Good morning! I might as well start where I left off on Sunday. Once again, there was a fantastic sunset (sorry, my pictures weren't good enough this time round!) and there was plenty to see. At Joist Fen viewpoint, three hen harriers were seen at dusk. This included two males and a "ringtail." A bittern also flew right in front of the lucky participants of the "Festive Foray" guided walk.
Tuesday turned out to be a red letter day for Suzanne, our Administrator. Not only did she see a water rail skulking around under the bird feeders, she also found her very first "first" for the reserve. She was admiring a mixed, roaming flock of long tailed tits, blue tits and great tits when she found a nuthatch feeding with the rest of the gang. Here is a lovely photo of one doing what it does best (which is being upside down of course!):
Image credit: Steve Round (rspb-images.com)
Surprisingly, the only previous sighting of this species on the reserve came way back in June 1996 which is less than a year after the creation of the reserve began. In fact, the bird was only heard calling in the poplar woods and was not seen. Therefore, Suzanne was the first person to actually see a nuthatch on the reserve. Congratulations!
It was extremely foggy when I drove in on Wednesday morning but I caught glimpses of a little owl and two roe deer as I drove along the entrance track. As the day went on, there was plenty to see from the visitor centre with a female great spotted woodpecker "out front" and two water rails underneath the bird feeders behind the centre.
It was a beautiful morning yesterday morning and it was fantastic watching the sun rising in the mist:
Image credit: David White
I also saw plenty of great wildlife. As I walked along the riverbank to Joist Fen viewpoint, I flushed a water pipit and a little grebe was feeding in the river. At Joist Fen viewpoint, I counted five marsh harriers hunting in the mist and the juvenile peregrine was perched up in Humphrey's Paddock looking most disgruntled. I went and had a look at the progress on the boardwalk for Mere Hide and had fantastic views of a flock of bearded tits feeding alongside the path.
To be honest though, the main reason why I was out on the reserve was to get a photo of the steam engine "Union of South Africa" passing the reserve on its way from Norwich to York. Here it is looking rather atmospheric in the dull light:
As I was locking up after darkness fell last night, I could hear some Bewick's swans calling on the washland. Although I wasn't here particularly early this morning, I still had a look up on the washland and I was pleased to find two Bewick's swans feeding with a mute swan. When I got back to the visitor centre, the two water rails were feeding underneath the feeders and a muntjac deer was skulking at the edge of the visitor centre pond. We hope to see you soon.
Here at Lakenheath Fen we’re continuing with our boardwalk construction. Our work party yesterday was highly productive, with almost twice the amount of sections put in compared to last week – the team is clearly getting the hang of it! The boardwalk was being appreciated by a lovely stonechat this morning, perched right at the end as if surveying the progress. The decking boards are being hammered into place and the boardwalk is slowly starting to snake it’s way along the edge of the reedbed to connect up with the stone path. We’re very lucky to have such a keen bunch of volunteers working with us on this – it’s hard work, especially using the drivall (or post-basher, as it's otherwise known!) to knock the upright posts into place.
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – the lengthening boardwalk at Lakenheath Fen
However, our neighbouring RSPB reserves in the region have not been so lucky recently. You may have already seen footage or photos of the destruction caused by the storm surge last week, particularly to RSPB Snettisham in Norfolk, RSPB Havergate Island and RSPB Dingle Marshes in Suffolk. Hides have been toppled and damaged, one is missing altogether. Pathways and boardwalks have been washed away or buckled and debris is everywhere.
More importantly, it’s not just infrastructure that has been damaged and destroyed – the salty sea water has breached defences and flooded freshwater reedbeds and marshes. This will affect the flora and fauna that make their homes in these habitats, from invertebrates to fish to birds. Insurance covers some of the cost to damaged hides but not the cost of repairing these important habitats. Because of this, the RSPB has set up an emergency storm appeal to try and raise funds to cover the estimated £300,000 cost of repairing the damaged reserves. If you’re able to help, please see the Storm Appeal webpage for details and THANK YOU!
We’ve been helping out our neighbours in a practical sense recently, last Thursday in fact. While the tidal surge hadn't yet happened, it was certainly stormy on our visit to RSPB Sutton Fen in the Norfolk Broads. The wind was incredibly strong and not what we needed for the task of the day. Katherine and I, armed with our brushcutters, joined with two others to cut a section of reed and fen vegetation. Four of our volunteers – Rob, Su, Nigel and Phil - joined Sutton Fen’s own volunteers and took on the challenge of raking up. I tried to take a photo that would show how difficult the conditions were but it doesn't do it justice - the angle of the reeds and the bent over volunteers hint at the strength of the wind a little bit though!
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – working in the wind at Sutton Fen
Once we had finished cutting we took up forks and joined the volunteers, just as the rains came. It was a battle even to stay upright on the uneven ground – once you lifted a forkful of cut reeds to carry over to a pile the wind tried to lift you off your feet! Needless to say, we were all completely exhausted by the end of the day. While making our way back to the barn at Sutton Fen, a gust of wind blew through that was so strong it nearly blew everyone over. I flew into Katherine and we all nearly ended up in a large ditch – I think if anyone had been standing nearer the edge then they would have had a very cold and wet finish to the day!
Clearing vegetation is always one of those satisfying tasks however and together we covered just over half a hectare of ground. We’ll look forward to the folk of Sutton Fen coming to return the favour during our next big task!
One of things that I love about the Fens are the wide open skies, as they provide fantastic views of sunrises and sunsets, especially at this time of year. The last couple of days have been fantastic for landscape photography and here are a few that I have taken. Enjoy!:
The "red sky in the morning" on Thursday:
The sun rising shortly after over the railway line:
The visitor centre and the moon last night with Venus just visible in between the two:
Image credits: David White
These beautiful skies have certainly been graced by some great wildlife over the last couple of days. Dave went down to the far end of the reserve on Friday afternoon and saw two cranes in flight. They were closely followed by another three and all five ended up north of the river. There was also an impressive count of hen harriers, with at least four males in flight over the west end of the reserve at dusk.
I went for a walk down to New Fen viewpoint before opening up yesterday and saw a female marsh harrier hunting over the reedbed. However, my attention was grabbed by the almost constant bugling of some cranes coming from somewhere at the west end of the reserve. As it was nice and calm, the sound was really carrying. It almost sounded like they were standing right next to me! There were also six roe deer browsing north of the river and a water pipit flew up from the washland north of East Wood.
As the day went on, a male hen harrier and a bittern were seen from Joist Fen viewpoint. There was another great harrier roost count last night with at least 12 marsh harriers and four hen harriers (three males and a "ringtail".) The juvenile peregrine was seen in front of Joist Fen viewpoint and a barn owl was hunting between the furthest two poplar woods at dusk.
It was a lovely morning this morning and I had a nice walk around the new trail in Brandon Fen. I just caught four adult Bewick's swans flying west along the river and a flock of around 50 lapwings flew over my head. There has also been plenty going on behind the visitor centre so far with a kingfisher making a brief visit to the pond and a great variety of finches. Around 20 siskins were feeding in the alders behind the visitor centre and at one point, two chaffinches, two goldfinches, a greenfinch and a mealy redpoll were feeding together on the path. Finchtastic! We hope to see you soon.