In recent weeks the reserve has been much more quiet than usual, lacking the usual community spirit of all the passionate visitors, volunteers, and staff who love this place so much. Whilst we all rightly restrict our movements for the time being, the ornithological world whirrs on unabated with many migrant birds returning to our shores from their warmer wintering grounds around the Mediterranean and elsewhere in Africa. It has been fantastic to hear how many people are still able to engage with and enjoy this spectacle themselves in their gardens, during their exercise, and from their windows, at home.
Singing Sedge Warbler, a migrant from Sub-Saharan Africa
One of the most eagerly anticipated spring migrants for me is the Cuckoo, whose onomatopoeic call can be heard echoing out across the heaths, woods, and wetlands of Minsmere at this time of year. Cuckoos undertake a mind-boggling, caterpillar-fuelled, round-trip migration of over 10,000 miles to Central Africa and back every year: recently a Suffolk breeding Cuckoo, named Carlton II, was tracked by the BTO undertaking this mammoth task for the second time, arriving back at SWT Carlton Marshes to breed last week (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/cuckoo-tracking-project/carlton_ii). Cuckoos are so cool they even have a flower named after them! The Cuckooflower is a dainty light pink flower which can be found growing in the wetland edges on the reserve, named after its propensity to bloom in seeming synchronicity with the calls of the first returning Cuckoos! They also happen to be the foodplant of one of the earlier butterflies you are most likely see in spring, the Orange-Tip.
Orange-Tip butterfly egg on Cuckooflower
Alongside the myriad of Warblers, Hirundines, Swifts, Nightingales, Hobbies, Terns and Cuckoos which have returned to the reserve to breed, many birds are simply passing through onto more northerly destinations to breed. Waders such as Whimbrels and Bar-Tailed Godwits have been feeding on the chapel field amongst the grazing livestock, before continuing north to the Arctic to breed. As these birds are busy establishing territories, or just refuelling for the journey ahead, lots of resident species are already nest building, incubating and feeding chicks. Invertebrate numbers are also increasing with the warming temperatures, with Large Red Damselflies, Hairy Dragonflies, Green Hairstreaks, and Small Coppers all becoming more regular sights.
Whimbrel in the dunes
I can’t wait to see you all back at the reserve soon, in safer times
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