On Sunday we had our second 'Ghosts of the Fens' walk and a few of those on the walk did manage to see a barn owl- hunting over Brandon Fen in the late evening. This seems to be the most reliable spot for these at the moment and 'the mound' is a good place to stand and watch for them. The mound, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a raised grassy hump in the visitor picnic area, marked by a bench, where you can get good views across the river, washland area and part of Brandon Fen. It's also a good spot to look for birds of all kinds flying in to roost- such as meadow pipits, water pipits and stonechat heading for the Washland, and hundreds of corvids (carrion crows, rooks and jackdaws) heading the other way to roost in the trees of West Wood further down the reserve. You might even see a few whooper swans descending onto the Washland where they spend the night, though most of them come in under the cover of darkness- the only sign that they are there being their beautiful honking calls. On the morning of 18 January our whooper swan count numbered over 180- often the birds leave off in small groups after first light so early mornings are the best time to try and count them.

  Photo credit: A barn owl from the reserve, taken by Matt Walton

Also on the Washland has been one of our small gang of great white egrets, feeding in the corners and bends of the river, often with two or three little egret not far away. This lunchtime the great white egret was still there, hunched up and preening with a handful of mute swans on the riverbank. Initially I mistook him or her for one as it was almost as big as a swan! Just not quite as 'plump'! We have also have had records of a few snipe dotted around in the muddy fringes of the flooded areas of the Washland. Shoveler has been the commonest of the ducks up here with up to twenty in a loose feeding group last Thursday (16 January). Watching them feed together is fascinating- they 'swirl' around with each bird following the trail left behind by the bird in front, and each of them stirs up sediment with it's feet. This allows the bird that does it (and the bird behind) to filter the water with the sieve-like bill for little bits of food- plant and insect matter. So the effect of lots of shoveler together is a collection of smaller spinning groups of birds going round and round! It is lovely to watch and the more birds there are the greater the effect.

On Sunday one lucky visitor managed to see a bearded tit down at Joist Fen, and got a photo of it! Last Sunday was exactly the cold, clear, calm day that makes bearded tits more visible- as they feed and flutter about in the reed seed heads during winter they are so easily missed if a breeze is blowing, and their quite discreet high-pitched calls are easily drowned by the sound of any wind. The same visitor, as well as those on the guided walk, saw two cranes coming in to roost which has become a bit of a daily habit in the past week or so. Bittern and plenty of buzzard and marsh harrier are other birds that have been showing well down at Joist Fen in recent days too. Rarity of the week for us has to have been six white-fronted geese on 18 December, seen briefly before they took off, by dear David White and one of our regular visitors.

Photo credit: Cranes in the evening sun and a bittern in flight, by Gleb Bertoff on 19 January

Back at the Visitor Centre, I have changed one of our seed feeders today (we had two offering mixed seed) to nyjer seed in the hope of attracting some siskin and perhaps even redpoll down to feed there- they are both birds which have been seen on site this winter but across the country there are far fewer than in a typical winter which translates to fewer on the feeders too. However there have been plenty of reed bunting, chaffinch, greenfinch and long-tailed tit visiting the feeders, and a great spotted woodpecker often gifts us with it's presence on the peanuts too!

I hope you find this blog useful- in the middle of winter our sightings don't change much but we are privileged to have some very special wildlife on site, such as bitterns, marsh harriers, cranes, bearded tits and water voles and it's always nice when they have weeks when they show themselves a bit more!

Hope to see you soon on the reserve!