The late August bank holiday heatwave was a mixed blessing. As the holiday hordes headed to the coast, anyone choosing to walk around our nature trails needed to be prepared, with suncream slapped on, a wide-brimmed hat, and, most importantly, a drink in their bag. There were, of course, opportunities to cool down by dipping your toes into the sea, seeking out shady patches for a rest, or making the most of the cooler early mornings and late evenings, though the latter needs careful planning to ensure that you still have time to visit the cafe either before or after your visit!
Birdwatching can be tricky in such weather, especially now that most birds have finished breeding, stopped singing and are well advanced in their post-breeding moult. Woodland and reedbed birds, in particular can be harder to find, but certainly not impossible. Family parties of tits and finches are busy flitting among the canopy, gobbling up beakfuls of tasty flies and caterpillars, while a quick search among fruiting bramble bushes should reveal at least a couple of migrant warblers refuelling on their long migration south.
The North Bushes and Sluice Bushes have been good places to look for birds such as common and lesser whitethroats, blackcaps, garden warblers, willow warbles and chiffchaffs. We've also had several reports of pied flycatchers this week (part of a notable passage along the Suffolk coast), with birds seen at the pond, North Bushes, East Hide and near the sluice. Other migrant songbirds this week have included whinchats in the dunes, around the Konik Field and on Whin Hill, one or two wheatears in the dunes and a spotted flycatcher in the North Bushes.
Pied flycatcher by Jon Evans
In the reedbed, bearded tits have become quite visible this week, with regular sightings of families and juveniles around Island Mere and Wildlife Lookout. Bitterns and otters are still being reported somewhere almost daily, though you may need a bit of luck or patience (or both). Marsh harriers spend much of the day hunting for rabbits and rodents around the harvested fields inland, so are best seen in the evenings at this time of year, but hobbies and common buzzards are still easy to find. An osprey yesterday was last seen disappearing over the horizon towards Holland!
A juvenile bearded tit with its highwayman's mask. Photo by Jon Evans
Last week's ferruginous duck appears to have moved on again, but it's worth checking among the moulting flocks of gadwalls, mallards, shovelers and teals on Island Mere or the Scrape as you may see a few tufted ducks, little grebes or coots. While the ducks may pose an ID challenge, that's not the case with the increasing numbers of little egrets and grey herons that are feeding among the shallows, especially on West Scrape. There have been double-figure counts of both species this week.
Much of the excitement, but also the biggest ID challenges, on the Scrape at the moment remains the wader migration. Most of the adults have headed south already, but with the juveniles now arriving from the Arctic there is still a good variety of birds present, even if numbers are a little lower than the recent peaks. Among the species seen this week are green, common and curlew sandpipers, dunlins, knots, ruffs, spotted redshanks, snipe, ringed and little ringed plovers and lapwings. Several avocets remain at the moment, but we expect many of these to have departed within a few weeks. Although the Scrape is the best place to watch waders, there may be one or twon on the Konik Field or South Levels, and it's worth checking the beach for species such as sanderling, turnstone and ringed plover.
Among the insects, the most obvious are probably the red admiral and comma butterflies on the buddleia, southern, brown and migrant hawker and ruddy darter dragonflies around the reedbed and beewolfs in Digger Alley. Look more closely, though, and there are many other special species to find. A few grayling butterflies continue to camouflage among the shingle on the dunes and you may find common emerald damselflies at the pond or the closely related willow emerald damselfly in trees overhanging the ditch between South Belt Crossroads and Wildlife Lookout.
Willow emerald damselfly. Note the white pterostigma (the spots near the end of the wing), which are black in common emeralds, and the typical habit of perching in trees.
Finally, we come to Digger Alley, where the list of species continues to grow. We still have the beewolfs, pantaloon bees, green-eyed flower-bees, pointy-bum bees, ornate-tailed and sand-tailed digger wasps, jewel (or ruby-tailed) wasps and Oxybellis unigumis "fly-killer", but our amazing guides have now also identified the wonderfully named bear-clawed nomad-bee. In fact, I think the newly acquired English names for many of these bees and wasps are almost as amazing as watching the insects themselves. What will our guides discover next?
Ornate-tailed wasp by Mike Smethurst (makes a change from a beewolf!)
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