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Recent sightings

  • 22 July 2014

    22 July recent sightings: Back again!

    Good morning. Again, its been a while since my last update as I haven't been here for the last week. As is often the case, I will start off with some lovely pictures that we have been sent over the last couple of weeks:

    Some large-flowered hemp nettle, which is a bit of a local specialty...

    Image credit: Keith Waterfall

    ...And here is a great selection of invertebrates from volunteer Richard O'Brien:

    A gatekeeper:

    A Roesel's bush cricket:

    A scorpion fly:

    An unidentified spider emerging from its web:

    Image credits: Richard O'Brien

    Thank you very much to Keith and Richard for sharing these pictures with us. 

    Since Ali's last recent sightings post, there have been several interesting sightings. A cheeky little wren managed to find itself into the visitor centre on Saturday and there were seven little egrets on the washland. There was also a grass snake basking near the pond dipping platform and a short-winged conehead (a type of bush cricket) was outside the visitor centre. 

    On Sunday, a barn owl was over the washland and a redshank was seen nearby. At least five bearded tits were seen near Joist Fen viewpoint and two stoats were seen on the hard track alongside Trial Wood. At least two kingfishers were also seen from New Fen viewpoint. 

    The Washland viewpoint was clearly the place to be yesterday. There were 96 mute swans on the washland and at least nine grey herons. By lunchtime, they were joined by nine little egrets and four common terns. There was a bit of excitement mid-afternoon when presumably the same great white egret from last week appeared on the washland north of East Wood. 

    As it was such a nice evening and I hadn't been out on the reserve for over a week, I came down for a walk after work last night. I saw the great white egret at the edge of the large pool in front of the Washland viewpoint. It offered a great size comparison with the seven little egrets that were feeding close to it! I also heard some cranes bugling near Joist Fen viewpoint and saw several hundred peacock butterflies between Joist Fen viewpoint and the visitor centre. 

    The early birders have already been out this morning and have seen the great white egret from the Washland viewpoint. There was also a greenshank and a green sandpiper at the edge of the pool along with several little egrets

    The weather is looking nice and warm this week so why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon!

    Posted by David White

  • 18 July 2014

    18 July recent sightings: Feelin' hot hot hot!

    Phew!  I hope you're all doing ok in this rather oppressive heat.  Apologies for the lack of updates this week, there have been a number of training courses taking place that have kept us away from the reserve.  Luckily our volunteers, visitors and the staff who have been in, have been updating the sightings sheet.

    On Monday we received this photo of a lovely Essex skipper, from Ann and Terry Smith who visited the reserve on 06 July.


    Essex skipper by Ann and Terry Smith


    Some of the skipper butterflies can be tricky to tell apart, particularly the small and Essex skippers.  The difference to look for is the tips of the antenna - not an easy thing to check admittedly.  Small skippers have orange tips on their antenna while Essex have black tips.  The absence of a chequered pattern on the bottom of that upperwing also rules out a large skipper.  Thanks for the photo Ann and Terry!

    In bird news, a great white egret has been spotted over the reserve this week.  It was seen twice on Wednesday by visitors, firstly flying west along the river north of New Fen North reedbed and then flying east over the washland.  Volunteer Rob D also saw it yesterday during a bittern survey, flying over Joist Fen south towards Botany Bay.  Below is a photo of a great white egret taken last year - it shows how they differ from the little egret landing next to it.


    Great white egret and little egret by Les Bunyan


    More black-tailed godwits have also been seen just this morning.  Three were spotted by volunteer Roger B coming off the washland and heading south over the reserve.  Our count of mute swans on the washland increased to 103 on Tuesday, it looks a bit like a gathering army up there!  Kingfishers continue to show well, particularly from New Fen North viewpoint.  Roger B saw two during the bittern watch yesterday and an early visitor this morning has also seen one.  Although I wasn't on the bittern survey myself I'm told that there was still activity seen across the reserve in New Fen North, Joist Fen North and New Fen South reedbeds.  Dave (who was doing some prep work for his Beginners Wildlife Photography Workshop taking place on Sunday, places still available - see website for more details!) spent some time in Mere Hide and got some footage of the fish activity in the pool.  He commented they were perfect bittern sized rudd!  I hope to show you that footage in next weeks blog.

    Hot of the press, literally as I type, Katherine has returned from checking the moth trap down the reserve with the news that a Harris's hawk is present on the reserve.  Roger B also thought he saw it on Tuesday so it's been here a few days.  This is an American bird of prey so it's more than likely an escapee from somewhere, otherwise very lost!  It doesn't appear to have any 'jesses' on it though - these are the thin leather straps placed round the legs that falconers use to control birds when on the glove or perch.  So it's a bit of a mystery as to where this bird has come from.  They look a bit like a juvenile marsh harrier but without the ginger head and with a very obvious white rump - the photo below was taken in 2011 on the reserve.


    Harris's hawk by David Carr


    With this hot weather continuing the reserve is a fantastic place to see numerous species of butterflies and dragonflies.  The odd thunderstorm is forecast over the next few days but don't let that put you off paying us a visit, there is such a variety of wildlife to see.  Hopefully though it'll mean slightly cooler temperatures for next week - we've got ragwort pulling and trail maintenance to do which is rather sweaty work at the best of times!


    Posted by Ali Blaney

  • 13 July 2014

    13 July recent sightings: Just plain unpredictable!

    Good morning! The unpredictable weather has certainly kept us on our toes for the last couple of days. There was plenty to see from Joist Fen viewpoint on Friday including a bittern and at least four bearded tits. A stoat  was seen along the hard track and garden slugs were conspicuous in the damp conditions. 

    Yesterday morning, I went bug hunting with the Lakenheath Fen Kingfishers Wildlife Explorers club. We found plenty of interesting creepy crawlies including a common green grasshopper, a Roesel's bush cricket and lots of red soldier beetles. We also heard a greenshank calling on the washland while we were up on the mound by the visitor centre. 

    I went for a quick walk around Brandon Fen at lunchtime and I saw my first painted lady butterfly of the year on the riverbank. There were also lots of peacock butterflies and large skippers on the wing. My personal highlight was a gigantic garden snail that I found on the way up to the riverbank. Here is a photo of one that I took in a similar area last year:

     Image credit: David White

    There was plenty to see from Mere Hide throughout the day and at least four bearded tits were showing from the boardwalk on the approach to the hide. A kingfisher was seen several times and a water rail was skulking at the edge of the pool. Most visitors' highlight of the day though came when a bittern flew right in front of the hide before disappearing off towards Joist Fen viewpoint. 

    Meanwhile, down at Joist Fen viewpoint, a barn owl was seen several times and at least two cranes were seen in flight over the course of the day. There were also at least six marsh harriers hunting in front of the viewpoint along with two hobbys.

    Elsewhere on the reserve, a hobby was perched in West Wood and at least four common lizards were basking alongside East Wood. A juvenile grass snake was nearby along with a small copper butterfly. We also had a great view of a kestrel hovering behind the visitor centre. 

    This morning, a couple pointed out this moth resting on the viper's bugloss in front of the visitor centre:

    Image credits: David White

    As yet, I haven't managed to identify it but when I do, I will comment below which species it is! We hope to see you soon. 

    Posted by David White

  • 11 July 2014

    11 July recent sightings: A wet week for waders

    Good morning. It's been a bit of a mixed bag weather wise this week with some warm sunshine, but also a lot of rain. Monday was the nicest day of the lot. Ali and Dave went to check the water levels in New Fen North, the first area of reedbed. They saw three kingfishers while they were there along with two bearded tits. On the subject of bearded tits, lots of juveniles have been starting to appear recently and here is a picture of one that was taken on Sunday:

    Image credit: Matt Walton

    Thank you very much to Matt Walton for sharing this with us.

    Now, early July is always a good time to look for waders passing through and although we never get a massive variety of species here, this week has been pretty good by our standards. There were eight black tailed godwits on the washland on Tuesday. This theme continued into Wednesday, when a juvenile avocet flew east along the river and a black tailed godwit flew north over the reserve. To complete the picture, two oystercatchers  flew over and two curlews flew east along the river. 

    There were plenty of other things to see on Wednesday and two turtle doves few across the river near the visitor centre. There were at least five common terns over the washland and two juvenile kingfishers were ringed in Brandon Fen.

    Meanwhile, further down the reserve, Roy saw at least nine marsh harriers on his travels including five over Joist Fen viewpoint. At least three hobbys were on the wing near the poplar woods and two kingfishers were seen from New Fen viewpoint. He also saw two cranes from Joist Fen viewpoint.

    There were plenty of insects to see including an emperor dragonfly in front of Mere Hide. Good numbers of ruddy darters were alongside East Wood and a brown hawker was alongside Trial Wood. There was also a small copper butterfly on the wing near the visitor centre. 

    It was a miserable day yesterday and while I was out on the reserve bug hunting with a group of children, a greenshank was calling on the washland. The local swifts were living up to their names of "rain birds" with at least 25 individuals feeding low over the visitor centre during the afternoon. 

    Although it has been a bit damp here this morning, an "early birder" was down at Joist Fen viewpoint and saw a barn owl being mugged of its prey by a carrion crow. Poor bird!

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


    Posted by David White

  • 9 July 2014

    Bloomin' marvellous!

    How does your garden grow?  Very well, thank you!  Those of you who follow our blog will know the story of our raised plant beds outside the visitor centre.  We built them from scratch (over quite a long period of time) and finally got to the planting stage back in early April.  And what a difference three months makes - they look fantastic, even if we do say so ourselves!  The 'wildlife friendly gardening' bed outside the office was planted with a variety of species suitable for gardens.  The plants are all of great benefit to the bees, butterflies and other pollinator species that make Lakenheath Fen their home, as well as being pleasing to the eye and nose!  As you can see below, it is bursting with colour and buzzing with associated life, compared to the inset picture which shows how it looked back in April.


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney - the 'Wildlife friendly gardening' bed has come a long way


    You can see some of the species that are thriving - the tall yellow Greek mullein on the left, with white campion in front of that and various poppies, plus a couple of sunflowers that were not planned for but are shooting up nonetheless.  It definitely requires a closer look though as we have plenty of beautiful flowers in bloom, including large-flowered hemp-nettle, wild basil, evening primrose and the delicate pencilled cranesbill.  You can also spot a water butt lurking in the background, one of two that we installed to help us with the watering of our raised plant beds.  We would rather not resort to the tap if we can avoid it, however being located in one the driest spots in the country doesn't make it easy.  This brings us on nicely to the Brecks bed...


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney - the Brecks bed


    These plants were of course chosen because this is the habitat that you would naturally find them in.  Stealing the show at the moment are the five vipers bugloss plants, which feature to the left and in the background of the photo, complete with appreciative small tortoiseshell butterfly.  In the foreground on the right is a fabulous plant called spiked speedwell (subspecies spicata), a real Breckland specialist. 

    The other two beds we have are the bog / fen bed and our pond.  From where I am typing I can see the bog bed, with lovely marsh woundwort in flower, some pretty brookweed and yellow loosestrife too.  The pond is a big draw, for us and our visitors - you can't help but wander over to peer into the depths.  The water is quite clear and you can see the varied aquatic insect life zipping to and fro. 


    Photo credit: Ali Blaney - pond bed with bog and Brecks beds behind


    As well as being attractive to the insect life at Lakenheath, our birds have also become accustomed to the beds.  The jays like to bounce around the edges of the bog bed and when there is standing water in there it also becomes a great place for a quick bath.  We've also spotted a female sparrowhawk perched calmly on the edge of the pond, much to the alarm of a nearby great spotted woodpecker, who wanted to get at the peanut feeder.

    In other news, our bittern watch last week was rather quiet so I'm hoping Friday is going to be slightly busier.  Volunteer John I was entertained yesterday by two stoats gambolling about near New Fen North viewpoint, John M spotted a common buzzard flying high above the visitor centre and eight black-tailed godwits were reported over the washland.  Butterflies are proving popular with our visitors - we're getting the identification chart out many times to help them work out what they've seen.  We've also been herding plenty of small tortoiseshell butterflies out of the visitor centre, along with a couple of cinnabar moth caterpillars who wriggle through the door.  I've been making sure to herd these hungry caterpillars in the direction of the nearest ragwort plant, just in case they take a fancy to anything in our plant beds.  Something has been having a nibble here and there already.....I've got my money on a couple of suspicious looking rabbits who've started 'hanging out' in the area!


    Posted by Ali Blaney

  • 6 July 2014

    6 July recent sightings: Kingfishers galore!

    Good morning! I have already told this story on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page, but for the benefit of those of you who don't "do" Facebook, here is what happened to me on Friday morning: I was manning the reception desk in the visitor centre and just as I got to the desk to speak to the first visitor of the day, I noticed a bright blue blob that was perched at the edge of the visitor centre pond. That bright blue blob turned out to be a kingfisher. Now that's what I call a good start to the day! 

    It was the first time that I had seen one of these little beauties from the visitor centre window for quite some time. I am pleased to day that the same bird kept coming back throughout the day and we even managed to get it through the telescope for several staff and visitors to see up close. 

    Meanwhile, further down the reserve, it turns out that Ali was having a similar experience. She went to check the water levels at one of the sluices in New Fen North, the first area of reedbed and found  not one,but four kingfishers! Apparently, they were all perched up in a tree in front of her before scattering off in different directions. 

    As they were showing so well, I think I need to include a picture of one that was taken recently on the reserve!:

    Image credit: Matt Walton

    It wasn't all about kingfishers on Friday though. There were two hobbys circling over the car park and a bittern was seen from the riverbank. At least two cranes were also seen from Joist Fen viewpoint over the course of the day. 

    It was a bit damp early yesterday morning but it did eventually cheer up. Again, our first sighting of the day was... you guessed it, a kingfisher feeding in the visitor centre pond! This was closely followed by a barn owl that floated over the reedbed behind the visitor centre which was lovely to see. 

    A juvenile cuckoo was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and a grasshopper warbler was spotted preening at the edge of East Wood. There were plenty of bugs to see and Roy found a female glow worm alongside East Wood. He also found a curious looking creature alongside Trial Wood that we decided was a striped slender robberfly. There were also lots of golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetles alongside the paths. As I like these so much, here is a picture of one that I took on the reserve last year:

    Image credit: David White

    Why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon!

    Posted by David White

  • 4 July 2014

    4 July recent sightings: It feels like summer is here!

    Good morning! Although we have had some rain this week, it has been pretty warm which is great news. I went for a walk on Sunday morning and saw two cuckoos in Brandon Fen which was very nice, as they will shortly be heading back to Africa. Meanwhile, further down the reserve, Darren, one of our volunteers, was in Mere Hide for five minutes and saw a bittern. Now that's what I call good luck! He also saw two juvenile hobbys over East Wood which is a great sign. 

    On Monday, a barn owl was hunting in front of the visitor centre which was great to see. Suzanne saw three recently fledged kestrels on the entrance track on Tuesday and there were also two coal tits nearby. 

    Also on Tuesday, local photographer Matt Walton was out and about and took these lovely pictures:

    A juvenile bearded tit:

    A ringlet:

    Image credits: Matt Walton

    Thank you very much to Matt for sharing these pictures with us. 

    It was a nice day on Wednesday and Roy saw plenty on his travels. He saw a bittern from Mere Hide along with six bearded tits and two marsh harriers. When he got down to Joist Fen viewpoint, he saw five marsh harriers, around 40 swifts and four common terns. That sounds pretty good indeed!

    Although volunteer Les has now moved up to North Norfolk, he came to visit us yesterday. Here are some of his pictures:

    A juvenile marsh harrier:

    A green-veined white:

    A female common darter:

    Image credits: Les Bunyan

    Thanks very much to Les for sharing these pictures with us! 

    He also saw 81 mute swans on the washland and a common tern from New Fen viewpoint. I also had a quick walk down to Joist Fen viewpoint yesterday morning with a colleague. Although we were mostly talking about work, we saw several marsh harriers. I also saw three bearded tits in front of the viewpoint and a kingfisher from New Fen viewpoint. 

    The rest of the team were out doing a bittern survey yesterday and although bitterns were conspicuous by their absence, the cranes were making a lot of noise north of the river early on and Ali saw two house martins over Joist Fen viewpoint. 

    The weather forecast is looking a bit unpredictable for this weekend so if you are planning to visit, I would recommend packing your waterproofs just in case! We hope to see you soon. 

    Posted by David White

  • 2 July 2014

    Exposing the copy cats

    I’ve had a question on my mind for a while that required some investigation.  It all started back in late April when I heard our friend the ‘willow-chiff’ again.  This is a willow warbler that can be found down in Botany Bay, who likes to throw in the odd “chiffchaff” at the end of his willow warbler song.   I believe it is not uncommon for these two birds to weave the song of the other into their own.  A few weeks later, when we started monitoring our bitterns I was perched overlooking New Fen North, listening to a reed warbler who was sometimes interrupted by a bearded tit.  Eventually, I realised that there was no bearded tit and in fact it was the reed warbler.  The warbler had two or three different song patterns that he repeated over and over (and over – he was a persistent chap!) and one of these ‘loops’ contained bearded tit ‘pings’.  With a bit of looking I picked out the particular reed warbler that was doing this and watched him emit these sounds, just to confirm that I was hearing correctly!


    Photo credit: Bearded tit and reed warbler both by Tim James, 'artfully' merged by Ali Blaney


    A few weeks after that, during another bittern watch overlooking Joist Fen North, I could hear all sorts of birds singing and calling.  I was positioned in the middle of the reserve so had reedbed 360 degrees around me, which involves a lot of head turning for these surveys!  As we also record marsh harrier activity, I kept looking behind me to try and spot the harrier that called every so often.  But I could never find it.  My ears eventually registered the fact that the sound was coming from down behind me and not up in the sky or off in the distance to the south.  It was another reed warbler and this one enjoyed throwing in the call of a marsh harrier mid-song, along with the usual reed warbler notes.

    A quick conversation around the office and the list of bird mimics increased – David has heard a jay imitating a buzzard and a reed bunting in New Fen North trying to convince us he’s a green sandpiper.  And of course there is our famous Lakenheath Fen blackbird, who does a fantastic impersonation of a golden oriole, much to the confusion and frustration of everyone!  This prompted me to investigate why a bird would imitate the call of a predator, as well as those of other birds.  We're all aware of mimicry (which is also related to camouflage) in nature, particularly with insects.  But imitating the call that a marsh harrier makes when it's bringing in food for a juvenile or an adult at the nest seems to me like it would potentially draw in other marsh harriers, so why would a reed warbler benefit from making this sound (even though a reed warbler isn't usually part of a marsh harrier diet)?


    Photo credit: Buzzard by Rob Nichols and jay by Les Bunyan, 'skillfully' combined by Ali Blaney


    A quick search of the internet revealed (along with a huge amount of information about different types of mimicry throughout nature that I definitely don't have room for here...) the following possible reasons for bird mimicry:

    • To attract a mate – the ability to mimic others demonstrates intelligence and an ability to survive long enough to learn a variety of tones
    • Territory defence – as well as highlighting the strength of the resident bird, mimicry suggests there are more birds in the area than there really are, meaning other birds may be reluctant to try and stake a claim in that area
    • Protecting a food source – mimicking a predator may scare others away and prevent them investigating a food source
    • Nest protection – mimicking a predator may deter other birds from approaching the area if they consider it to be dangerous, giving a better chance of survival for eggs and chicks 
    • Social integration – as well as learning their initial basic repertoire from family and other birds of their species, baby birds will also learn mimicked sounds.  This helps with social acceptance and at a later stage, territory defence and attracting a mate
    • Accidental learning – birds will sometimes pick up songs of other species (and even machinery, human sounds etc) simply due to their proximity.  This is quite common with birds in an urban environment but would also be likely in a nature reserve, where many birds will squeeze into the available habitat - it might be the only suitable space in the area!


    Many interesting reasons then why we have so many copycats here at Lakenheath Fen.  The reed warbler in New Fen North who was imitating a bearded tit could have been demonstrating his prowess at survival and his intelligence to try and attract a mate.  The more recent reed warbler mimicking a marsh harrier could have been trying to add an extra layer of protection to a nest site.  Maybe they just like the different tones and decided to spice up their own song!  Something else to think about while we're out enjoying the sounds of nature.  Have any of you encountered interesting mimicry on your birding travels, or even in your own garden?

    I'll just finish with a quick apology to the amazing photographers whose photos I have butchered for the sake of this blog: Tim James, Les Bunyan and Rob Nichols!


    Posted by Ali Blaney

  • 28 June 2014

    28 June recent sightings: What have I missed?!

    Good afternoon. Once again, I must apologise for the lack of updates recently, I have not been in the office much. I will begin with an update from Wednesday. After much deliberation and head scratching, the mystery damselfly from last Saturday has been identified, it was in fact an aberrant female emerald damselfly.  This species has been recorded on the reserve before but not since 2010, so it this was still a great record.

    There has been plenty to see recently and here are some great pictures from local photographer Matt Walton:

    A hunting barn owl:

    A juvenile marsh harrier:

    An azure damselfly:

    A female black tailed skimmer:

    A male banded demoiselle:

    Image credits: Matt Walton

    Thank you very much to Matt for sending these over.

    There has been plenty to see over the last couple of days and a first summer osprey was seen south of the railway line on Wednesday. A female sparrowhawk was also perched on the edge of the pond bed in front of the visitor centre on the same day.

    A stoat was seen near Joist Fen viewpoint on Thursday and a garden warbler was singing along the entrance track. 

    There was plenty to see yesterday and the visitor centre was clearly the place to be as Ali saw a barn owl in front of the centre and a kingfisher behind the centre. Two cranes were seen from Joist Fen viewpoint and there were lots of emperor moth caterpillars to see around Brandon Fen. 

    I returned this morning and lead a guided walk for Norwich RSPB local group. A kingfisher was perched up in front of New Fen viewpoint and two juvenile bearded tits popped up right in front of us which was lovely to see. A hobby also whizzed past with an unfortunate swift in its talons.

    We popped into Mere Hide and there was a little grebe showing well in front of it. There were also lots of rudd feeding close to the surface of the water. There was a real dragonfly feeding frenzy over the pool with large numbers of four-spotted chasers and emperor dragonflies on the hunt for a meal. 

    A bittern flew past shortly after we reached Joist Fen viewpoint and a Cetti's warbler was skulking in front of the viewpoint. My personal highlight of the walk came when we walked back along the riverbank. There were butterflies everywhere! This included loads of small tortoiseshells, good numbers of commas and some freshly emerged red admirals. There were also plenty of five spot burnet moths to see which was nice.

    The weather forecast for the next few days is looking reasonable so why not come and visit? We hope to see you soon!

    Posted by David White

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Grid reference: TL7286 (+2km)

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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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