Hello and welcome to this weeks' blog. We have had some very warm weather over the past few days which has brought out the first common blue butterflies and the first red-eyed damselflies of 2021. The damselflies were a species I spotted from the Dragonfly Platform on 9 June, during a lunchtime walk where although I thought it would be a little early for them, I was heading that way anyway to repair some signage so thought it worth a punt. I peered over the edge of the platform, and the little red-eyed beauties were quite numerous, resting on the common reed, flag iris and water mint vegetation. As usual with this species they were quite approachable. Other good spots to look for dragonflies on the reserve at the moment include the viewpoints themselves (where species such as black-tailed skimmer have been using them as vertical surfaces to climb up for emergence) and the raised pond bed at the Visitor Centre, where we are finding exuviae from blue damselflies and broad-bodied chasers almost daily.

Common blue butterflies are beginning to emerge, with the first seen in Brandon Fen on 9 June and another on 12 June. We have the odd faded (and world-weary) painted lady on site too- a good spot seems to be walking the path from the Visitor Centre to New Fen via the Photography Station- this grass track also has lots of banded demoiselles along it, which have come off the river (as they require running water). Large red damselfly and azure damselfly can be seen along here too, in fact azure damselfly is probably our commonest species on the reserve at the moment. There's lots of four-spotted chasers about too, and they are probably the most easily seen dragonfly. 

Over the weekend (12-13 May) bitterns have been showing especially well at New Fen and Joist Fen, with the short feeding flights of the females likely to be the reason for some of this increase in sightings. Another reason could be males chasing one another across territory boundaries, as they continue to boom a little and vie for the attentions of the remaining available females. Our marsh harriers are well into the throes of breeding with food-passes between parents a regular sight, and the calling of one bird in the pair to another often heard. When a male has food he will fly deliberately slowly and conspicuously towards the nest site, often calling, with the aim of the female noticing him and joining him in the air to transfer the food- and this is often when marsh harriers are especially noticeable.

Bearded tits have been seen most days this week, especially in the mornings, and I was lucky to hear one when I visited New Fen on 9 July. I didn't see it, but I did hear it 'pinging' out in the reedbed at the back of the pool at New Fen. The reedbeds are also full of reed warbler, sedge warbler and reed bunting who will be busy raising broods of chicks and defending territories. Naturally this means lots of cuckoos about, as females hope to watch for breeding activity in the reedbeds from these smaller species and slip in to dump an egg into a nest that is not theirs. The call of the cuckoo can be heard all over the reserve and there is one that calls regularly from near the Visitor Centre, along with a willow warbler (likely between broods) which has piped up near the willow dragon.

On the Washland avocet numbers have risen to approximately 14, with up to 20 redshank too. I saw a pair of curlew having a bath in the Washland on 9 July and it is not uncommon to see oystercatcher there too. Several pairs of excitable lapwing are up there too, with a few chicks (some of which are close to fledging age) so they have done a good job of rearing them. There's a few broods of gadwall and mallard ducklings of various sizes, and keep an eye out for coot broods and moorhen chicks on the Visitor Centre pond too.

We set the moth trap on 9 June and had a super catch, with around 45 species (the highest number so far in 2021). For the moth enthusiasts out there, this included:

Eyed hawkmoth 5
Poplar hawkmoth 9
Cream-spot tiger 1
Burnished brass 10
Spectacle  3
Poplar grey 11
Dark spectacle  1
White ermine 20
Light brocade 5
Common wainscot

5

Treble lines

13

Bright-line brown-eye

6

Rustic

4

Shuttle-shaped dart

1

Buff-tip

7

Shears

1

Ringed china mark

6

Heart & dart

1

Swallow prominent

3

Turnip

1

Snout

3

Clouded border

1

Rustic shoulder-knot

1

Udea olivalis

1

Middle-barred minor

2

Lime-speck pug

1

Lesser yellow underwing

1

Light brocade

5

Small elephant hawkmoth

3

Green carpet

4

Iron prominent

1

Setaceous hebrew character

4

Brown rustic

5

Orange swift

1

Small magpie

1

Satin wave

2

Cream-bordered green pea

1

Figure of 80

4

Lychnis

1

White point

1

Lesser swallow prominent

2

Pale prominent

3

Pale tussock

1

Peppered moth

1

Last night (12 June) we set the trap again, but in a different location to usual- we set it in Brandon Fen which necessitated using the heath trap which requires a battery instead of mains supply because of the location. As a result of the trap being battery-run and being left unattended in a public area, the bulb isn't as bright so we don't attract quite as much- just 16 species but four-dotted footman and silver-ground carpet were new moths for the trap this year.

In terms of plants, the path edges are covered in dove's-foot cranesbill and common stork's-bill, especially in sunny places, and do look out for the small dandelion-style flowers of smooth cat's-ear on the path to the car park. The flowers are no bigger than a 5p piece and open only in sunshine, but it is a rarity so worth looking for. We may also be the last site in the UK for drooping brome, an elegant, wispy grass that is in flower now between the car park and Visitor Centre. It can also be seen on parts of the Brandon Fen trail too. The Breckland plant raised bed has had a tidy-up and some new interpretation added- why not take a look during your next visit? Blue fescue grass and maiden pink (a wild relative of the garden dianthus) are currently in flower, as is the common rock-rose. Water violet is still out in New Fen, and the best spot for this is opposite the Trial Wood viewpoint- along the northern edge of the hard track where the cut reeds drop below the water level.

I hope this has given you a good overview of the wildlife on offer at the moment on the reserve. Here's a reminder of the facilities we have on offer at the moment:


Car park and trails open daily, from dawn until dusk. We have a small path closure south of Trial Wood, but this does not affect a visitors’ ability to do the long circular trail to Joist Fen through the reserve and back via the riverbank).

Toilets (including an accessible one) available from 09:00 to 17:00 in the week, 09:00 to 16:30 at the weekend and bank holidays.

Outdoor, COVID-secure ‘Meet & Greet’ at the Visitor Centre from 09:00 to 17:00 in the week, 09:00 to 16:30 at the weekend and bank holidays.

Takeaway refreshments, pin badges, greetings cards and local wildlife prints available to browse and buy from our Visitor Centre available 09:00 to 17:00 in the week, 09:00 to 16:30 at the weekend and bank holidays.

Binocular hire and disabled parking facility (at New Fen) subject to availability on the day but on offer from 09:00 to 17:00 in the week, 09:00 to 16:30 at the weekend and bank holidays.

Mere Hide is still closed, but we hope to reopen it soon when the birds have finished breeding nearby and we've had a chance to tidy it up.

Thank you for reading the blog and we hope to see you soon!

Heidi Jones (Visitor Experience Officer, RSPB Lakenheath Fen).

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