Saturday, 19 May 2012

Lakenheath Fen 5 Years On - Part 1

It is now five years since I have been to Lakenheath Fen and time for a reunion. I used to visit this site annually back in the 1980s when it was no more than a couple of Poplar plantations in the middle of carrot fields. The plantations were owned by Bryant and May, the wood being used to make matchsticks, but they were also home to a small colony of Golden Orioles. We used to drive up the bumpy track from Lakenheath village, cross the railway and settle down to watch the adults feeding young in the nest.

Now it is an RSPB reserve complete with visitor centre, and the carrot fields have been converted back to wetland, and what a wonderful site it is. Where else can you see 18 pairs of Marsh Harrier, 9 booming Bitterns, 2 pairs of Common Crane, 2 pairs of Garganey, up to 20 Hobbies in the air at once and Golden Orioles just 65 miles from Hertford?

I decided to keep to the river bank as this gets you close to the Marsh Harriers and Hobbies and also gives a better vantage point for flight shots. As I was walking along I could see two large birds circling in the distance and immediately assumed that I had connected with my first harriers of the day. However, a glance through the bins revealed that they were in fact a pair of Common Cranes. Let us hope that the fact that they are away from the nest means that they are feeding young.

The second bird to catch my eye was certainly a surprise. Amongst a group of a dozen or so Mute Swans grazing on the flooded river banks was........a Whooper Swan, a bird that should have migrated north a couple of months ago.. There was no obvious sign of a problem with the bird although I was reliably informed that it had a damaged wing with prevented it from flying. Let us hope it continues to avoid the Foxes.

Also along the river there were a number of Common Terns flying back and forth. Most of the time they were fairly distant but occasionally the river does came close to the raised river bank allowing opportunites for some flight shots.


Amongst the numerous Marsh Harriers and Hobbies there were a couple of Kestrels hovering over the neighbouring fields hunting for small mammals. This male Kestrel was successful and was so intent on devouring the luckless animal that it didn't seem to notice my presence.

However, for me the highlight of the day so far was the number of ........Grass Snakes. While I was sitting observing the birdlife from the shelter overlooking New Fen, at least 10 snakes were seen swimming backwards and forwards across the mere, sometimes within 10 yards of where I was sitting, by far the most I have ever seen in one day. Why this amazing spectacle happens here and at no other wetland I have visited remains a mystery.

So what an amazing day so far with a Whooper Swan and Grass Snakes totally unexpected. However, the main reason for me wanting to visit Lakenheath Fen was to try and photograph Marsh Harriers and Hobbies in flight but more of that in Part 2.

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