Our first chiffchaff of the spring was heard on the morning of 8 March, singing outside the Visitor Centre, and this really was the crowning glory on what has been a very spring-like week with warm sunny weather on several days, several sightings of bumblebees and early spring flowers popping up along paths and rides. We had another ‘chiffy’ calling outside the Visitor Centre on Tuesday morning (10th). This record is a week later than last year- we had one heard on 1 March 2019, which is especially early given this bird is very reliable and normally heard within a day or two or the same date each year.

  Photo credit: Chiffchaff by David Mackey. (Note the dark legs- very similar-looking willow warblers, who will soon be with us, have pale legs and this distinguishing feature can be very useful in separating the two).

Plants to look out for include red dead-nettle, the sunny yellow daisy flowers of colt's foot and this diminutive little white flower, which we are still waiting to identify- watch this space! If anyone has any idea what it could be, do let us know- it is absolutely tiny, with a rosette of slightly hairy, pointed leaves. Here's a banded snail shell for scale.

  Photo credit: The mystery flower on Brandon Fen... is there anyone out there who knows what it is?

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the size scale, our cranes have been showing well and we now have one pair using the site regularly. We are still hopeful of a second pair joining us for the breeding season, especially as a lot of the winter work carried out on the reserve has been tailored to make the reserve attractive to breeding cranes, as well as bitterns too.

It has been interesting (if pretty windy!) up on the Washland with up to twelve curlew on 7 March, a single oystercatcher (6 March) and up to three redshank (5 March) using the muddy fringes to feed. The water level has been steadily rising here over the winter which means a steady supply of newly-flooded mud for the waders to feed in. Good numbers of shoveler, gadwall and tufted duck are up here at the moment too, as well as one or two little egret and great white egret each day. Keep an eye on the river itself too, which borders us to the north and is responsible for the standing water on the Washland- there have been up to three great crested grebe floating majestically along on the current in recent days.

If you are here early in the morning, it's possible you will be the first person to walk the Washland footpath and if so, do keep an eye out for woodcock sitting close to the footpath- usually you don't know they're there until they shoot off from under your feet and flutter away. Once they are a safe distance away they tend to flop down in vegetation quite suddenly. 

While each year is different, we can expect a few more migrant birds to join the chiffchaff(s) that are here in the coming days. Here's the dates for the next few birds from 2019. With Spring seemingly running on time at the moment, we can expect the dates to be roughly the same:

Willow warbler- 21st March

Garganey- 24th March

Swallow- 31st March

Blackcap- 31st March

Sedge warbler- 2nd April

House martin- 4th April

Sand martin- 8th April

Garden warbler- 8th April

Whitethroat- 8th April

Reed warbler- 13th April

Common tern- 13th April

Cuckoo- 19th April

Swift- 21st April

Hobby- 15th April

For the past two years turtle doves have been conspicuous by their absence here, which is fitting with their nationwide decline and we miss them very much. However we are always hopeful that a pair or two will return to breed with us in 2020, so watch this space! If any other interesting migrants turn up too we'll be quick to blog about it! We may well get ringed plovers or wheatear 'on passage'- stopping off with us for anything between a few hours and a few days for a refuel and rest before continuing with their migration. This is an interesting side to migration as it means Lakenheath can be visited for a short time by birds not typical of the habitat or area. Osprey is another bird to keep an eye on- we have had past visits from birds on brief fishing trips!

The best place to get the most up-to-date information on migration is either in the Visitor Centre (by talking to staff or volunteers, or looking at the sightings board) or checking for our latest blog.

Hope to see you on the reserve soon!

by Heidi Jones (Visitor Experience Officer, Lakenheath Fen)

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