It's amazing what a difference two weeks makes. After a relaxing couple of weeks with the family, I returned to find the reserve looking decidedly different too. That said, many of the changes are subtle, and there's still an amazing variety of wildlife to spot.
Vegetation grows quickly in warm, wet weather, so our wardens have been busy clearing small patches of pathside vegetation to improve the views onto the Konik Field, the Pool of Despair (soon to be renamed the Pool of Dreams in anticipation of the next high quality rarity to be found there) and the dragonfly ditch close to the Wildlife Lookout. Work will also start soon to cutting vegetation from the banks and islands on the Scrape, ready for next year's breeding season - this work will continue throughout the autumn and we'll try to let visitors know when it is happening via our Twitter page. We can't, unfortunately, start cutting the reeds outside Bittern Hide and Island Mere Hide before October as some of our reedbed birds will still be breeding that late in the year.
Berries also ripen quickly in late summer, and the bramble bushes are full of blackberries sporting various shades of green, red and black. These, in turn, attract various insects that feed on the sugars, as well as migrant warblers feeding on both the berries and the insects. It's worth checking the North Bushes, especially in the mornings, for birds such as whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, blackcap, chiffchaff, garden and willow warblers, or even spotted flycatcher. Whinchats and wheatears have been seen along the dunes this week, too, alongside the regular stonechats, linnets and Dartford warblers.
Of course, as you walk through North Bushes, you are likely to be distracted by the insects of Digger Alley, especially the beewolves and ruby-tailed wasps. You can also spend some time watching butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees and hoverflies. You never know, you might even find another new species for the reserve, such as the impressive sawfly, Cimbex conatus, that was found last week. Don't forget to check the long grass in the dunes for wasp spiders and bush-crickets too, including the huge great green bush-cricket.
Another change is the notable almost complete absence of gulls and terns from the Scrape, now that the breeding season is over. This always makes the reserve feel quiet, though it's far from that when you start to look more closely. There are still a few common, Sandwich and little terns and little gulls around, with others passing by offshore, but it's the waders that offer the most obvious spectacle on the Scrape.
Even on a brief visit to East Hide this afternoon I watched more than 100 each of avocet and black-tailed godwit, as well as several redshanks, spotted redshanks, ruffs, dunlins, knots, snipe, lapwings and little ringed plovers. Other waders seen today included green and common sandpipers, greenshanks, ringed plovers and whimbrels. plus a couple of stone-curlews from the watchpoint on the North Wall.
Other birds to look for on the Scrape include gadwalls, shovelers, mallards and teals (all in their duller "eclipse" moult plumage), greylag and Canada geese, little egrets, grey herons and moorhens. This is often a good time of year to see water rails feeding along the edge of the reeds, and bearded tits have been showing well around the Wildlife Lookout hide.
Hobbies are quite visible at the moment, taking advantage of the glut of dragonflies, but marsh harriers are a little trickier to see than usual as they head to nearby farmland to feed on rodents disturbed during the harvest. There have been sightings of buzzard, peregrine, kestrel, sparrowhawk, and even an osprey this week too.
Finally, don't forget to look for some of our later flowering plants, such as marsh sow-thistle, marsh mallow, sheep's-bit or frogbit (pictured below), or the rare round-leaved wintergreen that is now in flower alongside the Island Mere boardwalk.
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