Hello to all of our supporters, old and new, and welcome to the latest blog from Lakenheath Fen! This week the view from the Washland has been spectacular, with a wide variety of different wading birds recorded, and this is all down to it being the breeding season. While a few of the species up there- avocet, redshank and lapwing- have bred with us this year, there are a few 'extras' making cameo appearances for a few days or sometimes just a few hours as they pass through. These species include two male ruff and up to 25 black-tailed godwit (both 3 July) all still in spectacular breeding plumage. This morning (3 July) we also had a smart green sandpiper, on 1 July we had a ringed plover and it is worth looking out for grey plover and curlew too in the coming days. These waders are either early breeders who have finished raising chicks, or are failed breeders who didn't manage to raise a family in their breeding grounds- they have now banded together and are moving south to their wintering grounds with plenty of stopovers on the way, such as at Lakenheath Fen! It means that at this time of year, you never know what you'll see on the Washland. Our avocets now have four full-size fledged chicks and two younger ones between them- a very good result given that breeding avocets are usually a very rare thing for us here!

  Photo credit: An adult avocet taken on the reserve by David Gowing

Sightings of kingfisher have been quiet in recent weeks, but a pair of lucky visitors did see one this morning (3 July) flying along the river, and for the past few days cuckoo, hobbies, bitterns and marsh harriers have been especially visible (Joist Fen is a good spot to look for these). We are approaching the stage where marsh harrier chicks are beginning to fledge, especially those from nests where eggs were laid early, so do keep an eye out for these! Fledglings look a lot life females in that they have dark chocolate-coloured bodies but their heads are a rich ginger in colour rather than a pale cream. One of their nicknames is 'Duracell batteries' because of their likeness to these...! It should be a little while longer before bittern chicks are ready to fledge, but you may see adult females carrying out 'feeding flights' as they source food from further and further afield to feed their growing brood, usually of just one or two chicks. Last week one of our volunteers showed our local ringer where he suspected a bittern nest to be, and his hunch proved to be true- it was popped back on it's nest after being ringed and it's measurements taken!

In terms of insects, the warm, dry moments have been very good for red admiral and small tortoiseshell butterflies- these seem to be the most abundant species on site at the moment with the odd painted lady around too. Emperor dragonflies are becoming more numerous and there are still a few hairy dragonflies- almost like smaller versions of emperors- hunting more closely over the waters' surface on any of the pools you see on site, including the Visitor Centre pond. It is worth looking out for southern hawker dragonflies next- we had our first sighting a week ago and these will be emerging in the coming days. Southern hawkers tend to like hunting well away from water, in woodland rides and along pathways, and Brandon Fen is a good place to look for them. This route has also been a good place to look for green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, buzzard, kestrel and barn owl in recent days in the wooded parts, with smaller birds like stonechat, whitethroat and reed bunting often visible perched up on top of reed stems or scrub along the riverbank section.

  Photo credit: A painted lady butterfly, photographed on the reserve by Alban Wincott

You may notice the reserve is a lot quieter than it has been- birdsong is reduced in frequency and variety now as many birds have territories established and are well into the throes of raising chicks and feeding fledglings. Most of the birdsong you can hear today on the reserve come from blackbirds, song thrushes and common whitethroats. The species that are still quite musical now tend to be the ones that have multiple broods in one season (unlike tits and finches) so they tend to sing between broods to reassert their territories and perhaps attract a new mate if necessary.

In terms of the plants of interest at the moment, it is worth looking at the buddleia bush in front of the Visitor Centre for butterflies, bumblebees and hoverflies, including some interesting mimic species. Evening primrose and Viper's bugloss are looking stunning at the moment and again can be seen near the Visitor Centre and on Brandon Fen. Hemp agrimony is in bud around the reserve and will be out soon, and do stop to appreciate the native Yellow water-lily flowering on the pools at the viewpoints and Visitor Centre. The lily pads are a favourite perch for red-eyed damselflies, especially in sheltered spots. 

So, looking ahead to the weekend and early next week looks to be dry and warm enough for insects to be on the wing (so look out for hobbies too!). So while you are here, the species to look out for in the coming week is the southern hawker- see the photo below:

  Photo: A male southern hawker dragonfly; one to look out for in the coming days!

We hope to see you on the reserve this weekend if you can make it. Currently, while the Visitor Centre is shut, we have our open-air Welcome Point to replace it (situated at the side of the Visitor Centre) as well as an accessible toilet open for all to use, and our Car Park is open from 9am to 5pm each day. 

A note for families: While we cannot currently offer out any binoculars, activity backpacks, pond-dipping kits or spotter sheets to children, we do have a digital spotter sheet you can download and print at home (and take round the reserve with you) and this is attached as a file to the bottom of this blog. On Brandon Fen, our family trail, there is also a series of QR-code led activities for children, linking into the RSPB's Wild Challenge scheme, so if one of your party has a smartphone to hand, take a photo of the QR code and get involved with activities in a COVID-friendly way!

With best wishes for the coming week,

- Heidi (Visitor Experience Officer, RSPB Lakenheath Fen)

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