This week has been quite a cold one which seems to have brought further redwing and fieldfare into the reserve, and these could be seen anywhere with berry bushes, especially hawthorn. Siskin numbers are increasing too, and are becoming a commoner sight on the seed feeders at the Visitor Centre. Here is a good spot also to look for reed bunting (often on the tray underneath), chaffinch, marsh tit and great spotted woodpecker. We have even had occasional visits from a brambling here in the past week, and a sighting in Brandon Fen too.
Photo credit: Female reed bunting by Chris Bainbridge
Other interesting small birds include a water pipit on the Washland (9 October), a corn bunting in flight over the reserve on 3 October, and grey wagtails around the Visitor Centre most days. A chiffchaff was seen yesterday (10 October) in our willow dragon (Frederick) near the Washland viewpoint and stonechats along the riverbank- these are resident now for the winter here so should be visible on any particular day. They will often perch atop the highest bits of vegetation, such as reed stems or the top of a willow or bramble bush, flicking their wings and calling, and are usually found in pairs even in winter.
The Washland itself still holds good numbers of whooper swans- mornings are best for these and the earlier the better, though on some days recently a few birds have been staying all day- so if you arrive later than mid-morning on the reserve it’s always worth a look to see if any remain. A redshank has been present all week, calling noisily and doing justice to it’s alternative name of ‘Warden of the Marshes’. There is always a few wigeon, shoveler and teal to be found over here, along with little egrets most days, occasionally a great white egret and regularly a kingfisher along the course of the river itself. Another waterbird of interest has been a regular water rail at the Pat Rolph photography station, so keep an eye out underneath the feeders if you spend time here during your visit. They are always more visible in colder weather and wherever there are bird feeders too!
Photo credit: Wigeon (male and female) on part of Cowles Drove
It’s been an interesting week for birds of prey too, with our first merlin of the autumn/winter spotted on Cowles Drove (farmland just west of the Washland, to the north of the river). These should become more regular sightings as time goes on, especially at dusk when they are drawn to hunting smaller birds roosting in the reedbeds, such as reed buntings. We have several marsh harriers and buzzards can be conspicuous on sunny days when there are good thermals about. I saw four on the work party last Thursday (7 October), doing a bit of skydancing and rolling and tumbling high up together. Barn owls can be seen on finer weather days hunting over New Fen or the Washland, as the light fades, and tawny owls are often very vocal around dusk in the trees lining the entrance track. We have up to four birds and there seems to be a bit of a territory dispute going on! A treecreeper was spotted on 5 October along the entrance track and the southern side of the track is also a good spot to admire the parasol mushrooms growing amongst giant puffballs, as you enter or leave the reserve.
Photo credit: A species of parasol mushroom by Heidi Jones
An exciting development for us has been the increase in the number of house sparrows- we may have up to ten on site now, following the single bird that has been making frequent appearances at the Visitor Centre since late August. We are hoping that with a little feeding and perhaps some nestboxes we may be able to encourage a colony to start!
In terms of non-avian sightings, we have a good variety of fungi on site, of all different shapes and sizes, including some tiny orange waxcaps in the short turf near the hopscotch on the Brandon Fen trail and those big parasol mushrooms I mentioned along the entrance track. Fly agarics are looking good too by the start of the path from the car park to the Visitor Centre. We are still getting the odd sighting of stoic ruddy darter dragonflies in sunnier weather but this seems to be the last insect species on site that is reliable!
If you are planning a visit in the coming days, do pop in to the Visitor Centre for the most up to date sightings!
By Heidi Jones
Visitor Experience Officer (Lakenheath Fen)
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654