With the school holidays now underway Minsmere really does offer something for everyone - and the reserve is looking superb right now.
Families can enjoy letting off a bit of steam in the Wild Zone, build a den or stroll to the beach. Every weekday we also have an exciting range of family activities to enjoy. The events are as follows:
No booking is required for these, though we recommend arriving early. Except where stated, all activities are free, though normal reserve entry fees apply for everyone. For full details see http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/m/minsmere/events.aspx
If you're looking for somewhere to enjoy a countryside walk with stunning views, then Minsmere's your place too. The Coast Trail offers lovely views over the reedbed and up the coast towards Southwold. When it's as hot as today, the cooling breeze on the beach is very welcome. You'll see a great variety of shingle flowers in the dunes, including harebells, sheepsbit, restharrow and sea bindweed. These, in turn, attract butterflies such as common blue, brown argus, grayling, small copper and small and Essex skippers.
Restharrow and sea pea in the dunes
You can take a rest in one of the hides overlooking the Scrape. East Hide remains the place to be, with an excellent variety of wading birds present including the collared pratincole which has now reached day 12 of it's prolonged visit from the Mediterranean. Avocet numbers are starting to decline (88 were counted yesterday), as they usually do in midsummer, but the annual gathering of little gulls remains. The peak count so far is 75. Other waders this week have included wood, green, common and curlew sandpipers, spotted redshanks, greenshanks, ruffs and the more expected dunlins, lapwings and black-tailed godwits. Walking back from the sluice you'll see the lovely pale pink flowers of marsh mallow.
If you're seeking shade, the Island Mere walk is mostly beneath the canopy of the oak wood. Look up and you might spot a purple hairstreak or white admiral butterfly. Check the brambles and ragwort flowers for other butterflies and hoverflies, which may in turn attract a hunting dragonfly. Spend some time in the hides on this walk and you may be lucky enough to spot some of Minsmere's reedbed specialists, though it's getting harder now that most of the chicks have fledged. Bitterns, marsh harriers and bearded tits are the main attractions, but reed and sedge warblers may be easier to see. The Cetti's warblers have mostly stopped singing while they moult, but sightings of kingfishers are becoming more frequent as the young disperse away from nearby nesting territories. Otters are still seen occasionally, but the star attraction in the reedbed at the moment may be the great crested grebe chicks that hatched at Island Mere today.
if the weather's good, as today, some hides might be busy at times, so to avoid the crowds why not get here early, or stay till the evening. Minsmere's hides and nature trails are open from dawn to dusk. This week we've also opened a seasonal trail to the North Levels. The thistles along the New Cut bank are a haven for butterflies, while the pools are a good place to watch herons, egrets and spoonbills. As the water levels drop they'll be good for waders too.
Small copper - one of the butterflies to look for in short grass areas
If you don't feel like a walk, then you can browse the shop, where our Christmas cards and calendars are already in stock (sorry, I know it's only July but with 15% off as an early bird discount they're already selling fast). Or you can refuel in the cafe and sample our delicious home-cooked food, made using locally sourced produce wherever possible, or the tasty bird-friendly RSPB coffee.
Why not come and see for yourself this summer?
Wow. What a month! July seems to keep getting better and better.
After all of the excitement over a new butterfly for the reserve list, we've since added both a new moth and a new beetle.
Our wardens and volunteers regularly operate a moth trap at Minsmere, and over the years they have recorded an amazing variety of species, including two that had never previously been seen in the UK. The latest addition to the list is a rare migrant from southern Europe, recorded only a handful of times in the UK since the first sighting in 1993. As with many moths, it doesn't have an English name so is known only by its scientific name - Evergestis limbata. This brings the list of Lepidoptera (the collective name for butterflies and moths) recorded at Minsmere to an impressive 1110.
Evergestis limbata by Robin Harvey
The discovery of our new beetle was even more unusual. Irene Ridley, Minsmere Administrator and Field Teacher, takes up the story.
"Whilst clearing up in the woodlands last Tuesday after a school visit, I was intrigued by a large beetle, sitting on one of the logs in the circle, that I’d not seen before. It was about 20 mm long and a lovely chestnut colour. With the aid of an ID book, I concluded that it was a large type of click beetle. I watched it for a moment (it wasn’t doing much!), then carried on with my work and thought no more about it.
Fast forward to yesterday, I came across Nigel Cuming,(our volunteer entomologist) hunting around in the car park area and I asked what he was after. His reply: 'I’m looking for a large click beetle’. After my brain finally sorted out why this ‘clicked’ with me, I was able to tell him about what I’d seen last week. A quick Google search and he verified that it was indeed the beetle he’d been looking for – Elater ferruginous. A few hours later, having trekked into the wood, Nigel came back a very happy man having found a male of the species."
Elater ferruginous is a rare beetle in the UK, classified as RDB1, and there are few previous Suffolk records. Shortly after Nigel confirmed its presence at Minsmere, Irene headed into the woods and discovered another female - see photo below. Our wardens also report seeing several around the reserve, so it may have been overlooked previously. This large click beetle requires red-rot oak in which its larva feeds. Perhaps it has benefited from the increased quantity of dead wood after last autumn's storms.
Oh, and the collared pratincole is still around today along with a great selection of waders. If you still don't know what a collared pratincole looks like, see Nick Brown's stunning photo in our gallery here.
After the excitement of last week's run of rarities, attention has focused on two main parts of the reserve this - and for once it's not the reedbed.
The buddleias have continued to attract a good range of butterflies. Red admirals, peacocks and graylings dominate numerically, but it's the continued presence of one or two silver-washed fritillaries that has been the star attraction here. A close second has been the broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth, although neither has been easy to locate at times. There has been no further sightings of the yellow-legged (or scarce) tortoiseshell, although others have since been found in Kent, Norfolk and Lincolnshire at least.
Elsewhere, the most numerous butterfly on the reserve at present is the beautiful orange and brown gatekeeper, especially wherever bramble is still in flower. Several purple hairstreaks can be spotted in the oak canopy, occasionally descending to feed on bramble or even buddleia flowers. While out on the dunes and other grassy areas you may spot common blue, small and Essex skippers and brown argus - some of our smallest butterflies.
Gatekeeper (left) and small skipper butterflies. Both photos by Ian Barthorpe
The other part of the reserve attracting a lot of attention is the Scrape, especially East Hide. Our collared pratincole has now completed a full week in residence, and although it disappears for long periods it has been added to many visitors' lists during its stay. Hundreds of twitchers have been able to spot this elegant wader and it to their Suffolk list at last - 18 years after the last county record. But many other visitors on being advised to look for it have replied with phrases like "collared what" and "I've never heard of that". With lots of eyes looking for it from the hides, even the most casual of visitors have had the chance to see this rare visitor.
The pratincole is far from the only wader on the Scrape though - up to 24 species can be seen from East Hide alone at the moment. Peak wader counts this week include: 99 avocets (down from the recent 200+), 6 little ringed plovers, 58 lapwings, 6 knot, 3 sanderlings, 88 dunlins, 3 ruffs, 92 black-tailed godwits, 15 spotted redshanks, 6 greenshanks, 2 green sandpipers, 4 common sandpipers plus single golden plover, little stint, curlew sandpiper, bar-tailed godwit, wood sandpiper and turnstone. Add in a few oystercatchers, ringed plovers, redshanks, snipe, curlews and whimbrels and that's a pretty impressive list.
And it's not just waders either. The summer build up of little gulls reached 58 today. The tern flock on East Scrape peaked at 100 common terns today, joined by several Sandwich and little terns and an adult arctic tern.
With so many gulls, terns and waders all in a variety of different plumages (adult, juvenile, summer, winter, and various intermediate stages of moult) it's a real test of your ID skills. Luckily, we often have a volunteer in the hide to help out, but if in doubt why not take a photo to help us to identify the bird for you later. You can share your photos in our gallery, of on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook pages, or by mentioning @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter.
Curlew sandpiper (left) and common sandpiper - two of the waders present on the Scrape. Both photos by Jon Evans
Don't forget too, that we regularly update sightings, events and management news on Facebook and Twitter, so check the links for the latest information.
Of course, there are still good sightings in the reedbed too including bitterns, marsh harriers, bearded tits (a great video was shared on our Facebook page yesterday), reed and sedge warblers and hobbies, plus a nesting pair of great crested grebes at Island Mere. There's lots of dragonflies too.