We have recently been removing trees from the shores of the grassland on Ferry lagoon. This work is part of the ongoing improvements being made for breeding waders and wintering wildfowl. Waders, such as lapwing and redshank require open areas of wet grassland in which to nest and raise their chicks, whilst wildfowl such as wigeon utilise these same areas in winter. The felling of the large willows around Ferry lagoon opens up this area and goes some way to making this area more suitable for these species.
Tree felling - Ferry lagoon
We have also been felling some of the trees directly into the lakes. This fairly recent management technique has many benefits for wildlife, whilst also opening up views across the lakes. Many of the trees are not cut away from the stump which allows the branches to produce leaves and roots. This adds some heterogeneity to the underwater structure, which acts as great refuge for fish. Moreover, egrets, herons and cormorants take full advantage of this, patiently stalking their prey from these vantage points, whilst coot will use these areas to nest. A further advantage of this work is protection of the banks from wave damage. The extra light which can now penetrate these areas will hopefully see some emergent vegetation take hold, which helps protect the bank and benefit grebes and coots among other species.
Extra viewpoints - Drayton lagoon
Over at the holywell grasslands we have been using an excavator to have a bit of a dig and scrape to see what the substrate is like across the field, in order to plan further work aimed at benefiting aculeate hymenoptera. It quickly became apparent that one area in particular contained a base of sand and gravel which had been covered with a thin layer of top soil. This area has now been scraped back to bare sand and will hopefully benefit a large range of invertebrates and add some diversity to our early successional grassland.
Holywell early successional grassland scrape
The wildlife spectacle at the lakes has had a fishy theme of late, with over 50 little egrets, at least three great white egrets and over 100 cormorants. These birds are taking advantage of the plentiful supply of fish in Moore Lake and Ferry lagoon and are a real delight to see, whether they are stalking the shallows or gathering in the lake edge willows.
Elney Lake is the best place on the reserve to spot another member of the heron family, the Bittern. The best way to see one is too scan above the reeds and hope to pick one up in flight. Other species seen over Elney this week (30th October) include bearded tits, marsh harrier, snipe and barn owl.
Great white egret and little egret
As the weather turns colder we should expect to see an increase in wildfowl on the reserve including tufted duck and goldeneye. More winter visitors should begin to arrive soon including short-eared owls and starlings. There is always plenty to see at the lakes, so why not wrap up warm and head on down.
Now that summer is over the lakes are starting to take on a different feel. Leaves are starting to turn a beautiful blend of colours, hedgerows are bursting with berries and it is getting wetter underfoot.
The birds which use the reserve are also changing, with some species leaving, some passing through and others arriving for the winter. Birds leaving include whitethroats, willow warblers and garden warblers, which have now completed their 2017 breeding season and are heading to warmer countries to avoid the winter. Birds arriving include wigeon, teal and shoveler which migrate to the UK from Eastern Europe in order to take advantage of our relatively mild winters in comparison to conditions on their breeding grounds.
Wigeon - Photo credit: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Arguably, it is the species which are just passing through that cause the most excitement. So far this autumn we have been visited by hundreds of sand and house martin busily feeding above the lakes, a wheatear, a whinchat and some spotted flycatchers. However, the most exciting bird to drop in was a wryneck. Wrynecks are an extremely rare breeder in the UK, but a number of them grace our shores with their presence during spring and autumn. They are extremely well camouflaged and have the ability to turn their heads almost 180 degrees, using their neck in a snake like motion and hissing to warn predators away from the nest. If you get the chance to see one then I heavily recommend doing so, they really are a very interesting bird.
Wryneck - Image credit: Mike Langham (rspb-images.com)
Although the temperatures are starting to drop and the weather is on a downward curve there is still a hint of summer left in the air, which is best portrayed by the dozens of migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies which still fill the air. These beautiful beasts add a dash of colour to the reserve and are a real delight to see.
Common darter - Photo credit: Luke Wake
So why not lace up your boots, grab your rain coat (weather dependant) and head on down to Fen Drayton Lakes to see what you can spot.
When I first started working at Fen Drayton Lakes in November 2015 I commented that willow emerald damselfly must occur on the site, as the habitat looks perfect. Now, just under two years later, I can confirm that the species is present on site. Today I searched for, and found, a single willow emerald damselfly on Holywell Pond. This species is a fairly recent colonist of the UK and is currently spreading westwards from Suffolk and Norfolk, where it was first discovered breeding in the UK. They can be found around ponds, lakes and slow flowing rivers which possess overhanging willow. They are most easily seen during August and September and often spend much time among willows by the water. The female lays her eggs in the stems of willow and the eggs overwinter, with the larvae dropping into the water below and then developing within just three months. A very dainty and beautiful damselfly, which is a welcome addition to our reserve species list.
Willow emerald at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen - Photo credit: Hugh Venables