Sometimes it's nice to walk around the reserve without paying too much attention to the birdlife. It makes you pay more attention to some of the smaller creatures at Minsmere. Being autumn, there's the added bonus of some great colours. Although most of the trees are yet to change, and the reedbed remains predominantly green, the bracken and brambles are already turning a fabulous mix of golds and reds.
Despite the recent heavy rain, several butterflies remain active, with today's walk yielding speckled wood, red admiral, painted lady, and this beautiful small copper adding a further of touch of colour to one of the brambles in the car park.
I spotted three species of dragonflies too: migrant hawker, common darter and willow emerald damselfly. The latter are best seen in low willows overhanging the ditch about halfway between South Belt Crossroads and Wildlife Lookout, where I spotted this mating pair egg-laying into the bark of the willow. This behaviour is unique among UK dragonflies, and the twigs often show distinctive scars - proof that breeding has occurred.
Perhaps the most exciting insect on today's walk, though, was these huge devil's coach-horse. I can't remember seeing one quite so big, and when it reared up in defensive pose it was certainly imposing. Sadly I missed the chance to get a photo of this characteristic posture.
While it's getting quite late in the year for insects, it's approaching prime time for fungi, some of which are very easy to see, like this sulphur tuft around the edge of the car park.
This parasol in North Bushes must be at least 25 cm across, easily justifying my usual description of this species as dinner-plate-sized.
At the opposite end of the size spectrum is the tiny common bird's-nest fungus. Each cup, or "nest", measures only about 3 mm across, yet still contains several spore-containing "eggs". I managed to spot a couple of these popular fungi in their usual spot near the pond, but I'm sure there will be several more in the coming weeks. Here's a photo from a couple of years ago.
This fungus may be one our smallest species, but autumn is also the time to see our largest in all their glory as the red deer rut gets underway. Our popular 4x4 safaris have all been fully booked for several weeks (you need to book soon after we open bookings in early July), but you can still watch these impressive beasts from the footpath along the southern edge of Westleton Heath. Please ask at reception for details, and read Whistling Joe's thread for pictures of the early action.
Of course I did spot some birds on my walk today, despite not really paying them too much attention. Pride of place has to go to this very obliging wheatear at the sluice. Dartford warblers, stonechats and pied wagtails can also be seen in the dunes.
The recent rain has seen a rise in water levels on the Scrape, and with less exposed mud there are fewer waders present, although a few avocets, ringed plovers, snipe and black-tailed godwits remain, as well as increasing numbers of lapwings. There has been a noticeable increase in numbers of wigeons and teals on the Scrape, where other species include gadwall, shoveler, mallard and shelduck. Large flocks of both greylag and Canada geese are present, often with several barnacle geese, and they've been joined by two bar-headed geese. These are presumably the same pair that bred unsuccessfully earlier in the year.
Canada geese coming in to land
Up to three great white egrets were in the reedbed last week (I saw two at nearby Thorpeness Meare on Saturday morning, too) and two spoonbills flew south this morning. Little egrets and grey herons are easier to spot, while bitterns continue to be seen regularly. Mornings seem to be the best time to see bearded tits feeding along the edge of the reedbed pools. Hobbies and marsh harriers should be present over the reedbed, too.
Finally, don't forget to check out the North Bushes for migrants. The few common and lesser whitethroats will be leaving very soon, but should be replaced by the first redwings, fieldfares and bramblings as soon as the wind turns to the east. Look out for an increase in numbers of robins, blackbirds and goldcrests as they arrive from Scandinavia. Perhaps they might even bring a yellow-browed warbler with them soon.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654