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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Fabulous Day at Lakenheath Fen RSPB!

A stunning bird at Lakenheath Fen RSPB

Lakenheath Fen RSPB
Got up before the birds and arrived at Lakenheath Fen RSPB at just after 5.40am. It was a beautiful sunny day, but chilly at this time of the morning! I wanted to arrive at dawn, but didn't quite make it, still it was early for me! Heard a Cuckoo along the track even before I parked. Packed up my rucksack for the day – its too long a walk back to the car for sandwiches. It was jolly cold as I walked along the public footpath (opposite the carpark) to view the 'Washland Pools'. It was so beautiful here, especially with the early morning light. Several Mute Swans, Coots, Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebes on the pools. A Barn Owl was hunting over the reed beds, close to the path. The place was alive with the sound of Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers and White throats, also Reed Buntings, Cettis's Warblers – a rich ensemble in a stunning reserve. I have always loved this place, but don't go here nearly enough as I'm always drawn by the coast! Now if this reserve was on the Norfolk coast, it would most certainly be the best there is and with no dogs allowed at all either – bonus! Also its only 28 miles from my house and is closer then Cley.
 Great Spotted Woodpecker (male).

I could see the cattle up ahead and what looked like a bull. Now I have had a run in with a bull here a few years back and I wasn't about to repeat it, so diverted over a stile to walk alongside the 'New Fen Viewpoint'. Sadly I didn't see or hear any Golden Orioles, but then its possibly a little too early for them yet with everything being behind etc. But I did hear Bitterns booming throughout the morning, fabulous! Bearded Tits were pinging in the reeds – I could only just hear them over the sedge warblers singing! Swifts were flying around in huge numbers. As I walked along the path alongside 'New Fen', on the left (west) a Great Spotted Woodpecker was feeding high up in the trees, which made a lovely picture. Continued my walk past 'Trail Wood' – at least 3 Cuckoos were heard. Bumped into Pete Dolton who kindly informed me that no Golden Orioles had been seen or heard yet, although there were a couple of Oriole sound alike blackbirds around which were fooling people!!! Funny that as I stopped in my tracks earlier and thought 'interesting blackbird'.
 Bitterns flying over the reedbeds.

Mute Swan flying across 'Joist Fen'.

Blue Tit collecting food.
Great Crested Grebe along the river.

I decided to walk along the public footpath to the right of 'Joist Fen Viewpoint' which just looked spectacularly inviting, with the vast reed beds on my left and the river running on my right. A Heron was fishing in the river whilst Great Crested Grebes, a single Mallard and Mute Swans were on the river. Everything looked so green and lush, maybe the sunshine helped. Also a pair of Canada Geese with fluffy, golden goslings were making their way along the river. Two Bitterns then got up and were flying over the reed bed at 7.35am –  I don't think I have ever seen two bitterns together before, wow! Then suddenly a massive Common Crane, which had flown from the fields (I presume) on my right and now flying right across in front of me in bright blue skies – awesome!!! The camera was very busy indeed! I could hear the cranes calling, just magical – this was at 8am. What a lucky morning I was having! A million times better than being at work. Anyway, I walked a long way along this path, probably a mile or two, not really sure. Found my first Garden Warblers of the spring, two together in elders on the west side of the path. Every so often I would hear a Cettis's Warbler burst into song from the reeds amongst all the Sedge and Reed Warblers and more Cuckoos were heard. Hundreds of Swifts overhead, but no sign of any Hobbies yet. Marsh Harriers were soaring round and looking beautiful and one I noticed was carrying a fluffy, golden gosling! Spent quite a while attempting to photograph the Swifts. I could have kept walking, but when I looked round the 'Joist Fen Viewpoint' (the furthest point of the reserve from the carpark) looked an incredibly long way off!!! So I turned and made my way back to the 'Joist Fen Viewpoint'. Met a very interesting local birder on route who told me some things I would love to write about, but can't (bad not good) and then collapsed in the shelter to have my coffee and mid morning snack – well it felt mid morning, but it was actually only about 9.30am. I'm glad I was lucky enough to see the crane earlier as I didn't get any views of any from this view point.

Common Swift.

Sedge Warbler singing its heart out.

 Canada Geese with fluffy, golden goslings!

 Marsh Harriers over 'Joist Fen'.

The sun was warming things up, but for some reason I don't hold out much hope of seeing the Red-footed Falcon as I stood at the 'Trail Wood Viewpoint'. I stood with two other birders and there were another three further along the path. We counted three Hobbies at 10.20am who were flying around feeding and perched up in the trees on the edge of the fen – such beautiful aerobatic birds. Suddenly the male Red-footed Falcon appeared at 10.40am – what a fantastic bird – the colours were truly amazing and easy to pick out amongst the hobbies – the dark, slate grey plumage strikingly different. The pictures I took from here were absolutely rubbish. It was nice to bump into James H. here and we both sighed and smiled at the fact that we would be spending hours deleting and sorting through pictures later this evening! I watched this bird here for a good while until it seemed to favour the 'New Fen Viewpoint' end of the reed bed, so I walked to this viewpoint and sat on the seats. I stayed here all afternoon! What could be better than sitting down watching a stunning male Red-footed Falcon flying around in front of you with loads of Hobbies, hundreds of Swifts a couple of Common Terns and everything else! I hardly had time to eat my lunch with all the action going on. The number of Hobbies increased and I just simply couldn't count them all, but there must have been at least 20, probably more. The R.F.F. was the most challenging bird I have ever photographed – the speed of the bird, the light and wind made it very difficult indeed to pan and track. An injury at work means that my left shoulder and wrist is permanently in pain which is really annoying as I support the lens with my left hand! Its a good job I only have a 300ml prime lens – that's heavy enough. It was killing me to hold that camera up, but I was spurred on as a photographer always is, to obtain the best shots I could.  I couldn't believe how many blurry shots I was taking when I looked at the view finder. I took 632 pictures of the Red-footed Falcon and deleted most of them when I got home! One of the best afternoons birding I have had for a long time. It did rain a couple of times and the Hobbies and Red-footed Falcon left to perch up and then returned to feed when the sun returned. I felt so tired later on that I moved round to the seats on the opposite side of the shelter to lay down and have a snooze, which wasn't very successful as I felt really cold now. I trudged back to the Visitor Centre and bumped into and had a nice chat with Norman Sills who was telling me about all the cranes – he never seems to age, I swear he gets younger! The centre doesn't have a cafe as such, but does sell snacks and hot drinks and of course has toilet facilities.

 Flying with the Red-footed Falcon over 'New Fen'

 Hobbies and the Red-footed Falcon perched up in 'Trial Wood'.

 Action shot – catching an insect!

Lakenheath Fen RSPB.

Weeting Heath NWT
Just up the road from Lakenheath and always worth going to in hope of seeing Stone Curlews. A very helpful member of staff here informed me of where to look for the stone curlews from the west hide. It was raining now and as dull as ditch water. From the hide I saw no sign of any stone curlews with the bins, so got the scope out and scanned the whole area, still nothing. The member of staff I had spoke to came into the hide and pointed one out to me distantly – it wasn't there when I looked! It was the briefest of views as it disappeared just as quick below a small hill. No news of any spotted flycatchers yet (this is a good place for them when they arrive).

East Wretham Heath NWT
Now at this point I should have gone home, it was raining, cold and I was very tired. But I decided to go and find where East Wretham Heath NWT was. There has been a Wood Warbler here for the last few days and I didn't expect to see this bird for one minute so late in the day and in these weather conditions, but I just wanted to know where this reserve was for future reference. I got completely and utterly lost and gave up. Rung Sue Bryan (who I noticed via web had visited this morning) to ask for directions which she very kindly and accurately assisted with, thanks Sue! Parked at the site and followed the marker posts around the heath, but didn't see or hear the Wood Warbler. Beautiful place although a bit too lonely to be walking around late in the day! Had a surprise viewing of 4 huge deer stags running across the heath as I walked back to my car. Drove home in pouring rain.

What a fabulous day! Also got lucky with pictures of Cranes, Bitterns, Hobbies etc. Looking forward to returning to these fantastic reserves. 

The most pictures I have ever added to a post I think!


  1. A superb day for you Penny with an excellent account and fabulous photographs as well. Which camera and lens did you use for the Red-footed Falcon?


  2. Hi Paul - thank you! All my equipment is listed on here (just to the right of main posts). I used a Canon 7D and 300 f4 mm prime lens and lots of patience!

    Best Wishes

  3. Your pictures and words really tell a story Penny, after reading this post I flet I had been there with you. Brilliant! Cheers, Seumus

  4. Thank you very much, glad you enjoyed my account of the day!