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.