Wow, what an exciting week!
With a bird list of around 350 species, it's not often that we add a new species to the reserve list, yet this week we have potentially added two!
First, news broke, via a tweeted photo early on Tuesday morning, of a drake ring-necked duck seen on Island Mere on Monday evening. This is a North American duck, closely related to our familiar tufted ducks, and this winter has probably been the best ever year for sightings in the UK. We have, therefore, been hoping that one might arrive at Minsmere. You can imagine our frustration, then, when there was no further sign of this scarce duck once the news broke.
Then, late on Thursday afternoon, reports came in of a probable American golden plover among the black-tailed godwits on West Scrape. This is one of the few wader species on the UK list that has not been seen at Minsmere, so we all traipsed down to Wildlife Lookout to check it out. There then followed several discussions and careful scrutiny of the plumage details, because American golden plovers are very difficult to tell apart from the equally scarce - and also potentially new to Minsmere - Pacific golden plover. Based on such subtle features as the leg length, wing length and upperpart colouration, the consensus in the hide was that this was a Pacific golden plover. Whether and good photos materialise to help us to confirm the identification, we may have to wait and see. Until then, it may have to go down a "lesser" golden plover - the former name used before both were considered to be separate species!
Of course, neither of these birds has been seen since, and it also seems that our long-staying lesser yellowlegs (another American wader) has finally moved on, as it appears to have taken up residence in nearby Southwold. The glossy ibis remains on the Konik Field, though, with two seen a several dates, while three common cranes flew north yesterday
However, there has been a steady stream of commoner waders passing through on migration, including several bar-tailed godwits, dunlins and whimbrels, and a few ruffs, greenshanks, common sandpipers and spotted redshanks. Many of these are in their gorgeous summer plumage. They have joined the breeding waders: lapwings, redshanks, ringed plovers, oystercatchers, and, of course, avocets.
Bar-tailed godwit by Jon Evans
There's an impressive number of gulls and terns crowding onto the Scrape, too, especially on South Scrape. Up 400 Sandwich terns have been joined by around 100 common terns and a handful of little terns. Probably the most numerous gulls at the moment are common gulls. Despite their name, this is unusual. Common gulls are widespread in winter, but are usually absent from Minsmere in summer as they head farther north to breed in Scotland or Scandinavia. As it's still frozen in the far north, they're in no rush to migrate yet, so will linger for a few more weeks yet. Many of these are also immature birds that probably won't breed for a year or two. Among the nesting black-headed gulls there are one or two pairs of Mediterranean gulls, while the bigger gulls include the odd yellow-legged and great black-backed gulls as well as herring and lesser black-backed.
In the reedbed, bitterns are booming and several people have reported watching long courtship flights this week. Marsh harriers are already nesting, and up to ten hobbies can be seen catching early dragonflies or the swarms of St Mark's flies. Reed, sedge and Cetti's warblers and reed buntings are singing around the reedbed and a grasshopper warbler can be heard reeling along the North Wall, especially around dawn and dusk.
In the woods, the star attractions are the two nightingales that are singing around the car park entrance. Blackcaps and garden warblers are increasingly widespread, and both willow warbler and lesser whitethroat have been singing in North Bushes. Whitethroats are widespread in scrubby areas, including along the dunes, where stonechats and the odd wheatear can also be seen.
Whitethroat by Jon Evans
We've also had several reports of green hairstreak butterflies in the dunes tis week, while other insects seen include holly blue, small copper, peacock, brimstone and orange tip butterflies, large red damselflies, four-spotted chasers and hairy dragonflies.
Don't forget that you can join us for a guided walk to, with spaces still available for next week's second dawn chorus walk (today's was very successful) - see https://www.events.rspb.org.uk/minsmere for details
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