After a year of strange and varied weather - something we'll have to get used to in our changing climate - it's been lovely to enjoy some warm sunny weather this week. Even on Tuesday, when the rest of eastern England was soaked in torrential rain, the weather maps showed a tiny gap in the rain centred on Minsmere and Southwold, and we escaped with just a few light showers mid afternoon.
There's a definite hint of late summer in the wildlife sightings, too. Several whitethroats, lesser whitethroats and blackcaps remain in the North Bushes, where they are busy gorging themselves on blackberries ready for their ongoing journey. I found at least four chiffchaffs on Westleton Heath yesterday too, mixed with a lovely flock of blue, great and long-tailed tits at they flitted among the trees.
Ripe blackberries also attract red admiral, speckled wood and small copper butterflies, which in turn can attract predatory hornets. Good numbers of southern and migrant hawker and common and ruddy darter dragonflies can be seen throughout the reserve, with hobbies regularly seen catching them around Bittern Hide.
Late reminders of summer remain on the Scrape, too, where up to 30 avocets can still be seen. In most years these elegant waders would have left us several weeks ago, so it's good to see so many lingering well into September. One or two common and Sandwich terns and the odd little gull are still passing through too.
By far the most numerous waders on the Scrape are the Icelandic black-tailed godwits, with up to 200 of these tall, slender waders present. They've even been wading within a few metres of the hides, allowing me to take what might be my most favourite self-taken photo earlier in the week.
Other waders to look for on the Scrape include dunlin, knot, little stint, ruff, snipe, lapwing, ringed plover, redshank, spotted redshank, green and common sandpiper and turnstone, although in most cases there are just a few of each of these. Just to test your ID skills even further, there have also been a few bar-tailed godwits on the Scrape this week - a much less frequent visitor at Minsmere. Perhaps the star wader this week, though, is the purple sandpiper that continues to feed among the algae on the sluice outfall, where it can be surprisingly difficult to pick out.
Purple sandpiper by Alan King
Numbers of ducks continue to increase, both on the Scrape and on Island Mere, with teal, gadwall, mallard and shoveler being the most numerous and wigeons becoming more numerous every time I go round the Scrape. A few young shelducks remain, but the adults are yet to return from their moulting grounds off the Dutch coast. The most obvious species of wildfowl is often barnacle goose (photo below), with up to 300 roosting on the Scrape islands alongside smaller numbers of greylag and Canada geese. These are all feral birds, mostly from local populations, but the first truly wild dark-bellied brent geese are starting to migrate down the coast, and a pale-bellied brent - a very scarce bird in Suffolk - spent a day on the Scrape recently.
As is typical at this time of year, bitterns and marsh harriers are more elusive than usual, with the latter often feeding over surrounding farmland before returning to the reserve at dusk. Bearded tits have been proving a bit tricky of late, too, although they are often heard around South Hide and Island Mere. Early morning visits in October are a good time to see these reedbed dwellers - why not book a place on one of our reedbed rambles to increase your chances - see www.events.rspb.org.uk/minsmere for dates.
Finally, one of our most charismatic birds, and one that invariably attracts admiring glances from our visitors, is a very regular visitor to the feeders outside reception - even when people are standing just a few metres away. It's also a personal favourite of mine. The nuthatch!
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