Last week's marsh sandpiper headed off elsewhere after just a couple of days, but there has been no let-up in the wonderful wildlife sightings since its departure. Waders have continued to pass through in good numbers, often lingering close to East Hide, in particular.
One of the joys of watching passage waders in midsummer is that they are still sporting their breeding finery. The spotted redshanks look particularly dandy in their black plumage with small white spots and deep red legs. Male ruffs, however, can cause even more of an identification headache than they usually do since their plumage is quite variable. Both have been present in counts of double-figures.
Here's a male ruff in partial summer plumage, showing the characteristic small head and hunchback that help with ID
Other waders have less variable plumage between the seasons, but can still be hard to tell apart from each other. young birds add further confusion. Our guides have reported several green, wood and common sandpipers, greenshanks, dunlins, knot, ringed and little ringed plovers, whimbrels and curlews this week, as well as up to 350 black-tailed godwits and 200 avocets. The latter still have a few chicks too.
Talking of chicks, we can now confirm that the little terns have fledged at least five chicks, with another five still being fed by their parents. As the black-headed and Mediterranean gulls have mostly fledged their young the adults have moved off elsewhere. In their place come little gulls, common and Sandwich terns from breeding colonies elsewhere.
Numbers of ducks on the Scrape are beginning to swell as teal and the first wigeon begin to return to join the resident gadwalls, mallards and shovelers. They do, however, all pose a real ID challenge in their drab "eclipse" plumage of their post-breeding moult.
A young little gull by Steve Everett
Young birds are also prominent in the reedbed where several dark brown, ginger-capped juvenile marsh harriers are practicing their flying skills, and family parties of reed and sedge warblers and bearded tits can be seen. Our guides have also seen a couple of juvenile bitterns in the reedbed from Bittern Hide this week.
However, it's been a couple scarcer herons that have attracted attention. A lovely adult purple heron was reported briefly from Bittern Hide on Sunday and showed well on Monday evening, while a great white egret has been seen once or twice too. Both are best seen when they decide to fly, which makes them hard to locate, so they may still be present. With several little egrets and grey herons around as well, it's a good time of year to see herons at Minsmere. Three otters put on a good show at Bittern Hide yesterday morning, and another crossed the path close to South Belt Crossroads as a guided walk was passing yesterday!
Purple heron by Jon Evans
The purple heron is not the only purple animal seen from Bittern Hide this week, as the canopy-level vantage point allows visitors good views of purple hairstreak butterflies in the tops of the oak trees - Canopy Hide is an even better place to look for these difficult to find butterflies. As you can see from the photos, neither the heron nor the butterfly are actually very purple!
Purple hairstreak by Jon Evans
There are some impressive counts of butterflies at the moment. Up to nine silver-washed fritillaries have been seen on the Woodland Trail - it's only a couple of years ago that this huge orange butterfly was a rarity at Minsmere. The Woodland Trail is also the place place to look for white admiral butterflies. The commonest butterflies this week, though, are ringlets, with more than 450 counted by our volunteers on their weekly transect walks yesterday. In fact they counted 1151 butterflies in total yesterday - exactly the same as on last week's count - of 22 species. They also found more than 250 dragonflies of 11 species, including the first willow emerald damselflies of the year.
Silver-washed fritillary by Robin Harvey
Digger Alley also continues to attract the crowds enthusiastically watching the antics of the beewolfs, pantaloon bees, green-eyed flowers and friends. You read more about these in Whistling Joe's recent Forum posts here and here.
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