We've all heard of Africa's Big Five - lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant. Did you know they also have a Little Five - antlion, leopard slug, buffalo weaver, rhinoceros beetle and elephant shrew?
Well we have our Big Five at Minsmere - though perhaps not as impressive as the African version, these are the five species that most visitors come to look for. Minsmere's Big Five are avocet, marsh harrier, bearded tit, bittern and red deer.
Arguably, we also have a Little Five, as if you are very lucky you could spot lions, leopards, tigers, elephants and wolves at Minsmere. How, I hear you ask?
Our Little Five are minibeasts with fierce sounding names - and in some cases behaviour.
I've talked before in these blogs about antlions and beewolfs, two highly predatory insects that can be seen close to the visitor centre. I've mentioned our tigers too - tiger beetles on the heath. If you know where to look, these can be quite easy to spot at the right of year.
Our elephants are not so easy to find, but if you're lucky you might come across and elephant hawkmoth or a small elephant hawkmoth.
Until today I had only managed to see our leopards a couple of times, but this morning I came face to face with a huge one just outside the visitor centre. Don't panic though. They are completely harmless - though I'd prefer not to find one in my garden for the sake of my plants. The reason? It's a leopard slug. One of our biggest slugs. They are quite common at Minsmere and I came across this beauty this morning, measuring at least 13 cms.
Of course there are many other impressive minibeasts to look out for at Minsmere, depending on the season, including wasp spiders, great green bush-crickets, hornets, hummingbird hawkmoths and great silver beetles and their larvae.
So, if you're out for a walk at Minsmere, watch out, there could be a leopard about!
On Sunday 21 September we organised a beach clean at Minsmere as part of the annual Beachwatch weekend, organised by the Marie Conservation Society (MCS). Groups of volunteers were out and about around the coasts of the UK collecting, recording and bagging every item of litter recorded on their chosen stretch of beach.
Here at Minsmere Christine, our reserve assistant, was joined during the day by 12 volunteers. Each piece of litter was recorded on the MCS survey form, then bagged and removed from the beach for safe disposal. Several bags were collected during the day.
So, what did they find? Many items were the usual suspects. Bottles, bottle caps, cans and wrappers made up a high proportion. Many of these will have been washed ashore rather than dropped on the beach, but it's a sign that far too many people are still carelessly (and lazily) dropping litter. Balloons and their strings also make up a large percentage of the total number of items collected. Worryingly these are easily swallowed by seabirds and marine mammals, leading to starvation. Plastic bags provide a similar danger.
Not all items come from land, with many of the bits of plastic and polystyrene washed up originating from passing ships. Similarly, much of the litter consisted of discarded or broken fishing line, hooks and ropes. Though many of these will have been accidentally lost, the impact on wildlife can be devastating.
Of course, among the litter there were also many natural items washed ashore, including cuttlefish bones and mermaids purses - the egg cases of rays, sharks and dogfish.
Perhaps the most unusual item of litter collected this year was a Lego man. I wonder how far he had travelled, and hope that he isn't missed by a child somewhere. Sadly though, with so much litter found along our beach, which is used mostly by conservation-minded visitors, everything is clearly not awesome. (If you haven't watched the Lego Movie this won't mean much - ask a five year old to explain.)
Volunteers collecting litter for Beachwatch
There's still a good selection of wading birds on the Scrape, but one has been stealing the show for birdwatchers this week: a beautiful purple sandpiper. These are usually birds of rocky shores, which means there are few reliable places to see them in Suffolk - the north and west coast of the UK are much better. The best place to see them locally is England's most easterly point - Ness Point in Lowestoft - but every winter we'll see one on the sluice outfall here at Minsmere. This month we've been lucky as one has spent a few weeks there, often in company with a couple of sanderlings. Last week it decided to move with the other waders onto the Scrape, where it even posed for photos close to East Hide. Below is a lovely picture taken by our reserve assistant Christine Hall on the beach last week, and Minsmere regular John Richardson has posted a great photo of it on the Scrape in our Forum
Purple sandpipers are easily overlooked small dark waders. Another easily overlooked wader is the little stint, this time due to its minute size. At least four are still using the Scrape. Other waders to look out for this week include spotted redshanks, greenshanks, common sandpipers, black-tailed godwits and snipe, although only four avocets remain this morning.
The other stars of the show at the moment are in the reedbed, where a great white egret has taken up residence at Island Mere and flocks of bearded tits are popping up all over the place. Autumn mornings are always the best time of year to see bearded tits as family parties flit around calling, before "erupting" from the reedbed. This means they fly several metres high before dispersing to other reedbeds for the winter. Otters, kingfishers, bitterns and marsh harriers are also seen daily in the reedbed, especially at Island Mere.
It's been a good week for spotting mammals. As well as the otter, our water vole at the pond has been very showy today, and there are regular sightings of stoats and muntjac. The red deer rut is in full swing, and we're running a special event this weekend to help you to learn more about these impressive beasts. Join us on Westleton Heath from noon on Saturday or 8 am on Sunday, until dusk on both days. A common seal pup was on the beach for a day last week. Perhaps the most exciting sighting was a gorgeous harvest mouse rescued from a pile of cut reed on the Scrape during reserve management work. I wish I'd been around to see it as I've yet to see one of these very cute, tiny mammals. Although common, they are rarely seen.
Other highlights this week have included a clouded yellow and a few very late white admiral butterflies, willow emerald damselflies, good numbers of migrant hawkers and common darters, as well as hobbies, three pink-footed geese, a red kite and the first water pipit of the autumn.