Your guide to RSPB Minsmere
Reserve warden Paul Green explains why you should visit RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk, this summer.
Why you should visit
RSPB Minsmere is an incredibly beautiful reserve; the many different habitats support a rich variety of wildlife throughout the year. The many hides located around the reserve make wildlife watching particularly easy to enjoy, and you can even catch up with some of the wildlife stars of BBC Two’s Springwatch. This family friendly reserve also has a Wild Zone and Wild Woodland Adventure Zone designed to lead younger visitors along an educational but fun trail.
What you can see
I feel Minsmere really comes to life at this time of year. In the reedbed, bitterns will be feeding young, often flying long distances to and from nests, making this the easiest time of year to see these secretive herons. Marsh harriers will also be feeding young: you may be lucky enough to see a mid-air food pass between the male and female, and the first chicks should be fledging in mid June.
Bearded tits fly low over the beautiful yellow flag irises, before diving into the reeds. Southern marsh orchids line both sides of the path as you approach the boardwalk to Island Mere hide. Spare a moment on the boardwalk, to look down into the warm shallow water for the many male sticklebacks guarding their nests, frantically fanning water over their eggs to keep them oxygenated.
With luck you may spot an otter - they can be seen from this hide throughout the year - or look for tracks and their distinctive spraints along the edges of the wetlands.
On the world famous Scrape, a habitat of shallow lagoons and islands, avocets and other wading birds will be feeding close to the hides. As early as late June, the first returning migrant waders will be heading to their wintering grounds. These are mostly females that have left their mates to care for the chicks, or failed breeders. Look for summer plumage spotted redshanks, black-tailed godwits and ruffs, followed by green and common sandpipers, dunlins and perhaps an early rarity. Common terns feed offshore but return to the Scrape with fish to feed their young. By mid July the first sandwich terns and little gulls begin to pass through too.
The coastal trail around The Scrape passes the Minsmere Sluice where swallows nest and regularly perch close to visitors. The Sluice Bushes look beautiful at this time of year with the bright yellow tree lupins in full flower. Stonechats often perch on the concrete World War II anti-tank blocks that line parts of the Suffolk coast. On calm days, look out to sea and spot harbour porpoise and seals.
On the heathland, the tiny, rare silver-studded blue butterflies are easily observed over the heather. At dusk, the mysterious nightjar will still be churring and is often visible from the paths. Glow worms are always a joy to find in the heather and bracken and if you are lucky you may hear singing natterjack toads.
Top wildlife spot
The pond near the visitor centre, and the adjacent sand martin bank are a hive of activity with many sand martins entertaining visitors as they fly low over your head returning to their burrows with food for their young.
The rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly will still be on the wing, along with emperor dragonfly, four-spotted chasers and many other dragon and damselfly species. If you are lucky, you may see a grass snake hunting amphibians.
Now is also a great time to see butterflies on flowering plants around the reserve. Some of their favourites will be in bloom, such as hemp agrimony, purple loosestrife, and bramble.
How to volunteer
Minsmere has over 150 volunteers helping give nature a home. If you have a ready smile, can you strike up a conversation with just about anyone, there are plenty of opportunities. Don't worry if you don't know your bitterns from bearded tits, there are roles for every skill level - from talking to visitors in one of the reserve’s wildlife hotspots, welcoming visitors, clearing tables and parking cars. For more information on volunteering opportunities visit www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/volunteering/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an application pack.