With the school holidays in full swing the visitor team have been busy running our usual popular family activities. If you are planning a visit with your children or grandchildren, then there's plenty for them to do, apart from the amazing wildlife watching. Old favourites like den building and the sand martin tunnels have been joined by a nature library in the woods and our Discovery Trail, complete with brass rubbings.
The Waveney Bird Club have ringed around 100 birds during today's ringing demonstration, about half of which were reed warblers. Others included reed buntings, sedge warblers, whitethroats and blue tits. These demos will continue every Thursday until the end of October. During August we are dissecting owl pellets on Tuesdays - I always love the concentration on the faces of the adults as well as the parents as they discover the tiny bones of voles, mice and shrews. Mondays and Wednesday are pond dipping, with highlights this week including water stick-insects, water scorpion, great diving beetle larva, backswimmers and dozens of young newts. (Quiz time: who knows what a young newt is called?). If we are pond dipping it's always worth popping down onto the pond dipping platform to have a look in the highlights tank.
The pond area is worth checking for dragonflies too. Whilst pond dipping we were regularly buzzed by southern, brown and Norfolk hawkers, as well as enjoying great views of blue-tailed, common blue and emerald damselflies. The latter included this beautiful mating pair.
The nearby Digger Alley continues to attract a lot of interest, with good numbers of ruby-tailed (or jewel) wasps, green-eyed flower-bees and beewolves, as well as pantaloon bees, fly-stabbing wasps and the wonderfully named pointy-bum bees. I finally managed to find one of the latter today.
Pointy-bum bee by Steve Everett
It's hard to ignore the butterflies too, with clouds of peacocks, red admirals and painted ladies on almost any flower, gatekeepers around any patch of bramble or gorse, and graylings camouflaging superbly on Whin Hill and the dunes, while both white admiral and silver-washed fritillary are still along the Woodland Trail.
For birdwatching, though, it's the Scrape that holds the biggest attraction at the moment. The last few days have seen some superb numbers of migrant wading birds passing through, including reserve record counts of 65 greenshanks and 33 wood sandpipers.
There have also been double-figure counts of green, common and curlew sandpipers, ruffs, spotted redshanks and dunlins, plus a few little stints, whimbrels, sanderlings and both ringed and little ringed plovers. While these might all pose a an ID challenge, the same can't be said for the impressive flock of up to 300 avocets that are currently gracing the Scrape.
Although the wader numbers are impressive, and the avocets and black-tailed godwits can be pretty vocal, the Scrape certainly sounds quieter with the departure of most of the gulls and terns, though there ares till a few little, common and Sandwich terns present. There are also good numbers of eclipse-plumage ducks, which have included a couple of garganeys on a few dates, as well as more familiar species such as greylag, barnacle and Canada geese.
The reedbed is generally quieter at the this of year, as most birds have stopped singing, but this makes it easier to pick out the pinging calls of bearded tits, several of which were showing very well near the Konik Field today. With patience you should be rewarded with views of hobbies and marsh harriers from Bittern Hide, and possibly bitterns or otters from either there or Island Mere.
One highlight of my walk around the Scrape with my family today was this small group of linnets bathing in a puddle along the sluice track. Other flocks are present int he dunes, along with stonechats, whitethroats and Dartford wearblers.
Finally, and returning to some of Minsmere's smaller residents, August is the month for searching for wasp spiders in the long grass in the dunes, and, sure enough, I saw my first one of the year today thanks to the vigilant eyes of one of our regular photographers. They can be tricky to spot and are easily disturbed, though, so please don't try to get too close when photographing them.
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