The title of this blog may sound like it comes from a Jackie Collins novel (not that I've ever read one), but it actually pays homage to some of the most beautiful and obvious insects seen around the reserve at the moment.
July is a brilliant time to look for insects. Digger Alley may steal much of the glory, with it's incredible variety of digger wasps and mining bees, but shimmering butterflies and dazzling dragonflies certainly vie for our attention - or at least for the attention of the opposite sex of their own kind!
Our biggest dragonflies are quite rightly called Emperors. Bright green and blue beasts, they can be seen patrolling the margins of ponds in search of smaller insects on which to prey - including damselflies. On several occasions this week I've watched a female Emperor resting on a floating leaf as she lays her eggs beneath the surface. Once her eggs hatch, the larvae could remain in the pond for up to three years before emerging as adults. Why not bring the family over the summer and see whether you can catch any dragonfly larvae yourself. Advance booking is recommended for our pond dipping events.
Egg-laying Emperor dragonfly
Emperors may be the biggest dragonflies, but Common Darters and Ruddy Darters are the most numerous at the moment. These are both much smaller. The males are red (brighter in the Ruddy, as the name suggests) and the females are yellow-brown and best identified on leg colour - if you can see them well enough. Both species take a liking to perching on benches and fenceposts on a sunny day, or searching for small flies around flowering Bramble or Buddleia.
Other dragonflies to look out for include Norfolk Hawkers, with their big green eyes; Southern Hawkers with green and blue spots on the abdomen; yellow-winged Brown Hawkers; Black-tailed Skimmers that like to sit on the paths; Four-spotted Chasers; and a variety of damselflies: Common Blue, Blue-tailed, Emerald and Red-eyed Damselflies are probably the easiest to spot.
During last week's butterfly and dragonfly transect walks, our volunteers counted more than 800 individual dragonflies, and a similar number of butterflies. By far the most numerous of the latter were Meadow Browns - brown butterflies with orange wing patches. The Gatekeeper is similar, but is more orange, with a brown border. Both are easily seen around Brambles, as are the generally darker Ringlets, which have a row of black-and-white eye-spots on the wing.
Meadow Brown (left) and Gatekeeper
The Buddleia bushes are the best place to find some of our biggest and brightest butterflies, such as Painted Lady, Red Admiral or Peacock. The first two are migrants from southern Europe, as are some of our Large Whites. Look out, too, for Hummingbird Hawkmoths that usually start to arrive around now.
Minsmere's biggest butterflies, though, are the stunning Silver-washed Fritillaries - bright orange with black spots - that can be seen throughout the woods but especially along the Woodland Trail. This is a recent colonist at Minsmere that is already relatively common, so if you walk down the Woodland Trail on a sunny day you should have a good chance of seeing one. Look out there, too, for the black-and-white White Admiral, or search the treetops from Canopy Hide to find the tiny Purple Hairstreak, resting high in an oak.
Returning to the ground, look for Small Heath, Brown Argus or Small Copper around Whin Hill, or the moth-like and virtually idenitical Small Skipper and Essex Skipper along the North Wall. Six-spot Burnet moths are common there, too. However, the best way to find some of Minsmere's incredible moths is to join us as we open the traps on a Moth Morning. The next one is on Tuesday 25 July. Reserve your place here.
Six-spot Burnet Moth
Of course, there are birds to spot too, although with moult now in full swing some are becoming harder to identify. Ducks, for example, are now in what's known as eclipse plumage. This means that they have lost their bright colours to remain camouflaged while they moult their flight feathers, so even the normally colourful males look more like the drabber females. This makes identifying them trickier for beginners, so make sure you ask our volunteer guides for help to tell the difference between Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler or Wigeon. There's also one or two Pochard and Tufted Duck at Island Mere, as well both Little and Great Crested Grebes.
Waders can prove an identification nightmare, too, as they start to loose their bright colours during their migration south from the Arctic to Africa. This makes the use of beak shape, leg colour and wing patterns even more useful for identification. There is a good variety of waders refuelling on the Scrape right now: Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Dunlin, Knot, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank, and Little Ringed Plover. Avocets, Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits remain in good numbers, too.
Common Sandpiper dwarfed by a Black-tailed Godwit
Other birds to look for on the Scrape include Common, Sandwich and Little Terns, Black-headed, Mediterranean and Little Gulls, Kittiwakes, Little Egrets and up to five Spoonbills. One of the latter has colour rings on its legs which confirm that it was ringed in the Netherlands.
One of the highlights on the Scrape is a second-year Arctic tern. This is a bird that was born last year, and birds of that age usually remain off the coast of Africa until returning north to breed for the first time in their third year, making this quite an unusual sighting. Another highlight is the first confirmed breeding of Egyptian Geese at Minsmere.
Finally, there are still regular sightings of Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Bearded Tit, Hobby and Great Egret around the reedbed, Green Woodpeckers around Whin Hill, and Coal Tits on the feeders, so wherever you choose to visit, you should spot something exciting.
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