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It has been a busy week here at Lakenheath. Paul our excavator driver has been hard at work improving the site for wildlife with his digger. The ditch between the West Wood and the river bank has now been cleaned out. We had not been able to manage this section of ditch effectively in the past as we did not own the land on the north side of the wood. However after purchasing this 2 years ago we can now get access for the machine on the north bank. Why do we need to clean out ditches? Well over time they silt up and get full of vegetation. Maintaining a mix of newly cleaned, partially vegetated and ditches choked with aquatic plants is very important to keeping the full range of wetland wildlife happy as different animals and plants find a home in different types of water course. In addition this ditch is absolutely key to us being able to move water around the reserve. If we can't move water to where it is needed we can't have a functioning wetland so with the ditch deepened out we can more easily fill up Joist Fen North and beyond and fish can more easily move from one area to another.
After finishing the ditch the digger moved on to New Fen North where Paul removed a couple of crossing points into the reedbed, added a new access and moved a gateway. This now allows us to put grazing animals into the newly cut reedbed for the next two or three summers. We want to do this to rejuvenate the reedbed. Reedbeds are habitats that change over time . Ecologists call this process succession. Reedbeds dry out as the reeds die back and regrow each year and the dead vegetation builds up. If you undertook no management work you would end up with a woodland and no bitterns, cranes, marsh harriers and all the other specialist reedbed species. Again like ditches we want to have a range of different ages of reedbed from young to old as different species have different requirements. New Fen North is the second oldest reedbed on the reserve so it was it's turn this year to get the rejuvenation treatment. It will be exciting to see how things progress over the next few years.
Finally on Wednesday Paul moved the excavator down into Joist Fen North to undertake some key work to improve the fish population there. Fish are a key food source for many of our special animals such as bitterns, otters and kingfishers. As I have said in previous blogs we know that there are good fish populations in some areas but not in others and the sluices which are so essential in controlling water levels can prove to be an obstacle to the free movement of fish. So we are replacing some of our sluices with more fish friendly ones. This work will continue next week, so if you go down to Joist Fen you may see us mixing up concrete and filling sand bags to anchor these new sluices in place and the digger will be installing the structures. We hope to have this work completed by next Friday. There will still be opportunities to see the wildlife from Joist Fen viewpoint though and whilst I was helping Paul out in the reedbed on Wednesday and Friday I heard lots of crane bugling coming from the river bank (which is a favourite place for our two resident pairs to display to each other) and saw cranes flying about the reserve plus I had bitterns and marsh harriers at close quarters.
Excavator working in Joist Fen - image Dave Rogers
Finally we plan to install 3 new bridges which will allow us to connect up some more ditches and improve the opportunities for fish movement. One of these is planned for New Fen Triangle (between the West Wood and Joist Fen) and two up near the Visitor Centre. If time and money permit we may do these in the week beginning 22nd February and we will need to close some paths temporarily whilst the work is undertaken. Please ask in the Visitor Centre for details. All the hides and viewpoints will still be accessible whilst this work is being done.
Our regular Thursday volunteer team were hard at work again this week, with Emma and Katherine taking them out into the reedbeds in the west of the reserve to remove more willow trees in the morning. In the afternoon they worked on cutting back willows near where two of the new bridges will be installed near the visitor centre. Dave M, Phil, Roger and Tony - many thanks for all your hard work bow-sawing down trees.
Lets hope for some good weather next weeks to allow us to complete the work and to provide pleasant conditions for you to come and visit the reserve and see some of our special wildlife.
We hope to see you soon,
Posted by DaveR
Good morning. I have now returned and if you are wondering where I have been for the last three weeks, please read this blog post.
I popped in briefly on Saturday and saw nine roe deer grazing alongside the entrance track. A group of four curlews flew over the visitor centre and a water pipit flew up just east of the Washland viewpoint.
I lead a 10 kilometre “Long Walk” about the reserve on Sunday and we had fantastic views of three cranes at various points during the walk. A couple of roe deer were grazing at the far end of the reserve and a muntjac deer ambled across the path in Botany Bay. A male sparrowhawk was also hunting overhead.
As we walked back along the riverbank some bearded tits were calling alongside the riverbank Public Footpath. A great white egret was feeding north of the river along with four little egrets. When we got to Joist Fen viewpoint, we were treated to a long bittern flight just west of the viewpoint, which was great to see. All in all, it was a great walk and if you are interested, the next walk will take place on Saturday 30 July. Please follow this link for more details.
I went for a walk before work yesterday morning and a great white egret was showing well in front of the Washland viewpoint. A couple of pied wagtails flew south and two roe deer were skulking in East Wood.
I stopped at New Fen viewpoint and took a couple of pictures:
Image credits: David White
As the day went on, three water pipits were showing in front of the Washland viewpoint and at least nine roe deer were grazing alongside the entrance track.
Yesterday, a great white egret and a kingfisher were seen from the Washland viewpoint. A covey of 12 red legged partridges were seen near the visitor centre and two coal tits were on the visitor centre feeders. Also, excitingly, a bittern was heard booming quietly at the far end of the reserve. This is the earliest that we have ever heard these scarce birds booming here, so spring isn’t that far away!
Although it was quite chilly this morning, it certainly sounded like spring out on the reserve. A blackbird was singing near the visitor centre and a reed bunting was singing near the Washland viewpoint. A skylark was singing over the viewpoint ans a song thrush was also singing in East Wood.
There were some very strange light conditions just after sunrise and here are some pictures:
Image credit: David White
There was plenty to see including a sparrowhawk that dashed over the visitor centre shortly after I arrived and a great white egret was showing well in front of the Washland viewpoint. Four great crested grebes were showing well in front of the viewpoint and a short eared owl was hunting distantly behind the large pool.
As I walked along the riverbank, a barn owl was hunting at the edge of East Wood. Two roe deer were grazing in East Wood and presumably the same 12 red legged partridges from yesterday were seen near the visitor centre. A yellowhammer also flew west, which was nice to see.
There is plenty to see at the moment so why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon!
Posted by David White
Well, maybe not quite everywhere but it certainly felt like it yesterday afternoon when we were watching 11 cranes flying around the reserve, making a racket with their distinctive bugalling calls!
Thursday, as ever, was work party day and we were just finishing lunch when the first crane calls were heard...soon the sky was full! We are almost certain that our two resident pairs were present as there was a distinctive group of four and three circling around, at one point the three (which we assume were Little, Large and their youngster) flew directly over our heads!
The family of four (Dave Rogers)
Counting them wasn’t the easiest as they kept dropping down or flying out of sight, but between us, with much excitement, we managed to confirm 11 of them. It was an effort to return to scrub removal after that, but we did manage it!
Having checked our records this appears to be the highest count of cranes we’ve ever had on the reserve at once. They are still a little elusive, but for the best chance of seeing them the recommended spots are Joist Fen viewpoint and along the river bank.
The day had already started off well with close up views of two barn owls along the main track from the visitor centre and later in the day an otter near Joist Fen viewpoint. Typically I had headed in the opposite direction at this point and missed it!
Whilst I may have missed the otter I did get to enjoy watching a stoat scampering around the hedge in front of the centre.
A stoat from sunnier times! (Matt Walton)
In other news, the great white egrets are still regularly on the washland but have also been reported flying along the river and in the fields north of the river.
Along the riverbank footpath there’s been regular sightings of stonechat and occasional sightings of water pipit.
Heading down into Brandon Fen, there’s been up to 20 brambling, 12 redwing, 2 collared dove, 12 redpoll, 3 meadow pipit and buzzard overhead. A group of up to 10 roe deer are also roaming round Brandon Fen and can often be seen as you drive along the entrance track.
A curlew calling over the visitor centre was a welcome addition to year list for us, unfortunately it didn’t touch down on the visitor centre pool for a quick wash like the bird below did last year!
Curlew outside Visitor Centre (John Wightman)
Posted by Emma Cuthbertson
Saturday brought sunshine and cranes back to Lakenheath Fen. Both our resident pairs were seen on the reserve yesterday with Little and Large plus their chick sighted in the New Fen area and flying over the reserve to feed south of the railway line. Pair A2 and their twins were seen further down the reserve from Joist Fen viewpoint. The cranes return to the reserve at this time of year to re-establish their breeding territories and soon the young cranes, who have been looked after diligently by their parents for the last 9 months, will be chased away as mum and dad get ready for the new breeding season. Having roamed across the Fens for the last 5 months and mixed in with other cranes on their travels, last years youngsters should be well prepared for life away from Lakenheath. Hopefully our youngsters will stay around in the Fens and in 2 or 3 years time find a mate and settle down to breed somewhere nearby.
Image credit Warren Etherington
Other sightings yesterday included a bittern seen walking around the pool at the Visitor Centre, bitterns were also spotted further down the reserve. We also had a water rail on the Visitor Centre pool. On the feeders we had a our usual good selection of birds but we had nice sightings of siskin and brambling with a lovely male being seen in the afternoon. Redpoll, fieldfare and redwing were seen in the woodland around Brandon Fen. There was also a peregrine seen perched in West Wood. As Emma mentioned in her last blog the great white egrets are showing well and are best seen from the river bank. If you do venture up onto the riverbank footpath wear wellies or good walking boots as it is very muddy up there.
As I write this blog on Sunday morning Andrew and John have just spotted a barn owl hunting between the Visitor Centre and the car park.
Image credit - Matt Walton
On the management front, the reed cutting is now complete for this year. Last week Katherine organised a number of work parties to complete the burning up of the cut reed in New Fen North. We had help from our regular volunteers, Americans from the local bases and an afternoon of work from the other RSPB wardens from Fen Drayton, the Lodge, Nene Washes, Ouse Fen and Ouse Washes who were over for a training day. Very many thanks to everyone who helped out with reed cutting and burning during December and January. We achieved what we set out to do and it was the largest area we have ever cut here at Lakenheath.
This week Emma and Katherine took the work party out willow cutting and with the help of Rob, Roger, Dave M, Tony and Nigel they removed a large number of trees around the site.
Finally this week the excavator arrived to undertake a series of works to improve the movement of fish around the reserve. We know from survey work that the fish populations are quite patchy across the reserve. Places like New Fen North and the pools in front of Mere Hide and Joist Fen viewpoint have really good populations of fish. However elsewhere fish are not numerous or are absent. Fish are an important food source for many of our key species so we are working to replace some sluices with more fish friendly structures as well as linking up water bodies all to allow our fish to move around the reserve more easily and colonise areas where they are currently not present. Here is the excavator cleaning out and enlarging the key water carrier ditch along the north side of the West Wood.
Image credit - Dave Rogers
The digger will be with us for another 2 or 3 weeks and we hope that these works will make a real difference to our fish.
We hope to see you soon.
The strong winds have once again returned to Lakenheath, though thankfully it’s not brought the snow that America has had recently! As I sit in the office listening to the wind howling (also keeping a watch out for any birds being blown past the window that could top up my year list!), it’s good to report plenty of sightings from the last few days.
Our barn owls are still being seen on a regular basis, with sightings from New Fen viewpoint, over the Washland and around Brandon Fen. The short-eared owl has not been reported since the 23rd but fingers crossed it’s still around.
A barn owl from last year (Matt Walton)
Up to five stonechat and a water pipit are currently around the Washland viewpoint, but do move along the riverbank footpath. Two bittern were spotted on the Washland on Saturday along with a couple more sightings at Joist Fen viewpoint.
If you’re leaving the reserve at dusk keep an eye out for woodcock on the entrance track, John was lucky enough to see at least two on his way home on Monday.
The feeders outside the centre have been full of activity over the last few days with visits from all the usual suspects; great tit, blue tit, greenfinch, goldfinch, long tailed tit, reed bunting and whilst not quite making it to the feeders, but close by, a lovely male brambling.
Brambling (Ian Goodall)
Suzanne and I both braved a little walk at lunchtime, it certainly swept away the cobwebs! There’s more water on the Washland than I have ever seen however there was not much braving the choppy waters apart from eight tufted duck, six gadwall, four mute swan and a single little egret. Six siskin and 12 fieldfare topped off the list in Brandon Fen.
There’s up to three great white egrets around at the moment, most often seen on the Washland. Whilst looking through our photo library I realised just how many brilliant photos we’ve got of the egrets, so I thought I’d share a few them...
Above images by Matt Walton
Image credit - Ian Goodall
Image credit - Lee Gregory
And my favourite to finish - Great white egret, little egret and grey heron all together!
We’ve enjoyed some lovely frosty mornings recently; an ice covered reserve glistening as the winter sun shines down on it. Unfortunately today has seen a slight change in the weather and whilst it’s a little warmer it’s also a little wetter!
An icy washland on Sunday morning - Image credit Emma Cuthbertson
I ventured down the reserve this morning to check on a few things and was halted by the sight of seven marsh harriers gliding about in the wind at Joist Fen view point. As David mentioned in his last blog, the harrier roost is most definitely worth experiencing at the moment – there’s up to 27 birds roosting in the reedbed!
As I headed back towards the office I was greeted by a flock of at least 50 goldfinches in the trees outside the visitor centre. I can see why they’re collectively called a charm, it was lovely to watch and hear them chattering amongst themselves.
Reports from the Washland over the last few days have included 11 common gulls, four lesser black-backed gulls, great white egret and a pair of stonechat.
Washland view point - Image credit Emma Cuthbertson
Our bearded tits have been very elusive recently but in the last few days we’ve had increasing reports trickling in. During Sunday mornings Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) myself, Katherine and Paul had at least eight bearded tits showing extremely well along the Botany Bay footpath. Walking along the river bank footpath also seems to be a good place to keep an eye out for these stunning birds.
Bearded tit - Image credit Matt Walton
As we finished the afternoon’s reed burning in New Fen on Tuesday we were treated to not only a stunning sunset, but a flyover from 14 corn buntings – a great way to finish a day off!
Last, but certainly not least...owls! Barn owls are resident here at Lakenheath Fen, but over the last couple of days they have been joined by a short eared owl.
Brandon Fen, mid to late afternoon, is the best place to spot both species of owl. I’ll leave you with some photos taken of the owls by John, who didn’t realise at the time he had captured the barn owl carrying prey!
Barn owl - All images by John Wightman
Short eared owl - all images by John Wightman
Good morning all. This will be my last recent sightings blog post for a while now so without any further ado, I will begin!
Saturday afternoon proved to me a very eventful afternoon. A male sparrowhawk dashed low over the visitor centre and I had a pleasant surprise when I popped up to the Washland viewpoint at lunchtime: A family of six Bewick’s swans flew west over my head before landing briefly on the washland north of East Wood. Meanwhile, further down the reserve, three cranes were seen in flight from Joist Fen viewpoint.
As the day went on, a group of around 15 bearded tits were showing well between Mere Hide and Joist Fen viewpoint. There was then some more excitement when presumably the same short eared owl from earlier on in the day was reported hunting over the washland mid-afternoon. I went up to the Washland viewpoint and couldn’t see it. However, as I turned to scan over Brandon Fen, I spotted it! It was hunting at very close quarters for a while, which was a real treat. There was also a shelduck on the washland and two stonechats were showing well nearby.
I went for a walk around Brandon Fen before work on Sunday morning. A barn owl was hunting at very close quarters near the car park and three water pipits were feeding on the washland just east of the Washland viewpoint.
As the day went on, at least 10 bearded tits were showing well near Joist Fen viewpoint and two barn owls were showing well in front of the washland viewpoint. A harrier was also seen which was initially thought to be a ringtail hen harrier. However, it has now been retrospectively identified as a ringtail pallid harrier, which is a first for the reserve. Its identity was only confirmed this morning, hence why no news came out about it beforehand. It has not been seen since, but it may well still be in the area so fingers crossed it will appear again.
There was still time for one more surprise on Sunday though, when one of our locals photographed a common seal on the washland at dusk between East Wood and West Wood. This is also a first confirmed record for the reserve, and a quite unexpected one at that!
There were five roe deer on the entrance track as I drove in yesterday morning and a kingfisher was seen from the Washland viewpoint at lunchtime. The short eared owl appeared again over the washland mid-afternoon and spent time hunting over both the washland and Brandon Fen.
Meanwhile, further down the reserve, Katherine and Emma did a harrier roost count at Joist Fen viewpoint. They counted at least 27 marsh harriers roosting west of the viewpoint which is a great count for here.
It was really rather chilly for my walk this morning but a barn owl was hunting in front of the visitor centre when I arrived which was great to see. At least 12 whooper swans were feeding on the washland north of East Wood along with a great white egret.
I also took this sequence of photographs of one of the most spectacular sunrises that I have ever seen here. I hope you like them:
Shortly after I got back to the visitor centre, the short eared owl was hunting over Brandon Fen along with a barn owl.
I will return at some point in mid-February so until then, I hope you have a great couple of weeks and we hope to see you on the reserve again soon!
Good morning. It has certainly been a lot chillier than usual over the last couple of days, hasn’t it?! It wasn’t too bad on Wednesday and the work party in New Fen North, the first area of reedbed, were lucky enough to see four cranes flying over towards the visitor centre. Unfortunately, they didn’t get as far as the visitor centre so those of us that were in the office didn’t see them.
I went up to the Washland viewpoint at lunchtime and saw two great white egrets. A male sparrowhawk flew over Brandon Fen and a female stonechat was showing well in front of the viewpoint.
As the day went on, a bittern was seen from Mere Hide and a coal tit was on the visitor centre feeders.
The weather was pretty miserable for most of the day on Thursday and the only wildlife I saw was three roe deer than ran across the entrance track in front of me as I drove in!
It was a lovely day here yesterday but the wind was very cold. Visitor centre volunteer Roy had a stroke of luck at lunchtime when four cranes flew south east over the visitor centre.
At around the same team, I appeared at the far end of the reserve having walked in from Lakenheath. I was mainly here to take pictures to be honest, so here are a few of them:
I saw a muntjac deer down in Botany Bay and as I walked along the riverbank towards Joist Fen viewpoint, a great white egret flew east along the river.
I stopped at Joist Fen viewpoint for lunch and although it was very chilly, there was plenty to see. I saw two bitterns in flight and there were at least six marsh harriers hunting over the far end of the reserve.
As I walked back along the riverbank, I saw at least a dozen roe deer grazing north of the river along with a perched common buzzard. There was also a mixed flock of swans feeding opposite the far end of the reserve, but they were too far away to identify unfortunately.
Meanwhile, back at the visitor centre, three barn owls were hunting near the car park at dusk, which is a great count for here.
It was again very chilly this morning and five roe deer were feeding alongside the entrance track as I drove in. I went up to the Washland viewpoint and a redshank flew over the large pool. By scanning further down river, I spotted a great white egret in flight and at least six whooper swans feeding on the washland. Two marsh harriers were hunting nearby along with a barn owl.
We have just had a phenomenal stroke of luck: A short eared owl was spotted flying north over East Wood, in full view of the visitor centre window! It disappeared towards the Washland viewpoint, so hopefully it will stick around!
Good morning. I have attached Simon Evan’s latest ringing data, this time from last Monday. As you can see, it shows that there are still plenty of bramblings and lesser redpolls on the move. This suggests that the recent chillier weather has encouraged them to move further south for a bit more warmth.
I will start off where I left off on Saturday. I took a walk around the interior path of New Fen North in the afternoon just to check the state of the paths. I saw a Cetti’s warbler out in the open which was nice to see. While I was out, a bittern flew across the visitor centre pond, so it’s good to know that one is still feeding in that area.
I went for a walk around Brandon Fen on Sunday morning and at least six common snipe flew up out of the grazing marsh. Two stock doves also flew over. As the day went on, a kingfisher was seen from the Washland viewpoint and three common buzzards were seen over Mere Hide.
I lead a very successful barn owl walk on Sunday afternoon, which was rescheduled from 29 November last year. We eventually had good views of at least three barn owls hunting over the washland. Other highlights included a stunning male marsh harrier hunting over New Fen North, a probable peregrine perched up in West Wood and two stonechats, which were showing well in front of the Washland viewpoint.
On Monday, Wardens Katherine and Emma saw plenty on their travels around the reserve. They saw a bittern in flight over the far end of the reserve and a common buzzard was hunting over Joist Fen viewpoint.
I went for a walk around Brandon Fen before work yesterday morning and had excellent views of a barn owl hunting at close quarters near the car park. Three roe deer were skulking around in the poplars and a great white egret was showing well in front of the Washland viewpoint. A kingfisher whizzed along the river and two water pipits were also feeding nearby.
When I got back to the visitor centre, I photographed this impressive species of fungi, which looks like one of the ink caps:
As the day went on, Katherine and Emma went down to New Fen North to check progress on the reed cutting that is currently taking place in that area of reedbed. They saw a bittern and two common snipe in flight.
I had a bit of a shock this morning when two roe deer ran across the entrance track in front of me as I drove in. I took a walk down to New Fen viewpoint along the very muddy Public Footpath. I saw a great white egret near the Washland viewpoint and a kingfisher flew along the river. A barn owl was hunting at the edge of East Wood and a male stonechat was feeding near the stile.
Grid reference: TL7286 (+2km)
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