I've talked before in these blogs about Minsmere's lions (antlions), wolves (beewolves) and dragons (dragonflies), but did you know that we also have a thriving tiger colony on the reserve. Don't worry, these aren’t the large stripy cats that stalk the jungles of India or Southeast Asia. However, to Minsmere's ants, bees and flies, they are at least as fearsome.
Our tigers are small, green insects, but like their feline namesakes they are voracious predators. These are green tiger beetles, and they are one of the fastest species of insect in the UK. In fact, their long legs allow them to run so fast that they can't actually see where they are going, so they have to keep stopping to regain their bearings as they pursue a hapless ant across the sand. Scaled up to the size of human, they run at the equivalent of about 200 mph. That's quick!
Green tiger beetles aren’t particularly rare, in the right habitat, but can be tricky to spot until they move – and then they are difficult to follow. They live in dry sandy areas, such as heathland. Over the last few days, one or two have been very active around the base of the sand martin bank, attracting a steady stream of human admirers.
In fact, the base of the sand martin bank is a real hotspot for entomologists right now, with the tiger beetles vying for attention alongside a variety of bees and flies. The former include the newly discovered (at Minsmere) early colletes bee, ashy mining-bee, sandpit mining-bee, cliff mining-bee, tricoloured nomad bee, buff-tailed bumblebee and several others. Among the latter, the robber flies are living up to their name and eating some of the smaller Bibio flies, while dark-edged beeflies search for nectar in the ground ivy flowers.
Sandpit mining bee by Steve Everett
It’s not just entomologists finding something to watch there, either. Several adders have been seen are the bank this week – and in various parts of the reserve – as the females emerge from hibernation and the males dance for their attention. A pair of stoats were seen in the area this week, and the sand martins have begun excavating their burrows.
Despite the continued northerly airflow, summer migrants are trickling in. You can now hear blackcaps everywhere in the woods, and sedge warblers throughout the reedbed, and they’ve been joined by first whitethroats in the scrubby areas. One or two hobbies and cuckoos have returned, and we’re expecting the first garden warblers and swifts very soon.
On the Scrape, large numbers of Sandwich terns are now gathering, especially on South Scrape, with numbers fluctuating from about 100 to a peak of 300 a few days ago. Up to 30 common terns were on South Scrape too.
Sandwich terns by Jon Evans
The cold wind means that the black-headed and Mediterranean gulls and avocets haven’t started to nest yet, but they’re still making a lot of noise. Up to 20 bar-tailed godwits are feeding on the Scrape, refueling on their migration to the Arctic, while one or two dunlins, whimbrel, greenshanks and turnstones can be seen too. The first spotted redshanks and common sandpiper of the spring were spotted today.
Most of the regular ducks – shelduck, wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard, shoveler – are still present, but in reduced numbers, and the three species of feral geese – barnacle, greylag and Canada – have again been joined by a pair of escaped bar-headed geese. I also saw my first mallard ducklings of the year today.
In the reedbed, there are regular sightings of bitterns in flight, bearded tits are very vocal around South Hide (but hard to see), Cetti’s warblers are singing in various spots, and marsh harriers are often skydancing overhead. Perhaps the easiest species to spot around the reedbed, though, are the reed buntings, with several gorgeous males perching prominently as they sing.
Another sign of the spring is the return of nightingales to Westleton Heath, where several can be heard but are typically difficult to see. They are sensitive to disturbance, so enjoy their melodic notes from a distance, and don’t worry too much about getting a sighting.
Finally, a reminder that all facilities are now open except for the hides and indoor seating at the café. Unless the government’s roadmap changes, these should open on 17 May. Face coverings are, of course, required in all buildings, including shop, café and toilets (and the hides when they do open), and all adults must now sign in NHS Track and Trace every time you visit.
We look forward to seeing more of you at Minsmere this spring.
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