This week has seen a few interesting migrants passing through or stopping off on the reserve. On 2 October we had our first redwing flying over, making their distinctive ‘seep seep’ calls as they went. Our work party counted around forty-six and I saw a further twelve at lunchtime. Leaving after dark on the same day I could hear more, somewhere way up above me in the black sky. In fact 2 October was a good day for sightings and a few visitors saw the two whooper swans that were briefly on the Washland. It’s quite an early sighting for us here but we usually get some on passage every autumn. Although wader numbers on the Washland are quite low at the moment, with just a few lapwing and snipe around, it’s worth checking the tops of the bushes that border the river for stonechat, and even the odd whinchat on passage- we are getting sightings of one or two of these every couple of days.

 Photo credit: A whinchat from April 2015 by David Capps

Another area to keep an eye out for whinchat will be the Brandon Fen family trail, where green woodpecker, kestrel, hobby, and smaller birds such as goldcrest are frequent. As we move into autumn, anywhere on the reserve it’s worth keeping an ear open for mixed flocks of tits in scrubby areas- normally you’ll hear them before you see them. These flocks are mainly made up of blue tits and great tits, but long-tailed, coal and marsh tits often join in, with nuthatch, goldcrest, blackcapchiffchaff and even treecreeper sometimes following loosely behind. Looking for food together and working as a team is a tactic these birds use when the days shorten and get colder, so it’s a behaviour that begins in autumn and should be noticeable from now into the new year.

While there has been no (known) return visit from our cattle egret, we have acquired an extra great white egret- we now have up to five, and they tend to be seen scattered through Joist Fen. This area, and around Mere Hide, is proving more and more reliable for bearded tits, or for hearing them at least. Seeing them is trickier but if you familiarise yourself with their ‘pinging’ call, and patiently wait once you’ve heard it (listen here- https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Panurus-biarmicus) they will often make their way to the edge of a reedbed and into view. Keep an eye out on the tops of the reeds too- where they often feed on the reed seeds (their winter diet) or might be on the move by leapfrogging over one another, calling as they go. Calm and mild weather is generally more reliable for seeing them.

 Photo credit: Bearded tits by Matt Walton

In terms of birds of prey, we still have a few hobbies, with three seen at once on 2 October over the Washland, and a couple of noisy juveniles this morning (5 October) feeding there too. This was also the spot where a juvenile peregrine was on the 28 September and on 2 October a male was seen flying over New Fen. On Thursday evening (3 October) I heard a distant tawny owl beyond the railway line and a water rail calling near the photography station too.

 Photo credit: Hobby by Tim James

Our variety of insect life is reduced now summer has come to an end, but milder days are still encouraging out red admiral, comma and peacock butterflies, with the odd large white and speckled wood too. They’re now confined to feeding on the last flowers of the buddleia in front of the Visitor Centre and on a few hardy dandelions that are out too!

 Photo credit: Peacock butterfly by Heidi Jones

Willow emerald damselflies, common and ruddy darters are making up the cast for the dragonflies and damselflies that are left. We are getting regular sightings of roe and muntjac deer, with the odd stoat and weasel seen darting across paths and the entrance track so keep an eye out for these on your next visit too.

by Heidi Jones

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