Hello and welcome to our latest blog. We have had a wet and windy week here and haven't seen the sun much since Tuesday (18 May), but the hobbies have been putting on a stoic performance for visitors nonetheless. On wet days we haven't seen so many, but not a day goes by without a few on the wing. Our peak numbers are now between 50-60 on an ideal day, and visitors are also still hearing the occasional booming bittern as they walk round the reserve- we are past the booming 'peak' now and many males will have done what they see as their role in the breeding season, which is to attract and mate with as many females as possible. They will play no role in raising the chicks or supporting the nesting female, so it soon be females that become more conspicuous as they leave the nest area to find food for their brood in 'feeding flights'. Here's a lovely hobby photo sent to us this week:

  Photo credit: A hobby soaring over the reserve. Photo taken by Cheryl Closs on 17 May 2021.

We have several cuckoo on the reserve- at least five or six males- and they tend to like to sing from a high perch along the edges of the poplar plantations. East and West Wood are popular spots although you are also likely to see them in flight as they pursue each rival males and females. At a distance, they look like a slow, lazy hobby, with long, drooping wings and tail and a fluttering flight. Making up the rest of the birdsong on the reserve is lots of common whitethroat, blackcap, reed warbler, sedge warbler and a few garden warbler now too, such as this beautiful one photographed by Cheryl Closs recently here:

  Photo credit: Garden warbler by Cheryl Closs, taken 16 May 2021.

Reed buntings have begun to sing their simple song again from reedbeds and willows, and you may hear a burst of Cetti's warblers too as you walk around. We are still getting reed buntings on the Visitor Centre feeders along with greenfinches and chaffinches.

Bearded tits are quietly going about their business but if you are lucky you may still hear them 'pinging' as they move through the reeds, mainly in pairs (unlike the larger winter groups), especially around Joist Fen. On Monday evening I found myself on the track south of West Wood and could see lots of emerging damselflies- blue-tailed damselflies and another blue species which could have been azure damselfly or common blue, but as they were so fresh (and a murky brown in colour), their markings weren't yet showing well enough to see. We can add these species to four-spotted chaser and hairy dragonfly, all first seen on a particularly summery 7 May. Our very first species of dragonfly was the good old large red damselfly on 29 April, with several since. Our volunteer Jacob found the first holly blue butterfly on that warm 7 May day too, nectaring on flowers along the riverbank footpath. This now brings our tally up to ten species:

Peacock
Brimstone
Comma
Orange-tip (7 April)
Green-veined white (7 April)
Red admiral (17 April)
Small white (17 April)
Large white (17 April)
Small tortoiseshell (17 April)
Holly blue (7 May)


For any butterfly enthusiasts out there, now is the time (when it dries up...) to look for green hairstreak butterflies in the car park, hanging around the gorse and broom bushes in sunny, sheltered spots. We do get them here but not in huge numbers- please let us know if you see any. Still to come are the three skipper species, the three 'browns' (ringlet, meadow brown and gatekeeper), common blue, brown argus, small heath, small copper, painted lady and possibly some more exotic species such as clouded yellow, purple hairstreak or even white-letter hairstreak which made a cameo appearance for the first time last year.

We wanted to set a moth trap last night (20 May) but the wind and rain didn't let us. However, last weeks' trap was a good one, with these on 13 July:

Poplar hawkmoth 5
Pebble prominent 1
Pebble hook-tip 1
Swallow prominent 6
Herald 1
Red-green carpet 1
Seraphim 4
Hebrew character 1
Dotted chestnut 1
Common wave 1


Here's the lovely herald moth:

  Photo credit: Katherine Puttick.

There are now hundreds of swallows and swifts coursing through the reserve, with a few house martin and sand martin each day. The Washland is still a good place to look for avocets and garganey, with three pairs of avocets seen on 18 May and four garganey on 19 May. On 18 May we also had two common terns pass through in the morning, but any visit up there should reward you with a few redshank, lapwing and perhaps curlew too. There are teal, gadwall, shelduck and shoveler, and on the 'mini wash' north of East Wood there is a brood each of gadwall and mallard ducklings. Coot and moorhen broods are dotted across the reserve, especially visible from the viewpoints at New Fen and Joist Fen, and it shouldn't be long before the great crested grebes hatch now.

In the next week or so, the weather should improve so we hope to be able to report on another week full of sightings next week. We do have a guided walk planned for Thursday 27 May as long as the weather is good enough- dry and sunny ideally- and we still have a few places left. If this interests you, you can read more here and book tickets with this link:

https://bit.ly/Butterflies27May2021

Thank you once again to all of our visitors who have been sending in their sightings and photographs, they are always much appreciated.

In terms of the activity of human beings on the reserve, our two wardens have been busy. Yesterday's work party (20 May) saw one group of volunteers giving the fence near the noticeboard a second coat of paint, as well as the picnic benches between the car park and the Visitor Centre, under Emma's watchful eye. Katherine took two volunteers out strimming at the viewpoints and benches further out on the reserve and Dave took another volunteer to fix some fencing on Cowles Drove. We are very grateful to them for all their hard work, and to Phil, another volunteer who has mowed our paths with commitment, precision and care for another week! The grass grows incredibly quickly in these wet conditions.

For the time being, we are going to keep Mere Hide and our Visitor Centre closed. We know that it became possible to open them again on 17 May, but after some discussion we have decided to remain as we are for a while longer. Our reasoning behind this is that Mere Hide has birds nesting very close to the hide, and the reed screen at the hide end of the boardwalk has been badly damaged in recent winds. To avoid disturbance to these nesting birds, we need to repair the screen which we can't do until the water levels drop later in summer. So, for now Mere Hide will stay closed. 

Regarding our Visitor Centre, a couple of staff members haven't had their first COVID vaccinations yet. The rest of the team need their second ones, and a few of our volunteers aren't able to volunteer inside yet (due to health implications) so we have decided to keep our Meet & Greet outdoors until ALL of us can safely come indoors as one unit- we want not one member of our team to be left behind. Official RSPB guidance is to keep Meet & Greet services outdoors where possible, so this is another reason for our decision. We hope you can understand and thank you for your patience!

With best wishes for the week ahead,

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

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