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.
With migration in full swing, July often brings an unexpected visitor or two to the Suffolk coast, but nothing could really prepare us for the events that have unfolded this week.
The excitement began on Monday morning when our Senior Site Manager, Adam Rowlands, called on the reserve radios to say that he thought he had a large tortoiseshell butterfly in his garden. This was potentially a first reserve record of this rare migrant, which used to breed in the UK, so a handful of us rushed across to take a closer look. Sure enough, sitting on the bungalow guttering was an unusual tortoiseshell butterfly. It was slightly larger and paler than the familiar small tortoiseshell and had a slightly different upperwing pattern. After consulting a field guide and taking a few photos we alerted other colleagues to have a closer look.
The butterfly promptly flew to the top of the bungalow roof to soak up the sun, before eventually providing excellent views as it fed on nectar from a buddleia bush. There had clearly been a large arrival of migrant butterflies as the bush was full of red admirals and large whites, with a few painted ladies, as well as newly emerged peacocks, a few graylings and commas and even a purple hairstreak. Unfortunately, it was difficult to arrange wider access that day.
Large tortoiseshell would have been a new species for most of us, but things were about to get even more exciting. During the evening questions were asked on Twitter (@RSPBMinsmere) about whether we had ruled out yellow-legged tortoiseshell. After some internet research I discovered that this butterfly, which had only once been seen in the UK (in the 1950s) had been seen in large numbers in Holland over the last couple of days - for the time ever. The two species are very similar, apart form leg colour, so easily confused - especially when you're not even considering one of them! My photos didn't show the legs, but others did, and we were able to confirm the identification as yellow-legged tortoiseshell, also known as scarce tortoiseshell. They usually occur in eastern Europe and are very rare in the west.
Photos by Robin Harvey. A short video clip by David Fairhurst clearly shows the yellowish legs - https://vimeo.com/100827316
Luckily the butterfly was still present on Tuesday, so we arranged for guided access to the garden to watch it. A few visitors were lucky enough to see this amazing butterfly before it suddenly vanished at about 11 am and was sadly not relocated.
There was some consolation for those unlucky enough to miss this butterfly, as a rare bird was located on the Scrape yesterday morning - a collared pratincole. This was the first time this wader had been seen at Minsmere, or anywhere else in Suffolk, since 1996, so it attracted a lot of attention. Although it could be difficult to spot at times, it also gave some great views as it flew over the Scrape in pursuit of insects, or simply jumped to catch flies. Collared pratincoles breed in Spain, locally elsewhere around the Mediterranean, then from Greece eastwards through central Asia and only a handful visit the UK each year. The bird is still on the Scrape as I type.
There's a superb variety of waders on the Scrape at the moment as birds pass through on migration. The most numerous species are avocets (upto 200) and black-tailed godwits (upto 150), but there are also several spotted redshanks, ruffs, green and common sandpipers, greenshanks, dunlins and little ringed plovers, as well as the odd wood sandpiper and whimbrel. There's also an increasing number of little gulls (36 today) and a few common, little and Sandwich terns, while a spoonbill was spotted on Monday too. This week we are planning to open the seasonal path to view the North Levels pools, which are also great places to spot waders and herons and give a different view of Minsmere's reedbeds.
The tortoiseshell isn't the only rare insect seen at Minsmere this week either. Two of our most distinctive day-flying moths have been seen on the buddleias at the visitor centre too - the hummingbird hawkmoth and the relatively similar broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth. The latter can regularly be seen patrolling from flower to flower, with it's bee-like colouration.
Broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth by Ian Barthorpe
With so many eyes looking at buddleias it's perhaps not a surprise that other insects have been seen too, including a varied mix of hoverflies and bees. And today we've found another rare butterfly, at least as far as Minsmere is concerned. The silver-washed fritillary is one of our largest butterflies and has slowly been colonising parts of East Anglia in recent years. This is at least the third consecutive year that one has been seen at Minsmere suggesting that they might be breeding locally. It too, has favoured the area in front of the visitor centre, though it has been quite mobile.
With so much excitement our bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers may be feeling a bit left out, but they're continuing to show well too, and a few hobbies remain over the reedbed. And, of course, many of our commoner plants, birds and insects can still easily be spotted as you wander around the reserve.