There have been some pretty impressive counts of terns on the Scrape this week, including an incredible 350+ common terns and about 50 little terns. Many of these will be birds that have finished breeding (or failed) elsewhere and have moved here to roost on the Scrape and feed offshore before starting their migration south into the South Atlantic for our winter months.

Alongside these two species, several Sandwich terns also remain, and at least one Arctic tern has been seen on most days this week. There haven't been any sightings of roseate or black terns for a few days, but either species could pay us another visit during August, which is often the peak month for black tern sightings.

The biggest surprise, however, came on Monday morning when one of our regular visitors was rewarded for the many hours that he spends scanning the Scrape each week with the discovery of a gull-billed tern. Despite having a wide global distribution, breeding across Southern Europe, Central Asia, Australasia and the Caribbean, gull-billed terns are scarce visitors to the UK, with only a handful of sightings all year. Even more surprisingly, this proved to the first ever sighting of this large, heavy-billed tern at Minsmere. It spent a couple of hours roosting on South Scrape or flying around with the other terns, before relocating briefly at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust's nearby Carlton Marshes reserve. Remarkably, this was the seventh species of tern on South Scrape in July!

The gull-billed tern (centre, with black bill) with common and little terns (above) and stretching its wings (below)

On Wednesday I was sheltering from the torrential rain in Island Mere Hide when a small flock of terns came down to feed in a duck-free patch of the mere. Common terns will often fish on the mere, but I was very surprised to find a dozen little terns and a Sandwich tern among them. I can't remember ever seeing a little tern at Island Mere before!

This afternoon, one of our volunteers had a close encounter with a tiny water rail chick at Island Mere. The ball of black fluff was wandering up the boardwalk while its mum squealed from the adjacent reeds. Despite his best efforts, it walked further up the boardwalk, so he adeptly caught it in his cap and carefully placed it back at the edge of the reedbed, where it promptly ran back to its mother.

At the opposite end of the size spectrum, a spectacular great white egret has taken up residence on West Scrape, where I watched it alongside both little egret and grey heron yesterday, and was able to snap this photo of the three species preening in unison, clearly showing the size difference between the three species.

Elsewhere on the Scrape, several hundred avocets and black-tailed godwits dominate the waders, with a wide variety of other species passing through in various different plumages: green, common and wood sandpipers, common and spotted redshanks, ruff, knot, dunlins, curlew sandpipers, sanderlings, ringed and little-ringed plovers and turnstones. Up to 30 little gulls have been seen on South Scrape too. With so much food around, the local peregrines have also been causing havoc over the Scrape.

Weather permitting, various butterflies and dragonflies can be seen around the reserve, including good numbers of silver-washed fritillaries and several white admirals on the Woodland Trail, while a host of mining bees and digger wasps are attracting visitors to Digger Alley.

Talking of minibeasts, we're pleased to have restarted our popular pond dipping events. These take place on Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesdays. Sessions will last 30 minutes, with just one family per session, starting every 15 minutes. We recommend advance booking online, although spaces can be booked on the day, subject to availability.

There are still spaces on a few guided walks in August, but why not plan ahead and book onto one of our autumn walks. Unfortunately, we're still not able to plan any of our popular 4x4 tours or bird ringing demos, but we'll let you know if we organise any.

Finally, we're also very excited to welcome author Tessa Boase to Minsmere on Monday 9 August. Tessa has spent several years uncovering the surprising story of women, birds, hats - and votes. As part of our celebrations of the Centenary of The Plumage Act, Tessa will be at Minsmere from 1 pm to 4 pm to sign copies of her book, Etta Lemon - The Woman Who Saved the Birds. Copies will be available to purchase in the shop. I'm looking forward to meeting Tessa and reading this book, as I really enjoyed her first book about the origins of the RSPB, Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather, which I reviewed two years ago.

Anonymous
  • It was a bit damp to search for Digger Alley insects the other day, so I went to see what the Dippers had discovered in the pond. The answer? Monsters!