How times have you visited a nature reserve and heard birdwatchers say that "there's not much about?" More often than this, this translates as, "there's no rare birds here" or "I've seen the same species as last time I came." This may be true, but there certainly won't be nothing about. In fact, there will probably be lots about, especially here at Minsmere.
To me, one of the most interesting facts is that you really never do know what you'll see next, especially if you keep an open mind and look out for all sort of different wildlife, not just birds. Just yesterday, for example, the gorgeous sunshine and unseasonally mild weather, meant that good numbers of insects were still to be seen. I spotted several small copper butterflies on the heath, and peacock, large and small white butterflies around the reserve. I photographed a very obliging hornet near the pond, too. But it was probably the dragonflies that stole the show, with good numbers of common and ruddy darters and migrant and southern hawkers still on the wing. Best of all, though, was a black darter that was photographed by one lucky visitor at the pond. This is an upland species, favouring acidic waters, so is understandably rare in East Anglia, with a small population at Dersingham Bog near Sandringham probably the nearest colony to Minsmere. There had only been one previous record at Minsmere, although another was seen further up the coast earlier this month. While I couldn't find this rare migrant, I did spot a lovely willow emerald damselfly, itself a recent colonist from mainland Europe.
There's an excellent variety of fungi to be found at present too, if you know where to look, though I don't know what most of them are. The most obvious are the dinner-plate-sized shaggy parasols that march across some of the more open areas, often with a few puffballs among them. Elsewhere, you can look for fly agaric - the white-spotted red toadstool of nursery rhyme fame - and sulphur tuft which has small yellowish caps.
Don't forget the birds though, as even some of our commoner visitors can spring a surprise. This week we've received emails of two our more familiar species eating unusual, or at least unexpected food. The first report was of a little egret catching dragonflies at South Hide. It was remarkably accurate, taking the insects both from the air and from vegetation. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at this behaviour as the techniques aren't that much different to catching fish in shallow water. Luckily, Zoe Shreeves and Peter Smith had their camera to hand to capture the action, as you can see from their photos (below). In the first photo, the egret has actually caught a mating pair of darters!
We were also sent photos by Mr R Quadling of a magpie tussling with a snake. Again, this is perhaps not as surprising as it sounds. Magpies are great opportunists, and snakes are more sluggish at this time of year, but it is not commonly seen behaviour and Mr Quadling did well to capture the image, though sadly he was too distant to be sure whether this is a grass snake or an adder - the latter would obviously be more risky for the magpie.
I had an interesting sighting myself last week, too. An adult male peregrine was mercilessly dive-bombing a young female as she sat on the Levels. I assume the youngster was defending a kill, but she had to jump out of the way, talons raised in the air in defence, every time the adult dived.
Elsewhere, the three great white egrets remain at Island Mere, where bitterns, bearded tits, marsh harriers and kingfishers continue to be seen daily, otters are becoming more frequently seen again, and the odd hobby remains. An amazing passage of buzzards on Sunday saw 31 birds counted in just 35 minutes. Another rarity was seen briefly on Sunday too, with a little bunting spotted in the dunes. The 12 house sparrows remain there, and the odd whinchat and wheatear is still passing through, while duck numbers are increasing on the Scrape and a few waders continue to pass through.