Hello and welcome to the latest blog. We are now well into the throes of summer and this is reflected in the insects you can see on the reserve at the moment- the most common butterflies are meadow browns, ringlets and large whites, with plenty of small and large skippers on the viper's bugloss flowers when the sun is out. Small heath and red admiral are also common species at the moment, and we should soon begin to see Essex skippers towards the end of the month, along with gatekeeper. We are between broods of brown argus and common blue and these are two we can look forward to seeing more of in August. 

Brown hawker dragonflies are beginning to emerge and Emperor dragonflies are increasing in number- this is a chunky species and the green and black females can often be seen ovipositing (egg-laying) in surface vegetation on quiet, calm pools and ponds. Each dragonfly species has a distinctive way of laying its eggs and the emperor hovers low over the water and bends her abdomen into a curve so that the tip tucks under a lily pad or piece of pondweed to attach an egg. The males are blue and green and can often be seen quatering over a chosen pond or close by. Brown hawkers on the other hand can often be seen further from water, as can southern hawkers which we should begin to see soon too. A good place for these two species would be well-vegetated but sunny openings in the trees, such as the entrance track or the path from the Photo Station west towards East Wood. The Dragonfly Platform at New Fen is a good place to look for red-eyed damselflies at the moment- whilst a common species they are particular in their needs and never stray more than a couple of feet from the reed stems and lily pads on the pools they like. They are often quite approachable and can clearly be seen from the end of the platform. Other species on the wing at the moment include lots of common blue, blue-tailed and azure damselflies. Four-spotted chasers, scarce chasers and black-tailed skimmers make up the rest of the dragonflies on the reserve right now.

  Photo credit: Brown hawker dragonfly with Ian Tulloch. Apart from rare sightings in some years of Norfolk hawker, this is the only dragonfly species we will see on the reserve with brown wings.

In terms of bird life, although hobby numbers have dropped off, it is still quite easy to see one or two during a visit as we have a couple of breeding pairs on site eagerly hunting dragonflies. They can look similar in silhouette and in poor light to kestrels, although a closer look with binoculars often reveals the light chestnut-brown and black plumage of a kestrel, with a pale tail, if the bird hasn't started hovering already by the time you see it- a habit of kestrels. Other bird of prey highlights include several fledged marsh harriers- distinguished with a closer look by their rich ginger-brown heads, compared to a mature female's paler, cream-coloured head markings (see photo below). Youngsters also tend to be a bit clumsy, quite vocal and conspicuous when there is one nearby too! Barn owls are breeding here on the reserve this year so seeing adults on an evening walk is a likelihood, and we know tawny owls have bred here this year as two youngsters were spotted 'branching out' (clambering through the trees after leaving the nest) in East Wood in June. Tawny owls are quite early breeders and lay their eggs in March, sometimes February, and seem quite resistant to the cold. Barn owls wait a little longer and sometimes don't settle down until June or July... especially if their chosen favourite spot gets hijacked by stock doves, jackdaws or kestrels and the 'barnies' often don't defend their sites much.

  Photo credit: A young marsh harrier on the reserve, photographed by John Whittle (2 August 2012).

Mere Hide has produced several sightings of kingfisher and common tern since it reopened, and one lucky visitor watched a juvenile bittern being fed by a female at the edge of the reedbed there recently. We are still in the fledging period for bitterns and although the time for booming has long passed, you stand a good chance of seeing a bittern in flight over the reedbeds at the moment, which could be either a female collecting food or perhaps a fledgling make short flights of its own as it explores its new world. The Washland (and the river) are also good places to look for common terns fishing, as they pick their way elegantly through the more stately mixed gull flocks. These are usually made up of black-headed gull, herring gull and lesser black-backed gull. A group of four common terns (three juvenile and one adult were reported on 6 July). In amongst the gulls you should see shelduck, shoveler, gadwall and mallard, as well as a few collections of ducklings around the quieter vegetated edges of the Washland.

In terms of waders on the Washland, we have had:

Avocet (8 on 14th)

Redshank (at least six fledglings on 6th with adults)

Curlew (one or two daily)

Lapwing (100-150 daily), about 1/5th of which are youngsters.

Black-tailed godwits (11 on 10th July, 41 on 6th July, 26 on 5th July) which varies in number day-to-day but there are usually a good ten or so up there.

Little ringed plover (6 on 10th July but none since).

Nearly everywhere on the reserve that you go, you often walk to the soundtrack of sedge warbler, reed warbler, reed bunting and Cetti's warbler- these all creep about in the reedbeds and will have multiple broods over the summer, with males singing between them as they go. Whitethroat and lesser whitethroat are quite musical at the moment too.

For those of our visitors interested in botany, common stork's-bill and the larger hedgerow cranesbill are flowering in abundance, and two rarer species are looking their best in our Breckland plant bed at the moment- Spanish catchfly and maiden pink- this raised bed is in front of the Visitor Centre. Smooth cat's-ear is also out at the moment, but only opens it's flowers in strong sunshine, however we are pleased to find it spreading and a common sight now between the Visitor Centre and the car park. 

On the feeders at the Visitor Centre, marsh tit is beginning to make an appearance again after dissappearing, as usual, for the breeding season. If we are lucky we will spot one or two in the woodlands of Brandon Fen during the summer months but they are absent from the feeders whilst breeding, much like coal tits and long-tailed tits. Also on the feeders are plenty of goldfinch, a few chaffinches and greenfinches. Blue tits, great tits and blackbirds are present too.

I hope you have enjoyed this weeks' blog. As I write this I can hear the distant whirr of brushcutters as the Thursday work party tidy up different areas such as the picnic benches, the vegetation under the feeders at the Photo Station and the viewpoints. It is amazing how quickly the grass grows in the wet and fertile soils here and a bit of strimming is almost a weekly job. We are still being careful where we strim and are refraining from doing so in the reedbeds because reed warblers and sedge warblers are likely to still be nesting for a few more weeks yet.

A quick reminder of our facilities on offer at the moment:

- Our Visitor Centre and toilets are open from 09:00 to 17:00 in the week, 09:00 to 16:30 at weekends.

- Takeaway refreshments are available during Visitor Centre opening hours

- Our car park, trails and Mere Hide are open daily from dawn until dusk

- Binocular hire (£2 per pair) and Big Wild Summer activity bags* (£3.50 each) are available during Visitor Centre opening hours.

*Activity bags contain a trail sheet to take around Brandon Fen to complete alongside the summer wildlife trail, a pencil, a booklet of activities to take home and a 10% off voucher for RSPB shops and the online shop. Our trail is run as part of a nationwide campaign, Big Wild Summer, to provide a range of activities for families across the summer holidays.

With best wishes for the week ahead,

Heidi (Visitor Experience Officer, RSPB Lakenheath Fen).

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