I've just been catching up with the news from yesterday (November 29th) and there were plenty of good sightings on the reserve. One of our locals had an excellent day. He may have been one of the only visitors out on the reserve, but he certainly saw some good stuff.
The most unusual sightings was provided by a female goshawk that flew north over the reedbeds, being mobbed by several jackdaws as it went. These large but secretive birds of prey are rare but regular nesters in Thetford forest, and this is only the third record of this species at Lakenheath Fen.
The raptor theme continued as a female hen harrier was seen hunting between the poplar woods. This is perhaps a sign that there is a pair wintering in the area, as a male has also been seen several times recently. The merlin put in another appearance, this time it was hunting near the visitor centre.
Four Bewick's swans were seen feeding north of the river, which is a great sign as this species is a lot scarcer than the other "wild swan", the Whooper swan here. Fast forward to today and the raptor theme continued. A peregrine was harassing gulls over the washland and a buzzard was hunting over the car park. Presumably the same hooded crow from Thursday (November 25) was again seen beyond Joist Fen viewpoint, so keep your eyes peeled for this scarce bird.
As I was de-icing my car yet again this morning, I had a very pleasant surprise: six waxwings flew over my head! If you have never heard waxwings before, their call sounds like a tinkling bell, very festive! We are hoping to hear this delightful sound here at Lakenheath Fen in the near future as well. Waxwings have never been recorded on the reserve before, but considering the amount of these little punk rockers from Bohemia there are in East Anglia at the moment, we have our fingers crossed.
We have even put some apples out to tempt them in. They are great lovers of fruit and berries and while they are feeding, they tend not to pay much notice to any passing people or vehicles. Therefore, we have thrown some nice juicy apples on the ground just outside the visitor centre. If we see any, we will let you know.
Anyhow, back to the birds that we actually have on the reserve. On Sunday afternoon, 11 Bewick's swans flew over the visitor centre towards the washland. They tried to land several times but they didn't. Whether they were intimidated by the large amount of mute swans already assembled there or by the two marsh harriers hunting above, they soon headed off towards the Ouse Washes.
Several barn owls have been seen hunting recently. It is not unusual to see them hunting at any time of the day in the winter, and we hope that they are managing to find enough food amongst all of the ice and snow. If you are in the area tomorrow (December 1), there is a talk about Redgrave & Lopham Fen Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve in our visitor centre from middady-1pm. If you would like to come along, just give us a ring on 01842 863400 or e-mail: email@example.com.
The last two days have again provided some good quality bird sightings on the reserve. Birds of prey were again showing well yesterday. The female merlin was seen several times speeding low over the reedbeds like a bullet. The male hen harrier also put in another appearance, as it was seen hunting along with four marsh harriers from Joist Fen viewpoint as the light faded.
Several people also saw bitterns yesterday. The icy conditions will tempt them out into the open to try and find food, so look out for these usually secretive birds. There was also a wide assortment of gulls stood on the ice bound washland pool yesterday afternoon. These were mostly black headed gulls, with a few lesser black backs and common gulls mixed in. There was one probable yellow legged gull. However, the flock was so tightly packed in order to keep warm that only certain parts of the bird could be seen at any given time. Not ideal!
When I got here this morning, the temperature was around -5 degrees so I only intended to have a quick look on the washland to see what was about. However, when I got up there, there were a flock of over 200 lapwings stood looking rather forlorn on the ice. There were small numbers of wigeon and teal pottering around in the small areas of water that hadn't already froze over.
A shape caught my attention on a wooden sign by the river. As I focused my telescope on it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a kingfisher. Now there’s a bird to brighten up a frosty morning! I had excellent views of it as it fished in the river and used various perches to look out for its next meal. This may be a sign that we will start see kingfishers more regularly near the river, as quite a few of the pools on the reserve are frozen.
All too soon however, I had to retreat to the visitor centre to warm up. One more pleasant surprise was provided by one of our regulars Jez, who phoned to say that six cranes had just flown in front of Joist Fen viewpoint. This is likely to be "our" five and one other straggler. This straggler could be "Tiny" the young crane fledged here last year. The group split as three flew north and three flew south, but it is great to now that they are back in the neighbourhood again!
There have been some unusual birds on the reserve in the last couple of days. Yesterday, we were all heading deep into the reedbed to do some willow bashing. Steve, our reserve assistant dropped us off and headed back to the workshop to pick up some tools. On his return, he had seen a hooded crow in the grazing marsh beyond the Joist Fen viewpoint.
If you aren't familiar with these birds, they are basically the northern version of the carrion crow. In Britain, they start replacing carrion crows as you head up into Scotland. They are also scarce winter visitors from Scandinavia. They can be told from "our" carrion crows as apart from their head, wings and tail which are black, they are pale grey. Therefore, if you are looking for one in amongst a group of crows, they should stand out like a sore thumb!
Unfortunately, when we headed back to the office for lunch the bird had gone. However, if you are down at the Joist Fen viewpoint in the next couple of weeks, it could be worth looking carefully at the crows for this scarce bird, which is likely to be a first record for the reserve. As we were surrounded by reedbed on all sides while we were working, we didn't have much chance to see any wildlife. However, a few bearded tits were pinging around us to see who we were and a water pipit flew over several times.
This morning, as I stood up at the washland viewpoint admiring a large flock of lapwings and a solitary redshank that were stood forlornly on the ice, I heard an unusual sound. It was obviously a goose, but it wasn't any of the species that are seen here on a regular basis (.i.e. Canada, Egyptian and greylag.) My first thought was a pink footed goose. However, this bird was slightly darker and the call was lower than a pink foot. It was a bean goose, which is another scarce visitor to the Fens, although there is a tiny wintering population on the nearby Ouse Washes.
This bird flew east and disappeared, although I could hear it for a while longer. These two sightings go to show that although the cold weather can make this reserve feel a bit bleak in the winter, there is always the chance of a surprise!
Yes, winter is well and truly here! We might get some snow at the end of the week, but it is already pretty cold. Although we may grumble as we scrape off the ice from our cars before work, some birds like it cold! Take Saturday evening for example, I was at the south west corner of the first reedbed (New Fen North), and I could hear some voices in the mist...
These weren't human voices though. At first, they sounded like the loud "whoop" of a group of whooper swans. However, the more I listened, the less convinced I became that they belonged to this visitor from Iceland. The calls were higher pitched, and not as loud as that of the whooper. These were Bewick's swans, which like whoopers, winter on the nearby Ouse Washes in their thousands.
Bewick's are scarcer than whoopers here, and are only usually seen on the reserve when it is very cold. Well, it was certainly cold! The birds must have moved off, as the sound suddenly stopped, but as the visibility was awful in the fog, I could neither see them nor count how many there were! As the night drew in, a sleek shape appeared in the mist. This was a female merlin, and it was causing havoc with the local crows, which were just about to settle into the trees for a good night's rest.
Fast forward to Sunday, and another sound caught my attention. However, I didn't hear it until it was pitch black. It was the cat-like yap of a little owl, coming from somewhere near the visitor centre. I have never actually seen this bird on the reserve, but I am told that while I was on holiday in October, one was perched on the roof of the visitor centre. Typical!
A group of 10 whooper swans flew over yesterday, and if the weather gets any colder, we might get more. There is also a flock of lapwings hanging around the washland. They seem to be struggling to find somewhere to settle though, as they are usually to be seen flying around without an apparent clue where they are going! It is lovely to watch their floppy flight, which shows of black and white in the dull winter light.