It is amazing how things go. Until recently, it has been very difficult to see cranes on the reserve, as our resident birds have been busy with breeding activity. They have been keeping their heads down, and flying infrequently. However, all of a sudden there has been a flurry of crane activity on the reserve. Today (July 30th) for example, there has been an amazing count of six cranes sighted on the reserve.
These six birds include our two resident pairs, plus two other very special birds. The birds were seen as a three, a two and a one. The three were the pair known as "Little and Large" with their newly fledged youngster (which may be christened "Ginger Nut"!) Over the last week or so, our happy family have been seen in various parts of the reserve, so the parents are giving their youngster the guided tour.
The two were our other resident pair. This pair aren't seen as often as Little and Large, mainly because their territory is further down the reserve and they are only really ever seen in flight from the Joist Fen viewpoint. The two pairs are very territorial, and very rarely mix. Indeed, if one pair strays two close to the other, a bugling match usually begins! Cranes are noisy birds, so if the two pairs are having a "discussion", you will proabbly hear about it!
Finally, although we don't know this for certain, the single bird that was seen on the reserve may well have been "Tiny", Little and Large's youngster from last year. Tiny was a very special bird, as he or she was the first sucessfully fledged crane in the Fens for over 400 years. Thinking back to last year, Little, Large and Tiny were inseparable, and were often seen in flight or on the ground from Joist Fen viewpoint. This union lasted until late February this year, when Tiny was driven out of it's parents territory. Since then, Tiny has not been seen on the reserve. However, the sighting of a single crane certainly fills up with hope that this very special bird has returned.
These sightings certainly bode well for the future. Who knows, there may be flocks of cranes in the Fens in years to come! Watch this space. If you would like to come and see our cranes, your best bet is to spend some time at the Joist Fen viewpoint. They are very distinctive in flight, with their huge wingspan, and the fact that both their neck and heads are held out straight. Good luck!
It has been quite an eventful week! It seems that our resident bitterns are going from strenght to strength. It seems that we had settled on three active nests on the reserve. However, after an extensive watch by staff on Friday July 23rd, it now seems that there are an amazing five nests on the reserve this year. This is great news, as it means that there is one more nest on the reserve this year compared to last year. Adult bitterns are being seen in flight fairly often in feeding flights across the reedbed so if you are lucky, you might be rewarded with good views of these elusive birds.
I am also very pleased to say that after all of the worries and waiting, our crane chick is now flying. It can now be seen flying around with its parents, "Little" and "Large". If you would like to come and see these majestic birds, pop into the visitor centre and we will let you know the best place to look for them. The other resident pair of cranes on the reserve are also present, so if you are really lucky, you might see all five!
Marsh Harriers continue to be seen regularly on the reserve. Young birds have been seen being taught to hunt by their parents recently. Parites of bearded tits are starting to explore other parts of the reserve now. Today, (July 26th), several groups were having a "mooch" around the Brandon Fen family trail. A partially leucistic young bearded tit was photographed on the reserve recently. It really does look rather bizzare, and it has been cause of some debate for visitors and volunteers alike who have tried to identify it!
In other news, we are still getting several passage waders on the washalnd. These have included small groups of green sandpipers, and larger groups of lapwings and black tailed godwits. Two whimbrels also dropped in July 24th and there was a common sandpiper on the same day. In insect news, there has been several sightings of hummingbird hawkmoths on the reserve recently. If you have never seen one, they really do look like those American birds that have an amazing habit of flying backwards!
Some birdwatchers bemoan the months of July and August as the "inbetween months", as most birds have stopped singing and are beginning to moult after the stress of the breeding season. However, it is not worth wishing these months away, as the Lakenheath Fen "baby boom" is well and truly underway.
Our resident bitterns have been working hard to feed up their hungry chicks, and several young bitterns have now been seen. One of them has been behaving in a very "unbittern" like way. It has recently taken to perching in a bush out in the open. This is a far cry from their usual behaviour of skulking unseen through the reedbed!
Marsh harriers are also doing well this year. Out of the thirteen active nests on the reserve, over twenty five young have already fledged, and we are still counting! They are on course to beat last years record, when twenty six young were fledged out of ten sucessful nests. It is dangerous business to say that you are guaranteed to see a marsh harrier if you come here at the moment, but i'll just say its very likely!
We are still waiting to see what our cranes are going to do. One pair has got one young, and we are hoping that it will fly in the next few days. This would repeat the success of last year, when the same pair sucessfully raised the first young crane in the Fens for over 400 years. That bird was christened Tiny, so who knows what this year's young will be christened! The latest suggestion is Tiny (2)! Watch this space.
Unfortunately, we are still in the dark about how our golden orioles have done this year. We do not know for certain whether the birds nested successfully this year, but a report of a family of orioles on July 10th was encouraging. The birds have become extremely elusive now, and they will soon be heading off back to Africa. Let's hope that they will be easier to study next year!
In other news, there are plenty of insects on the wing at the moment. There are a good selection of butterflies to see at the moment. These include gatekeepers, commas and brimstones. Dragonflies and damselflies are also quite prominent at the moment. These include brown hawkers, ruddy darters and emperor dragonflies.
Mid-July is also the best time on the reserve for fenland plants. The reserve is currently awash with colour, with plants such as purple loosetrife, marsh woundwort and tufted vetch. A new plant for the reserve was found on July 18th. It was flowering rush, a plant with a pretty little pink flower that is thinly distributed across Britain. It is always nice to see things like this, even if we had to trample through some undergrowth to do so!
As the majority of Britain has been bathed in warm sunshine for the last few weeks, you may wonder why I am celebrating the start of Autumn. It does seem strange, but for some birds, especially wading birds, the summer is over. The months of July-September are when wading birds from further north and the Arctic start moving south once again. This is because the Arctic "summer" is so short, that the birds are always in a real hurry to nest before the weather closes in again, and are then eager to move south to warmer climates once again.
At this time of the year, a lot of the birds seen are juveniles that have been born in the Arctic that are making their first migratory journey south. The lack of rain that we have had recently actually benefits these waders, as the water levels of many pools and lakes are at their lowest, thus exposing some mud at the edges. This mud acts as a fast food restaraunt for these birds, as they can feed up and refuel to give them an energy boost on the way south.
Here at Lakenheath Fen, the washland pools that act as flood storage areas for the Little Ouse river have become a bit of a magnet for waders during the last week or so. Along with our resident redshanks, oystercatchers and lapwings, we have also had several other passage waders using these pools to refuel. On Friday July 9th, there was a juvenile little ringed plover, a ruff and a couple of green sandpipers on one of the pools. These birds offered relativley close views, a many waders born in the Arctic have never seen people before and therefore don't see us as a threat.
There have also been small parties of greenshanks and black tailed godwits passing through, so the riverbank is the place to be at the moment! In other news, bitterns, marsh harriers and bearded tits are still being seen fairly regularly on the reserve, along with a wide selection of warblers. We are keeping our fingers crossed as Little and Large, one of our pairs of cranes have got young at the moment, and we are hoping that the family party will show themselves on the reserve in the next week or so. Watch this space!
Around 2,500 species of moth have been recorded in Britain. Of them, around 300 species have been recorded at Lakenheath Fen. One of the rarest and most elusive is the marsh carpet moth, anf this beautiful insect has been causing quite a stir this weekend.
The catterpillars of marsh carpet moths only feed on common meadow rue, which is a dainty fenland plant that is quite similar to meadowsweet. The larvae are extremely well camoflagued against this plant, and this provides quite a challenge when trying to count them! Every year, we count the catterpillars, and from our results, we believe that we have one of the largest populations in Britain.
The adult moth is small, like most of the other carpet moths, but they are beautifully marked. They are a mixture of sandy brown with broad black bands. They are strictly nocturnal, but are some times attracted to light.
I am very pleased to report that at our wild camp out and moth morning this weekend, we caught not one, but two of these stunning insects. Both male and the slightly larger female were caught, and the male was on display in the visitior centre during Sunday 4th July. I've worked here for getting on two years now, and i've never seen a marsh carpet moth until now. Therefore I couldn't be happier with this weekends findings, as I have finally seen one of the reserve's specialists that I have spoken so much about!
We caught a wide range of other moths of all shapes and sizes from large hawk moths such as elephant, poplar and eyed to smaller species such as the twig like buff tip.
In other news, Autumn has oficially began, at least in the wader world. During this last week, several green sandpipers have been seen flying over the reserve. These are likely to be juveniles thst have recently fledged during the short Arctic brreding season. There have also been reports of groups of black tailed godwits passing through the reserve. These are either birds returning from the Arctic, or birds dispersing from theie breeding grounds further west in the Fens.