Bitterns are famous for their booming calls. However, this sound is only usually heard in the spring and summer. You may be surprised to hear that bitterns can also be quite vocal at this time of the year. One of our resident birds in particular has been very vocal recently. This individual seems to spend most of its time in New Fen North, and even if you don't see it, chances are that if you spend enough time at New Fen viewpoint, you will at least hear it!
The sound that you will hear is a harsh croak, almost like a very loud frog! This is the bittern's contact call, which is only usually hear when a bird is commuting to and from a nest during the breeding season. It seems that every time this bird flies, it starts croaking! Although we are all slightly perplexed about this unusual behaviour, there may be an answer.
Yesterday evening, I saw "Mr Croaky" as I have dubbed him (or her!) in flight over New Fen North. It dropped into a pool or channel in the south west corner of the reedbed. Shortly afterwards, another bird, that had less black on the wings and was not croaking, flew into a similar area. So there must be two birds in that 20 hectare area of reedbed, so who knows what is going on there!
Apart from in the breeding season, cranes are also very vocal birds. Their loud, bugling calls can really carry a long way. This morning was a perfect example. I was stood at the washland viewpoint (between the car park and the visitor centre), and I could hear some cranes bugling. They were probably either north of the river or beyond Joist Fen viewpoint. Either way, they were between one and a half and two miles away and I could still hear them!
The cause of all of this noise was probably our two resident "parties" of cranes interacting with each other. They are very territorial, and quite often, if one group strays too close to the other, a bugling match begins!
Despite strong winds and a leaden sky, nine people enjoyed a walk around the reserve yesterday on our "autumnal ramble". As is quite often the case though, despite both bearded tits and a female marsh harrier showing well in and around Brandon Fen earlier in the day, by the time the group and I got there, they were no where to be seen!
However, several excellent sightings of birds of prey made up for this. Firstly a kestrel was living up to its nickname of "windhover", as it hung in the air as if suspended on an invisible piece of string. Secondly, a supremely aerobatic hobby was wowing the crowds with breath taking speed and agility to catch dragonflies and other insects. Thirdly, a big and burly common buzzard put in an appearance as it soared over the reserve on slightly raised wings.
The weather conditions weren't ideal for migrants. However, at least three siskins flew over New Fen North "tsooing" as they went. Also, a small flock of thrushes flew south over the same area that turned out to be the first fieldfares to be seen on the reserve this autumn. In weeks to come, we can expect larger number of both fieldfares and redwings on the reserve. However, it is always a good sign that the first ones have arrived.
I am glad to say that after their absence, five cranes were seen on the reserve yesterday afternoon. Where they had been for all of this time is anybody's guess, but the most important thing is that they are back. Why not spend some time down at the Joist Fen viewpoint to see if you can spot these majestic birds in flight over the reedbed?
Yesterday was also a great day for bearded tits. There was a large flock, maybe over fifty birds, in the reedbed at the west end of the reserve. The sky was full of them as mini "eruptions" took place, pinging as they went. If you are not familiar with this behaviour, it is when large groups fly high in the sky and either come back down, or even fly off to another reedbed nearby. These movements are very unpredictable, but they usually happen on sunny, still days.
Two hobbies are still lingering on, and could be seen catching dragonflies in their usual graceful style yesterday. There are several marsh harriers hunting in the area, and common buzzards are being seen with increasing regularity. Barn owls are being seen regularly in the evening as the days get shorter.
Since my last blog, there have been some interesting sightings on the reserve. At around lunchtime on Wednesday a flock of around 50 pink footed geese flew north of the visitor centre. Although they are very numerous on the North Norfolk coast each winter, this is only the third record of this Icelandic nesting species on the reserve.
Small numbers of whooper swans have been present on the washland for most of the week. Numbers peaked on Wednesday morning, when there were 17. This number has steadily dropped until yesterday, when there were two present. Also of interest on Thursday was a pintail, which itself is quite scarce here.
Presumably the same great white egret from last Saturday evening was seen in flight from Joist Fen viewpoint yesterday evening. A range of migrants are still passing through. This includes reasonable numbers of brambling, siskin, redpoll, fieldfare and redwing. A yellowhammer in Brandon Fen yesterday was a good record. It was still present this morning, and was even heard singing.
It seems as if our hobbies have finally left. Our resident reedbed species are being seen fairly often. Bitterns are best looked for from New Fen viewpoint. Bearded tits are widespread across most of the reserve. However, the small flock in Brandon Fen have been showing very well recently, especially in the mornings. There are at least five marsh harriers present and the cranes are seen occasionally.
If you plan to visit during the next two weeks, please take a look at Steve's blog about the road closure that was posted yesterday (22/10/10.) Many thanks.
A section of the B1112 will be closed from Monday 25 October to Friday 5 November inclusive. The reserve is open as usual and can still be accessed from the south (over the level crossing from the direction of Lakenheath village). The section of road that is closed is to the north, between Wilton Bridge and Hockwold village.