Welcome to the first sightings blog in a very long time- it is lovely to be able to write again about what wildlife we have on the reserve at the moment and what you should be able to see if you visit us. During the lockdown, our knowledge of what the wildlife were up to was very limited. But, in the past week it has been clear that the reserve is packed with wildlife who have been making the most of having the reserve to themselves at a time of year which is normally very busy for us. I only joined the team in August so it is still exciting to see exactly what happens during a calendar year here, month by month. Right now the birdsong is dominated by whitethroat, blackbird, blackcap and a willow warbler (which is singing near the Visitor Centre and probably between broods).

Wherever you go at the moment there are dragonflies and damselflies! Some, like banded demoiselles or emperor dragonflies can travel quite a distance from the water, and you could see them resting on vegetation or hunting almost anywhere on the reserve. But some are a bit more sedentary and devoted to water like the red-eyed damselflies you can see at New Fen- these love the floating vegetation there and will spend all day sitting on the pads of the yellow water lily (which is spectacular in it's own right at the moment!). Common blue damselfly, azure damselfly, four-spotted chaser and scarce chaser are out in good numbers now too. There are still a few large red damselflies on the wing but these emerge first in the season and are starting to become scarcer as the summer species take over.

  Photo credit: Four-spotted chaser dragonfly, taken by Heidi Jones

Despite the path closure of the hard track between New Fen and Joist Fen, we would still recommend walking down to Joist Fen viewpoint if you have the time. You will need to follow the riverbank footpath all the way there and all the way back, but it is worth looking for cranes and bitterns from the viewpoint. We currently have at least two pairs of cranes using the reserve and the bitterns are becoming more obvious as the females (who do all the parental care of the young) do feeding flights from the nest site out to favourite feeding spots. This tends to happen as the chicks get a little bigger and the food supply close to the nest runs low, so Mum Bittern has to fly short distances to gather more food to bring home. It can be a good time to watch them as they are forced to be a bit more conspicuous than usual! On 28 May I spotted a bearded tit family out in the reedbeds- at least four chicks with their parents moving through the reeds at New Fen- the contact calls between them made them pretty obvious- so listen out for these anywhere there is a reedbed, and mornings tend to give you the best chance of seeing them! You should hear plenty of reed warblers and sedge warblers singing if you visit in the coming weeks too.

We have just begun to fill the bird feeders at the Visitor Centre again, but already plenty of goldfinches, a few greenfinches and the usual robins, blackbirds and blue tits being the first back to use them. There’s also a lot of action up on the Washland too, with avocet, redshank and lapwing chicks running around in between the ducks. We had twelve adult avocets there this morning, but keep an eye on the river itself as grey wagtail, kingfisher, little grebe and little egret have been frequently recorded along it’s length in recent days.

If you walk the Washland footpath, do keep an eye open for butterflies around you- small copper and common blue butterflies are frequently recorded here and on 29 May we had especially good weather which brought reports of two day flying moths- a Mother Shipton and a Cream-spot tiger, both in the lush flowery grass at the edge of the path. Mother Shiptons are so named after a famous 16th-Century witch whose face profile is said to resemble the markings on the upperwings of this moth (see below).

  Photo credit: Mother Shipton moth (with a thick-kneed flower beetle), taken by Heidi Jones

I hope you have enjoyed this update on our sightings- it is lovely to be able to once again advertise what we have on site and to encourage you to come and see it. We do have a path closure in place, on the hard track between New Fen and Joist Fen, which essentially means that to access Joist Fen Viewpoint you will need to walk along the riverbank to get there, and return via the riverbank (there is no through access down the centre of the reserve). The Visitor Centre, toilets and Mere Hide also remain closed for now, but please follow the signs when you park up to our Welcome Point, which is sited at the side of the Visitor Centre. This spot enables us to meet and greet everyone coming onto the reserve, show you the best places to go to see what you want, and the best routes to take. We hope to see you on the reserve soon!

By Heidi Jones

Visitor Experience Officer (RSPB Lakenheath Fen)