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Recent sightings

  • 29 September 2015

    Confusing seasons

    Perhaps it has something to do with the supermoon/blood moon/lunar eclipse that many people enjoyed watching in the early hours of Monday morning, or maybe the recent autumn equinox, but the seasons seem a little confusing at the moment. 

    Talking of the supermoon, I hope you manage to see it if you bothered to get/stay up. When I woke up there was a thick layer of cloud shrouding the sky, so I went back to bed. I'll just have to hope I'm still around in 2033 for another opportunity!

    Anyway, back to the confusing seasons. The colours of the bracken and birch trees, and abundance of fungi, clearly suggest that autumn is upon us, but this beautiful warm sunny weather is more indicative of late spring. If you want to learn more about Minsmere's fungi then put Saturday 17 October in your diary and join us for UK Fungus Day.

    Common earthball - one of the fungi to look for in October - by Ian Barthorpe

    Another sign of autumn is the annual red deer rut, and though they are a bit slow getting going this year we will be staffing the viewpoint on Westleton Heath again this weekend. Our volunteers will be present from 1 pm until dusk on both Saturday and Sunday with binoculars, telescopes and quizzes and we'd love to see you there. There are still one or two spaces available for deer safaris towards the end of October too.

    Autumn is often the best time to spot bearded tits, and the recent calm sunny mornings have been perfect for spotting small flocks flying above the reeds. North Wall, Island Mere and the South Hide area are perhaps the best places to watch them.

    Bearded tit by Jon Evans

    Despite the advancing season, there are still a few lingering summer migrants passing through. A spotted flycatcher between Bittern Hide and Island Mere was a surprise today, as was a common tern over Island Mere. An osprey spent several days fishing at Island Mere late last week and through the weekend, and several hobbies continue to chase dragonflies over the woods and reedbed. In the North Bushes there are still a few blackcaps, but the lesser whitethroats appear to have all moved on. A common blue butterfly was a late bonus today, as well as several small whites and speckled woods, while oen or clouded yellows have passed through this week too.

    There's also been a few signs of winter already, with a ringtail hen harrier seen to fly over the Scrape this afternoon, and two early water pipits on East Scrape. It's been a good day for watching brent geese,wigeon and teal passing by offshore too. Other winter visitors this week have included short-eared owl, pintails and turnstones.

    Other highlights this week have included a firecrest in the Sluice Bushes for two days, a great white egret seen a couple of times in the reedbed, regular kingfisher, bittern, otter and marsh harrier sightings in the reedbed, and increasing numbers of ducks. Oh, and the avocet count on the Scrape has gone back up to four, while other wader have included a bar-tailed godwit, upto three knot, three dunlins, a golden plover and a few snipe.

    Finally, some advance warning. If you are planning to visit on Tuesday, please note that the shop will close early (at 3 pm) for stock-taking.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 22 September 2015

    Subbuteo anyone?

    Who remembers playing Subbuteo as a child, or with their children? We've recently acquired the table football game for our son, and it's great fun reliving my own childhood and flicking little plastic players around the pitch trying to score a goal. But did you know that the game Subbuteo was named after a bird? Falco subbuteo: the hobby.

    Hobbies are small falcons. They are perfectly evolved for high-speed pursuit, with long, narrow, sweptback wings. This maneuverability allows them to catch dragonflies (their favourite food), other large flying insects, and birds such as swallows, martins and even swifts. They have a very characteristic shape in flight, and typically catch the dragonflies in their talons, mid flight, before tearing off their wings, swallowing the body, and heading off in pursuit of their next victim. 

    Hobbies are summer visitors to the UK, arriving from mid April and leaving in early October. At Minsmere, they are best seen in the May, before breeding, and again once the young fledge in late summer, with September being a particularly good time to spot them. In fact, it's probably the best time to see them, with up to ten birds hunting over the woods and reedbed every day. I saw eight between Whin Hill and Bittern Hide during a quick post-lunch stroll yesterday, for example.

    Hobby by Oscar Dewhurst

    Hobbies are always popular birds for visitors, but they're not the only star birds that are performing well at the moment. Today has been an excellent one for bearded tit sightings, with flocks seen between Wildlife Lookout and the Sluice, at Island Mere, and from the North Wall. Calm autumn mornings are always the best time to see these beautiful little reedbed birds as family groups gather together. Some will even erupt high into the  air, with many youngsters dispersing many miles to other reedbeds. This is how they colonised sites throughout East Anglia and farther afield as populations recovered fromt eh low of about four pairs at Minsmere after the cold winter of 1947.

    Male bearded tit by Jon Evans

    Minsmere's other star birds are perhaps less easy to see at the moment, though up to six marsh harriers may be seen hunting over the reedbed, up to ten avocets remain on the Scrape, and bitterns will be seen in flight several times per day.

    It's not just about birds either. Otters are always a joy to see, and with the winter months usually being the most productive, we expect sightings to increase in frequency over the coming weeks. While they are seen every day, many sightings are brief, but several lucky visitors in Island Mere Hide this morning were treated to a fantastic show as three otters (presumably a female and two cubs) swam across the mere, up the channel in front of the hide, then fished for five minutes in the small pool to the right. What a treat! Later in the morning a great white egret flew past the hide, landing at the west end of the reedbed. This bird has been present for four or five days now, though is generally only seen in flight. Hopefully it will stay for several weeks, as others have in recent autumns.

    September is also a good month for kingfisher sightings, both from the reedbed hides and on the Scrape, though you have to be in the right place at the right time, and water voles are still being seen on the pond.

    Duck numbers continue to increase on the Scrape, with many drakes beginning to acquire the colourful feathers again after the post-breeding season moult. Careful scanning among the teals has produced up to three garganeys on several occasions this week. Wader numbers are down as water levels have increased with the recent rain, hiding some of the mud in which they probe for food, but a little stint was on East Scrape today and a few spotted redshanks remain. Black-tailed godwits, curlews, lapwings and snipe are perhaps a bit easier to spot.

    There are still a few migrants in the scrub, including a spotted flycatcher and lesser whitethroats in the North Bushes yesterday and three wheatears near the sluice. Finches are on the move, with several small flocks of siskins reported flying over, and two or three lesser redpolls fed among a flock of 40 linnets on the dunes today. 

    Spotted flycatcher by Jon Evans

    Offshore, the first red-throated divers and brent geese are beginning to be reported, while the odd Sandwich tern remains, and a harbour porpoise this morning was a reminder that it is possible to spot cetaceans off the Suffolk coast too.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 17 September 2015

    The lull after the storm

    After all of the excitement of last week, sightings have become a little more predictable this week, though there have still been a few unusual species to look out for between the showers and more prolonged rainstorms.

    The barred warbler remained near the sluice until Sunday before eventually departing, having rewarded many birdwatchers with good views of what was, for quite a lot visitors, their first sighting of this scarce bird. The wryneck on Whin Hill was even more obliging, often sitting out on its favoured concrete post until Tuesday. Not surprisingly, it wasn't reported during yesterday's heavy rain.

    There was still at least one pied flycatcher in North Bushes until Tuesday too, and redstarts on Whin Hill. Another redstart has been seen in the Sluice Bushes today. A wheatear was in the dunes just south of the sluice today, although the whinchats appear to have moved on. There are still several whitethroats, lesser whitethroats and blackcaps in North Bushes too.

    Of course, many of Minsmere's more expected species are of much much more interest to visitors that our more unusual migrants, and these species didn't disappoint this week either. There have been regular sightings of bitterns, especially at Island Mere, though almost always in flight at the moment. Otters, too, have been seen every day at Island Mere. Bearded tits are a bit more hit and miss, as they are always easier to see in calm weather and it's a bit gusty between the showers.

    Our birds of prey have been performing very well, with sightings of up to six marsh harriers, three buzzards, two sparrowhawks, two kestrels and possibly as many as ten hobbies today alone. The best place for watching hobbies at present is over the woods between the car park and Whin Hill Watchpoint. There was also a sighting of an osprey over the weekend.

    Hobby by Oscar Dewhurst

    On the Scrape, numbers of wigeons, teals and shovelers are increasing, with the odd pintail and garganey seen among them. Black-tailed godwits and lapwings are the most numerous waders, but at least nine avocets remain and spotted redshanks have reached double figures on most days. Other waders this week have included ruffs, common sandpiper, snipe, whimbrel and curlew.

    With a welcome return of warm sunny weather today, there have been good numbers of butterflies and dragonflies on the wing. Migrant hawker, common and ruddy darter and speckled wood are the most numerous.

    You may also spot our wardens and volunteers hard at work to manage the habitats and get them ready for next year's breeding season. They have been busy on the Scrape today, and there are two work parties planned next week. Don't worry though, as with a site as large as Minsmere, you can always move on to the next hide where there is sure to be a good variety of wildlife on offer.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 10 September 2015

    Not quite September 1965, but...

    Following last week's look back at the incredible events of early September 1965, it's nice to be able to report on another excellent week for migration at Minsmere, with several unusual birds paying us a visit at the same time.

    The week began with a few redstarts, whinchats and lesser whitethroats, as well as various commoner warblers, being noted in the North Bushes and along the dunes. A lovely female black redstart was found in North Bushes on Monday and proved very popular with visitors - though not with the local robins (or were they migrants too?), as it was regularly chased from bush to bush.

    I had been visiting our excellent RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden all day, but managed to spot this subtle chat on my return, as well as one of two gorgeous baby water voles that can often be seen in the pond.

    It's not just small songbirds on the move, of course, with a good selection of wading birds on the Scrape, and yesterday morning news broke of a juvenile red-necked phalarope that had been found on Lucky Pool, just south of the sluice bushes. This tiny wader, on route from the Arctic to spend the winter in the middle of the Arabian Sea, proved to be very mobile, as it was also seen on West Scrape and South Scrape during the day. This is actually the third red-necked phalarope at Minsmere this year, and remained on the Scrape today - though it is still quite mobile and could be hard to locate. Other waders include good numbers of spotted redshanks, in their pale winter plumage, a few ruffs and a green sandpiper, as well as a handful of lingering avocets.

    Other birds are moving offshore too, with dedicated seawatchers over the last two days having located a few sooty shearwaters and arctic skuas, as well as a long-tailed skua and lots of gannets and a variety of commoner ducks and wading birds. The first few red-throated divers of the winter have been seen too, and a rather sickly guillemot was bobbing just beyond the surf zone yesterday.

    Arctic skua by Jon Evans - this one landed on the beach a few years ago

    The climatic conditions continue to prove ideal for migration, and early yesterday afternoon a barred warbler was reported close to the sluice. This is a large warbler that breeds widely in eastern Europe and occurs in small numbers on the UK's east coast every autumn. While adults are indeed delicately barred beneath, juveniles are much plainer, and can look like an overgrown garden warbler with pale wingbars. It has taken up residence in a small patch of bramble and elder around the ruins of an old wooden windpump in the reedbed about 50m north of the sluice. Typical of barred warblers, it can prove elusive at times, but has been seen very well on an off all day. Close to the barred warbler, there have also been sightings of whinchats and redstarts in the sluice area too. 

    This was the first time I've seen a barred warbler in Suffolk, so I for one was pleased that it hung around. The excitement didn't end there though, as while I was watching this lovely bird, news came over the radios of a wryneck that had been found on Whin Hill in company with two redstarts. Another visitor from farther east, blown off course by the easterly airflow, this quickly drew a small crowd of birdwatchers and obligingly fed in the open at times along the western edge of Whin Hill.

    Wryneck by Jon Evans

    I have only once before seen both wryneck and barred warbler on the same day, and that was whilst leading a wildlife watching holiday in Poland in 2011. Bizarrely, earlier this morning I met two of the ladies from that holiday in our visitor centre - the first time I've seen them since the trip. I bumped into them again later, on my way to see the warbler - which they had already seen. Then, on arriving at the sluice to look for the warbler I got chatting to a leading Suffolk birdwatcher who had led the same holiday the previous year! What are the chances of that?

    Of course, it's not all about rarities either, as there have been several sightings this week of more familiar Minsmere wildlife, including bitterns, hobbies, kingfishers, otters, willow emerald damselflies, migrant hawker dragonflies, comma butterflies and much more besides. And don't forget that our red deer rut 4x4 tours start this weekend. We still have several places available, especially midweek. Please call 01728 648281 to enquire about availability. 

    Oh, and there are about 1000 starlings gathering at dusk already. As more arrive from Scandinavia, numbers in the roost will hopefully increase soon. we'll keep you posted.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 3 September 2015

    It was raining birds 50 years ago today

    What happened at Minsmere on 3 September 1965 has gone down in history as one of the most remarkable ornithological events ever in the UK. I wasn’t even alive then, and can hardly imagine the enormity of what actually happened, but I do know that, 50 years on, it is unlikely that such an event will ever be repeated.

    Over the years, Minsmere has, of course, been host to an incredible number of unexpected sightings. July’s albatross, the humpback whale two years ago, and last summer’s yellow-legged tortoiseshell are just three recent examples of species turning up that took everyone by surprise.

    But even they pale into obscurity alongside the infamous events of September 1965. To help me to tell the story, I’ll quote some phrases from Minsmere: Portrait of a bird reserve by Bert Axell, Minsmere’s warden at the time. There had been an anticyclone over Scandinavia the previous evening creating perfect conditions for migrants heading south over the continent to become displaced.

    “At 1.10 pm, the wind shifted suddenly to the south-east and the rain increased to a downpour. The remark ‘The wind has changed, this will bring some birds’ had hardly been made and agreed when we saw redstarts and wheatears land and skid on the wet tops of the cars outside.”

    “The grass car park became a ... shallow pond into which began to drop dunlins and wood sandpipers ... the scattered bushes ... began to fill with small birds. Easily the most numerous were redstarts, garden warblers and pied flycatchers.”

    Redstart by Jon Evans

    The weather conditions had contrived to produce an incredible fall of tired, bedraggled migrants. Bert continued: “Later that evening our combined reports indicated that, from within the 100 acres of marsh which we were able to inspect, no fewer than fifty-two species of birds had come in over our three-quarters of a mile of coast ... 7000 redstarts, 4000 wheatears, 2000 garden warblers, 1500 pied flycatchers, 750 whinchats, 500 willow warblers, 400 robins, 300 spotted flycatchers and 200 whitethroats. Terns could not be counted. Flocks of 150 whimbrels, sixty greenshanks and thirty wood sandpipers were counted on the ground.”

    It didn’t end there, with more birds arriving that evening, so the following day they counted “25 wrynecks, 25 bluethroats, two or three each of dotterels, tawny pipits, icterine warblers and ortolan buntings and ... at least 200 000 foreign wheatears, redstarts, warblers and flycatchers.”

    In fact, while there was a fall of migrants along the entire east coast, it was soon clear that a short section of the Suffolk coast had attracted the lion’s share of these tired migrants, and the great fall continued into 5 September.

    Within the 18 miles of the Suffolk coast, from Minsmere north to Lowestoft, it is estimated that during those three days alone more than half a million migrants made landfall. This included 250 000 redstarts, 100 000 wheatears, 4000 whinchats, 3000 garden warblers, 1200 willow warblers and tens of thousands of pied flycatchers.

    Pied flycatcher by Jon Evans

    Why did so many birds arrive in such a short space of time? It was the result of a unique set of weather conditions combining to encourage migrants to depart from Scandinavia, only to become disorientated and swept off course. To be concentrated in such a tiny area is extremely unusual.

    Birdwatchers still dream of high pressure over Scandinavia in autumn, as this creates the perfect conditions for drift migration. Such weather conditions continue to attract scarce birds such as wrynecks, red-backed shrikes and barred warblers to our shores alongside commoner migrants like redstarts, wheatears and warblers.

    So why can I so confidently say that we will never again experience the sheer numbers of birds literally falling from the sky as they did in September 1965? Because across Europe, as in the UK, populations of many of these species have declined so much that there simply aren’t likely to be so many birds moving at the same time.

    To help to illustrate this, the weekly review on Birdguides for 18-25 August 2015 refers to a “spectacular fall of pied flycatchers.” Yet, although thousands arrived along the East coast on Monday 24 August, the largest single site count was about 230 at Spurn in East Yorkshire. Good numbers of wrynecks were also associated with this fall, but spread along the entire east coast.

    Here at Minsmere, we’ve been celebrating a “good week for migrants”, yet the highlights have been one wryneck, one red-backed shrike (present today for its third day), several whinchats, wheatears, redstarts and pied flycatchers. Apart from the latter, these species all nested commonly in Suffolk until at least the 1950s, but only redstarts and wheatears maintain a tenuous hold in the county as breeding birds today, and wrynecks and red-backed shrikes no longer breed regularly in the UK at all.

    In fact, today’s weather conditions briefly hinted at another fall, especially when light showers arrived at lunch time, but apart from unusually large numbers of pied wagtails and house martins, there was no obvious sign of new arrivals. Clearly, there was to be no repeat of the amazing events of 50 years ago.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 1 September 2015

    A (bee-)wolf's tale of life and death

    Guest blog by Steve Everett, regular Minsmere visitor

    Along the path from the pond to the North Wall, there is a stretch of path with sandy sides that has become a magnet for visitors over the past few weeks.  This is the realm of the bee wolf, a digger wasp that specializes in catching honey bees and stocking its larder with them as a food source for its young.

    The bee wolf starts by digging a tunnel up to a metre in length into the sloping sides of the path.  The soil is easy to dig here, being so sandy, and the sloping sides help rain to drain away and avoid flooding the burrows.  Along that deep burrow, the bee wolf carves little chambers – up to 30 – and stocks each chamber with 4-5 bees with a single egg.  The bees have only been paralyzed by the wasp’s sting, not killed, as they stay juicier for longer like that and make better food for the wasp’s larvae!  The bees are also coated by the female with a secreted substance to reduce fungus and the like, to keep the paralyzed bees fresher for longer.

    Catching so many bees means the wasps need to be very industrious and they have been a regular sight flying in with bees clutched to their belly before taking them underground.  All this work is done by the females, the males have a lek, just like capercaillie, showing off to the ladies in a small area along the same path.  The views of the bee wolves digging out their burrows (they’re like miniature Jack Russells) covering up or uncovering their hole to avoid someone stealing their home and taking the bees in (and occasionally throwing them out!) has captivated large numbers of visitors.  Whilst the bee wolves are no longer deemed rare in the UK, they are not that common and have been spreading north and west from our part of the country at a steady rate since the 1980s.

    However, that is not all you can find along this stretch of path.  To start with, there are other digger wasps inhabiting this area.  Wasps specializing in catching spiders, weevils and even shield bugs can be found here, along with sand wasps and even the odd, brave, solitary bee digging itself a home.  However, all these wasps live in reasonable harmony, apart from the odd hopeful look down a spare hole. 

    Different species of wasp with shield bug (above), spider (below) and weevil (bottom)

    The bullies on the path are the German wasps.  These look very similar to the common wasp we are used to, but they attack the bee wolves, trying to get them to drop their precious cargo and steal it.  If they can wrest the bee away, they will efficiently butcher it, chopping off legs, wings, heads – all they’re really interested in is the abdomen, which they will carry off, leaving the evidence of their dissection behind.

    A wasp stealing a bee from a bee wolf (above) and the decapitated bee head (below) was all that remained

    All of this takes place over a few short weeks.  They first appear sometime in early July, by the first week or so in September they will all disappear again.  As the nectar the adults feed on becomes scarce, they will die, leaving the developing larvae underground to pupate and emerge next year to start the cycle all over again……

    All photos by Steve Everett



    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 31 August 2015

    A soggy end to summer

    It seems that as far as the weather was concerned I picked the right week to leave the country, as while I was enjoying (some) sun in central France, the UK was experiencing somewhat variable, and at times very wet weather. And in typical Bank Holiday fashion, today has seen a return of cool, wet weather, which has put off all but a few hardy souls from visiting.

    As for the birds, I perhaps chose the wrong two weeks to take my summer holiday, as I missed several good birds - though is there ever a good time to be away from Minsmere?

    Highlights from the last two weeks on the Scrape included a pectoral sandpiper for a couple of days, a Temminck's stint for a day, upto ten wood sandpipers and several little stints and green sandpipers.

    A pectoral sandpiper by Jon Evans

    A wryneck spent three days around the pond - though sadly there has been no sign in today's rain. Hopefully this will be the forerunner of more as last summer/autumn saw at least six of these unusual woodpeckers visiting Minsmere. It's also been a good couple of weeks for passage migrants, with several sightings of both pied and spotted flycatchers, redstarts, whinchats and wheatears, as well as the usual lesser whitethroats, whitethroats and blackcaps. Perhaps the pick of the small migrants was a tree sparrow that was caught during the final Waveney Bird Club ringing demo of the year on Thursday. This is a rare migrant at Minsmere, usually in the autumn, and a difficult species to find in coastal Suffolk.

    A tree sparrow by Jon Evans

    Our avocets have mostly moved to the estuaries for the winter, but twelve remained this morning. There are good numbers of the commoner waders still on the Scrape, though, including 100+ black-tailed godwits, 50+ dunlins, 20+ ringed plovers and three common sandpipers. Duck numbers are starting to build too, with a little flock of 15 wigeons on East Scrape this morning, while the Suffolk coast population of feral barnacle geese are spending more time on the reserve - 250+ were present yesterday.

    While bitterns, marsh harriers and bearded tits remain quite elusive (especially in the wet and windy weather), otters and kingfishers continue to be seen daily at Island Mere and/or Bittern Hide. More unusually, a kingfisher was seen at the pond this morning.

    The rain has not been conducive to good insect watching, but both hummingbird hawkmoth and broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth were seen around the buddleias outside the toilet block over the last few days, and a clouded yellow butterfly in the dunes.

    With September starting tomorrow, I'm sure there are many more migrants still to arrive and pass through at Minsmere in the coming weeks. We're also getting ready to start the red deer rut safaris on 12 September. This is a great way to watch the deer - see for further details, or call us on 01728 648281 to book your tour.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 15 August 2015

    Looking good isn't easy

    With the breeding season over, the annual habitat management season is now underway. As usual, we start with clearing vegetation on the Scrape, where the first work party was hard at work on Thursday.

    The Scrape management programme involves cutting the long vegetation from the banks and islands, before raking and burning it. As Minsmere is open every day, from dawn to dusk, we have to carry this work while the reserve is open, so we aim to work on just a small part of the Scrape at a time to minimise disturbance. The birds are remarkably resilient, and if we're working on West Scrape they will continue to feed on East and South Scrape, or move to the Levels and Konik Field. Most of the birds that nest on the Scrape like short vegetation, so we have to cut the islands in the autumn, before water levels go up over the winter.

    The first work party cut much of the tall vegetation on West Scrape, and this has greatly improved the views across the pools. A quick visit to Wildlife Lookout this morning was highly productive, with a great variety of ducks and wading birds feeding and resting. West Scrape was looking the best it has for several weeks. There's still a good variety of birds on South and East Scrape too, but the vegetation isn't as tall on those sections due to the influence of salt water.

    The undoubted highlight for me this morning was a gorgeous wood sandpiper feeding alongside a closely related green sandpiper, to the right of the hide. In fact, it was a good morning for sandpipers with at least three green, four common and two curlew sandpipers on West Scrape, as well as a few snipe, avocets, lapwings and black-tailed godwits. There were also at least a dozen pied wagtails catching insects, often from around the waders' feet.

    Common sandpiper by Jon Evans

    Elsewhere on the Scrape, an impressive count of 90 dunlins on South Scrape and 15 spotted redshanks on East Scrape, as well as six ruffs on East Scrape. Other waders include greenshanks, ringed plovers, oystercatchers, redshanks and at least 40 black-tailed godwits.

    It's not just waders though. Little gull numbers are fluctuating, with just one seen this morning, but counts of 50+ during the week. Like the avocets, common terns are down to just a few birds now that they have finished nesting. Duck numbers, however, are slowly increasing as teals return to moult, alongside resident gadwalls, shovelers and mallards.

    While the reedbed remains quiet at times, patient watching from Bittern Hide and Island Mere can be rewarding. Sightings this morning included sparrowhawk, two hobbies, water rail, bittern and whimbrel from Bittern Hide and otter and great crested grebes at Island Mere, as well as regular kingfishers. Bearded tits are hard to spot at present, but may be located along the North Wall.

    Sparrowhawk by Jon Evans

    Lesser whitethroats were the pick of the migrants in the North Bushes today, but one of Wednesday's two redstarts was ringed at Thursday's ringing demo, and a whinchat was on Whin Hill on Thursday afternoon.

    This will be my last post for a couple of week's as I take a well earned break with my family. There may be a guest blog or two in my absence, but you can also keep an eye on recent sightings on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page or @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter (you don't need to register to view these pages)

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 12 August 2015

    Out with the old, in with the new

    Mid August is a time of change. Birds are on the move, with familiar species leaving our shores, to be replaced (sometimes only temporarily) by visitors from farther north or east. Berries are ripening, seeds setting, and leaves are already beginning to change colour. Insects that we've been enjoying for the last few months are coming to the end of their lifecycle, and others are only just emerging.

    The first obvious signs of autumn passerine (songbird) migration began this week, with reports of yellow wagtails on the Scrape and lesser whitethroats in North Bushes. A pied flycatcher was in the Sluice Bushes on Monday, and a redstart has been in the North Bushes since yesterday. With the next Waveney Bird Club ringing demonstration taking place tomorrow, will they catch any unusual migrants?

    Redstart by Jon Evans

    Wader migration has, of course, been underway for a couple of weeks already, and while the numbers and exact locations on the Scrape vary almost by the minute, the following species have all been seen most days this week: oystercatcher, avocet (only about 20 left), ringed & little ringed plovers, lapwings, knot (up to five), sanderling (four today), little stint (one, usually on South Scrape), dunlins (30+), ruffs (none today), snipe, black-tailed godwits (120+), whimbrels, curlews, spotted redshanks (17 today). redshanks, greenshanks, green & common sandpipers and turnstones. Add in up to four stone-curlews from the North Wall viewpoint and there's and impressive variety of waders to challenge your ID skills.

    It's not just waders on the Scrape though, with up to 90 little gulls seen daily on South Scrape, and good numbers of big gulls on the Scrape at dusk. A few common terns remain, and a couple of little terns were reported earlier int he week. Four spoonbills popped in briefly on Monday evening, and good numbers of little egrets can be seen.

    The first habitat management work party on the Scrape is planned for tomorrow, so there will be some disturbance on West Scrape, but birds should remain on other parts of the Scrape. This work is essential to help us to prepare the Scrape for next spring's breeding season, and to improve viewing for you as visitors.

    The reedbed is quiet at this time of year as birds remain hidden post breeding, but with luck and patience you should still be able to spot marsh harriers, hobbies, water rails, bearded tits, reed warblers, and perhaps even a bittern or otter. August is also a good time to look for kingfishers, while great crested grebes and chicks remain on Island Mere.

    Some of our star butterflies are coming towards the end of their flight period, but purple hairstreaks remain in the oaks, a few white admirals may be seen (one visited the cafe on Monday), and brown argus and graylings are still numerous on grassy areas. Look out too for painted ladies, common blues, and perhaps even a clouded yellow in the next few days. 

    Among the dragonflies, common and ruddy darters, migrant and southern hawkers and emerald damselflies are probably the easiest to spot now. Bee-wolfs continue to attract a lot of interest in the North Bushes, and the first adult antlions have been seen by a few lucky visitors.

    Antlion by Robin Harvey

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

How you can help

Coast on a stormy day with heavy rain falling on coastal headland

We're setting up an emergency fund that we can use to get our reserves back into shape and repair the damage caused. Please help us rebuild from the worst storm in 60 years.

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Your sightings

Grid reference: TM4767 (+2km)

Great White Egret (1)
22 Sep 2015
Wryneck (1)
15 Sep 2015
Avocet ()
3 Oct 2015
Black-tailed Godwit ()
3 Oct 2015
Spotted Redshank ()
3 Oct 2015
Firecrest (1)
3 Oct 2015
Cetti's Warbler ()
3 Oct 2015
Marsh Harrier (3)
3 Oct 2015
Caspian Gull (1)
3 Oct 2015
Bearded Tit (6)
3 Oct 2015

Contact us

Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 52.24746,1.61705
  • Postcode: IP17 3BY
  • Grid reference: TM473672
  • Nearest town: Saxmundham, Suffolk
  • County: Suffolk
  • Country: England

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