I was never a boy scout and can’t tie many different types of knots, but I can certainly identify a knot of the flying variety when I see one, and yesterday proved to be a great day for spotting knots at Minsmere.
While there are often one or two knots on the Scrape throughout the winter and spring, these are usually in their drab grey non-breeding plumage. By early May, however, many have moulted into their stunning brick-red breeding plumage that leads them to be known as red knots in North America.
Not a great photo, but here's a few red knots on the Scrape
In this plumage they are much more distinctive birds, and yesterday there was an impressive flock of up to 60 knots feeding on South Scrape as they paused to refuel during the heavy morning rain.
Among this flock, our guides also picked out up to nine sanderlings, some of which were also in breeding plumage. Other migrant waders were limited to one or two grey plovers, bar-tailed godwits, dunlins and common sandpipers.
It’s perhaps not a surprise that migrants are a bit thin on the ground given the highly changeable, almost autumnal weather. Yesterday’s contribution included rain, sun, hail, thunder and lightning, while Saturday brought strong northerly gales into the mix. With the wind turning to the south this weekend, we’re hoping that a few more waders will call in to refuel.
There have been a few other notable migrants seen on the Scrape this week, including one or two black terns and little gulls, up to eight little terns and a drake garganey, though all have been mobile and not necessarily easy to spot.
Little gull with black-headed gull for comparison
Luckily the common and Sandwich terns, common and Mediterranean gulls, kittiwakes and avocets are more reliably seen, as are various ducks and geese. The pair of bar-headed geese that are nesting on West Scrape are proving popular with many visitors, though they are escapees from captivity as this is a species that does not occur naturally in the UK.
Avocets displaying on the Scrape
One unexpected visitor on the Scrape this morning was a kingfisher. We rarely see these stunning birds during the breeding season as there are few suitable nest sites, so this was a bit of a surprise. They’re easier to spot at Minsmere in late summer once the young have been pushed out of their parents’ territory.
The reedbed is now alive with birdsong as reed, sedge and Cetti’s warblers and reed buntings compete for a mate. At least one Savi’s warbler is still singing at Island Mere, too. Bearded tits are now becoming more visible as the adults are busy feeding young. The first chicks fledged this week, too.
Also in the reedbed there are regular sightings of bitterns, otters and water rails – the latter with chicks at Bittern Hide. At least two hobbies are hunting over the reedbed and numbers of swifts, swallows and sand martins are increasing.
More unusual flyover birds this week have included osprey, red kite, common crane and up to six spoonbills.
The woods are also full of birdsong with an influx of garden warblers this week to join the blackcaps, whitethroats, chiffchaffs and willow warblers. Cuckoos can be heard in various parts of the reserve, and turtle doves have also been heard most mornings.
The weather hasn’t been conducive to spotting insects, but there have still been several sightings of green hairstreaks, orange tip and small copper butterflies, common blue damselflies, four-spotted chaser and hairy hawker dragonflies and various ladybirds and bees.
Green hairstreak butterfly
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