A golden oriole was singing from the poplars early morning, a count of 44 hobbies was made from the Joist Fen viewpoint and six bitterns are booming. Is there any doubt that May is the best month for birding?
A ring ouzel was found in hawthorns along the river bank near the visitor centre 18 April. This bird, a male, was just passing through on its way to a rocky upland valley somewhere further north. Ring ouzels are superficially similar to blackbirds but seen well they look and behave quite differently. Besides the white crescent on the breast, the wings have quite obvious pale panels, which look silvery in flight. Ring ouzels are often very wary and flighty on passage, this bird spent most of its time hidden deep amongst the foliage of the river-side bushes. They have a wild quality which blackbirds seem to have lost due to them spending their existence in close proximity to humans. They're good birds, a brief taster of northern wilderness and worth trying to catch up with in spring.
The first hobby of the year was seen 18 April, two whimbrel flew over 19 April.
After such a long cold winter any signs of progress into spring are eagerly anticipated and looked for. After a slow, faltering start throughout March, with a few chiffchaffs, and the odd sand martin, things are now quickly getting up to speed. Most of the expected early spring migrants can now be seen or heard on a stroll around the reserve. Good numbers of sedge warblers are now singing from the reedbeds. Reed warbler, always a bit later, was first heard 15 April. A grasshopper warbler was reeling from near the carpark on the same day, evening is perhaps the best time to hear this species. Willow warblers are passing through and can be heard singing in the mornings, blackcaps will stay to breed in the poplar woods. Numerous whitethroats will have inhabited any scruffy, brambly patch in a few days time, the first was early 8 April. Yellow wagtails tend to be seen flying over at this time of year, drawing attention to themselves with their distinctive call, 35 used the reedbed to roost 8 April. Swallows and sand martins are being seen in small groups, often just passing through as they follow the river en route elsewhere. The first house martin was bang on schedule 15 April. Two drakes and a female garganey made for a fine sight amongst a small group of teal on the washland 16 April. An avocet was seen along the river 13 April but the water level is too high so it did'nt linger. The resident species including cranes, bearded tits and marsh harriers are all being seen regularly, five bitterns boomed on one evening last week.
The warmest days recently have encouraged the first butterflies onto the wing with red admiral, peacock, small tortoishell and brimstone all seen.
You may or may not know that Lakenheath Fen was created as a reedbed nature reserve to provide nesting habitat for bitterns. After the sucess' of the breeding seaon last year, when bitterns nested sucessfully at the reserve for the first time, our resident birds are gearing up for the nesting season once again.
Bitterns are famous for their outstanding "booming" call. This is often likened to the sound of somebody blowing through a bottle and carries for up to three kilometres! Bitterns were first heard booming on the reserve this year on Good Friday (April 2nd). We had four "boomers" at the reserve last year so hopefully we will do as well if not better this year.
Bitterns are usually very difficult to see, and if they do fly it is often low over the reedbed and then straight down again. However, if you are very lucky at this time of year, you may see bitterns display flying. This remarkable behaviour involves up to six birds circling high over the reedbed resembling a cyclone of chunky brown herons! This behaviour may be encountered at any time of day, but early in the morning is often the most reliable.