Activity on the reserve this week has really brought to our attention the presence of a lot of birds of prey- thanks to our Raptor Spectacular event on last Sunday (17 November). So many pairs of eyes scanning the reedbeds produced a count of seventeen marsh harriers. A male peregrine and male merlin have been seen hunting at dusk too, likely preying on smaller birds such as reed buntings or starlings that are coming in to roost. During the daytime, kestrel and sparrowhawk are sighted frequently almost anywhere on the reserve- while the kestrels have a bit of a penchant for the railway line or Washland, the local sparrowhawk often frequents the bushes around the Visitor Centre and bird feeders.

  Photo credit: Female marsh harrier by Mark Lynham

Up on the washland, there is a sizeable gull flock consisting of greater black-backed, lesser black-backed, herring and black-headed gulls. They float on the flooded farmland there like a big white raft, and around the edges redshank, lapwing (three of each of these on 15 November) should be present. While we have five great white egrets on site, which tend to prefer the area around Joist Fen, one bird is often tempted down to hunt in the fringes of the river north of New Fen, close to the Washland, so keep a look out for him/her. We have good numbers of whooper swan, with up to 250 in the overnight roost- some days a few birds stay until midday so it’s worth checking for these among the mute swans in this area.

Smaller birds of interest include a few stonechat dotted along the riverbank footpath, a pretty female siskin on the Visitor Centre feeders, as well as a large flock of long-tailed tits, attracted by the fat ball feeder! Yesterday we had up to fifteen hanging off that feeder and the peanut basket too. Interestingly we do have a female blackcap who is likely to spend the winter with us here. She is probably part of a migration of birds from southern Germany who spend the winter in the milder UK- a race that is becoming distinct from the birds that visit us to breed in the summer but overwinter in southern Europe and Africa. Wintering blackcaps tend to be a little bigger, and even have longer bills than the summertime birds- it’s thought that this could be the start of an adaptation to feeding from bird feeders!

  Photo credit: A mixed gull flock by Lee Gregory. There is a caspian gull in the centre- keep an eye out for these if you observe the flocks!

One of our special little birds is our bearded tits- and seven were recorded in New Fen North on 17 November, though any cool, clear, calm day, especially in the morning- will offer a good chance to see them. They like reedbed areas where they feed on reed seeds, flying along the tops in a rolling group and calling to each other at the same time to stay in contact. While you here, keep an eye out for bittern too- although they are always secretive we do have frequent sightings from Joist Fen especially.

We have recently re-named our Photography Station to the ‘Pat Rolph Photography Station’ in memory of one of our volunteers who is no longer with us, and birds such as great spotted woodpecker and reed bunting are frequent visitors to the feeders here, with a water rail seen on 17 November hoovering up seed spillages!

  Photo credit: An image from 'back in the day' of the reserve team beginning to build the Photography Station in 2017... and now it has a proper name!

I hope this update has been useful and please do pop in with your sightings during your visit to us- we really appreciate them! A walk around dusk in the coming weeks should be rewarded with some lovely views of birds of prey, or if you visit during the day, keep an eye out for bearded tit, siskin, redwing and fieldfare.

by Heidi Jones

Visitor Experience Officer (RSPB Lakenheath Fen)