In my last last blog I promised to update on insect sightings, and since then we've spotted a few more goodies, despite the inclement weather. Tuesday, in particular, was a good day for insect watchers, with a notable influx of painted lady butterflies along the dunes. I didn't get a chance to get out myself so missed this influx, but I was pleased to find one of these large migratory butterflies this afternoon. I've subsequently discovered that there have unusually large numbers seen in Scandinavia this spring, too.
With painted ladies arriving in good numbers, several of our visitors were checking carefully among the dunes for more unusual migrant insects, but it was one of our wardens, Paul, who came up trumps with the discovery of a red-veined darter dragonfly. Unfortunately it proved to be mobile and couldn't be relocated, but perhaps it will be forerunner of an influx of this scarce visitor to the UK.
Paul's luck was clearly in that day as not long afterwards he also found an even more unusual visitor - a male vagrant emperor dragonfly. This, too, promptly vanished from view, and with the wet weather returning on Wednesday it was not seen again. However, this afternoon I saw a large brown dragonfly in the same area. Sadly I couldn't get a good view as it flew past at high speed. It may have been a Norfolk hawker, although I've never seen them in the dunes before, but could it have been my first vagrant emperor? I'll never know, but it is certainly worth keeping your peeled around the sluice.
These are, of course, just a handful of the insects that have been seen this week. Norfolk hawkers are present in good numbers, as are both four-spotted and broad-bodied chasers, while red-eyed damselflies can be seen in the usual ditch between Wildlife Lookout and South Belt Crossroads.
You can clearly see the red eyes on this red-eyed damselfly (above) and the barbed legs on this close-up of a four-spotted chaser
As well as various butterflies, it's worth looking out for day-flying moths. Cinnabars are quite common and stand out with their red and black colours, but look carefully around the oak trees in South Belt and you may spot swarms of yellow-barred longhorn moths. We've also seen good numbers of thick-thighed pollen beetles and scorpion flies in this area today. Elsewhere, we expect Digger Alley to burst into life any day now, and the first six-belted clearwings should be out soon.
In bird news, one of the most interesting sightings has been the appearance a several little tents on South Scrape. These are chick shelters, where - once they hatch - our little terns chicks can find both shelter from the elements and protection from predators. Such shelters have proved highly effective in tern colonies elsewhere, both for little terns nesting on beaches and the rare roseate terns that nest on RSPB Coquet Island.
I hadn't been around the Scrape for a few weeks, so it was brilliant to catch my first glimpse of these birds, which are nesting on the Scrape for the first time. Even more exciting was my first sight of the ground-nesting kittiwakes. I still can't believe that we have kittiwakes nesting on the Scrape, but here's the proof (apologies for the poor quality of the photo as they are quite distant from South Hide).
The Scrape looks superb, with nesting gulls, terns and avocets dotted around almost every island, many now with chicks. There are also broods of greylag, Canada and barnacle geese, shelducks and mallards, but the escaped bar-headed geese have now lost their last remaining chick. Black-tailed godwit numbers have increased significantly and four knot and a grey plover were seen today. We're expecting the first southbound spotted redshanks any day now, too.
In the reedbed there are regular sightings of bitterns, marsh harriers, bearded tits and up to four hobbies, as well as singing reed, sedge and Cetti's warbler and reed buntings. The two Savi's warblers continue to sing at Island Mere, and a grasshopper warbler was heard near South Hide on Tuesday, for the first time for several weeks.
Finally, for this week, the variety of flowers is increasing by the day. Southern marsh orchids and yellow flag are bold, bright and obvious around the edge of the reedbed paths, and there's a great clump of common meadow-rue near Wildlife Lookout. The bird's-foot trefoil along North Wall looks superb, with the first common knapweed beginning to flower there. It's along the dunes that some of the best flowers can be seen though, including yellow horned-poppy, sea bindweed (photo below), both English and biting stonecrop and honeysuckle.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654