As is often the case in August, the buddleia bushes outside the visitor centre have been the centre of attention for much of the afternoon. There's been a great range of butterflies, including several painted ladies and commas as well as the more familiar red admirals, small tortoiseshells, peacocks, large and small whites. One species that always attracts discussion over its identity is the grayling. This heathland specialist never perches with its wings open, and its markings provide superb camouflage when perched on the dry ground. On buddleia, though, it is easier to spot as the camouflage is useless.
A grayling failing to stay camouflaged on buddleia by Ian Barthorpe
With lots of eyes watching the buddleias, it was no surprise that a hummingbird hawkmoth was located this afternoon, and it performed well for the gathering crowds for at least an hour. These large day flying moths look just like small hummingbirds as they hover in front of flowers using their long tongue to gather nectar. Indeed, they are often mistaken for hummingbirds when seen in gardens - hence the name.
Hummingbird hawkmoths seem to appeal to all visitors, from young families visiting for the first time to hardened birdwatchers and big lens photographers. It's great to watch everyone pointing it out to other visitors, chatting away excitedly whenever one appears.
Hummingbird hawkmoth by Ian Barthorpe
The other insect that continues to attract a lot of attention is our bee-wolfs, and they have again been performing to the crowds all day. Nearby, in the North Bushes, there were sightings of both lesser whitethroat and a late nightingale, while up to three stone-curlews were visible at times from the start of the North Wall. Two water voles were in the pond too.
A turtle dove would have proved popular had it remained on view a bit longer in the car park this morning. Two have been favouring the area around the Discovery Centre/car park entrance this week so that seems to be best area to look for them. While watching the turtle dove, one lucky visitor heard and saw a bee-eater flying high to the north at 10.10 this morning, but it hasn't been relocated.
Water levels are slowly falling again on the Scrape, and a good variety of waders could be found today, including: wood, green and common sandpipers, four greenshanks, four spotted redshanks, two ruffs, a very popular whimbrel, a little ringed plover, 45 black-tailed godwits and five dunlins. Also on the Scrape were six little and one Mediterranean gulls and a Sandwich tern.
An otter was seen a couple of times at Island Mere this morning, with bittern and marsh harrier regular there too. Several common terns are fishing on the mere, often very close to the hide. Probably the best sighting there was a juvenile cuckoo this morning.
Common tern by Jon Evans
What will we find this week? Minibeasts are likely to remain popular, especially with families, as we're pond dipping on Monday and have our family wildlife walks on Wednesday. We also have new self guided minibeast explorer cards to borrow.
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.