Following the second stage of the lifting of Covid 19 restrictions, it's been great to welcome back many familiar faces - some for the first time in more than a year - as well as lots of new visitors.

Let me start this week with a reminder of what's open, or not.

Car park, toilets and nature trails - open dawn to dusk

Reception - open 9 am to 5 pm

Shop - open 10 am to 4 pm. Binocular hire is now available again, too

Cafe - open 10 am to 4 pm for takeaway or outdoor seating. No indoor seating available at the moment.

Hides - closed until 17 May, at the earliest, in line with government guidance. Apologies for the confusion that previously suggested that hides might be open this week. The public viewpoint is open.

Entry fees - half price for non members until the hides re-open.

NHS Test and Trace - all over 16s must now sign in, either via the QR code or by leaving their contact details with us. (Please note, this is a change from previous regulations that only required one person from each party to register)

Guided walks and safaris. Currently not available. We hope to restart walks and hire a guide walks from early June, but have no current start date for safaris.

Self-guided family activities - a beautiful trail guide is available for £3 from reception.


Now for the sightings.

As Matt said in his last blog, a lovely grey phalarope spent a few days on the Scrape, where it was last seen on Saturday. This tiny wader breeds widely across North America, and is usually seen at Minsmere following autumn storms. Records in the spring are much more unusual, so its discovery came as a bit of a surprise - though it did coincide with a small influx to other sites in East Anglia. Phalaropes are unusual among waders in that they are excellent swimmers and spend the winter at sea, bobbing on the waves and spinning like a child's toy in their restless pursuit of invertebrates.

The northerly wind for the past week has slowed the arrival of migrants, although good numbers of sand martins are now feeding over the reedbed and numbers of blackcaps and chiffchaffs are increasing in the woods. The first sedge warblers are back in the reedbed, but have gone quiet again until the temperature increases. A whimbrel was seen over the Scrape this week, and a few dunlins and black-tailed godwits are passing through.

Chiffchaff by Ian Barthorpe

Most excitingly, the first hobby of the spring was seen yesterday, and at least one nightingale has returned to a traditional territory at the northern edge of the reserve. Both species should arrive in greater numbers in the next few weeks, along with various warblers and the first cuckoos.

Further signs of spring came in the form of a spoonbill on the Scrape for the last few days, up to three male garganeys skulking on West Scrape, and a black redstart in the dunes, while several bitterns are booming in the reedbed and marsh harriers have already started nesting. The Scrape is also coming alive with the sights and sounds of black-headed and Mediterranean gulls and avocets.

The welcome return of sunshine is also good news for insect and reptile watchers. Adders, slow worms and common lizards were all seen by our volunteer surveyors yesterday, with several adders spotted by our guides in the North Bushes and dunes. Several different species of mining bee and bumblebee can now be seen, as mentioned in Matt's blog and Whistling Joe's forum post. 

For me, one of the highlights of spring is the emergence of beeflies. You may see these gorgeous insects in your gardens (I've often found them attracted to washing hanging on the line!), or around roadside hedges on your daily walk. Here at Minsmere, the North Bushes and Whin Hill areas are good places to look for them, especially wherever the small lilac flowers of ground-ivy bloom. Beeflies are parasites on solitary bees. The ones we usually see are the dark-edged beefly, Bombylius major, though there are several other species in the UK. They can be tricky to photograph as they flit quickly from flower to flower, so I was pleased to spot this one resting beside a dead bracken frond on my lunchtime walk yesterday.

 Dark-edged beefly by Ian Barthorpe