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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 31 March 2014

    31 March recent sightings: A very warm welcome!

    Good afternoon. We have been treated to some nice, warm weather over the last couple of days which has been very welcome indeed. There was plenty to see on the reserve on Friday and our first green sandpiper of the year flew over Joist Fen viewpoint.

    Barry, one of our regular visitors had a very productive walk down to the far end of the reserve on the same day. He saw a kingfisher north of East Wood and two cranes from Joist Fen viewpoint. A chiffchaff was singing at the west end of the reserve and a Cetti's warbler was singing along the riverbank. 

    There was also plenty to see on the washland with a good count of 44 mute swans and two common curlews flew over. A common buzzard was also soaring overhead. 

    On Saturday, there were at least two bitterns booming near Joist Fen viewpoint. There now seem to be at least three "boomers" on the reserve and hopefully that number will increase before too long!

    It was a lovely, warm day yesterday and Les, one of our volunteers photographed this common lizard alongside West Wood:

    Image credit: Les Bunyan

    We have had a school visit today so everything has been a bit mad. However, there has still been plenty going on. A great tit has been busy in the nestbox with the camera in it so we have enjoyed watching it from the visitor centre. Out first blackcap of the year was singing in East Wood and four jays were chasing each other around the car park. 

    Ali and Su lead the guided walks for the children and they saw a song thrush in Brandon Fen and two great crested grebes on the washland. A kingfisher was also seen from the washland viewpoint along with a marsh harrier. Dave was lucky enough to see a large grass snake slither across the hard track near the visitor centre. Unfortunately, he was in the reserve vehicle at the time so he couldn't get a photo of it though.

    We hope to see you soon!

    Posted by David White

  • 28 March 2014

    28 March recent sighting: "Walk this way!"

    Good morning! I will begin today with a tale of three men who will be starting something truly epic at the reserve tomorrow morning: They will be walking all the way from here at RSPB Lakenheath Fen to RSPB Saltholme in Cleveland, which is around 300 miles. They are doing it to raise money for Operation Turtle Dove, which raises awareness for the worrying plight of the turtle dove

    What an incredible thing to do! In the case of one of the participants, Jonny Rankin, this is his third consecutive year of fundraising for Operation Turtle Dove. I am sure you will join me in wishing them good luck! If you would more information or would like to follow their progress, please visit the "Dove Step" blog. 

    Anyhow, what has been happening here this week? Things are definitely on track here and we now have several bitterns that are at least trying to boom. The skies seem full of marsh harriers and their skydancing antics can currently be enjoyed from both New Fen and Joist Fen viewpoints. 

    Although it is still early, a few summer migrants have been seen over the course of the week. A drake garganey was on the washland on Tuesday and small parties of sand martins keep appearing over the washland. There are also plenty of singing chiffchaffs livening up the dawn chorus at the moment. 

    I enjoyed a lovely walk around the Brandon Fen family trail this morning and there was plenty to see in the morning sunshine. I was lucky enough to watch a male barn owl hunting over the washland for at least 20 minutes which was fantastic to see. Just before I got back to the visitor centre, I was alerted by the sound of a carrion crow alarm calling nearby. I looked up and saw two carrion crows mobbing a falcon. It turned out to be a peregrine and it suddenly plummeted into East Wood. It had either spotted something to eat or it was fed up with being harassed by the carrion crows

    As its Friday, I will finish with something slightly different: The reserve team were busy working on the raised plant beds outside the visitor centre yesterday and while they were digging through the peat., volunteer Phil found this curious looking object:

    Image credit: David White

    Although we are not quite sure what it was, it almost resembled the top of a fossilised mushroom. It was certainly the correct shape and the markings underneath looked quite mushroom like! Could it have possibly been preserved in the peat for all of those years?! I guess we will never know for certain, but it is a fascinating possibility!

    We hope to see you soon!

    Posted by David White

Your sightings

Grid reference: TL7286 (+2km)

Kingfisher (1)
17 Apr 2014
Cetti's Warbler (2)
17 Apr 2014
Water Rail ()
13 Apr 2014
Grasshopper Warbler ()
13 Apr 2014
Shelduck (2)
17 Apr 2014
Gadwall (9)
17 Apr 2014
Shoveler (3)
17 Apr 2014
Great Spotted Woodpecker (1)
16 Apr 2014
Egyptian Goose (2)
13 Apr 2014
Buzzard (2)
13 Apr 2014

Contact us

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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