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  • 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

  • 5 August 2015

    Nature's colours

    We have a fabulous little activity sheet for children called Nature's colours. It's a simple piece of card with 20 different colours and shades. The idea is to walk around the reserve and see how many different colours you can match. For example, the marsh mallow flowers perfectly match one of the shades of pink, and the reeds match one of the greens.

    Anyone lucky enough to have spotted some of today's star birds could have ticked off several colours in one go. Unfortunately, the only people to see the four bee-eaters were our Retail Manager and a reception volunteer, as the birds flew east over the car park at about 8.30 this morning. Kingfishers are a bit easier to spot at this time of year (though you still need to be in the right place at the right time), and they too would allow you to tick off several colours. 

    Bee-eater by Andy Hay (

    Another bird that is more colourful than many people realise is the turtle dove, and one was again seen in the car park first thing today. This is the best place to look at the moment for this difficult to find bird.

    The birds on the Scrape will mostly allow you only to tick off the browns and greys, but there's still a good selection of waders present. Species seen today, mostly in single figure counts, included little stint, little ringed and ringed plovers, knot, dunlins, ruffs, snipe, black-tailed godwits, spotted redshanks, redshanks, greenshanks, green and common sandpipers, plus oystercatchers, avocets and lapwings. The little gull flock increased again to an impressive 70 birds, and at least one Sandwich tern was present.

    Elsewhere, bitterns, marsh harriers, bearded tits, sedge and reed warblers and otters were seen at Island Mere, and the water vole at the pond. 

    The butterflies on the buddleia are another great source of colours, and the hummingbird hawkmoth was once again seen, if only briefly, today. Other colourful insects to look out for include common blue butterflies on the dunes, various dragonflies and damselflies, and the yellow and black bee-wolfs ont he North Wall. Close to these it's worth keeping an eye open for lesser whitethroats feeding on blackberries, or for the stone-curlews that are being seen occasionally north of the North Wall.

    Another bird adding a subtle shade of pink to nature's colours is the long-tailed tit, and I was pleased to manage to photograph this one at the car park entrance yesterday morning.

    Long-tailed tit by Ian Barthorpe

    Tomorrow is the next bird ringing demonstration. Will the ringers catch any of these beautiful birds.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 3 August 2015

    Sun setting on Suffolk's little tern summer

    Guest blog by Rhiannon Baker, Suffolk Little Tern Warden

    Hello, my name is Rhiannon Baker. I am one of the Little Tern Wardens in Suffolk working as part of the EU Life funded project.

    On a daily basis I monitor the colonies around Suffolk which includes Benacre NNR, Walberswick NNR and Kessingland.  This is my first year working as a warden in Suffolk and it has been an absolute joy. There are fantastic sunsets on most evenings and wonderful views of the Suffolk landscape. The little tern colony has been doing amazingly at Benacre NNR today; we have seen over 40 chicks and 76 fledglings running around.

    My average day consists of counting the chicks, fledglings and adults, and chick provisioning counts: this is when we monitor the amount of food the chicks receive from the adults and what type of food they receive.We also observe the colony throughout the day.

    The Suffolk coastline is great for birdwatching. As well as the little terns, there are also many other species to see at Benacre including: dunlins, oystercatchers, ringed plovers, barnacle geese, common terns, Sandwich terns and avocets. 

    Visiting Benacre requires a long walk, but it's possible to see most of these birds, and many others, from the relative comfort of the hides at Minsmere.

    Sunsets over Benacre NNR by Rhiannon Baker

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 2 August 2015

    Hummingbird steals the show

    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. 

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 28 July 2015

    Eyes to the sky

    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 (

    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.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 23 July 2015

    Summer wildlife highlights?

    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 today to add your voice.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

  • 20 July 2015

    More Minsmere moths

    Minsmere's wardens and volunteers carry out regular moth trapping throughout the year. The most commonly used technique for moth trapping is to set up a special trap with a powerful light. The light attracts moths which are then caught, alive, in the box beneath. Later at night, or early the following morning, the trap is opened and moths are identified, counted and released.

    Over many years of trapping at Minsmere, our Site Manager, Robin Harvey, has recorded a superb variety of moths, including rare migrants and scarce local breeding species. He has twice recorded new species for the UK, one of which he even named after the reserve - the Minsmere crimson underwing.

    Despite more than 1000 species of moths having been recorded on the reserve, there are still regularly new species added to the list. However, it's not often that two new species are added in the same week, but that was the case this week. What's more, another species was recorded for only the second time.

    On Friday, Robin opened the traps to find the first reserve record of Metalampra italica. Like many moths, this species doesn't have an English name. The first Suffolk record was one in his garden in 2010 where another in 2014 would suggest it is resident. It also seems to have been resident at Dunwich since 2013, so may be a recent colonist. The only record away from these areas was one at Woolpit last year. 

    Metalampra italica - the first Minsmere record, by Robin Harvey

    Over the weekend, another regular moth trapper, Marc Botham, was given permission to trap at Minsmere, and incredibly he found another new species for the reserve - a six-belted clearwing. This is a day-flying moth and, like most clearwings, can be tempted to pheromone lures (special scents that mimic the pheromones given off by females), but it has not been relocated at a lure today. Marc kindly took the moth to show to Robin, who later released it close to where it was found.

    Six-belted clearwing by Robin Harvey -  the 1117th species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) recorded at Minsmere

    On Wednesday, Robin also caught only the second reserve record of the tree-lichen beauty. This beautiful moth was only recorded for the first time in the UK int he 1990s, but now seems to be resident in Suffolk, so we may begin to see it more frequently.

    Tree-lichen beauty by Robin Harvey

    Of course, most moths are nocturnal, so hard to spot, but sometimes you might find one resting by day. There are many day-flying species to look out for too. It looks to be a good year to find hummingbird hawkmoths, with many reported in gardens across the country, and it's always worth checking our buddleia bushes for this popular moth. The similar broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth is also a regular visitor to Minsmere's buddleias. In more open, grassy areas, such as the North Wall and dunes, look out for six-spotted burnet moths, or the black and yellow caterpillars of cinnabar moths too.

    While on the subject of moths, it's worth a visit to the Canopy Hide to look for evidence of two of Minsmere's nocturnal residents. Brown long-eared bats are particularly partial to eating large yellow underwing moths, and you can see the discarded wings of the moth both in Canopy Hide and behind the visitor centre. It's unlikely that you'll see the moth though.

    Posted by Ian Barthorpe

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

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Your sightings

Grid reference: TM4767 (+2km)

Wryneck ()
30 Aug 2015
Great White Egret (1)
24 Aug 2015
Pectoral Sandpiper (1)
23 Aug 2015
Bee-eater (4)
5 Aug 2015
Avocet ()
31 Aug 2015
Black-tailed Godwit ()
31 Aug 2015
Ruff ()
31 Aug 2015
Little Stint ()
31 Aug 2015
Common Sandpiper ()
31 Aug 2015
Green Sandpiper ()
31 Aug 2015

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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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