At the start of a new year we are building up sightings very quickly, with bearded tits making an appearance on 2 January, when our Site Manager Dave saw a small party of six near the Photography Station. This follows hot on the heels of an elegant and beautiful male hen harrier and eight cranes seen in the evening of New Years’ Day by Dave’s predecessor, Norman Sills, from Joist Fen Viewpoint. Yesterday evening (7 January) the male was seen again in the same place, mingling with a female ‘ringtail’ hen harrier before dropping into the reedbed to roost.

We are asking our visitors to stay as local as possible to where you live for the time being, and to use only your nearest green spaces for exercise, and not to travel great distances to visit us. We know this isn’t always easy and that visiting us from further afield is sometimes tempting but we must all play our part by just travelling when we have to. On 7 January- yesterday- we were very quiet and so a thank you is due from all of us for sticking to the rules so far!

We briefly closed on 6 January when DEFRA seemed to make it clear that ‘wildlife reserves’ had to close during the lockdown, but they have sinced revised this to be ‘wildlife centres’ so although we cannot offer Meet & Greet services, takeaway refreshments or sell items like pin badges (i.e. anything that involves the Visitor 'Centre') the reserve trails and car park remain open and we hope we can stay this way until restrictions are lifted.

Nevertheless, I thought it might be enjoyable for our visitors to hear what has been seen on the reserve so far this year, after finishing 2020 with 139 bird species, 19 mammal species, 19 butterfly species and 15 different species of dragonflies and damselflies. There was a bit of a gap in recording between March and June when some of us were furloughed and the remainder reduced to just essential health & safety tasks, but we should have picked up most of the wildlife either side of our closure! Highlights in terms of birds were brief visits from a bar-headed goose, a white stork, a couple of singing Savi’s warblers in the Spring and a nice cattle egret ( both of which stayed awhile) and several wood sandpipers in August. Yellowhammer and corn bunting sightings seemed more common this year which is very encouraging given they farmland birds more often associated with traditional farming techniques of the past and both species have been in rapid decline in the UK in the last century. I have attached the lists below so if you see anything missing do let me know; otherwise enjoy looking through them!

Mammals and insects species list LakFen 2020.pdf        Sightings List (birds) 2020.pdf

Coming back to the present day, we have had plenty of redwing and fieldfare spotted most days, with the cold and frosty starts making them more noticeable. We may also have a merlin on our hands as a small but fast little raptor was spotted harassing a sparrowhawk on the evening of 6 January, which was witnessed by one of our volunteers, and it is usual for us to have one here over winter. An evening visit to the reserve, especially if you walk down to Joist Fen, could reward you with lots of marsh harrier activity over the reedbeds (15 is our rough record lately) as well as up to two great white egrets, four little egret and several grey heron flying across the reserve as they move to their evening roost on Cowles Drove (north of the reserve).

We have also had up to four little grebe, dotted along the course of the river while stonechat and reed bunting have been especially prominent perched in riverside vegetation. If you don’t get as far as Joist Fen, there are plenty of small birds visiting the feeders at the Visitor Centre lately, with siskin and marsh tit visiting regularly and a daily visit from the great spotted woodpecker who turns up for a few peanuts from the feeder. We have both a male and a female that visit but they are very shy so approach carefully and quietly for the best chance.

Current Facilities:

Here is a full list of our facilities on offer at the moment-

  • Car park open daily from dawn until dusk
  • All trails and viewpoints open daily from dawn until dusk

Our Visitor Centre and outdoor Welcome Point are closed for the duration of the lockdown, as are out toilets. Regrettably we have had to close the toilet due to staff shortages- for parts of the day there will be no staff around, as we are encouraged to work from home and only come to the reserve when needed, so we can’t provide a reliable opening time and cleaning system for the toilets. We feel this shouldn’t affect our visitors too much since we should only have people visiting who are very local to us and not far from home and their own toilet facilities. However, we are aware that some of our visitors may have a medical need to use the toilet no matter how local they are, so feel free to knock on the office door if you see one of us in there and you have additional needs that require the toilet to be opened for you. We will be glad to help if we are around.

With best wishes for the coming weeks- keep busy and keep getting outside each day!

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