This week on the reserve has seen huge fluctuations in the weather- November started very cold and with a frost on Monday night (1 November) and yet yesterday was a glorious day- still chilly but very sunny and bright and this encouraged out a few hardy butterflies (mainly peacocks) and quite a few common darter dragonflies. Our visitors, including those on our morning guided walk, really enjoyed seeing them as it won't be long before we have to go without dragonflies and butterflies for three months or so. March 2022 should see our first brimstone and peacock butterflies, and in April we may record some large red damselflies, often the first species of Odonata out each year.

The guided walk was the very first in a new series of monthly walks- on the first Friday each month- 'Friday Forays' as we have christened them. With the weather being kind, we saw around 25 whooper swans on the Washland (there had been 2317 counted by our bird ringer Simon Evans at 7am that morning) and by 8:45am there were still 400 left. The better the weather is, the sooner the swans leave their overnight roost but on most days a handful stay until midday. We also saw- in all- thousands of redwing and fieldfare passing high overhead, all flying east, during the walk (11am-1pm). Walking through Brandon Fen, hundreds of redwing were feeding on the hawthorn berries and roving through the bushes like a gentle tidal wave, each flying ahead of the others in much the same way as long-tailed tits too. We also heard a lovely mistle thrush singing his heart out near the 'hopscotch' area and we had a few siskin fly overhead, twittering away too. Along the riverbank, we spotted a few stonechat, meadow pipit and found one great white egret on the Washland also. For details and booking onto our monthly 'Friday Foray', head here: https://events.rspb.org.uk/browse?filter[schedule]=619 

On the evening of 1 November, our warden Katherine counted 19 marsh harriers flying into roost in reedbeds across the reserve, so our winter harrier roost is really building up. We last recorded a hen harrier on 27 October- a ringtail (female or young male) circling over Joist Fen and then dropping down to roost at around 6pm. Hen harriers are very faithful, in terms of time and location, to their roost sites so it is likely that if you sat at Joist Fen Viewpoint at around 4:45pm, you'd see him or her flying in. Each day, the time they arrive is relative to light levels, so as the evenings draw in he or she will be arriving around 3-4 minutes earlier each night, and likely roosting in the same spot. The marsh harriers are more casual about the roosting affair and although they might have their favourite spots, they will socialise with each other and fly around quite a bit before settling down- the better the weather, the more they do this. Marsh harriers will also lift off, circle and settle sometimes two or three times more before they finally 'go to bed'.

The warmer weather last Saturday (30 October) brought a few common newts to the surface of the raised pond at the front of the Visitor Centre, which was unusual to see in October, and on 5 November a visitor reported a common lizard on the riverbank footpath. Common buzzards were circling and 'mewing' in a group of four (possibly a family from this past summer) over the Washland, seemingly enjoying the thermals and the sunshine.

Bearded tit sightings also came through yesterday with a few lone birds along the riverbank- likely young birds from summer dispersing to new habitat from their family territories. This is a habit that can mean they pass through seemingly unsuitable environments (even parks and gardens) on colder days in autumn and winter. They are searching for territories of their own that will support them through winter with a food supply and also help them breed successfully in 2022. When this behaviour is seen on a large scale, it is called an 'irruption' and each winter there is one, to a greater or lesser degree, with bearded tits.

Around the Visitor Centre, goldcrests and marsh tits continue to delight visitors as they flit between the Scots pine trees and, in the case of marsh tits, onto the feeders too. Chaffinches, long-tailed tits and smart goldfinches have been plentiful too. At the Photography Station feeders, the water rail has been putting in appearances with this beautiful photograph having been taken on 2 November by a regular visitor of ours, Robin Johnson. He has kindly shared it with us for all to see! We love receiving your images and it is always helpful to have some to share what's about on social media, so if you would ever like to send us across photos (lakenheath@rspb.org.uk) then please feel free.

  Photo credit: Water rail by Robin Johnson.

Water rails are becoming very vocal as we move in autumn, as are Cetti's warblers which will surprise you with an outburst of song from a seemingly quiet bush as you walk past. Listen out too for the harsh chatter of wrens as they inspect the branches looking for food to sustain their tiny bodies on cold days. If you are here later in the evening, keep an eye out for barn owls quartering any open habitat, particularly rough grassland and reedbeds. The corvid roost in East Wood is building up with the 'caws' of rooks and 'chats' of jackdaws sounding very seasonal! These birds are extremely sociable and the gatherings build up well before dark as the birds spend hours communicating, bickering and catching up with one another. And woe betide any jay or buzzard that strays near the roost- it'll get an earful from the corvids and be quickly chased away by dozens of black birds!

If you would like to try to see barn owls here this winter, and other birds of prey such as marsh harrier, hen harrier and perhaps scarcer species such as peregrine, merlin or short-eared owl, then why not join us for one of our 'Ghosts of the Fens' guided walks? We will be holding these walks from November through to February, one per month, and you can read more about them here: https://events.rspb.org.uk/browse?filter[schedule]=620

I hope you have enjoyed this latest round-up of our news. As always, if you have any queries about visiting us or our facilities, please give us a call on 01842 863400 or an e-mail at lakenheath@rspb.org.uk. We will answer the phone or respond to e-mails between the hours of 9am and 4pm each day.

As a quick reminder of our facilities:

Outdoor Welcome Point, takeaway refreshments and toilets from 9am to 4pm daily. We have an accessible toilet with baby-changing facilities.
Accessible car parking at New Fen - available from 9am to 4pm daily (by obtaining a permit from the Welcome Point).
Visitor car park - open daily from dawn until dusk
All trails, viewpoints and Mere Hide open daily from dawn until dusk.
Binocular hire (RSPB puffins) available from 9am to 4pm daily at the Welcome Point.

Hope to see you soon!

Best wishes,

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

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