I have to admit, it took a fair bit of encouragement to get out of bed this morning after having Easter Saturday and Sunday off. However, as my father and I drove into work, we could see that the sun was hidden behind a cloak of mist. This immediately put a smile on my face, as I knew we were going to have a great walk this morning! I took a few pictures of the sun coming up between the visitor centre and Joist Fen viewpoint and here they are:
Image credits: David White
The mist made the reserve extremely atmospheric. Although we couldn't see much, we could hear loads of things. A grasshopper warbler was reeling near East Wood and lots of sedge warblers were singing from the reedbed. There was lots of ladys smock (or cuckoo flower) in flower alongside the riverbank and another grasshopper warbler was reeling in New Fen North.
As we got closer to Joist Fen viewpoint, we saw a reed warbler singing out in the open and a sedge warbler performing its parachuting display flight. Within five minutes of getting to Joist Fen viewpoint, we had fantastic views of a single crane and a bittern that flew past. A cuckoo was calling south of the viewpoint and another grasshopper warbler was reeling just west of the viewpoint.
We walked back along the hard track and popped into Mere Hide. While we were in there, a swallow flew over and a Cetti's warbler was blasting its loud song from deep in cover.
As we walked past the Trial Wood viewpoint, a common whitethroat was singing out in the open and a treecreeper was singing in the wood. We had a good look at the bays that have been cut along the southern edge of New Fen North and I found some lovely water violet coming in to flower in one of them.
All too soon though, it was time to open up the visitor centre. On the way back past East Wood, we spent some time looking for a grasshopper warbler that was reeling nearby. Unfortunately, we didn't see it but it was lovely to hear nonetheless.
Its a lovely day today so why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon!
Good morning! It was a great day for photography on Sunday so I will begin with some of the great pictures that were taken on the reserve:
A skulking but loud grasshopper warbler:
Image credits: Les Bunyan
An equally skulking (but even louder!) Cetti's warbler:
Image credit: Rob Nichols
...And a burly common buzzard soaring in the thermals:
Also on Sunday, a single crane was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and four swallows were over the washland. A bank vole was also feeding underneath the visitor centre feeders.
On Monday, four common curlews flew over the visitor centre and there were at least six bitterns booming around the reserve. There were also at least 10 sand martins feeding over the washland.
On Tuesday, a single crane was again seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and our first reed warbler of the year was heard singing near Joist Fen viewpoint.
There was plenty going on throughout Wednesday and I had a fantastic view of a male barn owl hunting over Brandon Fen during my pre-work stroll. Two noisy oystercatchers flew over and a sedge warbler was performing its parachuting display flight.
Meanwhile, further down the reserve, Katherine and Suzanne went down to Botany Bay to collect some more plants for the fenland plant bed outside the visitor centre. A chiffchaff was singing along with a blackcap and a treecreeper. There was some excitement at lunchtime when two garganeys were found on the washland. They remained visible from the Washland viewpoint for the rest of the day.
I got in early yesterday morning to do by first Common Bird Census (CBC) of the year around Brandon Fen. On the way in, I had to stop as a roe deer wandered across the entrance track in front of me. I also saw a muntjac deer bounding along the riverbank away from me shortly after I started out. Highlights included a late fieldfare flying over the visitor centre and heard a marsh tit singing near the river bridge. I also found our first common whitethroat of the year behind the visitor centre.
There was another bittern survey yesterday and Suzanne saw six bearded tits near Joist Fen viewpoint. I saw a house martin over the pond dipping area while I was taking part in something really rather special (but I will let Ali tell you about that next week!) and our first hobby of the year was seen over the riverbank.
If you are planning to visit tomorrow, we have our Brecks Easter Bunny trail so we hope to see you there. Happy Easter and we hope to see you soon!
Last week we carried out our second booming bittern survey, to work out how many male birds we have on site. I’ll immediately pass on the amazing news that we recorded seven males across the reserve, which equals the reserve record from 2011. We all switched positions from the week before, as it is very useful to have different ears taking on the different locations. I positioned myself at the point where Norfolk Fen reedbed meets Joist Fen North reedbed and it turned out to be a fantastic spot – I very quickly worked out that I was listening to four different booming male bitterns! There were two to the west in Norfolk Fen and two to the east in Joist Fen North.
When we survey bitterns in this way we record the timings of the booms, how many booms and grunts there were each time and try to pinpoint the location on a map. If you listen carefully though, you can actually distinguish between the different boomers as they each have their own unique style. The two in Norfolk Fen were particularly interesting to listen to. One male would fire out his booms in rapid succession – “Boom..Boom..Boom..Boom.” The other took a lot more time over his booms and interspersed them with lazy grunts, inhalations and wheezes – “Huh...Boom......Boom......Huh......Huh......Boom” and so on! Volunteer Phil was standing particularly close to this individual and was amazed to be able to hear the intakes of breath between booms. I found myself near it yesterday too and it almost sounds like he’s revving up before booming!
The two bitterns to my east were not quite so easy to distinguish in terms of style but luckily at 08.07am they both boomed at the same time so I was happy to record there were two. Standing in between the four bitterns, it was really interesting to hear how they competed against each other, especially the two in Norfolk Fen. It was quite a still morning so sound was carrying well and the bitterns were taking full advantage. In fact in the two hours I was surveying, I recorded 60 different booming occurrences across the four birds! Mr Lazy would start booming and almost as soon as he’d finished, Mr Rapid would fire out his booms as if to say “Hey ladies, I’m here too and I’m a much stronger boomer, this is where you need to be!” At one point I had three going at the same time – it doesn’t make it easy to count the booms I can tell you.
We all came back from the survey feeling very happy with our total. We’ll see how we go this week – who knows, maybe another will have joined the throng! After a cup of tea our hardworking volunteers were straight back out, replacing the barrier up at the washland viewpoint. It was starting to get a bit rickety and we didn’t really want anyone leaning on it, only for it to give way and see our visitors tumbling down the slope onto the washland! It looks very sturdy now and below is a photo of Dave finishing the post tops off with his chainsaw.
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Dave putting the finishing touches to the replacement barrier
We are continuing to sneak new species into the bog and pond plant beds. Today saw the addition of purple loosestrife, cuckoo flower, hemp agrimony and common meadow rue. We’ll have to think about topping the water levels up in these two beds soon - with no rain and a lot of sun the water is evaporating almost before our eyes! Easter Sunday looks set to be rather a wet day, which will be very welcome for us here. Perhaps not quite what people want for their Easter holidays though! Suzanne and I were also very excited to spot one of our very small Brecks plants, wall bedstraw, sprouting anew in the Brecks bed. I had been slightly concerned that it had withered away but happily this morning it's doing well.
We're back listening to bitterns again tomorrow plus many other tasks on my long list of jobs. Thank heavens for our fantastic volunteers - what would we do without them!