I don't often write two blogs in a day, but following my earlier insect-themed entry I thought I should update you on some of the fantastic birds that have been seen over the past week.
Perhaps the star birds this week have been our little terns. There used to be small breeding colony of these tiny seabirds on the beach, but as the profile has changed in recent years they've moved elsewhere, and they only visit Minsmere as passage migrants. We usually see a few each May, with post-breeding birds returning in July and August. However, our wardens have also created some shingle-covered islands on South Scrape in the hope of tempting the little terns into nesting there. It's probably a bit too soon to know whether they'll choose to do so this year or not, but it's been very exciting to see larger than normal flocks gathering on the Scrape. There's even been courtship feeding and mating observed! I think the biggest count so far has been the 44 little terns noted this morning.
Of course, they're not the only terns present on the Scrape, with several pairs of Sandwich terns still nesting on East Scrape, and good numbers of common terns scattered around the Scrape. Up to four black terns have also been spotted on several occasions as they head to the marshes of eastern Europe and Sweden to breed.
Little terns (with white forehead and yellow bill) and common terns, showing how small the former really are
Up to four little gulls have been another highlight on the Scrape. Their tiny size is a good ID feature, and with so many gulls present on the Scrape it's easy to get a comparison on their size. It's also a good opportunity to test your ID skills. The most numerous species is the black-headed gull, with 3500 counted during Sunday's Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) count, but look carefully among them and you should see several truly black-headed Mediterranean gulls, especially on East Scrape. There's also a good chance to compared the dainty kittiwake, with its black-legs and dipped-in-ink wingtip with the 100 or so mostly second year common gulls. Throw in a few herring, lesser-black-backed and great black-backed gulls and there's several more species for your list.
With so many gulls and terns present, it's perhaps easy to overlook the gorgeous avocets among them. It's certainly easy to be distracted enough to miss the passage waders that are pausing to refuel on the Scrape. Species seen this week have included sanderling, knot, dunlin, bar- and black-tailed godwits, whimbrel, greenshank, spotted redshank, turnstone and common sandpiper.
Greenshank by Jon Evans
There are also various ducks and geese on the Scrape, many if which have youngsters in tow. I've certainly seen greylag, Canada and barnacle geese and mallards with young so far, and at least some of the gadwalls, shelducks, shovelers and tufted ducks will be breeding too - there are certainly more males than females on view, suggesting that some of the females are sitting on eggs.
A highlight of my walk to Island Mere this afternoon was this attentive little grebe with at least two chicks hidden among its feathers as they hitched a lift on mum's (or dad's) back.
There were also at least five great crested grebes on Island Mere, as well as mute swans, cormorants and a coot - the latter are increasingly scarce on the mere, although several pairs nest around the Scrape. Common terns and black-headed gulls were hawking for insects over the reedbed,and I particularly enjoyed watching the awkward attempts of a black-headed gull to catch a dragonfly. It took at least six goes before it was successful. It clearly needs to learn some lessons from the insect-catching master that is the hobby.
Bearded tits, reed buntings, reed and sedge warblers have all been seen well at times from the reedbed hides, while bitterns have been seen feeding close to both Bittern Hide and Island Mere on several occasions over the past week. Otters, too have been regular, while marsh harriers tend to be much easier to spot. The Savi's warbler is still present, but singing less frequently. Is there a nesting female with him? Cuckoos are very vocal at times, too.
Talking of warblers, I was pleased to grab this photo of a whitethroat in the dunes on Saturday. Note the chestnut upperwing, white throat and white outer tail feathers that help with the ID.
Look out for linnets, stonechats and Dartford warblers in the dunes too - the latter two both have fledged young - while a female whinchat was seen over the weekend. Green hairstreak butterflies are also still showing in the hawthorn bush near the East Hide steps.
It's also great to see the swallows back at the sluice, where this male posed for his pictures on Saturday.
Various young birds are fledging the nest in the woods too, including robins, wrens and blackcaps. I found a pair of coal tits nesting close to the visitor centre on Saturday, and the great tits that we've been watching on a screen in the shop fledged this morning. Finally, turtle doves are proving more elusive this year, but have been in various parts of the reserve. Early morning and late afternoon seem to be best for them.
I'll be enjoying the delights of the Scottish Highlands next week, so there may not be any sightings blogs during half term, but don't forget that you can always keep up with news from Minsmere via @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter or the RSPBSuffolk Facebook page.
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