Earlier in the week I focussed on waders in my last blog. Today is a chance to look at some of the other amazing wildlife that is on show at the moment. Pride of place probably goes to this stunning female adder that has been seen along the North Wall on several days this week. She favours the area the North Wall sluice, and likes to use the stony path as a basking spot because it's warmer than in the surrounding vegetation - so watch where you step.
You can tell this a female because she's brown, with brown zigzags. Male adders are grey or greenish with black zigzags. Early spring is always the most reliable time of year to spot adders, but as this female shows, they can be seen almost anywhere on the reserve, at almost any time of year between late February and October (and even very rarely on sunny days in midwinter).
The action is rapidly winding down in Digger Alley, although there are still good numbers of beewolves ferrying paralysed honeybees back to their burrows. There's also been the odd sighting of ornate-tailed bee-foxes, green-eyed flower-bees and pantaloon bees this week. With warmer weather expected next week, there may be a short final burst of activity here before the season finally comes to an end. Badgers often dig up the nests of bumblebees and wasps, and yesterday we found the remains of this nocturnal feeding foray close to Island Mere Hide. Not surprisingly, the remaining wasps were a little bit annoyed by this, so please take care if you do happen to locate a badger's leftovers!
Our butterflies are, of course, much more benign insects, and it's great to see a good variety still around despite the overcast conditions. Red admirals are probably the most numerous, but I was pleased to see another small tortoiseshell near the pond today as these butterflies have been quite scarce in recent years. Small copper, speckled wood and gatekeeper are still active around the North Bushes, and common blue and grayling can be found in the dunes.
Of the dragonflies, common and ruddy darters and migrant hawkers are now the most numerous, but you might also find a few brown or southern hawkers. Common emerald damselflies are best seen at the pond, while the similar willow emerald damsels can be found in the adjacent trees, or along the ditch between South Belt Crossroads and Wildlife Lookout.
September is a good month for looking for migrant songbirds, and it's worth checking any area of coastal scrub, especially where there's a healthy crop of blackberries. The North Bushes is a particularly good area to look, and we've now opened the seasonal trail through this patch of scrub to increase your chances of spotting some migrants. I had good views of a female redstart this morning, and earlier in the week I watched common and lesser whitethroats, blackcap and garden warbler all feeding in the same bush, with this female bullfinch gorging herself on ragwort seeds just below them.
The dunes and Sluice Bushes are also good places to look for migrants, with sightings of wheatear, whinchat and pied flycatcher this week.
Some birdwatchers prefer to spend their time staring out to sea in their quest for passing migrants, and one of our regulars was duly rewarded yesterday with four sooty shearwaters, several Arctic skuas and a beautiful juvenile Sabine's gull close to shore. The latter is one of the best looking seabirds in the world, but is a scarce visitor to the Suffolk coast, so it's very much a case of right place, right time, rewarding many hours of effort.
Of course, seawatching is certainly not for everyone, and spending a bit of time scanning the Scrape is generally a much more productive to spend your time at Minsmere. As mentioned in my last blog, there's still a good variety of waders present, with a little stint remaining the highlight among the dunlin flock. Other waders to look out for this week include green and common sandpipers, dunlin, sanderling, ringed and little ringed plovers, spotted redshank, ruff, black-tailed godwits and, of course, avocets. A purple sandpiper spent a few days feeding on the sluice outfall this week, too, alongside turnstones and an oystercatcher.
Purple sandpiper by Christine Hall
Other birds on the Scrape include grey heron, little egret, kingfisher, common and Sandwich terns and good numbers of our commoner ducks. A bittern continues to feed in front of Wildlife Lookout, with regular sightings of others in flight from Bittern Hide and Island Mere. A juvenile water rail is proving very popular at Bittern Hide, and there are still little and great crested grebes with young on Island Mere. A couple of hobbies are hunting around the reedbed, too, with regular sightings of marsh harrier and common buzzard.
What else will this week's visitors manage to find for us? Let us know, and keep up to date with news from the reserve, via our Twitter and Facebook pages.
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