After ten days away from the reserve, it's amazing to see how quickly things have changed. When I left it still felt like mid spring, with very few dragonflies or butterflies on the wing and a chill breeze in the air. By the time I returned on Monday it felt like summer had arrived in a burst of excitement. Insects buzzed and flitted from flower to flower, and young birds could be seen scattered around the Scrape. It was the flowers and insects that my attention most, but as I haven't posted a sightings blog for a while I'll start with a summary of the birds that have been seen. I'll cover the insects and flowers in a second blog later today.
The most exciting news from the Scrape is the presence of good numbers of young avocets. With fewer pairs of black-headed gulls this year, it's easier to see the avocets, which are feistily protecting their young from gulls, crows, and even an itinerant grass snake last week! A couple of pairs of Mediterranean gulls are nesting among the black-heads, and a pair of little terns is nesting on East Scrape. A roseate tern on South Scrape has attracted quite a bit of attention this week, and an Arctic tern was also a brief visitor alongside the common and Sandwich terns. Continuing the black and white theme, two oystercatchers posed nicely outside East Hide yesterday.
There is still a steady stream of northbound waders passing through the Scrape, with summer plumage dunlins, sanderlings (picture below) and turnstones all present throughout the week. Usually we have about a week between the last northbound waders and the first returning waders heading south, but this year they are overlapping as we saw the first spotted redshank of the "autumn" yesterday. Returning snipe and teal were also on the Scrape yesterday. Yes, folks, summer may have only just arrived, but the first signs of autumn are already present in the bird world.
In contrast, there is still plenty of evidence of the late spring with bitterns still booming in the reedbed and nightingales still singing on the heath: both have usually gone quiet by the end of May. Bitterns have become a bit more showy of late - they have obviously read the memo that the hides are open again - and there have been several reports of bitterns and marsh harriers chasing each other around the reedbed. Hobbies are less visible as many have retreated into the woods to nest, but I treated to a close flypast over Whin Hill yesterday. The most obvious birds in the reedbed are the reed buntings that sit prominently on willow bushes and sing their simple song. The tumbling song of sedge warblers and more rhythmical reed warblers fill the air, but the birds themselves often remain frustratingly hidden, as do the much sought after bearded tits. Patience is usually rewarded, though, especially along the North Wall or on the Island Mere boardwalk. The star attraction in the reedbed yesterday, though was this grasshopper warbler that posed, unusually, as it reeled close to he North Wall.
There was another report of a singing male golden oriole near Canopy Hide on Monday, and the woods are still resounding to the songs of blackcaps, garden warblers and chiffchaffs alongside our commoner woodland birds. Several cuckoos are still in full song too. Although sand martins aren't nesting in our bank this year, we are still seeing lots feeding over the reserve, along with swifts and swallows.
Nightjars are back on the heath, and many people (myself included) have reported amazing views at dusk. If you ask at the visitor centre, we can direct you to the best places to look for them. If you prefer the easier option, why not book one of the few remaining places on our nightjar guided walk on 24 June (the walk on 21 June is already fully booked. You can book you place here.
Finally, with news of another large influx of rose-coloured starlings into France and Spain, and one in Suffolk last week, it's worth keeping your eyes peeled for these pink and black visitors among the starlings in your garden. Let us know if you are lucky enough to spot one.
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