RSPB Lakenheath Fen Reserve, May 2015


A variety of factors meant that group numbers were depleted, so we postponed the planned visit to the Great Fen Project, for a more local trip to this relatively new reserve, celebrating its 20th year of existence. Once carrot fields, this sizeable fenland reserve has a maturity beyond its years, perhaps most famous for its beautiful golden orioles and breeding common cranes. Other riches awaited us on this day however.

The poplar woods echoed with iconic springtime birdsong: cuckoos were ever present today, blackcap, chiffchaff, and the always elusive but loudly staccato cetti’s warbler competed with raucous rooks as we wandered along the track to the Fen Viewpoint. Here clouds of house martins and the occasional swallow hoovered up insects at reed-top height, whilst a tentative garden warbler refused to show itself.

Further down, towards Joist Fen viewpoint the house martins morphed into just as many swifts, the dominant insect hunter in that area, quite a marked change in such a short distance.

Then, the glorious boom of a bittern, one of thought-to-be 5 males on the reserve this year. What a turnaround for this previously vanishing species and another great success for Lakenheath. A pair of marsh harriers flew languidly across the reedbed and the volunteer bittern counting team pointed us at around 8 distant hobbys.

Two came closer and closer until we could readily see this strikingly striped falcon’s red-brown thighs and black moustache, so noticeable in adult birds. Previous reports had mentioned up to 40 hobbys present this May but the cool windy day was not ideal for large dragon fly numbers, their main prey.

A bit of research suggested that hobbys first congregate on arrival from southern climes, before dispersal to their breeding grounds, such as Thetford Forest and points north, where they nest in old rook/crow/magpie nests and even the occasional squirrel’s drey.

By the banks of the Little Ouse a cuckoo perched atop a dead tree, providing superb views at just 25 yards distance. Where are the group’s photographers when you need them....Tony and Angela?? Just to tease us another bird flew after the first, calling as it went. How magical was that!

The magic continued as a great white egret flew over our heads, whilst we were focusing on a pair of common terns fishing in the river. Will this large egret be the next to colonise the UK? Another hobby, then a colourful marsh harrier were fodder for our eyes as our visit came to an end. Thirty four species seen and 6 heard, including a definite water rail for fisherman supreme, Dave.

An excellent lunch at Bloomberries Café, Christmas Hill Farm, 01842 861144, completed another fulfilling day of watching and listening to birds.

Peter Heath