Migration has well and truly began here at Lakenheath Fen. If you have been following my blog recently, you will know that last week was a pretty good week. I'm glad to say that this week is shaping up quite nicely as well. Although the weather has been quite trying at times, there have still been some good birds around.
On Sunday, one of our local birders saw a phalarope in flight from Joist Fen viewpoint. Unfortunately, it couldn't be identified but by how pale it was, it was most likely to be a grey phalarope. Small numbers of phalaropes are usually seen in the autumn in Britain as they are blown across the Atlantic as a result of hurricanes in the USA. Indeed, the only other record of this species on the reserve was in October 1987 which coincided with the hurricane that hit southern Britain!
Another unusual sighting was provided by a woodlark flying over Brandon Fen this morning (September 28th.) This species breeds in reasonable numbers in nearby Thetford Forest. However, this is only the third record of this charming little bird on the reserve. They can be told in flight by their fluty calls, which are sometimes described as "teet looet!"
Also in Brandon Fen this morning, there was a notable arrival of thrushes. This included at least 10 mistle thrushes, a couple of song thrushes and even small numbers of redwings. This is usually a sign of things to come, as we usually get good numbers of thrushes passing through in the autumn. As well as the species mentioned above, we can expect fieldfares and if we are lucky, one or two ring ouzels. Even the humble blackbird has been known to migrate at this time of year.
It has been a very good week for birds of prey on the reserve. It has been so good in fact, that nine species have been seen on the reserve. Along with our resident kestrels, sparrowhawks and marsh harriers, there have been all sorts of other goodies. As previously reported, we still have up to eight hobbies feeding over the reserve before they migrate south for Africa. We anticipate that they will be leaving in the next week or so.
We have also had some more unusual sightings recently. Common buzzards are being seen more and more regularly in the Fens and the Brecks and this has been reflected by the fact they are seen more and more regularly on the reserve. One was seen flying over the visitor centre on Friday 17th, so keep your eyes peeled for these impressive birds.
At this time of year, birds of prey are also on migration. Visitor reports of both osprey and a male hen harrier have added to the interest. The osprey will be heading to Africa, and the hen harrier wills also being heading south, though it may just be heading to the coast for the winter. You have to be lucky to see these species here, but they pass through in small numbers.
That leaves two other species. This morning (Friday 24th). I saw a female merlin flying low through Brandon Fen. This may have been a migrant, but they have also been known to winter on the reserve. Last but not least, the escapee harris hawk is also still at large on the reserve, so if you are really lucky, you can really rack up the numbers at this time of year!
The weather in the last week certainly has been changeable. The first half of the week was warm and sunny, there were bearded tits all over the place and there were quite a few visitors on site. However, as I look out of the window this morning, it is wet, cold and there aren't many people around. Don't you just love autumn?!
There are certainly birds on the move at the moment. Yesterday morning, during a walk around the Brandon Fen family trail, there seemed to be birds moving in all directions. A small group of swallows flew south. These birds were obviously flying to warmer climates for the winter. Shortly after that, there was the slightly more unusual sight of six common snipe flying north. These could just be local birds, but they certainly seemed to be flying with a purpose as if they were on there way to a different climate!
There has also been small arrivals of meadow pipits and stonechats. Both of these species winter in small numbers on the reserve, but they may just be passing through. It is worth looking and listening carefully to the pipits, as there may be one or two water pipits amongst them. They are scarce winter visitors to Britain, but there are usually one or two on the reserve at this time of year.
Cetti's warblers are very difficult birds to see on the reserve, but their presence is usually betrayed by their loud song. There has been one roaming around in Brandon Fen recently, so if you hear part of an abrupt, loud song (you don't hear the full song very often at this time of year), it will be hiding somewhere nearby! When seen well they are an attractive bird with warm brown upperparts. If you are patient and lucky, you may be rewarded with views of this elusive bird.
We have now located our cranes. They have been feeding in a field in the Fens for the last week or so. As the crane flies, they are only about ten miles away. Hopefully they will return to the reserve soon!
When I got to work this morning, it was cold, but very sunny and still. These are ideal conditions for one of our very special resident birds, the bearded tit. I walked up to the washland viewpoint and sure enough, there was that distinctive pinging call and a pair were sat right on the top of two neighbouring reed stems. The male resplendent with his powdery blue head and black moustache, and the buff coloured female who was just as attractive.
After opening up and dealing with a few everyday issues. I went for a walk around the reserve. What did I find? More bearded tits! It seemed that every decent size of reedbed was alive with the sound of pinging and lots of acrobatic birds with long tails! It was great to see so many, as it is not always obvious that we had around 110 nesting pairs of these beauties on the reserve this year.
Elsewhere on the reserve, hobbies were still in evidence, there were two hunting over West Wood and on my way back along the riverbank, there were fours of these elegant birds feeding over the washland pool. These birds will soon be heading back to Africa, so they will be feeding up on dragonflies to prepare themselves for their trip South.
In other news, our cranes still seem to be on their holidays. A report of five at Welney on Sunday 12th was an encouraging that our birds may still be nearby, but they haven't been seen since. We hope that they will return soon, the place isn't the same without them. Most of our summer migrants have left the reserve, but there have been several yellow wagtails flying over in the last week, and there are still one or two chiffchaffs still hanging on.
As we get into September, migration really starts to pick up speed. Today, I was out in the visitor centre when somebody came in reporting an unusual tern, dark and smallish tern. At this time of year, and with the wind blowing in an Easterly direction this probably means a "marsh tern". The marsh terns as they are collectively known refer to three species seen in Britain each year: Black tern, white winged black tern and whiskered tern.
None of these birds currently nest in Britain (black terns used to), but they pass through during May and from July-September. They are told by their elegant, acrobatic flight and are sometimes nicknamed "sea swallows because of this. Anyhow, despite the best efforts from site staff, this bird was not re-located so it could be identified. Therefore, it will become just another "one that got away!"
There have been quite a few good birds of prey sightings recently. There seem to be at least eight hobbies hunting over the reserve at the moment. This may seem insignificant when compared with the sixty five counted over the reserve on May 1st but it still provides a great spectacle. There are currently large numbers of common darters on the reserve so there is plenty for the hobbies to eat!
Buzzards are becoming an increasingly common sight in the area as well. There were two hunting over the West Wood on Monday 6th and may have even been interacting with the Harris hawk that is still at large on the reserve. Any sightings of red kites on the reserve are unusual. However, there have been two reports in the last week. On September 5th & September 7th, an individual was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint. This could have been the same bird or two separate individuals. It certainly would be good to see them more regularly in this neck of the woods!