjoy toasting marshmallows over the open coals. Of course, modern marshmallows are totally artifical, but did you know that the plant bearing the same name - from which the sweets originally came - is a common plant along the path to the sluice? It's delicate pink flowers are just about blooming now.
And what of the birds? Most of the terns and little gulls have moved elsewhere as Sizewell B is shut down for now, so the outfall is no longer a nutrient rich feeding area. Migrant waders include a few spotted redshanks, greenshanks an dblack-tailed godwits. Two stone-curlews continue to show from the North Wall. Family parties of warblers are present everywhere, and bitterns and marsh harriers are seen every day. A highlight this week was a honey buzzard flying south yesterday.
Guest blog by Aris Litten, Minsmere Catering Manager
Having worked at Minsmere for seven years, I’ve just completed a very enjoyable and rewarding sabbatical, during which I toured several RSPB reserves and projects in Scotland, carrying out a variety of different work and seeing some superb wildlife.
My great adventure began bright and early at 3 am. Scotland here I come!
With weather and no traffic problems, we arrived at RSPB Loch Leven. Until recently, this reserve was known as Vane Farm.
I worked in the Kitchen Café with Doug Rutherford and the other team members, helping to prepare for their special open day on Sunday. The open day was very busy but great fun working within such a good team, with a similar work ethic to that at Minsmere, and it proved to be a record day for takings. The next day I helped prepare a buffet for a visit by various Scottish VIPs (lawyers, MSP, etc). This also proved to be a great success.
We then travelled to Aviemore and the RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre. We assisted in the centre, helping visitors, and very quickly learnt about the reserve and the ospreys in particular. We met and helped visitors from the USA, Germany, Holland and RSPB members from East Anglia who are regulars at Minsmere. What a small world!
Male osprey bringing food to the nest. Photo by Chris Gomersall (RSPB Images)
I enjoyed watching the male osprey bringing fish to the nest and all the other wildlife including chaffinches, siskins, greenfinches and great spotted woodpeckers. The red squirrels, the smell and peace of the forest all reminded me of back home in Lithuania.
On the ferry to Lewis, we saw dolphins and a family of otters, red-breasted mergansers, red-throated divers and a great skua, as well as guillemots and razorbills.
Our duties here were to act as an “additional pair of eyes” on the reserve, particularly with regard to red-necked phalaropes, and to listen to and count corncrakes. On the reserve we found a stone-built viewing point with an interpretation board and this is where we based ourselves. It was soon apparent that there were five red-necked phalaropes, but they were too far away to identify if they were males or females.
Horrified by the extent of the damage done by peat digging in North Lewis, we then drove down through Lewis and Harris to Leverborough to catch the ferry to North Uist. The landscape on the drive through Harris was spectacular.
As soon we arrived we met Jamie, who gave us a comprehensive briefing on our task. He provided a map showing the areas to be surveyed and gave us instructions on what to look for. That evening we went to find and identify the areas involved, and to visit RSPB Balranald nature reserve. (photo below by Chris Gomersall (RSPB Images)
Our task was to monitor northern mining bees on areas not already surveyed. Unfortunately, the weather was windy again with drizzle, so no bees! Site Manager Jamie Boyle was a very knowledgeable and friendly man. Because the inclement weather made further survey work impossible, Jamie kindly took us a ‘safari’ of the reserve areas and showed us a golden eagle and a single mining bee which came out of its tunnel for a few seconds!
On the last day, the weather improved and we finally saw some bees!
Sadly, our Scottish adventure was over all too soon, but I now have some amazing memories and have gained valuable skills and knowledge that will help me with my day-to-day job at Minsmere.
It was a tern fest at South Hide today. Maximum counts were an amazing 5 roseate terns, 4 Arctic terns and 6 little terns as well as 62 little gulls - one of the highest counts for several years.
Also on the Scrape were a greenshank, knot, common sandpiper and several little egrets.
Elsewhere, the best sightings were a cuckoo in the Wild Zone and a yellow wagtail flying over the visitor centre.
One group of animals that are poorly represented in the UK are reptiles and amphibians. There are only three native species of snakes, three native lizards, three newts, two toads and two frogs. Of these, several are habitat specialists, restricted to certain areas but absent from others.
For example, while adders, grass snakes, slow-worms and common lizards are widespread, smooth snakes and sand lizards are restricted to sandy areas in southern England.
Similarly, we’re probably all familiar with common frogs and common toads, and may even have seen a smooth newt, but have you ever seen a great crested newt, pool frog or natterjack toad?
Natterjacks have a disjointed, localised population in the UK. Their main strongholds are in the dunes of the Sefton coast in Merseyside and around the Solway Firth in Cumbria and Dumfriesshire. Elsewhere, they occur in suitable areas of dunes and heathland in many parts of the UK, though in much smaller numbers. Adults are easily identified by the distinctive yellow stripe along their backs.
Here at Minsmere, natterjacks were first introduced into shallow ditches within the heathland areas of the reserve in 1985. These toads came from a donor site in the Winterton Dunes, Norfolk, with a view to increasing the number of sites at which they could be found.
Two years later we created a couple of concrete ponds nearby for the natterjacks to breed in, with a third pond constructed in 1995. Then, in 2006, tadpoles were introduced into new ponds in a different part of the reserve, within re-created acid grassland.
Natterjack toadlets were seen in these new ponds in 2007, confirming that at least some had survived the winter. Males were first heard making their distinctive croaking in 2010, raising hopes that this tiny population was persisting, and breeding has, at last, been confirmed this spring.
Due to the sensitive nature of the habitat, natterjacks, and other wildlife, there is no public access to the natterjack areas at Minsmere, so if you want to look for them, I suggest planning a trip to the Sefton coast, Caerlaverock or RSPB Mersehead on the Solway, or smaller, well publicised populations such as at the RSPB HQ at The Lodge, Bedfordshire.
Natterjack by Andy Hay (RSPB-Images.com)
Apologies for the lack of recent updates. We're still experiencing some problems with phones and computers following last week's lightning strike. As a result, it's difficult to update during work time. Here's a quick update on sightings.
The rain has meant higher water levels on the Scrape, and especially on the Konik Field and Lucky Pool. Therefore, waders numbers have been affected, but we still have a few spotted redshanks and several black-tailed godwits, as well as the odd knot, common sandpiper and turnstone passing through. Tern numbers are also down, although both Sandwich and little terns remain among the common terns, especially at South Scrape. There has also been the odd Arctic tern on some dates.
Stars of the show on the Scrape, though are the little gulls. Numbers fluctuate daily but have peaked at 42, including several stunning summer plumaged adults. Other visitors to the Scrape include the first returning teals and good numbers of little egrets, plus three spoonbills yesterday.
The stone-curlews are still seen most days from the North Wall, with up to six birds present this week.
In the reedbed, bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers can still be seen, and the odd cuckoo is reported most days.
Insects are at last beginning to show well, including meadow brown, ringlet, white admiral and purple hairstreak butterflies, emerald and red-eyed damselflies and southern hawker and black-tailed skimmer dragonflies.