June is a fantastic month for spotting some of Minsmere's amazing flowers, some of which are featured among our 70 species to spot challenge. One such flower is the southern marsh orchid - whose beautiful pink-purple spikes can be found alongside the path to Island Mere and between Wildlife Lookout and South Belt Crossroads.
Southern marsh orchid
Mention orchids, and many people assume that they are very rare. Indeed, in most cases they are rare in the UK, but there are several species that are relatively easy to spot and widespread. These include common spotted orchid in chalk grasslands, bee orchids on certain grasslands, and southern marsh orchids in wetlands.
Southern marsh orchids are bold, distinctive plants, easily found at Minsmere during late May and June every year., where they often grow alongside another of the 70 species: yellow flag. This iris's large yellow flowers add a vibrant touch of colour to the green of a summer reedbed, making them an easy species to tick off the list in June.
Yellow flag by Ian Barthorpe
Elsewhere within the reedbed, look for the lovely purple chains of tufted vetch or the purple and yellow flowers of bittersweet, whose flowers are reminiscent of tomato or potato flowers - not surprisingly since it is in the same family. In some of the reedbed pools, especially around the Konik Field and South Hide, look out too for patches of persicaria (formerly known as redshank, and not to be confused with the bird of the same name) and water -plantain.
The beach and dunes are also awash with flowers of various colours and shades. One of the easiest to spot is yellow horned -poppy - another of the 70 species to spot. Other common species here include restharrow, with it's pink, pea-like flowers, the conical pink and white flowers of sea bindweed, tiny white stars of English stonecrop, patches of pale yellow tree lupin, and clumps of honeysuckle within the gorse bushes. Look carefully and you might spot the prickly leaves of sea holly, though this shingle specialist is not yet in flower.
Restharrow and sea holly by Ian Barthorpe
There's a different variety of flowers again along the North Wall, where the yellow mats of bird's-foot trefoil dominate, along with daisies and buttercups. The first thistle-like purple flowers of knapweed are now blooming, as are several species of thistle. In other grassy areas look out for the tiny red flowers of sheep's sorrel (another of the 70 species to spot, but one which is now past its best) and the yellow stars of biting stonecrop - especially around the car park.
Biting stonecrop and hound's tongue in the car park by Ian Barthorpe
Of course, with all these flowers, there's a good variety of insects on the wing too, including various butterflies, cinnabar moths, dragonflies, damselflies, hoverflies and bees. These, in turn, provide food for swallows, sand martins, swifts and hobbies that swoop low across the wetlands.
Out on the Scrape, though, it's wetland birds that attract the attention. Numbers of Mediterranean gulls are increasing again as failed breeders from elsewhere join our 35+ pairs, with more than 100 birds scattered across the Scrape this afternoon. Similarly, Sandwich tern numbers have increased to 30+, again suggesting that birds have been unsuccessful elsewhere. There are lots of young black-headed gulls and good numbers of breeding common terns and avocets too. Black-tailed godwit numbers increased to at least 53 today, with one or two knots and dunlins also present, suggesting that birds may beginning their southward migration already - the arrival of the first spotted redshanks or green sandpipers is usually the signal for autumn migration beginning, and they're expected later this week!
Finally, two spoonbills were very popular on East Scrape this afternoon, but it appears that the purple heron, great white egret and red-footed falcon may have moved on once again - the latter was back at North Warren yesterday.