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While life in a pandemic can be restricting, you can still enjoy the outdoors and there’s plenty of activity to see amongst the bird life at RSPB Lakenheath Fen in the coming weeks, as Heidi Jones reports




It has been several weeks since we reopened the reserve here at Lakenheath Fen, following the lockdown and the furloughing of several staff members to save the RSPB, which is a charity, money at this critical time. Our work here was reduced to essential health and safety checks conducted twice weekly, for un-furloughed staff only, so we missed out on the breeding season and all the survey work that goes with it each spring.

However, we can happily report that we have seen our ‘Big Five’ in good numbers since we reopened – with plenty of sightings of bittern, bearded tit, crane, hobby and marsh harrier. For those that follow our cranes from year to year, our usual pair ‘A2’ have one fledged chick, but we were surprised to find them in the company of a new pair, ‘B2’. Although seemingly young and inexperienced, we are hopeful that having a second pair now using the reserve bodes well for the future and 2021’s breeding season. Although our cranes should leave us for the winter to come, sightings of other birds will increase – as I write this in mid-September, bearded tits have been much more noticeable in the past week or two – as their diet switches from insects to reed seeds and so the birds can often be found feeding at the top of reed stems.

During October, we should also have good numbers of common darter, ruddy darter and migrant hawkers on the wing for those visitors who enjoy insects, and our autumn fruit table outside the Visitor Centre should be attracting lots of red admiral, peacock, comma and speckled wood butterflies. This is a recent feature which we first tried last autumn and it worked really well, bringing these beautiful butterflies up close to visitors as they were distracted by the sugar and the alcohol in the rotting fruit. Here’s a photo taken recently of a speckled wood butterfly feeding on ripe blackberries.

Bearded tits (42382232)
Bearded tits (42382232)

October is usually the month when we see our first redwing and fieldfare feeding on the berry bushes around the scrubby parts of the reserve – look for twitching and rummaging movements from within hawthorn and blackthorn bushes, as they greedily eat as many as they can in one sitting!

Siskins should be visiting the peanut feeders stationed at the Visitor Centre and Photography Station, too – we know they are already here as we can hear their squeaky budgie-like calls from the tops of the alder trees, but when natural food, alder seeds in particular, run low they move onto garden bird feeders if there are any nearby. These gorgeous little finches brighten up any winter’s day and we are always on the lookout for the more demure redpoll in amongst the flocks. . . we usually see one or two each winter on the bird table

Look and listen out, too, if you visit between now and February, for whooper swans. Numbers build up over the course of several weeks until we have hundreds, and they use the Hockwold Washes as a roosting site at night. The Washland Viewpoint is the best place to wait for them from about 4pm onwards. You will hear their ghostly far-carrying honking first, and then you’ll see them circle the Washes and float down to settle on the water. If we’re lucky, we’ll also have a few Bewick’s swans mixed in. While you’re here, look out, too, for barn owls hunting as the light fades.

Male siskin feeding on alder cone seeds (42382236)
Male siskin feeding on alder cone seeds (42382236)
Speckled wood butterfly (42382234)
Speckled wood butterfly (42382234)

We hope to see you on the reserve soon. If you want to speak to us before your visit, do phone us on 01842 863400 between 9am and 5pm or you can email us using lakenheath@rspb.org.uk.

Heidi Jones

Visitor Experience Officer

RSPB Lakenheath Fen