Yesterday was an interesting day to say the least. It didn't start well but certainly finished on a high. In fact, by 9.30 am I felt like I should perhaps go home, following a series of incidents that meant the day didn't really start as planned. Thankfully that was as bad as it got, though the tills continued to misbehave throughout the morning. These things are clearly sent to test us.
I was, however, buoyed by the regular reports from our volunteer guides, and by midday I had run out of space to add more to our sightings board. That was without any news from Digger Alley. It was clear that the Scrape was teeming with birds, and even the often elusive reedbed wildlife (bitterns, hobbies, bearded tits, reed warblers) were being reported regularly.
The most exciting news came from South Scrape, where we are pleased to report that the first little tern chicks have fledged. These are the first little terns to breed at Minsmere since 2007, and it's the first time they've nested on the Scrape. As little terns continue to struggle at many of their regular colonies, through a combination of disturbance on their chosen stretch of beach, high tides and lack of fish, it's a great reward for the efforts of our wardens to attract them to the Scrape. The ground-nesting kittiwakes were, unfortunately, not successful, though a few adults remain.
Many of the common and Sandwich terns and black-headed and Mediterranean gulls have also fledged young, with the adults soon moving elsewhere once the breeding season is complete. In their place have come other birds passing through on their way south for the winter, including little gulls, spotted redshanks, green sandpipers, ruffs, black-tailed godwits and more avocets.
It was with the prospect of seeing some of these waders that I headed out after lunch towards East Hide. As is usual at this time of year, I was distracted by bugs, so my walk took longer than usual. The first stop was at Digger Alley where the green-eyed flower-bees were particularly noticeable. They are so fast as they disappear into their burrows, legs laden with pollen, that I never even got close to a photo. I did, however, get up close and personal with some of the beewolves as they rested outside their burrows.
I also sneaked up on this pantaloon bee as it emerged from its hole.
As I continued along the North Wall I eventually get a shot of a green-eyed flower-bee - from behind, so no green eyes visible!
There was a bit of a yellow and black theme along the North Wall, although I couldn't find any of the six-belted clearwing moths. The ragwort was very attractive to hoverflies. I saw at least six species, but can't put a name to most, although I think this is a marmalade hoverfly.
Not sure what species this bee is feeding on common fleabane.
The black and yellow theme continued with this impressive spotted longhorn beetle.
Eventually my wanderings took me to East Hide where I was immediately treated to great views of 150+ black-tailed godwits, good numbers of avocets, gadwalls, mallards and young black-headed gulls, as well as common and Sandwich terns, Mediterranean gulls, redshanks, spotted redshanks (pictured), green sandpipers and ruff.
As a couple of our volunteer guides were already there, I asked them where the little ringed plovers were, but before I could locate them, Peter announced that he had a "funny-looking young greenshank." All eyes were diverted to the far right of the Scrape where a dainty, pale wader fed quietly along the water's edge. It was clearly not a greenshank as it was too small, with a fine straight, rather than upcurved, bill. But what was it? It was too small for a spotted redshank. The bill was too thin for a wood sandpiper, and it lacked an obvious supercilium.
Then the penny dropped. We were watching a marsh sandpiper. But before we put the news out we had to be certain. There were four volunteers in the hide, plus myself, and we were all happy. So, too, was a Spanish bird guide who was familiar with them from back home. I radioed the wardens to say that we had a probably marsh sandpiper, while Peter rang a couple of local birdwatchers, and soon the ID was confirmed. It was a marsh sandpiper - the first one seen at Minsmere since July 2005!
I hurriedly type a few quick field notes into my phone, and snapped a couple of record shots. This may not be best photo in the world, but it does show the slender build, slim straight bill, and pale grey upperparts that are typical of marsh sandpiper. When the bird flew it also showed a long white triangle up the back, pale, lightly barred tail and lack of obvious wingbars, all of which helped to clinch the ID.
Once the news was released, a slow trickle of birdwatchers began to arrive. But would it stay? Luckily it remained all evening, and was still on East Scrape first thing this morning, before vanishing at about 8 am - until one of our regular visitors relocated it on a small pool on the South Levels that is viewable only from the Leiston Abbey ruins. Cue a max exodus from East Hide as birdwatchers rushed to the Chapel Field, where the marsh sandpiper remains on view alongside it's larger cousins - two greenshanks. Marsh sandpipers breed in Siberia and migrate south to Africa and India for the winter. Several pass through eastern Europe each spring and autumn, but they remain rare visitors to the UK, with only two or three seen in most years, so they are always popular with twitchers.
Whenever rare birds are present, eagle-eyed twitchers often discover something else, as well, and today's extra excitement came in the shape of more insects. First a male red-veined darter dragonfly was seen in the dunes, then our Learning Officer, Chris, spotted a marbled white butterfly along the North Wall. He grabbed a quick photo on his phone, confirming the reserve's first record of this attractive butterfly. This species usually favours chalk grassland, and there are only a couple of populations in Suffolk - in an Ipswich park and around Newmarket - so it's clearly wandered some way from home. Will that, too, stay?
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