Over the past month I've regularly reported on the coming of spring, with sightings including incoming migrants, adders, bees and butterflies, as well as an increasing volume and variety of birdsong. After spending the day at the pond yesterday helping to run our family pond dipping activities for the Easter holidays, I was reminded that we are still in early April and winter is still holding a loose grip on us. While not exactly freezing, it was certainly a bit chilly when the sea mist rolled in and the sun disappeared.
One factor influencing the cooler temperature is the wind direction. In these parts, they say that the north wind is a lazy wind because it goes through you rather than round you, and that may be one of the reasons while I felt a bit chilly yesterday. It may be a lazy wind, but it does make it much harder for tired migrants to complete their northbound journeys from Africa, so we've seen fewer new arrivals this week. The wind has switched to the east today, which also brings in cool weather in early spring. It may be a little more favourable for migrants, but it looks likely to be several days before we get the perfect southerly winds back.
Despite the unfavourable conditions for migrants, it's great to see dozens of sand martins back and excavating their burrows above the pond. While we're still expecting many more to arrive (there were 350 active burrows last year), it's a joy to hear their excited twittering as they establish their breeding hierarchy and pair up for the season. There have also been several reports of swallows feeding over the reedbed, and the occasional house martin.
Sand martins at their burrows last spring
Talking of the reedbed, several sedge warblers are now singing around Island Mere, where the Savi's warblers remains, though the latter is only being heard very briefly either very early or very late in day. Hopefully it will be a bit more vocal once temperatures rise. Reed buntings, Cetti's warblers, water rails and bitterns are also vocal around the reedbed, though only the former are easy to see, and marsh harriers are still hunting and displaying over the reeds. A barn owl was seen at Island Mere this morning, though dusk is a better time to spot these silent hunters.
One migrant that has continued to arrive is the Sandwich tern, but as they spend their life at sea they are much better suited to battling into headwinds than our smaller migrants. There has been a notable arrival today with a flock of 20 seen on South Scrape a few minutes ago. Another bird that is beginning to return to South Scrape is the kittiwake. These dainty gulls have become a frequent sight at Minsmere in spring as birds from the nearby Sizewell colony visit the Scrape to bathe and gather nesting material.
A Sandwich tern in flight by Jon Evans
The majority of gulls on the Scrape are black-headed, but there are also well over 100 Mediterranean gulls - the true black-headed gull compared to their chocolate-headed counterparts. There are also several common gulls (mostly second-year birds) as well as herring and lesser black-backed gulls.
Of course, for many of our visitors it's the avocets that are the star attraction on the Scrape, and at least 60 birds are now pairing up and establishing their territories. Other waders include 40+ black-tailed godwits, several pairs of lapwings, half a dozen or so redshanks, dunlins, ringed plovers, turnstones and oysetercatchers, plus one or two of several other species: spotted redshank, ruff, greenshank, bar-tailed godwit, curlew, grey plover and knot have all been seen this week. Meanwhile a jack snipe and three common snipe remain well hidden among the rapidly growing reeds at Island Mere.
The most numerous of our small migrants so far are blackcaps and chiffchaffs, which can be heard throughout the woods. A willow warbler has been heard at the Rhododendron Tunnel and the first two whitethroats arrived in the North Bushes yesterday. We are eagerly awaiting the first nightingale, which should arrive by the weekend - winds permitting.
Blackcap by Ian Clarke
The drop in temperature may not be suitable for insect watching, but our volunteers managed to find at least six species of butterflies during their weekly transect yesterday, including no fewer than 21 peacocks. An impressive emperor moth was found outside the moth trap this morning too. Our volunteers have also been enjoying watching the mining bees below the sand martin bank, where we've seen Clark's mining-bees, cliff mining-bees, Marsham's nomad-bees and common carder-bees. We've also had reports of the wonderfully named chocolate mining-bees, which sound perfect for Easter - I hope someone can find one for me!
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