Hello and welcome to the latest blog from the reserve. As I write this, it is drizzling on-and-off outside and we had 45mm of rain overnight which the reserve really needed, after a dry winter and spring. 1 June was officially the first day of summer, so here's to hoping the season ahead gives us plenty more much-needed rain. This week has been an interesting one- with three scarce species putting in an appearance in the space of a few days. First up was a purple heron who put in a brief appearance by landing near the upright bog oak during the early morning harrier and bittern survey on Tuesday (31 May). It hasn't reappeared since, but our last record was a bird photographed by Steve Cale on 24 April 2021- at the time he sent us in this photo from Joist Fen, which it flew over:

  Photo credit: Purple heron by Steve Cale- from 24 April 2021.

Every year or so we pick up a record of a purple heron so we suspect one is in the local area and visits us on it's 'rounds' every now and again. Then early on 2 June, our cattle egret which had been here for a few days prior was joined by two more, and throughout 2 June the trio could be admired as they mingled and fed amongst the Hereford cattle along the riverbank footpath. We haven't recorded the cattle egret since but we do have cattle and sheep in several locations locally, some of which are publicly viewable and some aren't- and whilst we haven't spotted them anywhere else they do have a habit of reappearing. Early on 2 June also saw a record of a female red-footed falcon, flying high up east over New Fen reedbed. The last time we had a red-footed falcon, it was here for nearly three weeks in May 2013 and so we were wondering if it was time once more for one to take a liking to the reserve and spend some time here. But, as with the purple heron, we've had no further sightings.

The resident birds haven't failed to delight visitors though with varied sightings across the week- a great-crested grebe family with two chicks and a water rail family (also with two youngsters) and young moorhens have been pleasing pilgrims to Mere Hide, whilst a kingfisher spent some time at the Visitor Centre pool on Friday, as did a grey heron, catching fish at the back of the pond, unperturbed by admiring visitors. The water level on the Washland has risen considerably overnight but the 2-3 avocet nests up there seem to remain well clear of the water's edge, thankfully- as their parents chose their nesting spots when the water level was very low a few days ago. 7 redshank, 2 oystercatcher and 20-30 lapwing have been present most days up there, and it can be a fairly reliable spot for hobby, who like to swoop and glide close to the water surface to catch dragonflies. Our latest Friday Foray on 3 June saw several reed bunting pairs and a couple of stonechat perched on vegetation lining the edges of the river, and there were lots of banded demoiselle and four-spot chaser dragonflies gliding over the river itself. If you are interested in insects, it is worth looking for the beautiful thick-kneed flower beetles on the lovely open flowers of the dog rose, which is flowering well along the riverbank. These glittering emerald beetles feed on pollen and love open flowers like dog-rose, meadow buttercup and ox-eye daisy. Males have the bulbous 'thighs' that give the species it's common name; females are almost identical but with narrow legs.

  Photo credit: Male thick-kneed flower beetle, courtesy of Sussex Wildlife Trust

On Thursday (2 June) the work party worked hard to check the long vegetation at the Photo Station feeders for nesting birds before strimming it so that we could fill the feeders again. Since we lost our brushcutters in December's burglary we had been without any means to keep on top of this vegetation but we had borrowed a couple for Thursday's work. The bird feeders, especially at the Visitor Centre, have been good places to watch for a male great spotted woodpecker gathering beak-fuls of sunflower hearts to take away, presumably to feed a growing family somewhere. There are at least two broods of fledged great tits using the feeders too, which are adorable, and plenty of reed buntings visiting.

  Photo credit: A male reed bunting by Alan Chaplin

Out in the reedbeds, bitterns continue to be seen on most days with fair weather, and cuckoos can be heard and seen easily too. In the last few days we have begun to hear the 'bubbling' calls of the females more often too, indicating courtship is well underway. Females which have mated will often be sitting quietly watching for the activity of warblers and dunnocks, to see if they can figure out where potential active nests may be for them to parasitise. Reed warblers and sedge warblers are common surrogate parents.

A walk around the reserve at the moment reveals an interesting mixture of birdsong- reed warblers and sedge warblers are almost everywhere, singing from deep within reedbeds and scrub (especially for sedge warblers) and the explosive bursts of a Cetti's warbler or two break up this backdrop. There are a few blackcap singing too, but whitethroat is conspicuous for it's (almost) absence and it may be that this species is well into the throes of raising it's first brood of chicks- when there is incubating and feeding duties to do, males have no time and not necessarily a need to sing from nearby perches- that will come between the broods, to reassert territories or to attract a new mate if needs be.

  Photo credit: Common tern by Alan Chaplin

The deep 'woo-oo, woo-oo' of stock doves can be heard emanating from deep within the poplar woods, when a pair of doves have found a suitable old rotten tree stump or hole to nest in. Stock doves are shy, nervous birds that often get overlooked as 'feral pigeons' but they can sometimes be seen at the water's edge on the Washland where they have stopped for a drink, or in flight overhead. Several physical features help to separate them from feral pigeons, including all-black beady eyes, the lack of a white patch on the neck (as in adult woodpigeons), two conspicuous dark grey wing bars on the closed wing at rest, and a noticeable 'clap' noise can sometimes be heard when the birds take off- caused by the wings making contact with each other on the downstroke as the bird takes off. They are also quite petite- more like a collared dove in size and build. Common terns have also been a graceful highlight on the Washland or flying along the river- or even dipping in at Mere Hide lately- this beautiful photo has been sent in to us this week:

  Photo credit: Sedge warbler by Alan Chaplin

You can now see quite a variety of dragonflies on the reserve, with emperor and black-tailed skimmer now around in small numbers. Red-eyed damselfly can be seen in their hundreds in suitable locations such as over the water directly in front of New Fen Viewpoint. They are a petite species, dusky-black across most of the abdomen, with a blue tip and conspicuous red eyes. Although they are a small species, the red eyes are noticeable from a good distance and so is their habit of resting for most of the time directly on rafts of yellow water-lily pads or algae mats, not doing much! They like any sheltered, still or slow-flowing water with- crucially- surface vegetation for them to sit around on.

  Photo credit: Red-eyed damselfly by Paul Ritchie

Looking positively hyperactive next to them are the four-spot chasers and black-tailed skimmers, which are rushing around trying to catch small flies and even damselflies to feed on. The butterfly scene has changed over the past few days too, with an emergence of small tortoiseshells possibly making them the commonest butterfly here at the moment. We have also had a few painted ladies, small white and red admirals seen too. 

  Photo credit: Painted lady butterfly by David White

Many of our visitors enjoy admiring the flowering plants as they walk around and the yellow flowers of both flag iris and yellow water-lily are widespread on any body of water, and water forget-me-not is flowering along the fringes of the river too. Common meadow-rue can be admired flowering in the raised sedge bed in front of the Visitor Centre too- this lovely plant with it's blowsy creamy-white flowers is the sole foodplant of the marsh carpet moth, a scarce species we have here and monitor with surveys in the summer. It won't be long before purple loosestrife, yellow loosestrife, meadowsweet and marsh woundwort join them to create a really colourful display.

I hope you have found this blog useful, and as always, do give us a call on 01842 863400 or e-mail us at lakenheath@rspb.org.uk if you have any queries- we hope you can visit us soon!

With best wishes,

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