Hello to all and welcome to our latest blog. We have had a busy week here implementing changes to how to work to bring back more of what we used to do here at the reserve prior to lockdown. The changes start inside the building- now we have had our coffee machine recommissioned, we can offer the full range of coffee, teas and hot chocolate as we used to do, plus cold drinks (bottled water and Breckland Orchard Posh Pop) which we have offered for a week or so now. We have a range of cold pre-packed snacks, such as Ronaldo's Norfolk ice-cream, Piper's premium crisps and sweet treats such as muffins, cookies and flapjacks. At the moment, we can only offer these in a takeaway format, but there are picnic benches close to the Visitor Centre and a wooden seat overlooking the Visitor Centre pond and bird feeders for you to take a minute to enjoy the views.

  Photo: Our range of Breckland Orchard 'Posh Pop' available from the Visitor Centre.

  Photo: Our ice-cream offer!

Outside on the reserve, we have been able to lift the temporary path closure that we had in place between New Fen and Joist Fen. For those that aren't familiar with the reserve, this is a section of our hard track that runs through the centre of the reserve. This was in place to protect a pair of marsh harriers which had set up home very close to the track itself, and when some of the team were carrying out essential safety checks during lockdown, it became clear that the female especially, couldn't tolerate anyone using the path- she would lift off the nest and become very agitated. During May one of our volunteers, a licensed drone pilot, visited the reserve and using his drone, we were able to check on the nest site and confirm activity. Weeks went by and we thought it was time for our local ringer to tag the birds (if the nest had been successful in the meantime!) and on 20 June he visited and tagged our birds with the codes L3, LZ, FD, L4 and FF on green tags. So, if you see any of these birds flying around the reserve, do let us know! FF is the youngest and was the last bird we saw in the air, which corresponds with his age. L3 is the youngest and was seen first- there should be able a weeks' difference between the five birds, although by now an excellent feeding regime by the parents has meant you can barely tell the difference!

  Photo credit: Simon Evans

The only parts of the reserve that remain closed are Mere Hide (due to issues with maintaining hygiene and social distancing) and the summer trail which runs parallel to the hard track in New Fen. This is extremely overgrown and is virtually unrecognisable so all you'll probably see is a sign marking what would be the beginning of it. Again, we believe there could be nesting birds close to this so we haven't been able to mow it to open it up, but it isn't an essential trail needed to get around the reserve, just an additional one. We will let you know when we are able to open up Mere Hide and this seasonal trail again.

Now for the wildlife bit!

As well as all this, the wildlife hasn't disappointed either! On 14 July we had a beautiful purple hairstreak butterfly spotted by a regular visitor, feeding on hemlock on the riverbank side of East Wood. It's only a second record ever for Lakenheath Fen and follows hot on the heels of our FIRST EVER white-letter hairstreak on 20 June (see photo below) spotted by one of our volunteers near the Photography Station. Both species of butterfly are often tricky to see as they don't often come to feed on flowers but spend most of their lives high in trees of different species- white-letter hairstreaks mainly on elms and purple hairstreaks on oak. It is likely that during lockdown green hairstreak will have been visible in the gorse and broom bushes around Brandon Fen and the Car Park but sadly we weren't able to be here to appreciate them this year.

  Photo credit: White-letter hairstreak by Mark Brown

As we move towards summer proper, today we have had reports of ruddy darter and common darter dragonflies, joining plenty of brown hawker and common blue damselflies out on the trails. Another speciality of this time of year is this delightful red underwing moth, camped out on the brickwork of the Visitor Centre for two days now. This heavyweight of the moth world has a penchant for wooden buildings as rest spots where it blends in well with the timber, and we tend to see it from mid-July into August (see the photo below). Although we regularly set moth traps here, it isn't a species that comes to light, as some don't. Out on the reserve, the butterflies most often seen are red admiral, ringlet, meadow brown, small skipper, large skipper, large white, small white, green-veined white and peacock. Again, these are species that tend to become more common as we get into mid to late summer. Gatekeeper and painted lady will be the ones to look for in the coming weeks too.

  Photo credit: Red underwing moth by Heidi Jones

From today onwards, you can take part in the Big Butterfly Count, an annual citizen-science survey organised by the Charity Butterfly conservation. It is a fantastic way to get more familiar with our butterflies and day-flying moths, and is ideal for all ages- whether you want to introduce young children to nature or are an adult who perhaps has never had the time to get to know butterflies more. You can read more about the Count here: https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org/ and download the recording chart as a pdf to print and use, or alternatively you can use the app to record your sightings in a paperless way. Not only is it enjoyable and educational for us, but your sightings count towards building an overall picture of the distribution of the UK's butterflies in green spaces across the country. Feel free to come and do your survey here! If you need to cool down afterwards we have a freezer full of ice-cream...

In terms of bird life, there's plenty of news too. Our avocet families continue to thrive on the Hockwold Washes, viewable from the Washland Viewpoint. We now have five fully-grown chicks able to fly, as well as a few smaller ones belonging to younger broods. Look here too for black-tailed godwit feeding right out in the middle of the water on their long legs, redshank (including an adult-sized chick), hundreds of lapwing, the odd curlew, up to two ruff (12 July) and a single dunlin on 10 July. Do keep an eye on the skies as we had five little gull over on 12 July! Along the river itself has been a good spot lately for kingfisher, one common sandpiper (12 July), great crested grebe and little egret.

The feeders have been busy lately, with plenty of greenfinch, goldfinch (including young birds) and- unusually for us- a nuthatch outside the Visitor Centre on 12 July also. If you do make it down to Joist Fen, keep an eye out for bearded tits, bitterns, up to three great white egrets (17 July) and cuckoo fledglings- some lucky visitors yesterday (16 July) enjoyed watching a reed warbler feeding insects (including butterflies!) to a cuckoo chick they had raised themselves, as it sat on a willow twig waiting to be fed at the side of the pool that the viewpoint overlooks. This end of the reserve offers you the best chance of seeing our resident cranes too- our family of three (one fledged chick and it's parents- pair A2) is beginning to join together with our other breeding pair, B2, in a small group of five as they are often spotted in the same area together. This is normal behaviour post-breeding season, as small groups of mixed age birds (adults and fledglings) join together and roam a bit prior to leaving their breeding grounds and forming larger flocks in the Ouse Washes over autumn and winter. Look out for hobbies too- we believe there are a few breeding pairs using the reserve so hunting adults should be a common sight on a nice day when there are plenty of butterflies and dragonflies about.

Other notable records include a raven in flight over the railway line on 12 July and a grey wagtail over the Visitor Centre on the same day- these often nest under the Wilton Bridge which may explain their presence in the area.

We hope to see you on the reserve soon. The weather this weekend looks a bit mixed, though tomorrow should be by far the better day for conditions for watching insects and hobbies and it will certainly be warm enough! There is a chance of rain on Sunday but the week after that looks dry and good for wildlife watching!

Best wishes,

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

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