The Scrape continues to attract an excellent variety of migrant waders, although numbers of many species are declining as the autumn progresses. Good numbers of avocets remain (they've often all gone by September), and up to 200 black-tailed godwits are present, but for most other species the counts are now in single or low double figures. Even so, it should be possible to spot most, if not all, of the following species from the hides overlooking the Scrape: ringed plover, little stint (three today), dunlin, curlew sandpiper, ruff, snipe, curlew, spotted redshank, redshank, green sandpiper, common sandpiper and turnstone.
While wader numbers are declining, ducks are increasing as the more of them arrive for the winter following their post-breeding moult and long migration from Arctic breeding grounds. Some of the shovelers and gadwalls have begun to acquire their brighter plumage again, wigeons are easier to pick out with their chestnut body feathers, and teal are easily told by their small size if seen alongside the other ducks. However, many of the ducks remain tricky to identify in their eclipse plumage. That is certainly the case with the garganey that has been lurking among the teal on South Scrape, with even experienced birdwatchers easily overlooking it.
A handful of common and Sandwich terns are often present on the Scrape, and are more regularly seen passing offshore. Both little egret and grey heron are usually feeding on the Scrape, while up to three great white egrets can sometimes be seen flying over the reedbed between Bittern Hide and Island Mere - which is also where you are most likely to see a bittern.
Great white egret - a bird you are much more likely to see in flight
It's not only birds that you can see on the Scrape this month, though, as our wardens and volunteers are now getting stuck into the annual management programme on the Scrape. This involves strimming vegetation from the banks and islands, before raking into piles and burning it. This work has multiple benefits, for both visitors and wildlife. The main reason for clearing the islands of vegetation is to prepare them for next spring's breeding season, as the gulls, terns and avocets prefer to nest on bare shingle. We burn the cut vegetation for practical purposes - it would prove extremely difficult trying to remove it from the islands - but also because this adds some of the nutrients back into the soil, and these nutrients provide food for the aquatic invertebrates, and in turn for the waders. Another benefit of the wardens clearing the vegetation is that it greatly improves the viewing from the hides, making it much easier to spot that mystery waders at the back of the Scrape without it disappearing behind a patch of marsh mallow, thistle or reed.
We appreciate that it can be frustrating to arrive at a hide and find the all you can see is wardens at work, rather than the expected birds, and that's why this work is usually carried out on only section of the Scrape at a time. The waders quickly get used to the wardens' presence and settle elsewhere on the Scrape, closer to the other hides. So, for example, if our wardens are working on East Scrape (as they were yesterday), the waders will be best seen from South Hide or the Wildlife Lookout, often coming even closer to the hides than usual. Don't forget, too, that the nature trails and hides are open dawn till dusk, but the work parties usually run from about 9.30 am to 4 pm, so you can easily avoid any potential disturbance by visiting early or late in the day - you might even have the hides to yourself then! Work is likely to continue on the Scrape throughout September, before the warden move into the reedbed later in the autumn.
Remember, too, that many of Minsmere's best wildlife isn't even seen from the hides. If you are looking for hobbies, marsh harriers or bitterns, then you are just as likely to see them flying over the reedbeds if you scan from Whin Hill or the dunes as if you sit in Bittern Hide or Island Mere. Dartford warblers, stonechats and migrants, like wheatear and whinchat, are most likely to be seen along the dunes, where you can also look for common blue and grayling butterflies, great green bush-crickets and passing swallows or house martins. Bearded tits are most active around the sluice/Konik Field area and close to the Island Mere boardwalk at the moment, and Cetti's warblers have started singing again too. Various migrants, especially warblers, can be seen in the North Bushes, and an obliging adder has been basking along the North Wall quite often this week. And, of course, the pond is a great place to brush up on your dragonfly ID skills: yesterday I watched both common and willow emerald damselflies flying within just a metre or two of each, giving a perfect opportunity to compare these two similar species.
Willow emerald damselfly. Common emerald has pale blue markings on the body and black spots at the tips of the wings
Finally, a reminder that you can keep up to date with news from Minsmere on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and find details of our popular guided walks programme here.
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