As usual, I'm sitting down to write a blog and the weather is a central theme. But then, I suppose, that's a core part of many conversations amongst us Brits. Weather, football and food could just about sum the core themes of many conversations. Thankfully, as more and more people have been able to reconnect with nature over the past 15 months, nature is creeping into more of those conversations too.
I'd better start with the weather. After a week or so of hot, sunny and, at times, humid weather, yesterday saw the return of rain. While some rain was much needed by gardeners and conservationists, you can, as the saying goes, have too much of a good thing. Yesterday's rain fell mostly as heavy and, at times, prolonged showers. This morning it has been more constant, and even heavier, leading to a torrent flowing down the steps from the car park to the visitor centre, and deep puddles on some of the paths.
The rain has eased, for now, although it remains dull and breezy, but we are expecting more rain over the next few days. Therefore, we recommend that you wear sturdy, waterproof boots, unless, like me, you are happy to wade through ankle deep water in sandals! The path to Wildlife Lookout is especially wet in places.
Of course, such quantities of rain in a short space of time can have a detrimental effect on wildlife. It's too early to know how much impact it will have on the breeding success of our ground nesting birds, although the positive news is that several pairs of avocets have quite well grown chicks that are more likely to be able to withstand the rain. The black-headed gull chicks should be alright, too, as they can swim. We may get some idea about whether any bittern nests have failed when the volunteers undertake their weekly survey on Thursday.
Avocet chicks at South Hide earlier in the week
Many of our songbirds have already fledged their first broods, and there are young tits, finches and warblers around the reserve. An indication that some of these species are now on second broods is that the amount of birdsong as males continues to defend their territories. You should hear (if not see) reed, sedge and Cetti's warblers and reed buntings singing in the reedbed, while bearded tit are best heard and seen from the North Wall or Island Mere boardwalk.
In the woods, blackcaps, garden warblers and chiffchaffs are still singing, as are the ubiquitous robins and wrens, while I've heard nuthatches near the work centre again this week.
One of the most notable features of a visit to Minsmere in late June is the return of the first southbound wading birds. These are either failed breeders, or females who are returning south having left the males to bring up the chicks in the Arctic. In most cases, they are also in their finest breeding plumage, which we're only lucky to see in the UK for a few weeks in mid summer. This week there have already been up to five spotted redshanks, two greenshanks, 80 black-tailed godwits and odd turnstone or sanderling (although the latter two might even still be heading north!).
Spotted redshank in summer plumage
Terns are also a feature of midsummer. Alongside the regular breeding common terns we have one or two pairs of little and Sandwich terns on the Scrape, and there have been almost daily reports of at least one Arctic tern this week.
We have been seeing some impressive numbers of dragonflies this week, especially Norfolk hawkers, four-spotted chasers and azure and variable damselflies. Not surprisingly, they've not been very noticeable today, but I'm sure that once the sun comes back out there will again be lots on the wing. Butterflies have been a bit less numerous, although it's been nice to see common blues along the North Wall and small heaths on Whin Hill this week. Again, the sun is key for butterfly watching, and July is usually one of the best months to see them, so we hope the weather will pick up again soon. The rain is also likely to delay the emergence of the first beewolves along Digger Alley, but we have already seen several green-eyed flower-bees and red-banded sand wasps.
Norfolk hawker, AKA green-eyed hawker - you can see their huge green eyes
Finally, southern marsh orchids at Island Mere, yellow flag in the reedbed and bird's foot trefoil along the North Wall all add a welcome touch of colour on a dull wet day.
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