Wow, what a difference. The hot sunny weather over the last few - though thankfully slightly cooler on the coast - has brought out an incredible variety of insects, while the Scrape is busier with birds than I've seen if for several years.
You don't have to go far to enjoy the best of our insect life, either. Right outside the visitor centre you can watch various butterflies feeding on the buddleia, search for purple hairstreak butterflies in the oak canopy, or wait patiently for a glimpse of an antlion larva flicking sand at an unsuspecting ant to knock it back towards its burrow.
Just a few hundred metres farther on, emperor and Norfolk hawker dragonflies are patrolling the pond (look out for a recently returned water voles too), and then you'll reach Digger Alley. As you can read in Whistling Joe's Forum post, Digger Alley is definitely open for business, so expect to spend some time watching the antics of the beewolves, ornate-tailed beefoxes, green-eyed flower bees, pantaloon bees and red-banded sand wasps - as well as the many other inhabitants of this stretch of sandy path.
If you haven't already had your fill of insects, the flower-filled banks along the North Wall are teeming with life.
Among the knapweeds, ragwort, bird's-foot trefoils and buttercups, you'll spot crickets and grasshoppers hopping out from beneath your feet, while silvery leafcutter bees, green-eyed flower bees, honeybees and various hoverflies flit from flower to flower in search of pollen. It wasn't the these that I was looking for yesterday, though, but a type of day-flying moth that mimics bees as a protection against predators. I managed to find a couple of these six-belted clearwing moths, but you really need to get your eye in to spot them.
Another, more obvious, day-flying moth is the six-spot burnet, which particularly favours the knapweeds as a nectar source, though this one sat on a slender grass stem.
These burnet moths should not be confused with another red-and-black day-flying moth, the cinnabar, which is active earlier in the summer. However, you should check the ragwort plants for their yellow-and-black caterpillars. The ragwort on which they feed contains cyanide compounds, and these accumulate in the caterpillars, making them distasteful to most birds, with the notable exception of cuckoos!
With so much to look out for, you may have taken so long that it's time to return to the cafe for lunch before heading back out to spot the birds on the Scrape, because that could take you a while too. Even walking along the dunes, you'll see common and Sandwich terns flying low overhead on their way to and from fishing trips offshore. You may decide to scan from the dunes (a telescope is useful for this) or to visit the hides for a closer view. If you choose the latter, please note that we are still encouraging visitors to wear masks, maintain social distancing and to respect other visitors to ensure that everyone can continue to enjoy a safe and enjoyable visit to Minsmere.
Once there, the Scrape is heaving with birds. Recent counts have included more than 400 avocets, including many youngsters, and 200 black-tailed godwits. Look carefully among the Icelandic godwits and you might even spot one or two of the mainland European race (that breeds in very small numbers in the Fens).
Alongside these large waders, there's a superb variety of migrants passing through, many in their breeding finery. These include spotted redshanks, greenshanks, green and common sandpipers, ruffs, knot, sanderlings, little ringed plovers and whimbrels. The most numerous of the small waders are the dunlins, of which I counted an impressive 128 yesterday. When in their breeding plumage, with black bellies, these are easy to identify, but with moulting birds already present, the identification challenge becomes more difficult.
It's always worth scanning through dunlin flocks for a little stint or curlew sandpiper, but all I could spot yesterday were a couple of sanderlings and knot (another 20 sanderlings were on the Sluice outfall, too). Then, last night, a visitor found a white-rumped sandpiper among them on South Scrape. This is a rare visitor that should be migrating from Canada to South America, so has attracted quite a few twitchers today. It's not easy to see, as it's staying quite distant from the hide, but I did manage a brief glimpse this afternoon.
South Scrape has also been a haven for tern-watcher recently, with up to six different species present. As well as good numbers of the regular common, Sandwich and little terns, there have been up to five roseate and five Arctic terns, although both species have become less predictable over the last couple of days. The sixth species, black tern, also arrived last night, with up to three birds on South Scrape on and off throughout the day today.
Look carefully and you should be able to spot common, Sandwich and little terns in this picture
Although most of our breeding gulls have begun to disperse, there's still a good variety to see, with up to nine little gulls proving to be one of the highlights.
Elsewhere, bitterns, bearded tits, marsh harriers, reed buntings and reed and sedge warblers are all still still regularly seen throughout the reedbed, with North Wall proving to particularly productive this week. Hobbies are best seen over Island Mere, where several families of great crested grebes can be seen amongst the hundreds of moulting gadwalls and mallards.
The woodland areas are also excellent for butterflies and dragonflies, especially wherever there are flowering brambles of lime trees. Along the Woodland Trail, for example, you should be able to get good views of white admirals, purple hairstreaks and the impressive silver-washed fritillary.
Finally, as regular visitors will know, live is never predictable at Minsmere, and yesterday morning we were alerted to a sighting of adder close to the cafe. Going to investigate, we found this gorgeous black adder (a melanistic variant), nicknamed Jet, carrying a young robin that it had clearly removed from a nearby nest. Searching the area, we found at least two more dead nestlings, too, which the adder had, unfortunately dropped when disturbed. We subsequently closed off that section of path to reduce the risk of people being bitten, and to hopefully allow the adder the chance to return and collect its dinner.
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