The return of milder weather has brought out many of our star insects, but things aren't ways quite what they seem. Any patch of flowers is a great place to look for bees, wasps, butterflies and flies, with the carpets of bright yellow biting stonecrop around the car park almost buzzing with insects. Many of these are mining bees, including green-eyed flower-bees and sandpit mining bees, and bumblebees, such as red-tailed and buff-tailed.
Not everything that looks like a bee is necessarily a bee, though, even if the names can be confusing. Our first beewolf of the year was spotted feeding on the stonecrop this morning, for example. Despite the name, this is not a bee, but a wasp that parasites honeybees. They take the unfortunate bees back into their burrows, which are beneath your feet as you walk through the North Bushes, where the developing larva will feed on the paralysed bee! The section of path where the beewolves nest is known as Digger Alley, and this will the centre of attention for many of our visitors and volunteers over the next couple of months as they watch the comings and goings of various mining bees and digger wasps.
Beewolf with bee, by Steve Everett
Another insect that might at first glance appear to be a bee briefly put on a good show outside the visitor centre yesterday. More normally seen hovering around flowers or zooming between bushes in a similar manner to the hummingbird hawkmoth, it's unusual to enjoy prolonged views of a perched broad-bordered bee hawkmoth (photo below). This is a large day-flying moth, and is aptly named, with the broad dark edges to its otherwise clear wings and bee-like patterning.
Whilst watching this lovely moth, I also spotted an interesting pale bee feeding on the flowers of garden asparagus. This greyish bee was unfamiliar, but luckily our volunteer guide, Steve, managed to photograph it and confirm the identification as an ashy furrow-bee, a species that was only recently added to the reserve list. (photo by Steve Everett)
Late June through August is the peak time for watching dragonflies and butterflies, too, and the variety is increasing by the day. Species to look out for include the huge emperor dragonfly, fast-moving Norfolk hawker, four-spotted chasers that obligingly perch on prominent stems, and red-eyed damselflies resting on floating vegetation. Among the butterflies, look for small heath on Whin Hill, common blue in the dunes, and the first meadow browns of the year.
Of course, there are loads of exciting birds to spot too. The star attractions for most birdwatchers at the moment are the the terns. Alongside the nesting common and Sandwich terns, we have a handful of little terns on the Scrape, while roseate terns have risen to an impressive five birds on South Scrape. A second-year Arctic tern takes the tern total up to five different species. With little gull and kittiwake also present too, it's well worth searching through the nesting black-headed gulls.
It's great to see a lot of young avocets still surviving on the Scrape, and a pair of ringed plovers have two lovely fluffy chicks in the dunes - please watch these from a distance to avoid disturbance. In contrast, many birds are already heading back south, having failed to breed further north, or left their mates in charge of the chick-rearing. Up to five spotted redshanks, looking resplendent in their jet black plumage, two green sandpipers, a full summer plumage ruff, a couple of knots and up to 100 black-tailed godwits are feeding on the Scrape, and the first teals and wigeons have also begun to return. More surprisingly, almost 1000 common scoters were seen offshore today!
A wing-stretching avocet close to South Hide
In the reedbed, an elusive purple heron has put in a handful of appearances over the last two days. Luckily, the bitterns have been a bit more reliable, with regular feeding flights and one often feeding in front of Bittern Hide. Marsh harriers and hobbies are regular too, while reed and sedge warblers, reed buntings and bearded tits are also easier to see than usual as they are busy feeding their young.
Bittern at Bittern Hide yesterday
Sometimes, though, it's the familiar species that provide the best viewing opportunities, like this gorgeous wren that was singing alongside the path near Wildlife Lookout on my walk today.
Don't forget that you can now book on a variety of different guided walks and events - see www.rspb.org.uk/minsmere for details.
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