Autumn is often referred to as the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and with crops being harvested in fields, gardens and allotments it seems only right that I should turn the attention this week on some of the wild fruits that can be found around the reserve.
Of course, I should, at this point, emphasise the word "wild" as these fruits will sustain our birds, mammals and even insects through the winter or on their long migrations. Much as we all love to sample the delicious fruits for ourselves, it's important that they are left unpicked by human hands, especially on nature reserves such as Minsmere. OK, I'll admit to eating the odd one or two on today's lunchtime walk, but if you're into wild foraging, please don't do so on nature reserves. In any case, if you're visiting Minsmere, our cafe serves delicious home-cooked food, so there's no need to forage!
That said, there's certainly plenty of food out there this autumn, with huge ripe (and ripening) blackberries hanging in large clusters from bramble bushes, red berries festooning the hawthorns, and deep purple sloes adorning blackthorn bushes, as you can see from these photos taken last week on a stroll through the newly re-opened North Bushes Trail.
As the autumn progresses, these berries will prove vital food for newly arrived migrants from Scandinavia, such as redwings, fieldfares, blackbirds, robins and starlings. For now, they are providing important sustenance for departing warblers and chats as well our resident woodland birds, which are eating both the berries and the insects that are attracted to their sugars. Look out around the North Bushes trail, for example, for blackcaps, chiffchaffs, whitethroats, lesser whitethroats and robins. There have also been a couple of redstarts in this area over the weekend, including this very showy individual that I saw at lunchtime today.
Many birds are taking a break from their migration on the Scrape too. Among the waders refueling on the millions of tiny invertebrates in the mud and shallow water are three little stints, a dozen or so dunlins and ringed plovers, two or three knots, ruffs, green and common sandpipers and spotted redshanks, and 80 or so black-tailed godwits. A handful of avocets remain, but the five curlew sandpiers that were present last week appear to have moved on. Perhaps the most popular waders at the moment, though are the unusually showy snipe that are capitilising on the exposed muddy margins and the disturbance to the soil during the late summer habitat management work. This work will continue on Thursday, but if last week is anything to go by then this will be a good time to visit as the birds were closer to the hides whilst wardens and volunteers cut vegetation on the banks and islands!
The most numerous birds on the Scrape now are ducks, with 650 teals counted on Sunday and increasing numbers of wigeons, gadwalls and shovelers as well as one or two pintails and tufted ducks. While the breeding gulls have long gone, there's often good numbers of the bigger gulls - lesser and great black-backed and herring - roosting on the Scrape. One or two common and Sandwich terns are still popping in from time to time too.
It's been a good few days for spotting birds of prey too. Hobbies are often hunting over the Scrape, and kestrels can be seen around the sluice, North Bushes or Bittern Hide. A peregrine hunts over the Scrape most days, and an osprey passed through on Saturday. Common buzzards and sparrowhawks are regularly seen too, but marsh harriers are a bit harder to spot at the moment as many of our breeding birds have migrated or are feeding around the nearby farmland, searching for rats or young rabbits that have been disturbed by harvesters or ploughing.
Bearded tits and Cetti's are becoming more regularly reported around Island Mere, where bittern and otter sightings are still made every day. Two great white egrets were seen there yesterday too.
Of course, you don't have to walk far to spot birds, and the visitor centre feeders are once again attracting marsh and coal tits alongside the more familiar blue and great tits, as well as goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches and gorgeous magpies. A treecreeper has been spotted around the visitor centre too.
Finally, returning to where I began, it's not just the berries that are providing food for wildlife, and perhaps tempting the dd bit of foraging. fungi are now popping up all over the place, but if you're tempted to forage them then please take care. For example, while the common parasol is evidently edible (I've never tried them myself), the very similar false parasol is poisonous and its close relative, the shaggy parasol can make some people very ill. All three species occur at Minsmere. And just in case anyone needs a reminder of the dangers of picking and eating the wrong type of fungi, i spotted a fabulous clump of the deadly poisonous deathcap in the woods today. This clump is away from the visitor trails, but there may be more out there.