It's not everyday that you come face to face with a venomous snake inside the shop, but that's exactly what happened on Wednesday!
It was a chilly late April day when two of our regular visitors came in hoping to spot one of the adders, knowing that they had been showing well at times over the last couple of weeks. Given how cold it was, they knew their chances were low, and a quick radio call to our volunteer guides confirmed that none of them had seen an adder that morning. Never mind, the visitors had already had good views of a nightingale on Westleton Heath and knew that they would see a good variety of other wildlife on their walk.
Incredibly, just five minutes later, Sharon came through from the shop to tell us that there was an adder in the shop. Clearly it couldn't stay there, but before setting about safely relocating it, I noticed that the visitors who were looking for an adder were outside the cafe, so I called them in for a look. As the adder slithered across the shop floor, the shop and cafe staff all came out for a good look, while Reg, our reception volunteer, kept as far away as possible due to his fear of snakes!
Soon the adder curled up underneath a radiator in the shop. This gave us our chance, and Kirstie quickly and carefully placed a plastic tub over him before sliding a tray underneath. Between us we soon had the adder safely contained, allowing Alex the honour of releasing it into the safety of a gorse bushes behind the visitor centre – but not before we had enjoyed super close views of through the plastic.
Clearly the adder had slithered through the open shop door, and it definitely had the right idea, as it was much warmer inside than out. We have a couple of other theories too. An adder (possibly the same one) had joined us for a team meeting the previous week, and perhaps it thought we had another meeting planned. Or maybe it was after sampling the cafe's delicious cakes, scones or sausage rolls.
I can't say I blame it. I had my first Minsmere sausage roll this week, as a change from a cheese scone, and all I can say is, "Wow!" Not only are they huge, but it was probably the best tasting sausage roll I've ever had - and I've had a few. Of course, I shouldn't really be surprised. After all, our café team are already renowned for their incredible scones and cakes, so I should expect nothing less of the sausage rolls.
Despite the incessant northerly airflow, we have, at last, seen a noticeable arrival of summer migrants this week, notably in the woods and reedbed. Wherever you walk in the woods you’re almost always within earshot of singing blackcap or chiffchaff, and they have now been joined by a few garden warblers, with both common and lesser whitethroats in more scrubby areas such as the North Bushes and dunes.
The reedbeds are, at last, resounding to the tumbling scratchy songs of sedge warblers and the slower, more rhythmical reed warblers, alongside the simple song of reed buntings and dramatic shouting of Cetti’s warblers. Bearded tits can be heard and, with luck, seen around the South Hide area or the Island Mere boardwalk, and bitterns are still booming from within the reeds. You may also be lucky enough to spot a couple of bitterns engaging in courtship flights above the reeds.
There must be more insects on the wing above the reedbed, too, as the skies are now full of sand martins and swifts, with a few swallows, house martins and hobbies hawking among them. Cuckoos are back, too, and best heard near Island Mere or Bittern Hide.
On the Scrape, the Sandwich terns are putting on an incredible display, with up to 550 gathering on South Scrape, along with up to 50 common terns and the first returning little terns. They can be quite flighty, and when disturbed the sound is amazing as they swirl around in a tight flock, known as a dread.
Up to 100 kittiwakes have returned to gather nesting material from the Scrape before flying to the rigs offshore from Sizewell, where they breed. Black-headed and Mediterranean gull numbers are much lower than usual, and several common and great black-backed gulls remain, along with herring and lesser black-backed gulls. Perhaps the pick of the gulls yesterday was a beautiful adult little gull, complete with a delicate pale pink wash across its breast.
Little gull with black-headed gulls
The avocets, lapwings and redshanks are displaying on the Scrape. Passage waders seen this week include bar- and black-tailed godwits, dunlins, turnstones, knot, greenshank and whimbrel – many of them in full summer plumage.
Most of the duck species remain, although in lower numbers, and up to three garganeys were seen on several occasions during the week. The first mallard ducklings, greylag and Canada goslings and coot chicks are accompanying their parents, too.
Among the more unusual sightings this week have been a great white egret that flew high out to sea this morning, a spoonbill flying north along the shore, a couple of wheatears, and a stunning male common redstart from the North Wall yesterday.
Finally, a reminder that the hides remain closed until at least 17 May, when we hope that indoor seating can be re-instated in the café, that the shop and café are operating reduced hours of 10 am to 4 pm, and everyone over 16 must sign in to NHS Track and Trace on every visit.
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