I love this time of year. Every walk around the reserve produces a new sighting for the year. While bird migration may be winding down for the spring (though southbound wader migration will start in just a few weeks), there are more and more new insects emerging and flowers blooming, so it certainly pays to walk slowly and look all around you.
For the botanists among our visitors, the summer months bring a host of of exciting species. With the tree canopy in full leaf, the woodland flora is larger over for the summer - though a few bluebells remain in flower - so the stars of the show for the next few weeks fall into three camps: plants found along the edge of our wetlands, plants of dry grasslands, and plants in the dunes.
In the wetlands, look out for the tall and showy yellow iris throughout the reserve, wispy pink flowers of ragged robin in front of North Marsh, and purple spikes of southern marsh orchids alongside the paths around Wildlife Lookout, South Belt Crossroads and Island Mere. The biggest orchids this year seem to be immediately inn front of Island Mere - you have to look down from the windows to see them.
Left to right, yellow flag, ragged robin and southern marsh orchid
On the dunes, look out for large clumps of sea kale, patches of ground-hugging purple sea pea, clusters of yellow horned-poppy, carpets of sea milkwort and spreading patches of pink and white trumpeted sea bindweed (notice a theme there!) as well as much smaller flowers, such as English stonecrop.
Most of the plants on the drier grasslands tend to be quite low, so you may have to get down on your hands and knees for a good look - the only problem being getting back up again! Common species include tiny red spikes of sheep's sorrel, pink-flowered common stork's-bill and various yellow dandelion-like flowers, including common cat's-ear, mouse-ear hawkweed and others. A much less welcome inhabitant of these areas is pirri-pirri-burr, and introduced species form New Zealand that is threatening to take over many patches of grassland at the expense of native species. Our wardens and volunteers are trying hard to remove this invasive species, which spreads by attaching it's burr-covered seeds to clothing and animal fur, through a mixture of back-breaking hand-pulling and spot spraying individual plants.
Pirri-pirri-burr may look attractive but it is an invasive non-native plant
All these flowers inevitably attract insects, with many patches of flowers buzzing with various bees, wasps, beetles and flies on my walk today. Here, my ID skills tend to let me down a bit (I leave that to others), but I can manage to identify Minsmere's butterflies. Species to look out for this week include common blue, brown argus, small copper, small heath and the day-flying cinnabar moth in short grass areas, speckled wood, red admiral, painted lady and brimstone along woodland edges, especially where bramble is flowering. A broad-bordered bee-hawkmoth has been seen a couple of times this week, too.
Cinnabar is one of the more familiar day-flying moths. Look for their yellow and black caterpillars feeding on ragwort later in the summer
Dragonflies and damselflies are becoming more numerous and varied too. I saw my first Norfolk hawker of the year today, and an emperor earlier in the week, as well as swarms of azure damselflies and four-spotted chasers. Other species to look for include variable, large red, blue-tailed and red-eyed damselflies, broad-bodied chasers and black-tailed skimmers.
With so many insects on the wing, there's plenty of food for our warblers, hobbies, robins and pied wagtails - I watched one of the latter catching a four-spotted chaser outside the office this afternoon, and several hobbies hawking dragonflies over the reedbed.
Pied wagtail searching for insects
Marsh harriers and bitterns are regularly being seen over the reedbed, with both species obviously feeding hungry chicks. Be careful, though, as a couple of buzzards are often seen over Island trying to catch out unwary visitors - they are bulkier and differently pattern than marsh harriers. As well as bitterns, keep an eye open for grey herons, little egrets and great egrets in or flying over the reedbed. We had a report of a purple heron again yesterday (one is at nearby Walberswick today). However, there have been no sightings of any of the six(!) glossy ibises since Monday.
Young birds are becoming quite noticeable around the Scrape, with dozens of fluffy black-headed gull chicks on islands on East and South Scrapes and several families of greylag, Canada and barnacle geese and mallards. Good numbers of common terns and several Mediterranean gulls are nesting among the gulls, although numbers of common gulls and Sandwich terns have dropped off as they've moved to nest elsewhere. A few little terns are usually present on South Scrape, and roseate tern spent a couple of days there earlier in the week.
Avocets, lapwings, redshanks and oystercatchers are nesting on the Scrape, and about 100 black-tailed godwits remain, but wader migration seems to be past its peak, with just a few dunlins, turnstones and bar-tailed godwits still passing through, plus odd reports of little ringed and grey plovers this week.
Although the reedbed warblers remain in full song, the woodland birds are much quieter now, with nightingales having more or less finished singing for another year. Cuckoos will remain vocal for a few more weeks though.
This will be last sightings update for a couple of weeks, but you can keep up to date with new from Minsmere on our Facebook and Twitter pages. To find out more about the reserve's varied wildlife, why not book onto a guided walk? You'll find a full list of our events here, including family activities during half term and a book signing by TV presenter, author and naturalist David Lindo, AKA the Urban Birder this Saturday.
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
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience