After looking at the calendar and realising that half the year had gone already, I found myself reflecting on the many things I have learnt so far this year and the great wildlife I have been fortunate enough to experience here at Minsmere. My reflections left me feeling a little sad that many of the things I had been looking forward to have been and gone, Springwatch being the main one! Instead of reminiscing on the ‘has been’ I decided to leave my desk and just go and enjoy the day and what’s about at Minsmere.
I hadn’t even left my chair before I saw three stoats from the work centre offices. I ran out of the building and decided to follow them for a bit. They darted from cover to cover making their way across towards the car park. I have started to refer to the mother stoat as ‘Marmite’. She has been given many other names by staff and volunteers here but I like to think of her as Marmite because she really divides the opinions of visitors. They either love her...or they hate her! I can’t help but have the upmost respect for her; she is a phenomenal mother and tirelessly hunts using incredible resourcefulness to provide for her family. Earlier this week she was sighted swimming in front of Island Mere hide hunting for a moorhen, which she managed to take despite the size difference!
I didn’t see the stoats come out of the bushes after following them to the car park so I decided to go for a walk and enjoy the other incredible wildlife here. Apart from getting caught in the rain my walk around the scrape was lovely and filled with wonderful birdlife; Mediterranean gulls, many black tailed godwits, sandwich tern, little tern, kittiwake, ringed plover and a gorgeous spotted redshank.
It was on my return to the Visitor Centre that I experienced the highlight of my day; two stoat kits playing out in front of reception. Their mother had apparently been very busy whilst I had been walking. She had been visiting the rabbit warrens near to the car park and been fairly successful in her efforts. The mother rabbit had fought back against the stoat and ‘Marmite’ had received a powerful kick to the body.
The stoat kits seemed completely oblivious to their mother’s efforts and were just busily scurrying around in front of the Visitor Centre chasing each other and tumbling over. They had caught the attention of quite a crowd (obviously Marmite fans) being so close and entertaining. They finished with quite a crowd pleaser by one of the kits scampering up a tree and testing their agility even further!
Stoatal madness at Minsmere, what a treat!
OK, so it may be not be Mediterranean weather, but with Glastonbury just finished and Wimbledon underway, what more do you expect? But there is certainly a Mediterranean feel to Minsmere right now as large flocks of Mediterranean gulls are gathering on the Scrape. Numbers fluctuate during the day, and tend to peak in the evenings, but there have been at least 20 present most days, and peak counts in excess of 80. They seem to favour one island in the middle of West Scrape, with good views from Wildlife Lookout, but it's also possible to see them from East and North Hides.
Two Mediterannean gulls with a black-headed gull - note the latter actually has a chocolate-brown head!
Despite the attentions of the larger gulls, there's excellent numbers of fledged black-headed gulls on the Scrape, while eleven pairs of Sandwich terns are nesting on East Scrape. At least 40 pairs of avocets have re-layed on the Scrape, and passage wading birds include up to nine spotted redshanks, four dunlins, three ruffs and odd green sandpipers, knots and whimbrels.
There's some news about some of the recent stars of Springwatch too, with regular sightings of the nightingales and bullfinches around the wardens' office and car park entrance confirming that they have fledged successfully. Even more exciting, the pair of stone-curlews that sadly failed to hatch their lone egg (which turned out to be infertile) have relaid and are now much easier to see than before. Please only watch from the designated watchpoint at the start of the North Wall to avoid disturbance. Let's hope they are successful this time!
In the reedbed there are now several fledged marsh harriers, bitterns and otters continue to be seen regularly, and up to four hobbies can seen hunting dragonflies.
Speaking of dragonflies, late June and July is a good time to look for these aerial predators, including the Norfolk hawker, an East Anglian specialty. Look out too for southern hawker, four-spotted and broad-bodied chaser, black-tailed skimmer, banded demoiselle and various damselflies. The weather may not be conducive to butterfly watching, but this is also a good time to look for silver-studded blues on the heath, while white admiral and purple hairstreak should be on the wing soon. Other butterflies to look include meadow brown, small heath, large skipper, brown argus and small copper.
A four-spotted chaser
Another highlight in late June/July is the flowers - and luckily these can be seen even in poor weather. A walk along the dunes should reveal pale pink and white sea bindweed, darker pink restharrow, deep blue sheep's-bit, bright yellow biting stonecrop and the pink-flecked white stars of English stonecrop alongside the taller sea kale and yellow horned-poppies. On the grasslands look out for common centuary, scarlet pimpernel, common cudweed and the dramatic nodding heads of musk thistle.
Sea bindweed, with an unidentified beetle
So, if you want excuse not to watch the rain at Wimbledon, or a soggy cricket match, then head along to Minsmere and get your fill of nature.
Guest blog by Stan Singleton, Volunteer Minsmere guide
Volunteering! Why do we do it? Life already offers other interests, obligations, but it is the lure of several hours in the fresh air and, here at Minsmere, an opportunity to watch wonderful bird-life. Absorbing bird song becomes a way of life wherever I am, but at Minsmere there are the booms of bitterns, the crazed chatter of Cetti's warblers and the "chack" of jackdaws. And the wren, that thrilling middle trill!
A wren in full song by Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)
Minsmere is not just about birds. There are animals of the four-legged variety and, yes, two-legged too. You never stop learning about wildlife with the precise and wonderful knowledge of the Minsmere staff and other volunteers around you.
If you're keen on a volunteering role and you feel your birding knowledge is not up to scratch there are other roles you can fulfil: in reception, or the shop (packed with wildlife goodies) and the cafe (the cheese scones are Suffolk's best kept secret!).
My message - don't delay, get in touch today and enjoy tomorrow.
Stan, ready for another day guiding at Minsmere
[Look out for Stan and our other wonderful volunteer guides whenever you visit Minsmere. They're here to help you to enjoy your visit. For more information about volunteering, and a list of all the opportunities currently available, please see www.rspb.org.uk/volunteering - we really couldn't make Minsmere such a great place for wildlife and people without our volunteers. - ed]