Welcome to the latest blog! After a rough start to the week, where our workshop was burgled overnight, the wildlife at the reserve has kept us all sane and reminded us of the good things in life- it has been a week which has seen more and more spring-like activity; more birds seen in pairs and behaviour you'd expect at the very start of the breeding season. Due to the strong winds we have had to close the reserve today but hope to be open as normal from Monday 10 February. It seems like we have a weather-related powercut too, but are hopeful this will be fixed by this evening!

On 5 February Suzanne spotted a pair of sparrowhawks were seen sitting together in Brandon Fen, which is very unusual! They are quite late breeders, and can lay eggs as late as May. It's quite possible that this pair may choose to breed in Brandon Fen as there are lots of suitable spots- they like to use forks in broad trees, close to the trunk, and quite high up- so the lofty poplars could be perfect. There's an abundance of small birds in the area, and parts of it are quite undisturbed all year round. When the trees get their leaves back we probably won't know they are there!

  Photo credit: A gorgeous female sparrowhawk being ringed by our local ringer Simon Evans, taken by one of our wardens Emma Cuthbertson

Visitors to us in previous years will know about our nestbox camera wired up in the Visitor Centre to a blue tit box, which is occupied most years and gives a lovely close-up view of the goings-on in the nest. This year we are hoping to add in a kestrel box camera too, and perhaps even one from a house sparrow terrace box that we are hoping to mount in the coming weeks in a suitable spot around the Visitor Centre. We keep getting regular visits from our lone male house sparrow, though several birds have been heard chattering in the hedgerow near the workshop on more than one occasion; so we are hoping with somewhere to nest they may be encouraged to settle down! Though it could take several years and we must be patient with them.

Almost every day this week we have had sightings of cranes- five birds in the river bank at Joist Fen on 5 February and twelve yesterday (8 February), seen distantly from Joist Fen Viewpoint. Most days either a pair of birds are seen around 3-4pm, flying into Joist Fen, or a larger group may fly into or over the reserve at any time of day, and they are more flexible about where they stop too. Our all-time reserve record (we think) was twenty birds on 29 January, which was a pair flying in from Cowles Drove to Joist Fen south, joining eighteen that had already flown in but not yet taken off! They are often heard bugling so do listen out for them- even if you don't see them during a visit it is quite possible you will hear them. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the number of cranes around this winter, combined with the habitat restoration work done specifically for them this winter, will combine to result in a strong breeding season with perhaps even more than one pair successfully raising chicks... but we'll have to wait and see!

Other interesting sightings include redwing, fieldfare and brambling become more numerous and more visible- towards the end of winter it is quite normal for winter thrushes to become more obvious in the eastern counties- in autumn many migrant redwing and fieldfare seen are simply passing through, giving the impression of a lot of birds on site- but then they seem to 'disappear'- they are in fact heading for the west of the UK where they start munching away on berries and worms, slowly working their way east again towards the coast, so that by February and March we see many more than we have been seeing. The result is that by the end of winter the birds are already at the coast, ready for migration eastwards from our shores (or that is thought to be the reason for the pattern!). Brandon Fen seems to be the best spot for looking for these and most days I go for a walk there I often see them perched up in the top of the poplars or feeding on the ground in large groups.

Other highlights from the past week include twelve roe deer seen in together in Brandon Fen by David White yesterday (8 February) and a pair of muntjac which were browsing around the edge of the Visitor Centre pool during our WEX Club monthly meet yesterday! The balcony feeders have had good numbers of reed bunting, greenfinch, reed bunting, chaffinch and a few coal tits visiting them, especially since our lovely Thursday volunteer Steve came up with a novel fix for one of the sets of feeders, which broke a few weeks ago. We are now back to having a set at either end of the pool and are very grateful to him!

  Photo credit: A male chaffinch ruminating in the winter light! Taken by Adrian Stillwell

We'd recommend at the moment making an afternoon visit to the reserve, especially if you are keen to try and see or hear the cranes flying in. Other highlights to look out for at this time of day include marsh harriers over the reedbeds, barn owls (especially likely on a cold and calm evening) and even that elusive ringtail hen harrier we had on 31 January. There's no reason he/she won't continue to roost with us for a while yet- but hen harriers are so elusive- however it's always worth a look! On your way back to the car park do swing by the Washland for a quick look to see if the whooper or Bewick's swans are there- they aren't present every night but often use the area for a night-time roost. Even if it is completely dark, you'll probably still hear them, as well as the odd squealing water rail in the riverbank vegetation.

Hope to see you on the reserve soon!