Sightings change almost by the hour in spring, so it's hardly surprising that there have been a lot of changes in the two weeks since my last sightings blog, with spring migrants flooding in and most of the wintering birds having now departed. Apologies for the lack of updates while I was enjoying an Easter break in mid and North Wales, including walking up Snowdon and enjoying excellent views of the black-browed albatross that has taken up residence in the gannet colony at RSPB Bempton Cliffs. This is likely to be the same albatross that spend a few minutes swimming with mute swans behind South Hide several years ago!
Perhaps the most exciting migrant news so far this this spring has been the return of at least two nightingales to the area around the work centre and car park entrance. This superb songsters have been noticeably absent around the main visitor trails in recent years. While they do sing throughout the day, an early or late visit will always be more productive to listen to nightingales. What better excuse do yo need to book a space on one of our Sounds of Spring guided walks, or get up even earlier for a dawn chorus walk followed by a delicious full English breakfast. The first dawn chorus walk is almost fully booked, but there are still spaces on 14 May, if a 4 am start doesn't put you off!
Nightingale by Ian Barthorpe
Of course, the nightingales are not the only melodic songsters around the reserve. Garden warblers are arriving to compete with the blackcaps in scrubby areas, confusing many birdwatchers with their very similar songs. At least the leaf cover remains sparse enough to be able to spot the birds and see the obvious plumage differences. Whitethroats and lesser whitethroats are also singing in scrubby areas, while reed, sedge and grasshopper warblers have joined the Cetti's warbler and reed buntings in the reedbed choir.
Blackcap by Steve Everett
Above the reeds, the flocks of sand martins have been joined by several swallows as well as the first house martins and swifts, all scooping insects from the sky. Those insects are also providing food for the supremely elegant master of the insect-hunters, the hobby. Like the swifts, martins and swallows, this attractive falcon is a summer migrant that just a few weeks ago would have hawking insects above the plains of sub-Saharan Africa!
Hobby with dragonfly by Nigel Smith
St Mark's flies will be key prey components for these aerial hunters at first, but with the first large red damselflies, hairy dragonflies and four-spotted chasers emerging the hobbies will soon be chasing these bigger insects too.
Another popular summer migrant that relies on insects for food is the cuckoo, although in this case the main food items are large juicy caterpillars. Several cuckoos have been heard around the woods and reedbed already, and no doubt the females will soon be searching for nests in which to lay their eggs.
Migrants have returned to the Scrape in good numbers too, especially Sandwich terns, with up to 400 forming a spectacular flock on South Scrape. Look carefully among them and you should find several common terns, while the first little terns have been reported this week too. Among the gulls the most numerous are, as usual, the raucous black-headed gulls, but up to 800 common gulls have also been resting on the Scrape before continuing their journey north to nest on the Scottish moors or in Scandinavia. Kittiwakes from the colony at Sizewell are starting to collect nesting material, and a few pairs of Mediterranean gulls are nesting within the black-headed gull colony.
Kittiwakes by Clare Carter
Wader passage has increased notably this week, too, with bar-tailed godwits sometimes outnumbering the more regular black-tailed godwits. Both species have a mix of breeding and non-breeding plumages to provide a real ID test. A few whimbrel can be seen passing through most days, while other migrant waders have included spotted redshank, greenshank, knot, sanderling, little ringed plover and common sandpiper.
Two of our long-staying rarities remain, too, although the lesser yellowlegs has become much harder to spot out on the Levels. In contrast, the glossy ibis is spending quite a bit of time feeding on the Scrape, where it has been joined by a second bird on a couple of occasions. Meanwhile up to five great egrets remain in the reedbed, and bitterns are increasingly seen indulging in courtship flights.
Other passage migrants that have attracted interest this week include up to five ring ouzels and three wheatears in the dunes south of the sluice and an osprey over Island Mere.
Our adders continue to prove popular, if elusive at times, and several species of butterflies can now be spotted flitting around the reserve, including small copper, orange tip and peacock. The first green hairstreaks should be emerging any day too.
With so much to see, why not plan a visit to come and see Minsmere for yourself during May. We can't wait to show you some of our star species
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience