Lakenheath Fen

Lakenheath Fen

Lakenheath Fen
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Lakenheath Fen

  • Flaming June? Not really!

    Well it's not quite the wettest June we've had since we started recording rainfall here, (that honour currently goes to June 1997, when 184.4 mm was recorded) but it is getting close!  Since Dave's blog last Sunday, not including yesterday's deluge, we have had an additional 37 mm of rain.  I seem to remember June 2009 being quite wet too, with one memorable afternoon when 90 mm of rain fell in a couple of hours!  Yesterday afternoon felt a bit like that day, when this was the view out of the visitor centre...


    It's bad enough watching it, but imagine being a  bittern or marsh harrier, trying to sit tight on a nest in the middle of the reeds - not much fun I should imagine!  This is our major concern at the moment, what is happening with our bittern and marsh harrier nests out on the reserve.  We already know that one of our confirmed bittern nests has succumbed to the weather, not from rising water levels, but from the shear weight of water coming from the skies, which we think collapsed the nest into the water.  Usually the thatch of leaves and old reed under the nest is enough to hold it up, but seemingly not on this occasion.  There is a slight chance that this female may nest again, although it is certainly getting late in the season.  As Dave mentioned last week, it has been really difficult this year to get to grips with nesting bitterns.  All we can do is keep watching, and hope any other bitterns have more secure nests - watch this space!

    Generally across the reserve, the water levels have only crept up a little.  We have set all the sluices at a level that water will flow over rather than build up.  The only exception is Botany Bay at the far western end of the reserve.  This is an area of washland which is connected to the river.  We have some control over what water gets into Botany Bay, but once the river reaches a certain height, there is nothing we can do to prevent it coming in.  So with all the rain we've had recently, the river level has come up significantly, and the grazing marsh in Botany Bay currently looks like this:

    Hopefully with most birds having fledged young already it won't have affected too many of them.  Speaking of fledged young, a great place to see bearded tits at the moment is the grit tray at New Fen viewpoint, where youngsters are regularly seen eating grit.  They do this to help them digest their food as their diet changes from mostly insects to reed seeds.

    Making the most of the brighter weather this afternoon, I popped out for a walk along the riverbank around Brandon Fen.  It was fairly quiet apart from the occasional common tern, and I was pleased to see that one pair of great-crested grebes on the washland had at least one chick.  The ones on the reserve seem to be doing quite well too, with a family of three, and a family of one being recorded in the last week or two.  A further two pairs are still on nests, so fingers crossed they hatch soon!  

    Anyway, back to my walk.  I'm always looking out for different insects as I wander along, and I wasn't disappointed today.  I saw several narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moths (bit of a mouthful!) buzzing around the knapweed and thistles.  The riverbank is the only place they are found at Lakenheath Fen, and it is a treat to watch them.  Here's one I managed to take a photo of.

    Further on I saw lots of banded demoiselles, which almost look as if they are dancing!  I'm too slow to get any photo's of them, they always seem to dance away as soon as I get my camera out!  Although I did manage to get this group of males in Botany Bay a few days ago.

    Coming of the riverbank and through Brandon Fen, the bright yellow biting stonecrop is quite eye-catching among the grasses.  It almost forms a carpet of yellow on bare sandy ground, and is well worth looking out for.

    Then it was back to the visitor centre for a cup of tea - still with the sun shining!!

    Although the birds do go a bit quiet at this time of year, it is still well worth a visit to look for different insects and see all the flowers in bloom.  Hope to see you on the reserve soon.

    **Please note also that the road from Lakenheath village to the Wangford road junction on the B1112 is currently closed.  The road from the junction to the reserve is open.**




  • Moths and monsoons

    It has been a busy week and a very wet one here at Lakenheath Fen.  So here is a little recap on what has been going on.

    We have had 34mm of rainfall in the last 4 days and half way into June we have already had slightly more than the average rainfall for the whole month and boy has it tipped down at times!  We had a visit from some of the Birdlife International council  members this week so we wanted the reserve looking in tip top condition.  Emma was out with the brushcutter and I took the mower out to cut back some of the paths.  All the rain helps the plants grow even quicker than usual and the heavy rain we have had knocks the vegetation down across the paths.  Our visitors arrived on Thursday and I got to show them around the reserve and most of our keys species including bittern, crane and marsh harrier.  I got to talk about conservation with visitors from Bulgaria, Italy, Lebanon and Singapore.  It was very interesting discussing the different challenges facing conservation across the world.

    Whilst I was showing the visitors around Katherine and Emma along with our trusty volunteers were surveying the reserve for bitterns.  Nesting females are proving difficult to pin down at the moment, not helped by the inclement weather.  New Fen North saw most of the bittern action, as it seems to have done all week.  Earlier in the week visitors were treated to the sight of 3 bitterns clustered close together in New Fen North.  These birds had climbed up the reeds and may have been newly fledged young waiting to be fed by mum.  We are hoping for additional photographs from the visitors who saw them to see if we can establish that they were indeed young birds.  I have spent a bit of time both before and after work this week trying to see what these bitterns have been up to.  I went down to the New Fen viewpoint last night after work and again this morning and saw bitterns from the viewpoint each time.  Last night there was a bittern preening itself on the far side of the pool in front of the viewpoint.  This morning a bittern flew in to the same patch of reed. This morning I also had good views of two male marsh harriers hunting across the reedbed.

    Image credit:  Dave Rogers

    There were also a couple of common terns fishing in the pool.

    Image Credit Dave Rogers

    The kingfishers are very busy at the moment and this morning both parents were flying past the viewpoint like little emerald and orange missiles  going out to seek food for their young or coming back with a fish in their beaks.  There was also a whitethroat singing well at the viewpoint and lots of reed warblers chirping away and flitting around the reedbed.

    This weekend Emma has been running a moth trap overnight and then showing visitors some the wonderful species we get on the reserve.  Highlights of the species caught on Friday and Saturday night include burnished brass, poplar hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth and swallow prominent

    Here is a burnished brass from this morning.

    Image credit Dave Rogers

    Finally two of our more challenging to see species have been on display this week.  Firstly distant views have been had all week of one of our crane families.  The pair we call Little and Large are visible (with some effort) from Joist Fen viewpoint.  We believe they are looking after one chick which is now just over 4 weeks old.  Large numbers of breaded tits appear to have fledged in the last week, so if you are in the right place at the right time you may get good views of these little gems.

    So lots of lovely wildlife to see.  We hope to see you soon.

    Dave Rogers

    Site Manager

  • 15 June recent sightings: Damp dragonflies and damselflies

    Good morning. I will start off where I left off with some recent sightings from Saturday afternoon. A spotted flycatcher was feeding in the big willow near the visitor centre and the ringed white stork that has been hanging around the area recently flew over Mere Hide.

    There was also some excitement when two of our regular visitors found a micro moth with the given name of commophila aeneana on the washland. This is a scarce species in this part of the world and is probably a first record for the reserve. What a great way to celebrate National Moth Night!

    Unfortunately, we had a power cut at 16.45 so Emma and I had to hang around a while longer than anticipated. While we were waiting for the power to come back on, I photographed this fine emperor dragonfly in the Fens plant bed in front of the visitor centre:

    Image credits: David White

    I went for a walk before work on Sunday morning and a cuckoo flew over the visitor centre. A common tern was also feeding on the washland. As the day went on, three great spotted woodpeckers were feeding on the visitor centre feeders, one adult and two juveniles.

    On Monday, three bitterns were seen together from New Fen viewpoint. There were also four little egrets showing well from the viewpoint.

    Yesterday, Dave was lucky enough to see an otter from New Fen viewpoint. He also captured these two great images on the visitor centre veranda:

     A cheeky stoat:

    A wren keeping a good eye on the cheeky stoat:

    Image credit: Dave Rogers

    Katherine also went for a walk around Brandon Fen and photographed this dragonfly:

    Image credit: Katherine Puttick

    Thank you very much to Dave and Katherine for sharing these images with us. 

    It looks most like a black tailed skimmer but if anybody has any other opinions on its identity, please let us know.

    I went for a walk around Brandon Fen before work this morning. There were two common terns feeding over Wilton Bridge and a male marsh harrier was hunting over the washland. A cuckoo flew past the Washland viewpoint and another was calling in East Wood. I also photographed this red eyed damselfly near the visitor centre:

    Image credit: David White

    Just before I got back to the visitor centre, a chiffchaff was singing behind the visitor centre and a garden warbler was singing in the staff car park.

    I won’t be around for the next couple of weeks as I will be up at RSPB Bempton Cliffs for part two of my sabbatical. Until then, we hope to see you on the reserve soon!