As is often the case in late June/early July, it's been hard to know where best to send visitors recently. It certainly helps if we know what you are most keen to see: for Bitterns or Hobbies go to Bittern Hide or Island Mere; for Avocets or terns go to East or South Hides; for butterflies try the North Wall or Woodland Trail; or for insects in general then head to Digger Alley.
But perhaps that is simplifying things a bit too much. After all, Bitterns can be seen flying over the North Wall, butterflies almost anywhere, and there's always something unexpected, somewhere.
One of the highlights over the last few weeks has been up to two stunning Spoonbills on the Scrape. Despite their size, Spoonbills can be very frustrating to see as they often spend much of their time asleep, huge bill hidden amongst their white feathers, or remain annoying distant at the back of any pools. That was certainly the case on a few days this week, but not when I visited East Hide recently. Then, one was actively feeding and preening just a few metres from the hide, allowing me get some great photos and a video that clearly show the ungainly beak in all its glory.
Several migrant wading birds can also be seen on the Scrape, pausing on their journey south from the Arctic, including both Ruff and Spotted Redshank in their breeding finery, as well as Common and Green Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover and about 80 Black-tailed Godwits.
It's great to see the first Avocet, Common Tern and Black-headed Gull chicks fledging, with more parents busy feeding chicks. We also have a few pairs of Little Terns nesting on the Scrape, giving great views from East Hide - and impressive 40 birds were seen today. There's still a few Sandwich Terns and Kittiwakes on South Scrape too.
Common Terns by Steve Everett
As well as Bitterns, if you sit in Bittern Hide or Island Mere for any length of time then you should see Marsh Harriers, Hobbies and Reed Buntings, and hear Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers. Bearded Tits are present, too, but not necessarily easy to see well at this time of year. There are at least four Great Egrets in the reedbed, but you need to wait for them to fly between pools to catch a glimpse. A little easier are the Little and Great Crested Grebes among the moulting ducks on Island Mere. Look carefully and you should spot some humbug-stripe grebe chicks. It's also worth looking for the four Pochard that are often hiding within the flock.
If insects are your thing, then things are really starting to pick up. The Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral butterflies are out along the Woodland Trail, along with Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods, while Large, Small and Essex Skippers can be seen along North Wall, and the first Graylings and Gatekeepers have now emerged too. Look there, too, for lovely black-and-red Six-spot Burnet moths, or the yellow-and-black striped Cinnabar moth caterpillars.
Silver-washed Fritillary by Peter Norfolk
Of course, the real insect attraction in July is Digger Alley, which is literally buzzing with Green-eyed Flower-bees (photo below by Steve Everett). Their incessant buzz can actually get quite annoying after a while. I must have counted almost 100 of these gorgeous little bees yesterday.
It's great to see the Beewolves emerging now, and there are also good numbers of Ornate-tailed Bee-foxes, Pantaloon Bees, Silvery Leaf-cutter Bees, Sharp-tailed Pointy-bum Bees and Red-banded Sand Wasps, as well Ruby-tailed Wasps and the fly-stabbing Oxybellus uniglumis (photo below by Steve Everett). That's just a tiny fraction of the insect life that our fabulous guides have identified along the short stretch of path known as Digger Alley.
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