Guest blog by Holly, Showing People Wildlife volunteer
Hi I’m Holly, a volunteer for the RSPB and I ' m leading a project: ‘Showing People Wildlife’. We will be focusing on different species throughout the year and volunteers will be out on the reserve to share these natural wonders.
Today, there are thousands of Cuttlefish bones along the Suffolk coast. These have been washed ashore by the spring tides and easterly winds. Despite the name, they are not fish but molluscs, therefore more closely related to garden snails. They are said to be one of the most intelligent invertebrates and are the chameleon of the sea, rapidly changing colour and pattern to camouflage themselves. This display can also deter predators as well as communicate with other cuttlefish. They are clever hunters and will hide, waiting patiently, before ambushing their prey using their tentacles. They eat crab, shrimp and octopi but are preyed upon by shark, dolphin and seal. They can squirt ink into a predator’s eyes giving them time to quickly swim away, propelling themselves via a jet of water squirted from behind their heads. Cuttlefish can regulate their buoyancy by feeding gas and liquid into the small chambers of the calcium carbonate cuttlebone.
Cuttlefish only live for 1 to 2 years and die immediately after spawning. Their body quickly degrades and the cuttlebone is all that remains. The large quantities of cuttlebones found on the shoreline at Minsmere today were probably from last year’s cuttlefish which died after spawning in late summer. However, some of the cuttlebones are very small which indicates that the cuttlefish may have been killed by an event such as food shortage or a cold spell. Cuttlebones are commonly sold in pet shops as a calcium substitute for caged birds. They are also traditionally used by silversmiths as moulds as they can be easily sculpted and survive the high temperatures of a kiln. Cuttlefish has also recently returned to British menus and is often used as a cheap alternative to squid and octopus.
If you are beachcombing, see if you can find a cuttlebone. Sometimes you can even see the teeth marks of a predator!
Why not come and see this and many other natural spectacles this weekend at Minsmere. There is a guided weekend wildlife walk on Sunday starting at 9.30am.
Photo caption: Cuttlebone showing beak marks probably from a crow or gull taking advantage of the calcium rich food. Photo by Holly Berwick
Lesser Kestrel - male still present yesterday south of Westleton Heath but no sign so far today. The Great Grey Shrike was still present this morning.
The Minsmere Discover Nature Project took another huge step forwards this week as we re-opened the visitor centre yesterday. It looks great, and we've had many positive comments, despite a few little things not being completely finished yet.
On arrival in the car park you'll now see a stunning totem and new information sign at the top of the access ramp. At the bottom of the ramp, the new reception building is much more welcoming than the old entrance, with a fully glass front and rear, new information boards, and our smiling team of staff and volunteers. Here you'll find all the information you need to plan your day at Minsmere - a large map, a flat screen TV (kindly donated by Hughes Electrical in Southwold) and sightings information.
From the reception, there's a short corridor into the stunning new shop, which has all the great products you'd expect to find in an RSPB Shop - bird food, feeders, nestboxes, binoculars, telescopes, books, outdoor clothing, cards, gifts and more. At the far end of the building, the cafe is more than doubled in size, with a completely fresh look, while outside we've improved the seating area with surfaced paths to all benches.
The toilet block has been completely upgraded. Regular visitors have commented that we've bricked up the doors, which is true, because the block has been effectively turned around to provide direct access from the new reception (although this door is currently closed while some final work is completed so access is currently via the shop and reserve access path.
We're excited about some of the green technology that's been installed too. Two huge 6000 litre tanks have been buried beneath the picnic area. These will store rainwater, collected from the visitor centre roof, which is then used to flush the toilets. This grey water ensures we considerably reduce our water usage, which is vital during the current drought, especailly as Suffolk is the driest part of the UK. We also have solar hot water panels on both the toilets and visitor centre, helping us to heat the building more efficiently. The toilet extractor fans are also powered by solar energy, while light tunnels in the toilet block roof utilise natural light to reduce the need for artificial lighting.
Work is still continuing to complete the new Discovery Centre and Wild Zone, our exciting facilities for schools and families, which are scheduled to open in mid April. More details to follow when these are ready.
The new cafe (above) and shop by Adam Rowlands
The new reception building
The last few weeks have seen almost unprecidented levels of rainfall in Suffolk. In a month known for its showers, April has been one of the wettest on record. Here at Minsmere, we recorded an incredible 121 mm (about 8 inches) of rain during the month. Compare that to about 12 mm from early March to mid July two years ago, and it puts the figures into context. Add to that another wet day on Tuesday and it's perhaps not a surprise that we've had severe flooding at Minsmere this week.
For you as visitors, this means that there are restrictions on access to some areas. The path from the Sluice to South Hide is completely impassable, even in wellies. From South Hide to South Belt Crossroads, past the renamed Wildlife Lookout (formerly West Hide), you'll need at least walking boots, as I found to my cost on Wednesday - the trainers are just about dry two days later! Access into East Hide is with wellies only, and you'll need walking boots to reach Island Mere.
Of course, if the paths are flooded, so are many other parts of the reserve, and the floods have wreaked havoc for many of our ground-nesting birds. Although we generally have good control of water levels, with so much rain it's impossible to avoid flooding since the New Cut has burst its banks, and the main sluice outfall is at capacity.
Many of the islands of the Scrape have already disappeared under water, washing away nests of black-headed gulls, avocets, lapwings and redshanks. The common terns hadn't yet nested, so are less seriously affected. If water levels fall quickly enough, most of these gulls and waders should be able to re-lay and hopefully rear a few chicks.
Despite the high water levels, there has been a good passage of waders on the Scrape, and especially on the Levels. Highlights have included bar-tailed godwits (32 this morning), knots (up to 12), a curlew sandpiper, several whimbrels, grey plovers and turnstones, plus the first common sandpiper of the year on Wednesday. There was also a cracking pair of garganeys yesterday, and a pintail on Wednesday.
In the reedbed, the signs are more promising. Marsh harrier nests appear to be unaffected, with most pairs still gathering nesting material. Bitterns are still booming, but it's hard to know whether any nests have been lost. Bearded tits were more active than usual at Bittern Hide and Island Mere last weekend, suggesting that they too are nesting successfully. Water rails have been seen regularly at Bittern Hide, often with a chick, and water voles and otters continue to be seen most days.
In the scrubby areas, we now have several nightingales singing, as well as garden warblers, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats. A superb male black redstart and male common redstart have been feeding on the open area north of North Wall since Tuesday. More excitingly, a wryneck was seen fling over the cafe on Tuesday and has showed intermittently in North Bushes ever since. Other passage migrants this week have included several wheatears, a whinchat, a few yellow wagtails, and good numbers of swifts. so despite the floods there's still plenty to see at Minsmere.
The recent spell of warm sunny weather and light southerly winds has held migration up a little bit, with very few reports of birds such as redwing or brambling that we'd usually expect to arrive in late September. That's not to say that there aren't any winter migrants here yet. Two snow buntings have taken up residence in the dunes, and a Lapland bunting was present for a few days earlier in the week. Also in the dunes today was a wheatear, heading off towards Africa.
There has been a steady passage of brent geese south offshore this week. You can keep up to date with the progress of geese arriving in the UK by following the #goosewatch tag on Twitter.
Yet another pectoral sandpiper has been commuting between the wader trail and "Lucky Pool" (south of the sluice bushes) for the last three days. It was joined by a curlew sandpiper today, while other waders this week have included knot, bar-tailed godwit, greenshank and ruff. A jack snipe was near the konik Field yesterday. Fiona was seen yesterday, but has been seen on RSPB Havergate Island and Orfordness this week too.
The reedbed trail has provided some great views of bearded tits this week, while bitterns and marsh harriers have been seen from Bittern Hide. Hobbies are still present, hassling migrant swallows and house martins.
There are lots of butterflies and dragonflies still on the wing, and the red deer are showing extremely well from the Westleton Heath viewpoint.