Late April and early May always signals the peak arrival of our spring migrants, and maximum variety and volume of birdsong. But did you know that we've lost over 44 million songbirds from the UK over the past 50 years? As a result, many species are now much scarcer, and it has become a red-letter day to hear a cuckoo, turtle dove, nightingale or redstart, for example.
In recognition of this frightening loss of native wildlife, the RSPB has recently launched a single depicting birdsong. Our aim is to get birdsong into the UK charts. Ultimately we'd like to get to number one - perhaps even beating Taylor Swift to the top spot. How ironic would that be?
Please help us by downloading the single. It's available from all of the websites that you would usually order or download music from, including Amazon, Spotify and I-Tunes. To download your copy, head to one of these sites and search for Let Nature Sing, or simply follow the links from our website at https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing/
Many of the species featured on this single can be seen and heard at Minsmere. These include several of the species species that many visitors come to Minsmere to look for - bittern, cuckoo, nightingale, nightjar, grasshopper warbler, turtle dove - as well more familiar garden birds such as blackbird, robin, wren and collared dove. There are 25 species in total, so you can practice your birdsong ID as you listen.
Nightingale is one of the species featured on the Let Nature Sing single
Talking of birdsong, I led the first of our dawn chorus guided walks on Saturday morning, with 32 visitors joining David and I at the ridiculously early hour of 4 am! Despite near gale force winds that had almost led us to cancel the walk, most of the expected species were heard during the walk. Particular highlights included Savi's warbler, cuckoo, bittern and reed bunting at Island Mere, firecrest and treecreeper in South Belt, willow warbler, whitethroat and lesser whitethroat in North Bushes and grasshopper warbler near Wildlife Lookout.
The remaining dawn chorus walk is fully booked, too, but there are still spaces available on most of May's Sounds of Spring walks. These popular walks start a little later in the morning, at 7.30 am, and are perfect for learning birdsong. If you'd like to join Charles and David on a Tuesday, or David and Peter on a Sunday, then please click here to book your place. The walks also include a bacon or sausage butty or vegetarian equivalent, plus tea or filter coffee in the cafe after the walk. You'll have earned it.
If 7.30 am still sounds too early, then perhaps Derek and Phil's Spring Weekend Wildlife Walks will be of more interest. These are less focused on birdsong, though there will still be plenty of opportunity to hear birds as well as watching them - and the incredible variety of other wildlife on the reserve. Click here to book.
Reed warbler is one of the species that you should here on a Sounds of Spring walk. Photo by Jon Evans
This Saturday will be a special day, not just at Minsmere but across many of our nature reserves, as reserves compete for the honour of recording the most species on their reserve during a 24 hour period. We're confident that we'll find more than 100 species, which is possibly on any day in May, but to help us make sure we don't miss any obvious species, if you are visiting on Saturday, please let us know which species you've seen.
One species that won't count towards this total, despite them settling to nest on the Scrape, is bar-headed goose, because this Asian species is widely kept in captivity in the UK and is not accepted on the UK list.
There are, however, many other species to spot on the Scrape. These broadly fall into five families - ducks, geese, gulls, terns and waders - though there are also species such as mute swan, little egret and pheasant on the Scrape. Numbers of teals, shovelers and wigeons have declined as birds have returned to the Arctic to breed, but we're starting to see the first mallard broods and shelduck and gadwall chicks are likely to follow soon. Greylag geese already have goslings, and both Canada and barnacle geese are nesting.
Cute alert: greylag geese with goslings
The most numerous species on the Scrape, by far, is black-headed gull, but 150+ Mediterranean gulls are also present among them. Other gulls include common, herring and lesser black-backed, as well as kittiwake, and there's often a Caspian gull present. Sandwich terns are putting on a great display on East Scrape, with pairs mating and courtship feeding, so we're hoping that some will stay to nest. There are good numbers of common terns present, as well as one or two little terns on South Scrape.
Among the waders, avocets, lapwings, redshanks and oystercatchers all nest on the Scrape and ringed plovers on the beach, but May is also a great time of year to spot passage migrants. The most frequent of these are black-tailed godwits, dunlins, knots and turnstones, but there are also several grey and golden plovers and bar-tailed godwits passing through. Other waders seen this week have included whimbrel, greenshank and common and wood sandpipers, while we expect the first little stints and curlew sandpipers to be seen this week. There have, unfortunately, been no further sightings of the black-winged stilts since last Wednesday, but who knows which other waders might pass through.
The star birds in the reedbed are still the two Savi's warblers that can be heard, and occasionally seen (distantly) from Island Mere hide, where you should also hear reed, sedge and Cetti's warblers and reed buntings in full song. Sightings of bearded tits and bitterns are possible, but you're more likely to hear them. Likewise cuckoo. You should spot marsh harriers, and check the skies carefully for hobbies and swifts among the flocks of sand martins and swallows. There is still a grasshopper warbler in the reedbed too, which you may hear from the S-bend between Wildlife Lookout and South Hide.
One of the best places to listen to birdsong at the moment is the North Bushes, where warblers include blackcap, chiffchaff, willow warbler and both common and lesser whitethroats. A turtle dove has been heard both there and near the Work Centre this week, but is generally proving elusive. Also in the North Bushes area, it's been worth scanning the field to the north of the visitor centre from the viewpoint at the start of the North Wall, as up to two ring ouzels, two wheatears and four yellow wagtails have been seen, as well as the occasional stone-curlew.
Turtle dove is a sadly missed sound of spring in many areas
Other notable species seen this week include spoonbill on a couple of dates, common crane over the weekend, garden warbler singing near the warden's office, Dartford warblers and stonechats in the dunes, common scoters offshore, and even an unseasonal guillemot on the sea. Nightingales are best listened for on Westleton heath - please ask at recpetion fro directions.
The cooler weather has made insect spotting a bit more tricky this week, but our guides found the first green hairstreak butterfly of the year in the dunes yesterday and the first hairy dragonfly was seen yesterday too. Look out for orange tip butterflies and large red damselflies too.
Green hairstreak by Matt Parrott
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