Photo credit: Bittern by Alfie Shadbolt

Well, it's quite difficult to know where to start with this blog, as so much has been seen here in the last week or two. Maybe the best idea is to start with a few photos which visitors have kindly shared with us, illustrating some of our highlights. On 26 March, this White stork took everyone who was lucky enough to see it by surprise- when it was spotted by Andrew Bradford as it flew overhead at Joist Fen Viewpoint at 10:25am:

  Photo credit: Andrew Bradford

Then, at 10:40am, another visitor, Stella Laughton, took some photos as it circled high over New Fen reedbed:

  Photo credit: Stella Laughton (four images)

It's our first known record since June 2022- and in the Springs and Summers of 2021 and 2022 we had a flurry of sightings so time will tell if there are more to come this year. In the past we've had at least three separate individuals- a bird with no rings on either leg, one with a ring on it's left leg and another with a ring on it's right leg. Whilst gazing skywards, you may also spot a single Common crane, or perhaps two, as we have three pairs on the reserve this year. They are busying themselves with breeding at the moment but you may hear bugling as individuals from one pair interact with another, or fly over each others' territories. Common cranes are extremely wary of people and very sensitive to disturbance during their long breeding season. They nest on the ground, and for the first ten or so weeks after hatching, their chicks are flightless and more or less helpless, so we are grateful to our visitors for helping us to protect them by respecting any barriers you find on the reserve. So far this Spring, we are pleased to say that these barriers have been largely respected- we have trail cameras in place in multiple spots to help us monitor the birds without disturbing them- a welcome side-effect of this is that we do get to see any human trespassers!

At this time of year, many visitors are keen to see Bitterns. Hearing the males 'booming' their courtship calls is commonplace now, especially on warmer, calmer days. In warmer weather the birds don't have to spend so much time looking for food, and when the air is still the males are far more tempted to call, as the 'booms' will carry further. Alfie Shadbolt sent us in some lovely pictures he took on 26 March on the reserve, including the photo below- proof that Bitterns can swim, when they feel like it!

  Photo credit: Alfie Shadbolt

Today (31 March) saw our second record of Sand martin- one was seen in flight over the Washland, and later the river, after three birds were seen here on 25 March. Sand martin joins Chiffchaff (lots singing across the reserve) and a few Blackcap in being some of the earliest migrant birds to have reached us this Spring. Garganey is also here, with between one and eight birds spotted daily now. The best place to look for these is on the Hockwold Washes, the small pool north of East Wood or sometimes along the river there. For those who haven't seen them before (they aren't easy!), they are about as big as Teal, but with a slightly longer body. The female is speckled with brown and the male has a very distinctive white eye-stripe in a similar place to where a Teal has a green eye-stripe. The males are a spectacular medley of grey, black, white and brown spots, stripes and bars and they are often in the company of a female too. Also on the Washland is a wealth of other ducks and a few waders- here is a list of what our volunteer Paul, and a couple of visitors, has found up there recently:

Shelduck - 5 on 31 March
Mallard - 10 on 31 March
Coot - 27 on 31 March
Tufted duck - 3 on 31 March
Redshank - 2 on 31 March
Great crested grebe - 1 on 30 March
Little egret - 2 on 31 March
Great white egret - 1 on 30 March
Goosander - 1 on 27 March (an unusual record for us)
Mute swan - 22 on 31 March
Whooper swan - 1 on 31 March
Common snipe - 11 on 27 March
Curlew - 1 on 27 March

The Hockwold Washes can be a good place to look for birds of prey, too- with a male and female Marsh harrier seen there this morning (31 March) and a ringtail (female or juvenile) Hen harrier seen frequently until 29 March. Although Spring is here now, and it may seem odd to have a Hen harrier here at this time of year, it still has plenty of time to reach its breeding grounds (in UK uplands or on the continent) but whilst it is here many visitors have enjoyed seeing it, and at all times of day. A single Barn owl was spotted by a visitor near the Centre early on 29 March, before we had opened- dawn and dusk are often the best times to look for them. 

Insect life

Our range of butterflies seen on the reserve nearly doubled yesterday! For a couple of weeks we'd had the odd Brimstone, Red admiral and Peacock on the wing, but thanks to the warmth of yesterday (30 March) visitors also reported the first Small tortoiseshell and Green-veined white. It's too early for damselflies but mid-late April will probably see the first ones emerge. As I write this, it is raining outside, but the chill and damp of this afternoon will not stop the tide of Spring- as soon as the sun comes out, so do the insects. Several different species of ladybirds have been spotted around the Visitor Centre recently, including Pine ladybird, Kidney-spot ladybird, 16-spot, 24-spot, 7-spot and 14-spot species. Drone-flies (a type of hoverfly) and several species of bumblebee can now be spotted easily when the sun is out.

Upcoming events

We have many exciting and unusual events coming up in the next few weeks. Some brief details are below, but further information and to buy tickets, please click here.

Guided Pond Dipping - Saturday 6 April 2024 and Saturday 4 May (12 noon - 1:30pm)

Treasures of the Moth Trap - Friday 26 April 2024 and Friday 31 May (10-11am)

Spring Wildlife Walks - Sunday 28 April, Wednesday 1 May, Sunday 12 May, Sunday 26 May (9:30am - 12:30pm)

Join in with Harrier and Bittern Nest Watches - Tuesdays 14 and 28 May (7:30am - 12:30pm)

I hope this blog has provided a good round-up of our recent sightings on the reserve, and what we have going on for our visitors. At this time of year, every day is different and every day brings new migrant birds and even more insects out of hibernation. On top of the birds we expect, we never know what will turn up (such as the White stork!) so come down, enjoy the sunshine and see what you can see. We always love to hear what you've found out on the reserve, so if you have time, do stop by in the Visitor Centre to tell us before you go.

Please also note that from today (Sunday 31 March 2024) until Sunday 26 October 2024, the Visitor Centre and toilets will close at the later time of 5pm, instead of 4pm. This reflects the fact that it is lighter for longer in the evenings and we are (happily!) busier with visitors.

With best wishes for the week ahead,

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