The cold weather has well and truly returned. Although we have not had as much snow as some other parts of the country, it has been very chilly. On Friday afternoon, two male hen harriers were again seen hunting over the west end of the reserve. Yesterday afternoon, I went for a walk to try and see one (or both) of these fantastic birds.
As I got to Joist Fen viewpoint, I struck it lucky straight away. There was one male hen harrier hunting between Humphrey's paddock and the railway line. Sadly, it soon disappeared south of the railway line and I caught one more glimpse of it behind the trees at the west end of the reserve. I decided to head back along the riverbank, and I was rewarded with several interesting sightings.
Firstly, a chiffchaff was flitting between a small bush on the bank and the West Wood. These are more familiar as summer migrants but in recent winters, small numbers of birds that nest in Scandinavia and Germany spend the winter here. Slightly further along the bank one corn bunting was perched on a bush at the northern edge of New Fen North, and a further four were perched in the big willow near the visitor centre.
One more surprise was supplied by a bittern that was flushed from the washland by some wildfowlers. It flew east along the river for a while and soon disappeared. This is likely to be the last post from me until next year, so I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
The weather hasn't been great recently. The "Big Freeze" seems to have returned today, but for the last couple of days, it has just been grey, damp and not very nice. I know this is typical December weather, but it is still rather unpleasant. However, not everything that is grey and dull has the habit of getting us down.
On Wednesday afternoon, there were two male hen harriers hunting over the west end of the reserve. This is the first time that two stunning grey males have been seen together on the reserve. Who knows, this could lead to a small hen harrier roost being established on the reserve. It would certainly be very welcome to see more of these awesome birds amongst the local marsh harriers.
The hooded crow is still around and is being seen occasionally. If you are familiar with this species, you will know that it is mostly black, but has a grey body which makes it stand out like a sore thumb against any crows in the area. Similar to the hen harriers, it seems to be spending most of its time towards the west end of the reserve. If you would like to see it, spending some time at Joist Fen viewpoint is probably your best bet.
We had a visit from a celebrity yesterday, Sir Nigel Gresley. Sadly, it wasn't the great railway engineer himself but it was the steam locomotive named after him. This beautiful locomotive holds the post-war speed record for a steam engine of 112mph, set in 1959. Yesterday, it provided a fantastic sight as it sped past the reserve on the way to York in the pouring rain.
If you would like to visit us over Christmas, the reserve will be open at all times. The visitor centre will be open daily except for December 24th-31st. The toilets will be open every day apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We will be open on New Years Day, and there will be a bird race taking place. Please see the events page on the Lakenheath Fen website for further details.
Katherine and Steve, our warden and reserve assistant respectively were out on the reserve yesterday afternoon, and they saw an unusual sight: A male hen harrier and a hooded crow in the same field! This may be a fairly common sight in the uplands of Scotland, but it certainly isn't in the lowland Fens of East Anglia.
Both of these birds have been around for a couple of weeks, although they can be elusive. They seem to spend most of their time towards the west end of the reserve, so if you spend some time at Joist Fen viewpoint, you may get lucky. Despite the freezing fog, a good range of species were seen at various points.
Some reserve staff and a small group of volunteers walked through the reserve, and saw a bittern, a barn owl and four woodcocks. There were also lots of signs of otters, which is a great sign that they are around. Another good sign was provided on Saturday when a visitor picked up a swan mussel on the riverbank, which is a freshwater mussel found fairly commonly in rivers around here. Its shell had obviously been nibbled by something, and the general consensus was that an otter was the culprit!
There has also been a lot of activity around the visitor centre bird feeders recently. On Sunday, two male great spotted woodpeckers visited the feeders by the pond while a female was seen shortly after on the feeders in front of the visitor centre. Yesterday, a weasel was speeding around the veranda and the island in the frozen pond. In the space of ten minutes a jay, a marsh tit and our tame wren were seen around the feeders along with the "usual suspects". This just goes to show that you don't need to go very far to see some exciting wildlife!
You may be aware that it is possible to travel to Lakenheath Fen by train at weekends. Lakenheath railway station, which is a 10 minute walk away, is served by one train a day in each direction on Saturdays, and three trains a day in each direction on Sundays, on certain services between Norwich and Cambridge. The new timetable is listed below:
Please note that these trains only stop at Lakenheath ON REQUEST. Give the conductor plenty of warning that you want to get off and give a clear signal to an approaching train to get on.
In the event of engineering works, replacement buses do not call at Lakenheath. Check train times with National Rail enquiries on 08457 48 49 50 or at www.nationalrail.co.uk.
Other trains stop at Brandon. From Brandon it is four miles to the reserve, which you can travel to by foot, bicycle, taxi or Brecks bus.
Yes, there is a hint of irony in the title of this post! However, it did feel a lot warmer yesterday in comparison with earlier on in the week, when it was -9 degrees centigrade! After having a lot of fun and making a lot of mess with the Lakenheath Fen Kingfishers in the morning, I decided that I would venture out on the reserve.
There was a large group of gulls on the washland pool. Scouring through the flock with a telescope produced lots of lesser black backed and common gulls. There was also an adult herring gull and a 3rd winter yellow legged gull, which took a lot of deliberation and consulting of Collins Bird Guide before it was positively identified!
I went down to Joist Fen viewpoint hoping to see the male hen harrier that has been hanging around for the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I didn't see it, but I did see a wide range of other good stuff. At one point, there were six marsh harriers hunting together over the west end of the reserve. There were four females, one juvenile male and one adult male to be exact.
I had several good views of bitterns, including some long flights. There were at least two individuals, perhaps more. Our Cetti's warblers are notoriously difficult to see. However, one was skulking in the reeds right in front of the viewpoint. It betrayed its present with some calling and even a couple of bursts of its loud song.
There were several species of waders present. Several lapwings were whirling around, calling as they went. A curlew flew over the reedbed from the north which was a pleasant surprise. They nest south of the railway line and at nearby RAF Lakenheath in the summer, but sightings are unusual in the winter. There was one more surprise as a woodcock flew low at a fair rate of knots right across my field of view.
As the light started to fade, the local pair barn owls came out to hunt. They provided a lovely sight as they glided silently over the reedbed. The temperature suddenly dropped so I decided to head back. It was a lovely afternoon, and it just goes to show what you can see on this fantastic reserve during the winter months.