I have to admit, we really struck it lucky on Sunday afternoon. The weather was not looking particularly encouraging for the barn owl walk. However, around an hour before the walk started, the sun came out!
We walked along the riverbank towards Joist Fen viewpoint and were rewarded with a view of one flying away from us. Mission accomplished (in a way!) We stopped just short of Joist Fen viewpoint on the bank and we had excellent views of not one but two barn owls hunting in front of us. This included one that perched obligingly on a post for us. Fantastic!
As we watched these beautiful birds, a male hen harrier was hunting over the reedbeds along with a (much larger) female marsh harrier. Somebody then shouted “OWL!”Slightly bemused, we looked around and a short eared owl suddenly appeared right in front of us:
Photo credit: Darren Thompson
We had a superb of this large owl with glaring yellow eyes, which was a real unexpected bonus. With lady luck now firmly on our side, we headed to Joist Fen viewpoint and had a cracking views of a male merlin that pelted right past the viewpoint at a fair rate of knots. This was a fantastic climax to the walk! Our next barn owl walk will be on Sunday January 13. If you are interested in coming along, details can be found by clicking here.
Also on Sunday, a bittern was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and three bearded tits were nearby. At least eight marsh harriers were seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and a water pipit flew over.
There was also plenty to see on Monday. The short eared owl was again seen near Joist Fen viewpoint and a sparrowhawk flashed across the washland pool. One of our volunteers saw 17 waxwings fly across the road near the reserve entrance. They eventually ended up by the junction between the Wangford Road and the B1112, just south of the reserve. By Tuesday, there were at least 35 in the same place. Sadly, they had disappeared by Wednesday.
On Wednesday, there were 20 wigeons on the washland and a brambling was in the big willow near the visitor centre. A flock of around 16 fieldfares were chattering away in the visitor centre alders. A chiffchaff was also present in Brandon Fen.
Yesterday morning, a brambling was in the visitor centre alders along with a mixed flock of lesser redpolls and siskins. Two Egyptian geese flew over the visitor centre and a bittern was seen from New Fen viewpoint. Later on in the day, a barn owl was hunting in front of Joist Fen viewpoint and at least one hen harrier roosted in the fading light. A muntjac deer ran across the hard track just after dusk had fallen.
The last two mornings, I have been treated to some fantastic views of the full moon when I have got here in the morning:
Photo credit: David White
The cold and clear weather has really helped to emphasis this wonderful phenomenon. The weather is looking cold but bright for this weekend so why not come and visit? We have our raptor spectacular event both days so wrap up warm and we hope to see you there!
Please note that the roadside barrier is still being closed each evening. It will close at around 5.15pm and open before 8.30am each morning. We thank you for your understanding and we will keep you updated with this situation.
Great news: We have just purchased some more land to extend the reserve! We have purchased an extra 59 acres of land north of the river Little Ouse. It will be used to create habitat for species such as:
Photo credit: Dave Rogers
Photo credit: Les Bunyan
Photo credit: Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)
Photo credit: Gina Lodge
We wouldn’t have been able to buy the land without the help of many generous individuals. RSPB supporters from both the UK and around the world helped to raise £400,000 to purchase the land.
The land is currently arable farmland. Reserve staff are planning to eventually revert it into grazing marsh and reedbeds. It is partially visible from the riverbank just west of the reserve’s Joist Fen viewpoint.
We would like to thank all of those that donated towards purchasing the land. The reserve is already home to around 11% of the breeding female bitterns in the UK and 13% of the breeding cranes. Hopefully, this new land will help to increase this number!
The end of November seems to be bringing us a lot of rain – all in a very short space of time! We’re monitoring the water levels closely to see what is happening around the reserve, as, in a 'normal' year, the levels should be coming up naturally now anyway....(whatever a normal year is nowadays!) We do have work planned within the reedbeds for the winter so we may start to move excess water away from certain areas and into others, using the sluices to control the flow of water in and out of the different compartments. As our grazier has started to take his livestock off site for the winter, we can also start to wet up the grazing marshes a bit more. First up is Norfolk Fen grazing marsh – and as we’re carrying out willow work in the reedbed, this suits us just fine to let some more water out of the reedbed and into the grazing marsh to the south. With an extra board put into the southern grazing marsh sluice, this allows more water to be held within the compartment and we’ll see how it’s looking in a week or so.
We’ve had a couple of work parties this week already, with the first taking place yesterday. Three of us headed down into Norfolk Fen to carry on with the willow cutting. Throughout the morning however, the drizzle turned into a heavier rain that made it pointless to carry on. Nothing to do with us not being hardy enough of course, but all to do with the herbicide treatment that we use on the stumps after we’ve cut the willows – the rain would have just washed it all straight off the stumps. This in turn would mean we would need to re-cut and treat again, so in the end we packed up and headed back to the visitor centre. As I’d overtopped my wellies quite early on and had very wet feet, this wasn’t such a bad thing after all, although I did manage to make the office smell like a bog for the remainder of the day!
Our second work party is taking place today, as I type! This morning we were down at Joist Fen North viewpoint, strimming an area of reeds behind the pool, in front of the viewpoint. The patch we strimmed is larger than it appears in the photo below! This should provide a nice platform for different bird species to come out into the open and feed upon. We also muddied up a few patches right at the edge, in the hopes of attracting birds to feed. I understand that in previous years this area has attracted snipe, jack snipe, water rail and even a crane or two has dropped in so we’re keeping fingers crossed for some exciting sightings quite soon! The photo below shows the newly strimmed area, hopefully you can spot the muddy draw down zones to the left of and directly behind the kingfisher perch - with yet more rain falling the light wasn't great for taking photos!
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Joist Fen view point
The team have gone back out this afternoon in the fen plant pools near the visitor centre, to do some more strimming to reduce the more competitive plant species and allow for others to grow through in the spring. Katherine described it as using strimmers to create a ‘grazing’ effect on the edges of the pools. They worked hard, in spite of even more heavy showers. I stayed in the dry, compiling this blog and doing more data entry! With a third volunteer work party scheduled for Friday it'll have been a busy week here at Lakenheath, and because of our volunteers, we'll have got through a good amount of work in various locations.
I’m pleased to say that our fantastic run of sightings has continued over the last few days. Things started well on Friday with a bittern making a long flight in front of New Fen viewpoint:
There were also some fantastic sightings from the visitor centre window. Two stonechats popped up on the top of the reeds and a male bearded tit did the same shortly after:
Photo credit: Mark Graham
We had fantastic views of one of these charming little fellows as it flicked its tail in full view. We even got the telescope on it! A ringtail hen harrier was over the washland later on and a common buzzard was over the visitor centre.
Our new reserve record of four hen harriers hunting together was confirmed on Friday night, with three males and a ringtail wheeling around. Similar to Thursday evening, they were favouring the area between Trial Wood (the middle poplar wood) and Joist Fen viewpoint. A barn owl was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and a woodcock flew over the visitor centre at dusk.
Yesterday morning, I got out for a walk before the rain started and saw two wigeons on the washland. Around 20 linnets flew over the big willow and a goldcrest was in the staff car park. Throughout the morning, we were entertained by the antics of a jay that was hopping around underneath the bird feeders. One of the local blackbirds obviously took exception to this, as it kept trying to chase it off!
A ringtail hen harrier was again over the washland at lunch time, showing off its bright white rump. There was plenty of activity in front of Joist Fen viewpoint with sightings of at least four individual bitterns and seven marsh harriers. At least nine bearded tits were seen at the west end of the reserve along with five snipes.
The sky was looking particularly doom-laden when I got here this morning. Here it is once it got (slightly) lighter:
Fortunately, the weather forecast says that it is due to brighten up later on and the wind is going to drop. We hope to see you soon!
Please note that we are still closing the roadside barrier at dusk. It will be closed at around at around 5.15pm and will open again before 8.30am in the morning.
Please note that the barn owl walk on Sunday is FULLY BOOKED. Unfortunately, we can only accommodate those who have booked places in advance. We are sorry for inconvenience caused.
If you haven’t been successful booking a place this time round. There are two events that we can recommend. Firstly, there is the festive foray on Sunday December 9 1pm-4pm. Although it is not specifically a barn owl walk, we stand a good chance of seeing them hunting over the reserve. Mince pies and mulled wine will be served at the end of the walk if that is a deal breaker!
Secondly, there are several barn owl walks planned for the New Year. The first is on Sunday January 13. If you are interested in booking places, just click on the link and you will find details on how to do so.
I hope that helps because we would like as many people to see these beautiful and iconic birds as possible:
Photo credit: Phil Hacker