It's that time of the week when I once more focus on one of the 70 species to spot at Minsmere to help us to celebrate our 70th anniversary. As last week, when trying to decide what to focus on, I have had a bit of a dilemma. You see, there have been lots of strange new creatures popping up on the reserve that really deserve my utmost attention, but they don't appear to feature on the reserve list, never mind our 70 species challenge!
"New creatures?" I hear you say. Do I need to drop everything and run to Minsmere? If you are a birdwatcher, then perhaps not, although today does mark the 17th anniversary of the remarkable discovery of the UK's first ever Siberian blue robin in the Sluice Bushes. Not many birdwatchers got the chance to see that bird, which sadly wasn't still around for the thousands of visiting twitchers at dawn the following day, but I think that it's going to be easier to spot today's strange new creatures.
So what are these creatures? Well, they go by the name of Elfus sylvaticus, or wood elfs. As their name suggests, they have a penchant for hiding in woodland, especially among the deepening leaf litter, where their tiny bodies are easily hidden from adult eyes. Not so from children's eyes though, as these strange creatures have been seen hitching a lift out of Minsmere in the hope of finding a new home in someone's garden.
To find out more about wood elfs, and perhaps even make your own, as well learnign about some of Minsmere's amazing autumn fungi, why not pop along to the Discovery Centre this week and take part in our #wildthings in autumn event.
So, if the wood elfs aren't the species of the week, then what is? Well, this week I've decided to focus my attention on the one species on the list that does not actually feature within the 5700+ species on Minsmere's reserve's list. The species in question is our gorgeous and extremely popular ponies, called konik Polskis, or simply koniks.
Why don't they appear on our reserve list? Because unlike the many birds, insects, plants and mammals seen at Minsmere, the koniks are not wild animals. They are livestock, brought to Minsmere by the RSPB to help us to maintain our wetland habitats in tip top condition for wildlife.
The name konik Polski translates as little Polish horse. The breed was created by Polish horse-breeders to resemble, as closely as possible, the extinct wild horse of Europe, the tarpan. Although they look and behave much like tarpans, they are a separate breed, since it is impossible to re-create an extinct species/breed.
Koniks by Jon Evans
Koniks are hardy, stocky ponies with a characteristic dark line down their back. They are quite at home in wetlands, where they do a great job of grazing the reed-edge and fen vegetation and creating tussocky areas that are favoured by birds such as snipe and teal. Koniks were first brought to the UK by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, who later loaned us some of their animals. We subsequently bought our own koniks. They play an important part in the management of Minsmere's wetlands, and have become extremely popular with visitors.
We do not put food out for our koniks as it's important they graze extensively across whichever compartments they are in. Putting out food would lead them to overgraze areas close to the food. We do, however, move them to new parts of the reserve on a regular basis to ensure that there is always plenty to graze on. We also check them for their welfare every single day, and call in the vet or farrier as needed.
You can currently see some of our koniks grazing close to North Hide, but at other times of year they may be on the Konik Field or out on the South Levels. Some koniks are also usually at Dingle Marshes, or perhaps North Warren. In recent years, koniks have become more widespread in conservation grazing and can now be found on many nature reserve in the UK, as well as Poland and The Netherlands. Koniks from Minsmere have also been moved to RSPB Portmore Lough in Northern Ireland and RSPB Loch of Strathbeg in Aberdeenshire in recent years.
Our koniks love to wallow in mud, given half a chance
Of course, there are lots of wild species to look out for this week too. Large flocks of ducks are on the Scrape, along with about ten avocets, flocks of lapwings and black-tailed godwits, several snipe and a few dunlins and redshanks. The grey phalarope didn't hang around though.
Bearded tits, marsh harriers, bitterns, otters and kingfishers continue to be seen daily in the reedbeds, with former often showing really well around Island Mere. A few swallows are still passing over, and there's also still common darters on the wing.
In the woodland and scrubby areas, look for flocks of finches, tits, goldcrests and thrushes, with the chance of brambling, redwing or siskin among them. Bullfinches are regular in North Bushes, while the best place to see coal tits, marsh tits and nuthatch is on the visitor centre feeders. Look for stonechats in the dunes, and if conditions are right, as they were this morning, look for various birds migrating south in the first couple of hours of the day. Today's totals included 7000 woodpigeons, 45 stock doves, 30 lesser redpolls, 30 redwings and a ring ouzel.
Finally, don't forget to head out to Westleton Heath where you should still be able to watch our red deer, though the rut is now coming to an end for another year.