July, 2010

Lakenheath Fen

Lakenheath Fen
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Lakenheath Fen

  • "Three two one: "Cranetastic!"

    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! 


  • Progress!

    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!

  • We are waiting!

    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!