It's really hard to know what season we're in. One day it's raining, the next is beautifully sunny. The weather seems to swing between summer and autumn like the pendulum on an old grandfather clock. Spare a thought, then, for our wildlife, especially the insects that rely on sunny weather to allow them to fly.
Yet, despite this weather, the reserve is absolutely buzzing with insects. Even Buddleia bush is teeming with butterflies; flowering Brambles attract a variety of bees, hoverflies and butterflies, and the grassy areas are alive with crickets, spiders, beetles and more.
For example, our volunteers carried out their weekly walk along a series of transects yesterday, counting butterflies and dragonflies. These transects don't cover the whole reserve, so this list is not comprehensive, but here are the counts they made of 23 different species.
Small Skipper – 4
Essex Skipper – 5
Large Skipper – 3
Brimstone – 1
Large White – 36
Small White – 39
Green-veined White – 35
Purple Hairstreak – 15
Small Copper – 7
Brown Argus – 109
Common Blue – 2
Holly Blue – 4
White Admiral – 11
Red Admiral – 78
Peacock – 159
Comma – 25
Silver-washed Fritillary – 76
Speckled Wood – 19
Grayling – 18
Gatekeeper – 455
Meadow Brown – 150
Ringlet – 58
Small Heath – 4
It's incredible to think that just a few years ago Silver-washed Fritillary (photo above by Peter Norfolk) was considered a rarity at Minsmere, yet now we can see as many as 76 of these huge butterflies in a single day. Perhaps Purple Emperors will become more common in future, too. Sadly, though, this may not be all good news, as it is likely that our warming climate is influencing this spread as much as good habitat management. That's probably not the case, however, with the surprise sighting of a White-letter Hairstreak over the weekend (archive photo below by Pete Etheridge). This butterfly has become increasingly rare and localised as it is reliant on Elm for the caterpillars to eat - and, of course, mature Elms are no longer a feature of the UK countryside due to the impact of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s.
The volunteers don't just count butterflies on these transect walks. They also count dragonflies, and yesterday's count included the following 11 species.
Common Blue Damselfly – 2
Blue-tailed Damselfly – 2
Migrant Hawker – 24
Southern Hawker – 7
Brown Hawker – 5
Norfolk Hawker – 1
Emperor Dragonfly – 3
Four-spotted Chaser – 2
Black-tailed Skimmer – 6
Common Darter – 473
Ruddy Darter – 91
Other insects that have been seen this week include Great Green Bush-crickets along North Wall, Great Silver Diving Beetle larvae on the Sluice track, various bees and wasps on Digger Alley, and Dune Chafers (a type of beetle) also on Digger Alley.
If you love insects, and especially if you have children visiting with you, don't forget to take part in our self-guided Creepy Crawly Creature Trail, which runs every day during the school holidays, or book onto a Pond Dipping session on Mondays, Wednesday or Fridays (photo below by Steve Everett).
For birdwatchers, the changeable weather is more of an inconvenience than anything else, as you have to time walks between the hides very carefully if you don't want to get wet. Showery weather can be quite helpful when looking for waders, as these long distance travellers will settle to rest and feed if caught in a storm. Some may stay for several days, others for just a few minutes. I was disappointed to miss the two Little Stints that were reported on East Scrape this morning, but did enjoy good views of Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff and numerous Black-tailed Godwits, as well as Little Gull, Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns and various ducks. There was no sign of the recent Spoonbills today, though.
Warblers are not so easy to see, or identify, in late summer as most have stopped singing and are busy feeding hungry youngsters or preparing for the long journey south. I was, therefore, pleased to get good views of a Reed Warbler searching for insects around the pond at lunchtime (photo below). It seems to be trying to catch a Gatekeeper butterfly!
Bitterns and Bearded Tits are a bit trickier at the moment, too, though I heard a couple of the latter yesterday and you should be able to spot a Bittern if you are patient enough. At least a couple of Great Egrets remain in the reedbed, Hobbies are often hunting dragonflies overhead, and several Great-crested and Little Grebes are among the moulting ducks at Island Mere. Kingfisher sightings have started to increase, too, as youngsters disperse away from territories upstream.
I'll be away for the next few weeks, so it might be a while till the next update, but keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages to follow what's happening at Minsmere, and I'm sure that some of our regular visitors will post some photo-based Forum threads in my absence. No doubt something exciting will turn up here while I'm not around - the end of July has produced by Black-browed Albatross and Western Swamphen in recent years!
Enjoy your holiday, Ian. I hope you have a fantastic time!
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