We have had a good week of sightings here at Lakenheath, with one visitor counting twenty seven marsh harriers flying in to roost at Joist Fen on 18th December. Watching this roost build up is a real highlight at the reserve at the moment with the possibility of seeing a merlin or a peregrine at this time of day too- which are often attracted by concentrations of roosting small birds such as reed buntings or tits, and the possibility of a late dinner! Talking of birds of prey, a visitor on the 11th saw a red kite in flight over the riverbank and we believe we have a (possibly juvenile) rough-legged buzzard on site. It is always tricky to distinguish one of these from the closely related and much more frequent common buzzard, but several volunteers are pretty certain they have seen it at one point or another. It seems to favour the area around the Washland and New Fen. Although both species of buzzard vary in their appearance, rough-legged buzzards often are paler, especially on their underside viewed during flight, with a more distinct terminal tail band. They tend to like to hover in a similar way to kestrels, and only really visit the UK for the winter months.

  Photo credit: A female marsh harrier, taken by Mark Lynham

In other news, our great white egret gathering now numbers six birds! It looks like we gained another sometime over the weekend, so this bodes well for their future on the reserve and we still hope that it won't be long before they are nesting here in summer. The whooper swans, at the latest count, numbered 106, though we have had as many as 246 recorded. Their numbers will vary depending on the time of day, with the most here at first light, as the gathering breaks off into groups which leave over the course of the morning to feed in nearby arable land.

The swans roost on a flooded area of farmland opposite the river called the Washland, which is also a good place to look for water pipit (up to four have been spotted) and corn bunting, where a regular visitor counted twenty two flying in to roost in riverside vegetation on the evening of 15 December. Stonechat like it here also and the reedy edges of the Washland have been good places to look for redshank (three on 15 December), snipe and up to 200 lapwing. Some days the lapwing are there loafing around, some days they are absent- it is quite a mobile flock that doesn't always spend the day on the reserve.

  Photo credit: A water pipit being ringed a couple of years back by a volunteer on the reserve.

Other highlights have been a continual stream of redwing and fieldfare over the roof of the reserve, and I admired a couple of mistle thrush in flight over the railway line on 13 December. On the bird feeders, we have been enjoying good numbers of long-tailed tits, greenfinch, chaffinch, as well as daily visits from a great spotted woodpecker, and the odd marsh tit, house sparrow and coal tit stop by too. It's worth listening out for the tinkling call of siskin coming from the tops of the alders next to the Visitor Centre feeders- they are easier to hear than see and should have some goldfinches mixed in with them too. At the other set of feeders, at the Pat Rolph Photography Station, a confident little water rail can often be seen picking up seed dropped by the birds above.

Over the past couple of months we have had a beautiful otter gracing us with it's presence on the Visitor Centre pond, slinking and dunking through the water looking for fish. It seems to be becoming more regular, and was last seen on 15 December. It tends to spend a while there, long enough to catch a fish (often rudd or pike) and then it slinks off to the right, behind the willows, presumably to eat its catch somewhere a bit more private. On 13 December my predecessor David White had a lucky encounter with a water vole at the dipping platform! It quickly dived into the water and they are always very elusive. Other mammals to look for on the reserve include muntjac and roe deer, as well as a stoat which is most often seen around New Fen viewpoint.

I hope these sightings have been interesting and helpful in planning your next visit to the reserve. The reserve trails and visitor car park will remain open throughout Christmas although the Visitor Centre (and toilets) will be closed on 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 30th and 31st December. We'll be open on New Year's Day to start our wildlife list for 2020! We'll keep a list in the Visitor Centre and see how many species we can build up of birds, mammals and butterflies during the year!