Hello to all and welcome to our latest blog. I was treated (for work reasons) to a lovely long walk down to the furthest reaches of the reserve- Botany Bay- and back on Wednesday so this has certainly helped me to get a handle on what's about and what to include in this week's blog! The reason for my jaunt was to finish off our Signage Audit- a piece of work that involves photographing, measuring, describing and mapping (using GPS) each item of signage and interpretation that we have on the reserve at the moment. All RSPB reserves have until the end of September to complete this and the idea is to give our national signage team a true idea of what reserves have in terms of signage and what needs updating. It took a while (who knew we had close to 100 individual items scattered across the reserve?!) but it is finished now and should stand us in good stead for the future. Next on the list of big jobs is to complete an order for a 19-item set of shiny new waymarkers and fingerposts to install across the reserve at path junctions to help direct new (and not so new) visitors around- these will have distances, colour-coding and symbols (such as blue-badge symbols for the toilets and Mere Hide) on to bring us up-to-date! We have lottery funding for this project so it is just a case of organising an order now.

Anyhow, out on the reserve we seem to be straddling the time between the end of summer and the first days of autumn- hobbies are still here (5 or 6 on a warm day) and although they can be seen anywhere, the highest numbers are currently over Joist Fen and westwards to Botany Bay (reachable via the public footpath). We don't seem to have any swallows or martins left and so they are filling up on dragonflies. Lots of southern hawker, ruddy darter and common darter make up the bulk of the dragonfly species on the wing at the moment, with a few migrant hawker too. Willow emerald damselflies are a beautiful, delicate species that is common in number at the moment but very localised in distribution- there are quite a few around the Visitor Centre, some on the path between the Photography Station and East Wood, and a few in Botany Bay. To see these requires warm, but crucially sheltered weather conditions, when they can be seen in these areas perched in windless hotspots soaking up the sun.

Our white stork- or what we thought was 'a' white stork, was last seen on 23 September. One of our visitors, Susan Hobson, sent us in these beautiful images of this oh-so-elegant bird which she took on 16 September. Looking at the images triggered me to look at pictures from earlier in the year as I was certain 'our' stork wasn't ringed... and it wasn't! Then I looked at some images taken between our unringed bird and this one, and found a third individual had visited us with a ring on it's left leg! So since April 2021, we have had no less than three adult white storks visiting the reserve! We are currently in touch with the White Stork Project (which manage and monitor releases and breeding success of white storks in the UK) to try to get to the bottom of where these birds may be from. Our first sightings of each of the three individuals are below: 

Ring status Date first seen
"Stork 1" Unringed 7 April 2021
"Stork 2" Ring on right leg 24 April 2021
"Stork 3" Ring on left leg 16 September 2021

  Photo credit: Our latest white stork, photographed by Susan Hobson (both photos) on 16 September 2021.

For any quick-thinking visitors who may be wondering if any of these birds are from the Knepp Wildlands breeding population in Sussex, we now know they can't be because those birds are ringed with longer, navy-blue plastic (with white lettering) rings which are designed to be easy to read at a distance. Our two ringed birds have smaller, silver, metal BTO-style rings which are trickier to read. So far we have no readings off either bird so if you do see a ringed stork here and are able to read the numbers and letters, please let us know. In fact any white stork sightings are appreciated.

23 September was a Thursday and therefore a work party day- which normally results in a few good sightings due to the extra pairs of eyes pointing skywards (slacking, perhaps?) and this Thursday was no exception with an osprey seen flying overhead at midday and not just a group of three cranes but a single bird too. The three crane group were seen on Cowles Drove by Dave and immediately one thinks they are likely to be one of our families from this year but we know not only that one of our families have now been seen in the wintering flock near the Ouse Washes, but that autumn is also a time for cranes to roam widely, so these three (and the single bird) could equally be strangers to us. Crane sightings are not reliable at the moment but we expect them to be intermittent through autumn and winter as we receive nomadic birds as guests on occasion!

Another bird I saw plenty of on my Wednesday walk was great white egrets- there are at least four on the reserve at the moment and quite possibly more. They favour quiet, reedy corners of pools and ditches and are most often seen at Joist Fen, over on Cowles Drove or sometimes from New Fen Viewpoint at the moment. We also have several little egrets and grey herons (including juveniles) and the three closely-related species will often mingle, but are quick to react if one intrudes on the others' fishing patch! Teal and wigeon numbers are building up across the pools on the reserve, and on the Washland, and you can often hear their beautiful whooping and whistling calls, especially in the early morning or later in the afternoon. We continue to regularly see kingfishers, particularly at New Fen and Joist Fen viewpoints. On Wednesday one flew directly out of the western side of East Wood and onto the pool at New Fen, where it commenced fishing. Kingfishers are well-known for their habit of flying very directly to where they want to be, often passing through seemingly uncharacterisitic habitats to get there, such as cutting through woodlands and zipping over the Photo Station to reach the river from the Visitor Centre pond! Look out for them anywhere, and crucially listen for their high-pitched, urgent 'seeping' call as they approach.

  Photo credit: A kingfisher at Joist Fen viewpoint by Robin Johnson on 17 September 2021.

Here's the latest wader/waterbird count for the Washland- the species mix has changed a little but we still have a few nice birds on show:

Ringed plover - 4 on 23 Sept, 6 on 22, 21 and 20 Sept.

Dunlin - 1 on 22 Sept, 3 on 21 Sept, 4 on 20 Sept.

Common snipe - 15 on 22 Sept, 40 on 21 Sept.

Black-tailed godwit - 17 on 22 Sept, 4 on 20 Sept.

Avocet - 1 on 20 Sept.

Ruddy shelduck (we don't seen many of these!) - 1 on 23 Sept. with some Egyptian geese.

Garganey - 2 on 23 Sept.

These waders have all been seen against a daily backdrop of hundreds of lapwing as well as one or two redshank and oystercatcher too. Green sandpiper and common sandpiper are also worth looking for along the fringes of the river, Washland and secluded pools across the reserve. Perhaps a sign of the times on 21 September was a flyover by two ring-necked parakeets! These birds are steadily expanding their range across the UK and we don't yet have many records at all.

A real seasonal highlight at the moment is our bearded tit population- now we move into autumn the switch to a reed-seed diet for autumn has clearly happened now, as our sightings have rocketed and they can now be heard (and sometimes seen) feeding on the tops of the reedbeds almost anywhere on the reserve, although New Fen and Joist Fen reedbeds are good spots to look. On 22 September I encountered 'beardies' around ten times, always hearing but not seeing- between Mere Hide and Botany Bay. Don't take this as meaning you won't see them- although not easy to see, I am notoriously bad at picking them out of the reedbed with my binoculars. Thankfully I can hear them well!

Moving onto insects... like our dragonflies mentioned earlier, our butterfly range has reduced quite a bit now with stalwart peacock, red admiral, brimstone, green-veined white and large white making up most of what we see, with a few comma, small tortoiseshell and painted lady if we are lucky too. A moth trap set last night (23 September) rewarded us with the first pale-lemon sallow and sallow of the autumn, with autumnal rustic, angle shades, mallowlarge wainscot and THREE (!!!) Dewick's plusia also highlights. Below is one or two photos but in terms of number and variety the catch was definitely down- which we can expect as we move into autumn and on a chillier, clear night too.

  Photo credit: From top to bottom; Sallow, pale-lemon sallow and angle shades. Photos by Heidi Jones.

I did spot a weasel on the riverbank footpath on 22 September, which about sums up our mammal sightings for the week (not forgetting the bunnies on the entrance track!) and common lizards have been out enjoying the sunshine on the raised beds in front of the Visitor Centre today- making the most of it before their winter sleep. It has been lovely to see plenty of juvenile lizards in with the larger, brighter adults this year.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and can visit us soon- the weather is set to be good this weekend!

With best wishes,

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