It's certainly been a wet few days at Minsmere, as elsewhere in the country, and it pays to keep an eye on any approaching black clouds before deciding to move on to the next hide as showers continue ot rattle through on a regular basis. Some of them are pretty heavy too.
Storm clouds over the North Wall recently
It paid to keep your eyes to the skies for another reason yesterday as three different large birds were spotted over the reedbed during the morning: an osprey was seen twice over Island Mere and Eastbridge; a red kite passed over Island Mere again; and a pomarine skua did a couple of circuit over both the Scrape and Island Mere. The latter is a particularly notable record, as skuas are generally only spotted passing by offshore, and rarely offer good views to visitors.
It's been a little quieter today, but we've had another sighting of the red kite, as well as the more typical marsh harriers, bitterns and hobby at Island Mere.
A red kite by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Not to be outdone, there's been some good birds on the Scrape over the last few days too, although you may have check carefully and patiently to find some of them. The little gull flock on South Scrape has fluctuated between about 20 and 50 birds, with one or two Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls seen on East Scrape. Both arctic and black terns have been among the common terns, as well as the odd Sandwich tern.
The rainfall has caused a notable rise in water levels on the Scrape, resulting in a slight redistribution of waders, with South Scrape often stealing the limelight. A little stint was seen there yesterday, alongside 13 dunlins, four knot and five ringed plovers, plus the odd spotted redshank. An oystercatcher chick is still being fed close to the hide, while several fledged redshanks can be seen on the Konik Field. For green and common sandpipers and greenshanks it's often best to try the Wildlife Lookout, while avocets and black-tailed godwits favour East Scrape. At least one little ringed plover is still present too.
Don't forget the ducks too. Althoguh harder to identify at this time of year as they lose their bright colours during the annual moult, you may be able to see mallards, gadwalls, teals and shovelers on the Scrape. the mallards and shelducks still have ducklings too - though they are now well grown. At Island Mere look out for the great crested and little grebes too.
Despite the rain there's still a good variety of insects to spot too. Dragonflies include common and ruddy darters, southern hawkers and black-tailed skimmers. Large whites and gatekeepers are the most numerous butterflies, but look out for painted ladies, red admirals and peacocks as well as the odd white admiral on the buddleias near the visitor centre. There's numerous species of hoverlflies and bees too, and the bee-wolfs are always popular in the North Bushes.
Don't forget to look at our flowers too. Delicate pink marsh mallows line the path to the sluice, purple tufted vetch climbs through the reed edge and impressively tall yellow marsh sow-thistles tower above the reeds, while on the beach look for pink restharrow and deep blue sheep's-bit.
Restharrow and sea holly in the dunes.
When the radio crackled into life with news of the first sightings of the day, they announcement was almost (!) as much of a surprise as the recent records of bee-eaters and an albatross. Bearing in mind the date (23 July), the report of seven brent geese flying south was unexpected. We wouldn't usually expect the first brent geese to appear until the first week of September. To arrive this early suggests that they may have had a poor breeding season in the Arctic.
Many of our other wildlife highlights at present are also heading south from the Arctic, or at least farther north in Europe, having either finished or failed breeding. Waders dominate on the Scrape, with counts today including 120 dunlins, two knots, three little ringed plovers, 36 black-tailed godwits, five ruffs, a common sandpiper, seven spotted redshanks and a greenshank. Add in more than 200 avocets and it's looking pretty good on the Scrape. There are also 42 little gulls and at least one of each of Caspian, Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls (with bigger counts usually possible at dusk), as well as two Sandwich and lots of common terns.
Little gull by Jon Evans
At Island Mere highlights included a kingfisher, three otters, bitterns and marsh harriers, including several juveniles.
Elsewhere, the water vole was again seen at the pond, and a white admiral was in the cafe picnic area. There are good numbers of painted ladies on the buddleias, and an impressive variety of butterflies in general. A hummingbird hawkmoth was seen yesterday. Pick of the dragonflies today was a banded demoiselle near the South Hide - they've been scarce on the reserve this year.
Among the many flowers on the reserve at the moment, one of my favourites is the marsh mallow, with its pale pink flowers and soft, velvety leaves. It's a common plant along the path from Wildlife Lookout to the sluice - though nationally it has a relatively restricted distribution.
marsh mallow by Ian Barthorpe
Finally, a reminder that the consultation on the future of two important pieces of European nature conservation legislation closes tomorrow. If you haven't done so already, please join almost half a million people across Europe who have expressed their support for our campaign to ensure that the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive are not weakened during this review. It's really easy to do so, as we've already answered the questions for you. Please go to http://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/campaignwithus/defendnature/ today to add your voice.
Minsmere's wardens and volunteers carry out regular moth trapping throughout the year. The most commonly used technique for moth trapping is to set up a special trap with a powerful light. The light attracts moths which are then caught, alive, in the box beneath. Later at night, or early the following morning, the trap is opened and moths are identified, counted and released.
Over many years of trapping at Minsmere, our Site Manager, Robin Harvey, has recorded a superb variety of moths, including rare migrants and scarce local breeding species. He has twice recorded new species for the UK, one of which he even named after the reserve - the Minsmere crimson underwing.
Despite more than 1000 species of moths having been recorded on the reserve, there are still regularly new species added to the list. However, it's not often that two new species are added in the same week, but that was the case this week. What's more, another species was recorded for only the second time.
On Friday, Robin opened the traps to find the first reserve record of Metalampra italica. http://ukmoths.org.uk/show.php?id=6291. Like many moths, this species doesn't have an English name. The first Suffolk record was one in his garden in 2010 where another in 2014 would suggest it is resident. It also seems to have been resident at Dunwich since 2013, so may be a recent colonist. The only record away from these areas was one at Woolpit last year.
Metalampra italica - the first Minsmere record, by Robin Harvey
Over the weekend, another regular moth trapper, Marc Botham, was given permission to trap at Minsmere, and incredibly he found another new species for the reserve - a six-belted clearwing. This is a day-flying moth and, like most clearwings, can be tempted to pheromone lures (special scents that mimic the pheromones given off by females), but it has not been relocated at a lure today. Marc kindly took the moth to show to Robin, who later released it close to where it was found.
Six-belted clearwing by Robin Harvey - the 1117th species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) recorded at Minsmere
On Wednesday, Robin also caught only the second reserve record of the tree-lichen beauty. This beautiful moth was only recorded for the first time in the UK int he 1990s, but now seems to be resident in Suffolk, so we may begin to see it more frequently.
Tree-lichen beauty by Robin Harvey
Of course, most moths are nocturnal, so hard to spot, but sometimes you might find one resting by day. There are many day-flying species to look out for too. It looks to be a good year to find hummingbird hawkmoths, with many reported in gardens across the country, and it's always worth checking our buddleia bushes for this popular moth. The similar broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth is also a regular visitor to Minsmere's buddleias. In more open, grassy areas, such as the North Wall and dunes, look out for six-spotted burnet moths, or the black and yellow caterpillars of cinnabar moths too.
While on the subject of moths, it's worth a visit to the Canopy Hide to look for evidence of two of Minsmere's nocturnal residents. Brown long-eared bats are particularly partial to eating large yellow underwing moths, and you can see the discarded wings of the moth both in Canopy Hide and behind the visitor centre. It's unlikely that you'll see the moth though.