Just a quick note that a golden oriole was cat calling and making a few subdued fluty sounds In West Wood this morning. Better late than never! Here is a picture of a male from last year:
Photo credit: Paul Foster
It has been another amazing week here at RSPB Lakenheath Fen. It was hard to know where to base yourself on Sunday: On the one hand, you could be at New Fen viewpoint watching the male red footed falcon pelting around the sky with the local hobbys. On the other hand, you could stay around the visitor centre, where we had three cranes and a red kite circling overhead (although not at the same time unfortunately!) Two turtle doves also flew over nearby, although you had to be a bit further down the reserve to see them!
On Monday, Suzanne returned for her holiday and soon cured the fact that she was the only staff member that hadn’t seen the red footed falcon yet. It was feeding over New Fen North with at least eight hobbys and fifty swifts which must have been a sight! Two common terns were also on the washland.
It’s amazing what being busy does to you. I spent most of my day off on Tuesday sorting things out at home. I decided to pop down to the reserve for a walk. Although most of you won’t believe me, I had honestly forgotten about the presence of the red footed falcon until I arrived here. On the way down the riverbank, a turtle dove flew over the visitor centre. I quickly picked up the “red foot” feeding low in front of New Fen viewpoint with at least five hobbys. This was the first time that I had actually had a good view of it. I could even see its red eye and feet! It was truly a wonderful bird to watch.
It was really rather windy on Wednesday morning and there were 12 tufted ducks on the second washland pool along with two shelducks. A hobby was briefly hunting over New Fen North before perching up in Trial Wood (the middle poplar wood.) A barn owl was also hunting in front of the visitor centre slightly later on. The red footed falcon spent most of the morning perched up in West Wood (the furthest poplar wood) before hunting over New Fen viewpoint once again.
I did my bird survey yesterday morning and took my camera out to get some early morning shots. Here are two of my favourites:
Brandon Fen in the morning mist:
A garden snail:
Photo credits: David White
I was extremely lucky to see a dog otter on the riverbank near the visitor centre at around 06.30 and amazingly, Dave also saw one from New Fen viewpoint while he was doing the bittern survey around an hour later. Other highlights from yesterday morning included two garden warblers singing in East Wood and a willow warbler singing in the poplars near the visitor centre. A nightingale was also singing in Brandon Fen
The red footed falcon appeared at around 09.30 and was feeding over New Fen viewpoint with up to 15 hobbys. A whimbrel was seen north of the river and a pretty little green hairstreak butterfly was fluttering around near the public car park. One lucky couple also saw a stoat on the prowl in Brandon Fen.
Yesterday was also notable for several reports of those elusive golden orioles. There were reports of both “cat calling” and singing in West Wood, the furthest poplar wood. There was also a report of a male flying out of West Wood and across the river. These are all great signs so hopefully we will be able to confirm the presence of these beautiful and rare birds over the next couple of days. Rest assured, when we know, we will put the word out as soon as practically possible. We hope to see you soon!
Not a reference to any sort of trouser malfunction you’ll be pleased to hear but rather the feeding frenzies taking place over the reedbeds at the moment. The weather is the cause – low pressure and the low cloud base are bringing the insects down and in turn the bird species that feed upon them. At New Fen North in particular with the poplar woods on three sides, the predators and their prey are taking further shelter from the breeze and flying below tree height. This is all leading to one thing – spectacular views of swifts, swallows, house and sand martins, all swooping low over the reeds and our heads! And let’s not forget the hobbies and our welcome guest the red-footed falcon. The falcon has moved down to the reedbed closest to the visitor centre over the past few days, which meant not only have visitors been getting closer views but we could finally get to Joist Fen viewpoint and do some strimming without disturbing too many people!
Photo credit: David Carr - hobby
It’s fabulous to stand at either of the viewpoints and have swifts flying literally around your head, especially at Joist Fen as they move between the reedbeds either side of the shelter. It's surprising how large swifts are – it’s the classic ‘is it small, or just far away’ conundrum! When you normally see them so high up in the sky, it can be difficult to judge their size so being able to get amazing close-ups of these graceful flyers is a real treat. Although it does sometimes feel like they’re playing a game of chicken with your head! I have complete faith in their aerial ability however. If you afford the reedbeds just a quick glance then it’s easy to think the skies are empty so stand a moment and make sure you don’t miss this spectacle taking place just above the reeds.
In other reserve news, Tuesday morning saw Katherine and I following a trail left by cattle. We were slightly surprised to find ‘evidence’ of cow by the staff gate and therefore had to try and work out which cows might have paid us a visit and where they were by that time. Following the trail we discovered a small number of cattle had enjoyed quite a trip around Brandon Fen, look out for the evidence yourself if you’re in the area! The puzzle was solved when Katherine approached the kissing gate on the riverbank to discover it was swinging wide open. The cattle were found and safely returned to the riverbank by our grazier. Signage is now in place by the kissing gate to politely remind visitors that livestock are on the riverbank and gates should be kept firmly shut!
Despite the changed plans for Tuesday morning, we still found a window of opportunity before the heavens opened to start our regular spring and summer strimming plan. The vegetation is shooting up fast and we’ll become a familiar sight with our brushcutters as we work to keep the trails open and viewpoints tidy. Trial Wood path was our main target – even the new raised section needed a trim. Although there is still bare earth in places, this trail is open so if you haven’t been round it before why not take a look?
Yesterday we took delivery of some new benches and with the help of our volunteers these will soon start appearing at the viewpoints and other locations. We have had to remove some of the older benches already so new seating will be welcomed I’m sure! The first instalments are planned for this afternoon, after we carry out another booming bittern survey first thing in the morning. We're hoping that the survey will finally help us pin down the exact number of boomers as a couple of the reedbeds may hold more than one. We'll also be focusing on the marsh harrier behaviour to get our nest count sorted. Updates will follow as always!
Firstly, please excuse me if I don’t sound completely coherent this morning, I have lead two dawn chorus walks in the last two days! As you will hear later though, they were both rather good! I will begin though with a quick summary of the end of last week:
The weather was distinctly patchy on Friday but it was rather bright in the morning. I couldn’t resist going to take some photos of the water violet that is currently in flower alongside Trial Wood:
While I was out, I heard a grasshopper warbler in New Fen North and there were at least 20 swifts over the reedbed. A garden warbler was also singing in East Wood which was rather nice.
A crane was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and a bittern flew between New Fen North and Joist Fen viewpoint. A ringtail Montagu’s harrier also flew west along the river just north of West Wood (the furthest poplar plantation.)
The male red footed falcon appeared over New Fen North at around 1.30pm and spent a happy afternoon tearing around the sky with around eight hobbys. Les took this record shot of it:
Photo credit: Les Bunyan
I did dawn chorus number one yesterday with our Wildlife Explorers club. As we didn’t start until 6.30am, I sneaked out for a little walk beforehand. It was a good job that I did, as I saw my first turtle dove of the year flying over the visitor centre. A cuckoo was perched at the edge of the car park and a barn owl was over the washland.
We had a very pleasant dawn chorus walk and we heard a bittern booming in New Fen North. We were also entertained by the antics of two common terns that were feeding at close quarters in the second washland pool.
When we got back, a muntjac deer was wandering around at the edge of the visitor centre pond and our first female hairy dragonfly of the year was seen alongside Trial Wood. The red footed falcon appeared over the washland at around 10.30am before relocating to the skies above New Fen North. Once again, it was tearing around the sky with at least 10 hobbys for most of the afternoon. A water vole was seen in a ditch alongside the railway line and three arctic terns flew over Joist Fen viewpoint.
I lead dawn chorus number two bright and early this morning and things started rather well: A bittern flew over East Wood and landed almost in front of us just west of the visitor centre. Another bird was booming in New Fen North and a male marsh harrier was hunting over the reedbed.
A cuckoo was calling just south of Joist Fen viewpoint and a single crane was north of the river just north of Joist Fen viewpoint. We counted at least eight marsh harriers over Joist Fen. As we walked back along the riverbank, a hobby flew out of West Wood and a barn owl was hunting over the washland. We retired back to the visitor centre for a well deserved continental breakfast shortly after! We hope to see you soon.
A noticeable change has taken place at Lakenheath over the past week or so – insect numbers are definitely on the up! This is good news for all those insect eating animals out there and they are of course fascinating individuals themselves, so I’m weaving some appreciation of the smaller creatures into my blog this week.
Last weeks volunteer party started with an early morning bittern survey, listening out for those booming males. At the moment we’re confident we have four booming males across the reserve with another possible two or three to try and pin down. I’ve been mainly listening at New Fen North reedbed so far and the boomer there isn’t the best I’ve heard I have to say – he tends to do one loud boom, which catches your ear so you listen to try and locate it properly.... and nothing else follows. He certainly likes giving us just one boom at a time! Maybe a grunt or two before or after if you’re lucky so you have to listen hard for that one. The male nearest the Joist Fen viewpoint is much more vocal! Further display flights have been seen which is great news too.
After the bittern survey we continued with the trail maintenance, laying down more limestone dust to top off our pot hole repair work. And what a beautiful day to be working outside – butterflies were the thing to see and while walking back from New Fen North I took a picture of a lovely green-veined white:
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Green-veined white butterfly
The bank holiday weekend was extremely busy for us and during these peak times we all lend a hand in the visitor centre and out in the car park. The lovely weather and the arrival of the infamous red-footed falcon meant we were a very popular place to visit and Monday was one of our busiest days ever, with Katherine on car park duty recording a peak count of over 140 cars. Volunteer Janet and I were manning the visitor centre and unsurprisingly ice cream was the big seller of the day – who could resist after a nice walk out in that strong sunshine!
Our work this week has been mainly focused on having a bit of a tidy up at the viewpoints (the grass is starting to grow very quickly now!) and over Wednesday and Thursday our time was spent looking after three groups of lovely people who kindly donated funds toward our land purchase at the end of last year. We took everyone over to the new land and talked about how we intend to revert it from arable to wet grassland. The groups on Wednesday were very lucky to see cranes including the one-legged individual, who we wintnessed being turfed out of a field by one of our resident cranes who was being very territorial! Back on the main reserve we saw bittern, marsh harrier, hobbies, swifts and even the red-footed falcon. Some guests had never visited Lakenheath before – what an introduction to the site! The hobbies were great to watch as they caught insects with their feet, there were St Marks flies around and plenty of small flying insects buzzing just above the water at the viewpoint pools – the fish were jumping and making the most of an easy feed. David saw his first common millipede of the year and although this picture isn’t of that particular individual, I too saw one today and managed a quick photo - you can just about see the 'waves' of the many feet moving along.
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Millipede near the visitor centre
Yesterday saw a marked change in the weather and the wind was whipping up the peaty top soils of the fens – I think it’s the worst ‘fen blow’ I’ve seen so far. Our group braved the elements though and were treated to views of the one-legged crane again as well as hobbies, although the wind was keeping the insects down so hobby numbers were lower too. Despite returning from the excursions with a slight gritty taste in the mouth, wind-swept hair and a covering of fine, peat soil, everyone had a great time and as always we were more than happy to show off the reserve and talk about the work we do here.
Today the fen blow has thankfully died down, although there is still a stiff breeze around. Dave and I carried out our territory surveys regardless this morning and it was certainly worthwhile even in the wind. Cuckoos could be heard from quite a distance and I a witnessed a buzzard being chased off by a rook. Whitethroats were making themselves known and the wheatear was still present on the Brandon Fen grazing marsh. I also had a good count of robins today, a couple were carrying food so there must be hungry mouths to feed somewhere. Insects are lying low from the wind and we spotted this lovely cinnabar moth hunkering down right outside the visitor centre, staying put for the meantime anyway!
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Cinnabar moth
Flowers are springing up all over the reserve, adding a splash of colour in amongst the grasses. Speaking of grass, my brushcutter is calling me away from the computer and out onto the reserve to start strimming our overflow carparking areas – if this weekend is anything like the last one then we’ll need all the space we can find!