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Recent sightings

  • 21 April 2014

    21 April recent sightings: The sun will rise again

    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!

    Posted by David White

  • 18 April 2014

    18 April recent sightings: "Warble on!"

    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:

    Image credit: Rob Nichols

    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!

    Posted by David White

  • 16 April 2014

    Boom! Fighting talk

    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!


    Posted by Ali Blaney

  • 13 April 2014

    13 April sightings: Reeling us all in!

    I was at the RSPB Fens Area Office in Swavesey on Friday morning so I didn't get a chance to get out for a walk around here. The lucky visitors that did though heard our first grasshopper warbler of the year reeling between here and East Wood and saw two otters sunning themselves on the riverbank. How lucky is that?! 

    Meanwhile, further down the reserve, Ali heard and saw a blackcap and a treecreeper in Botany Bay at the west end of the reserve. There were also two common buzzards over West Wood during the afternoon. 

    We had a bird ringing demonstration with the Lakenheath Fen Kingfishers Wildlife Explorers Club yesterday morning. While I was helping the ringers to set up, I could hear a grasshopper warbler reeling near the visitor centre. Despite the fact that it was rather chilly, there were still plenty of birds to see "up close and personal". Highlights included a marsh tit, a male reed bunting and a male brambling in breeding plumage. 

    Elsewhere on the reserve, at least one common tern was over the washland and a bittern flew into the pool in front of Mere Hide. A single crane was seen in flight from Joist Fen viewpoint and Roy saw a large egret, most likely to be a great egret, from New Fen viewpoint. 

    I went for a walk before work this morning and tried and failed to see the grasshopper warbler between the visitor centre and East Wood. I heard a bittern booming in front of New Fen viewpoint and two marsh harriers were hunting over the reedbed. A great crested grebe was croaking away in the pool and several bearded tits were pinging in the reedbed. 

    I then walked around Brandon Fen armed with my camera and here are a few shots that I took:

    A little fungi sp. amongst the ground-ivy:

    A ladybird hiding amongst some white dead-nettle:

    A cinnabar moth that I liberated from the visitor centre onto a greater burdock leaf: 

    Image credits: David White

    Its a lovely day so why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon! 

    Posted by David White

  • 11 April 2014

    11 April recent sightings: It's all getting a bit territorial out there!

    Good morning, you can definitely tell that the breeding season is now well underway. There seem to be bitterns booming all over the place and the volume of birdsong from the reedbeds seems to increase every day! 

    The weather was a bit patchy on Sunday but it was mostly dry. An osprey was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and there were at least two green veined white butterflies on the wing along the riverbank. 

    A swallow was whizzing around over Brandon Fen on Monday and a pair of stonechats were seen near Joist Fen viewpoint on Tuesday. 

    It was a lovely day on Wednesday and there seemed to be an arrival of more sedge warblers overnight. They were popping up all over the place and one was singing its frantic song in front of Joist Fen viewpoint. Some visitors also discovered some cowslips in flower on the riverbank which were lovely to see. 

    It was all go yesterday morning with a large team of staff and volunteers doing an early morning "bittern listen" out on the reserve. I made myself useful and disappeared out of sight for a walk! I heard a willow warbler singing at the edge of East Wood and a single shelduck was feeding in the second washland pool. Lots of bearded tits were pinging near New Fen viewpoint and two green woodpeckers flew into Trial Wood. 

    As well as hearing lots of booming bitterns, the "bittern gang" returned with plenty of sightings: A single crane was seen in flight from Joist Fen viewpoint and two sand martins flew over. There were also at least six marsh harriers hunting in front of the viewpoint. 

    I was lucky enough to watch an indignant moorhen pursuing a grass snake across the visitor centre pond which was very entertaining indeed! The moorhen won and the grass snake was not seen again for some time! 

    Meanwhile, further down the reserve, a red kite was over Joist Fen viewpoint and two swallows were feeding over the washland. 

    Before I got into the office this morning, I photographed the lovely marsh marigold that is now coming into flower in the fenland plant bed outside the visitor centre:

    Image credit: David White

    While I was out doing that, I could hear a song thrush blasting its loud song from Brandon Fen and an equally loud Cetti's warbler "shouting" from the edge of the visitor centre pond. 

    The weather forecast is pretty good for this weekend so why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon! 

    Posted by David White

  • 9 April 2014

    Dunes at Lakenheath Fen?

    Carrying on from last week’s blog, planting of our raised plant beds outside the visitor centre continues.  They are already drawing the attention of our visitors and it’s great to see people wandering over to take a look at the developments.

    Last Thursday the Wildlife Friendly Gardening bed outside the office window was finally planted up.  Suzanne and volunteer Janet did a grand job of this, supervised by Linda Sills who kindly donated the plants for this bed and some for the Brecks bed. 


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Suzanne and Janet finishing off the Wildlife Friendly Gardening bed


    Even though the plants are small at the moment and only a couple, such as fumitory are in flower, straight away it looks amazing!  The artistically placed logs that are filling temporary gaps will provide extra homes for the insects, which will be attracted to the area by the plants and flowers.  We can’t wait to watch this bed develop.

    Yesterday we were joined by Pete and Sally from Cambridge University Botanic Garden, who brought us an amazing selection of Breckland plants as a kind donation for our Brecks bed.  They also planted them for us in the best way for each species and gave us some information about looking after them.  It’s fantastic that our ‘sand pit’ finally has some plants in it too.  The wind has been blowing the sand into some nice dune shapes and these dunes now have some vegetation.  Some of the plants are teeny tiny at the moment so you’ll have to look hard for those but don’t worry, we’re working on interpretation to go with the beds and each species (although not each individual plant) has a label. 


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Lakenheath Fen Breckland sand dunes taking shape


    Katherine and Suzanne have been busy collecting plants from the Botany Bay area of our reserve (right down the western end, accessible via the riverbank) and transplanting them into the fen / bog bed, alongside some from Brandon Fen (eastern end of the reserve).  Pride of place in the middle at the moment is a beautiful marsh marigold, already in flower.  I would have included a photo of it but as it’s right in the middle, I couldn’t reach it!  I did try, by perching precariously on the side of the bed and leaning in, but I could feel the eyes of volunteers John and Nigel on me from the visitor centre, just waiting for me to splat into the bog so I gave up before that actually happened, much to their disappointment I’m sure!

    Before planting started last Thursday, the day began with our first 'booming bittern' survey of the year, which I mentioned in last weeks blog.  If you've never heard a booming bittern, imagine the sound of someone blowing a jug - it's kind of like that!  If you follow the bittern link there is an audio file you can listen to but the booming is very quiet.  Maybe I'll try and record a better boom tomorrow morning.  So far, the news is that we have at least four booming males but most likely more - we're back listening tomorrow to try and make better sense of it all....don't forget these bitterns can move locations while we are listening!  We all recorded hearing bearded tits 'pinging' away in the reeds as well as numerous Cetti's warblers - they seem to be everywhere.  After the survey last week and while planting was underway with Suzanne, volunteer Janet and Linda, our other volunteers worked hard to complete a list of ‘odd jobs’ that needed doing around the visitor centre.  This included a bit more path work with limestone dust, fixing some signage and transplanting some brambles and hawthorns to discourage use of an unofficial trail over our earthworks.  Odd jobs are often quite satisfying to do, especially when you get to tick them off a list (or maybe that’s just me!). 

    Volunteer Robert popped in yesterday and started building our fish refuges.  We'll be carrying on with these tomorrow no doubt and I'll include a photo next week.  These will be sunk into the water at various locations around the reserve to provide hiding places for our smaller fish to try and protect the fish stocks a bit more.  We know for a fact that we have some pretty large pike in the ditches and pools here as well as otters and cormorants, all of whom can get a bit greedy when it comes to fishing.  They can always pop over the bank and feed in the river Little Ouse.  Adding some extra coverage for our smaller fish will help maintain the population in the reedbeds themselves a bit better.  We also plan to build a floating vegetation raft for one of the pools in front of Mere Hide - we'll see what is attracted to it as a bit of a test.  A busy day for us and our volunteers tomorrow then!


    Posted by Ali Blaney

  • 6 April 2014

    6 April recent sightings: "A creature that I can identify with!"

    Good morning. Here is some late news from Thursday: Our first sedge warbler of the year was singing at the west end of the reserve. Here is a photo of one:

    Image credit: Tim James 

    I have to admit, sedge warblers have always had a place in my heart. This is mainly because they remind me of me: Loud, eccentric and rather unpredictable! 

    Katherine and I headed north of the river on Friday afternoon to have a meeting and while we were discussing all things work, we were being serenaded by a skylark which was lovely to hear. Katherine spotted a cracking male yellow wagtail trotting around in one of the fields and a group of 11 linnets were chattering away nearby.

    Meanwhile, on the Suffolk side of the river, a bittern flew from Joist Fen viewpoint towards Mere Hide and several lucky visitors saw an osprey over Joist Fen viewpoint. Here is a photo of one that was taken here last September:

    Image credit: Ken Clegg

    I had a lovely walk down to Joist Fen viewpoint in the sunshine before work yesterday morning. There were several bitterns booming from deep in the reedbed and the local marsh harriers were soaring around over the reserve. There were plenty of bearded tits pinging in New Fen North, the first area of reedbed and a redshank was on the washland north of Joist Fen viewpoint.

    Later on in the day, a red kite was over the washland and Roy was lucky enough to actually see a Cetti's warbler alongside Trial Wood. Here is a photo of one from a couple of years ago:

    Image credit: David Carr

    There were also lots of peacock butterflies on the wing which was lovely to see:

    Image credit: Katherine Puttick

    I went for my usual walk around Brandon Fen this morning and despite the weather being distinctly gloomy, there was plenty to hear. A common buzzard was calling over the visitor centre and a blackcap was singing in the poplars. I had brief glimpse of a marsh tit and I spotted a sedge warbler skulking at the edge of the washland. 

    Just before I got back to the visitor centre, I had a great view of a pair of kestrels displaying to eachother and eventually mating. Once again, here is a photo of one from a couple of years ago:

    Image credit: Mike Hoare

    We hope to see you soon!

    Posted by David White

  • 4 April 2014

    4 April recent sightings: "How does it feel to be alive?!"

    I really love this time of year, as the reserve really seems to come to life. There is jut so much going on and all I want to do is spend as much time out on the reserve as possible. Of course, as I have a job to do, I can't........but I can still enjoy the reserve when I can nonetheless! 

    On Tuesday morning, I walked down to New Fen viewpoint and spent a glorious 45 minutes out in the sun before work:

    Image credit: David White

    While I was there, I heard two bitterns booming. One was in front of the viewpoint and another was slightly further down the reserve. There were also three marsh harriers soaring around in the morning sunshine. They were busy nest building and displaying to eachother. Also, a marsh tit was singing in East Wood and a mistle thrush flew over the viewpoint. 

    Meanwhile, further down the reserve, local photographer Matt Walton photographed this bittern in front of Joist Fen viewpoint:

    Image credit: Matt Walton

    He said that it was basically wandering around at his feet so that must have been an amazing experience!

    We had a meeting later on in the day and fortunately, some of that meeting took place outside to discuss the tweaks to the paths. While we were outside in the sun, there was a lovely selection of butterflies on the wing. This included several small tortoiseshells, a peacock and a male brimstone. We were also lucky enough to see a grass snake swimming rapidly across the visitor centre pond. 

    On Wednesday morning, I went down to the car park to put out the coach parking signs and heard two lovely sounds: The first was my first singing willow warbler of the year and the other was a goldcrest calling. This certainly helped to get me in the mood for the day!

    The local marsh harriers were out in force on Wednesday and here are some lovely photos of them by volunteer Les Bunyan:

    Image credits: Les Bunyan

    Many thanks to Les for sending these lovely images over! As well as the marsh harriers, there were also three common buzzards over Joist Fen viewpoint and a merlin was seen at the far end of the reserve. 

    There is plenty going on out on the reserve at the moment so why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon!

    Posted by David White

  • 2 April 2014

    Here come the plants!

    Exciting news at the reserve this week - the raised plant beds are finally getting some plants in them!  We started work on these plant beds over a year and half ago so you can imagine how good it feels to finally have reached this stage.  Last Thursday at our volunteer work party we took on the fun task of filling up the pond and the bog bed with water.  And we didn't just use a hosepipe attached to the outdoor tap, we did it in style, for a couple of reasons.  The first being that we didn't really want to use tap water as it has nutrients and chlorine in it.  Secondly, it would have taken AGES to fill both beds up from the tap.  So we used our petrol driven pump with a big old firemans hose attached, to pump water from the visitor centre pool.  Such is the power of the pump that we couldn't just spray the water straight into the beds or the soil and sand would have gone everywhere.  Instead we put the hose into a water butt on top of the beds and let it spill over that way, as seen below!


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney - Dave and Tom overseeing the pond being filled


    You can see how exciting this was for us, we were all out there taking photos.  It was especially exciting when the water overtopped each bricked section!  An added benefit of using water from our visitor centre pool is that we didn't just get the water, we got wildlife too.  Small aquatic invertebrates also made their way through the hose and into the pond and bog beds.  The pond bed is practically teeming with life already, including diving beetles, water boatman and water fleas.  The bog bed clearly has life in it already too because we've seen pied wagtails standing on the wet peat soil, merrily feeding away!

    Filling the bog bed was a bit trickier, as it took a while for the water to seep through the peat and the water was being pumped in quicker than it was seeping through.  It may have overflowed slightly a couple of times but we eventually managed to get it filled.  There is still a bit too much water in the bog bed but with the warm weather we're having this will soon evaporate and we'll then have to top it up as required.  Finally, the wildlife friendly garden outside the office window was dug over and the border completed - planting in this bed will take place tomorrow so make sure you check back next week to see how this is developing.


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney - Wildlife friendly garden ready for tomorrow


    Many of the plants for the three raised beds will be collected from around the reserve and we have already started doing this.  The pond has some common pondweed, water-milfoil and water crowfoot in it while the bog bed now has some meadowsweet and yellow flag iris.


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney - yellow flag iris newly planted in the bog bed


    The Breckland bed will get a few plants in it tomorrow and more will arrive next Tuesday so by the time I blog next week, each plant bed will have something in it.  It'll be so exciting watching them develop, I think we're all obsessed with the pond already and keep going over to peer in and see what we can see!

    Our work party tomorrow is not only going to focus on getting the wildlife friendly bed planted.  We've got an early start and will be heading off down the reserve to carry out our first booming bittern survey.  This will help us work out how many male bitterns we have at the reserve.  We'll be dotted around in different places and will record the timing of the booms and roughly where we heard them coming from - this isn't always easy!  Judging by what we have heard so far, plus reports from visitors, we think we have at least three so it will be good to get a count.  We'll do this a few times to try and get an accurate figure.  After the survey some of us will work on the planting and some on odd jobs around the visitor centre - of which there are many!  There's a lot to do to get ready for our busier season.

    Finally, as David mentioned in his blog on Monday, we've had two school visits this week.  I've been leading guided walks to teach the children about the importance of the river Little Ouse to the reserve and our wildlife and to generally see what we can see on our way round Brandon Fen.  We were treated to views of little egrets, grey herons, great crested grebes, oystercatchers, lapwings, a great spotted woodpecker and a very vocal song thrush.  My last lucky group even spotted a grass snake sunning itself on the path - we got really good views of it before it slithered away into the grass.  It was great to see the children getting so interested in everything they saw and asking lots of questions.  The weather helped of course, what a beautiful day to be out admiring and sharing our amazing wildlife with others!


    Posted by Ali Blaney

Your sightings

Grid reference: TL7286 (+2km)

Cetti's Warbler (1)
18 Apr 2014
Water Rail ()
18 Apr 2014
Kingfisher ()
18 Apr 2014
Grasshopper Warbler ()
13 Apr 2014
Shelduck (2)
18 Apr 2014

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Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 52.44839,0.53250
  • Postcode: IP27 9AD
  • Grid reference: TL722864
  • Nearest town: Brandon, Suffolk
  • County: Suffolk
  • Country: England

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