Thursday, 21 April 2016


RSPB Lakenheath Fen/SWT Lackford Lakes - 19th April 16

Weather: Sunny with slight cloud all day. Quite warm with slight breeze.

Bird Total: 55
Plus: Muntjac; Rabbit.
Plus: Large Red damselfly.
Plus: Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White butterflies.
Plus: Alderfly; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumblebee; Hoverfly; Midge; Red-tailed Bumblebee; Roman Snail; St. Mark's Fly.

The weather has been wet and miserably of late, but the Rain Gods decided to give us a break with a couple of sunny days. So Ron suggested a trip to Suffolk, taking in visits to RSPB Lakenheath Fen and SWT Lackford Lakes. I've been to Lakenheath before but had not yet paid a visit to Lackford. I was keen to compare Reserves.

In the event, Lackford Lakes won hands down. For some reason it was very quiet at Lakenheath Fen, if you discounted all the Marsh Harriers. We did hear a Bittern 'booming' and I heard a couple of 'pings' from Bearded Tits but, overall, it was very quiet. Maybe we were just unlucky.

In contrast, Lackford Lakes proved to be much more fruitful, with Long-tailed Duck; Red-legged Partridge; Little Ringed Plover and Snipe the highlights of a very good visit.

I was picked up by my 'driver' at 9.30-ish and we made an unusually quick and trouble-free journey to RSPB Lakenheath Fen. As this Reserve was the furthest away it made sense to start here. We arrived and parked up.

There were a few people about, with even more on the circuit. Not long after we had started, we were noisily interrupted by USAF jets, from the local RAF base, thundering overhead, making a hell of a racket. It was difficult to hear any birdsong with all this mayhem going on.

Despite this, we did manage to hear and see a few birds. We decided to take the clockwise circuit, adjacent to the train-line. Just before we reached the New Fen Viewpoint, we spotted the first of many Peacock butterflies today, the first of the season.

From the Viewpoint itself, the only birds of note to be seen were a few Marsh Harriers, albeit in the distance, towards the Woods. It was here that we could hear the Bittern booming, but it remained stubbornly hidden. Several Reed Buntings and a Wren flitted past, directly in front of us. Ron gave the first of his duck impressions, as a pair of Mallards swam past, the male looking up at us with what looked like sadness in its' eyes.

With not too much happening, we moved on. A few people in front of us took the main route, so we decided to take a walk along 'off-piste' trail. Just as well, as Ron soon cried out, 'Damselfly!' I looked down to see a newly-emerged Large Red damselfly resting on a reed stem. I had nearly trodden on it. The first Odonata of the season! I managed to snap a couple of photos, just before it flew off. It was to be the only real highlight of the visit, for me.

Soon we were sat sitting in the Mere Hide, the first of two visits. Out on the lagoon all we could see were Greylag Geese; Mute Swans and Mallards. Although a female Mallard was towing along 12 little ducklings. A Red Kite could be seen out to the left. However, not a lot else.

Moving on. There were thousands of Midges to avoid, plus the early appearance of loads of St. Mark's Flies. It was around this area that I thought I detected a Bearded Tit pinging away. Unfortunately, Ron never heard it. There were several Reed Warblers around, all singing their presence.

We then reached the apex of our walk, at the Joist Fen Viewpoint. More Marsh Harriers were seen before we moved on, seeing very few birds. Walking towards the area where we knew there to be Cranes, we could see and hear Lapwing and Redshank in the distance, over the river. There were no Cranes around today, but we did see a pair of Blackcap and a Chiffchaff, while a Cetti's Warbler was screaming out.

We started our long walk back to the Visitor Centre, seeing a tiny juvenile Muntjac; a lone Small Tortoiseshell and several more Peacock butterflies; Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Goldcrest. But not a lot else. At one stage, not only could we not see any birds, we couldn't even hear any calls or songs.

We stopped off again at the Mere Hide, only because a fellow Birder had told us of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler heard earlier. No luck. All we saw were the same Geese and Swans.

It was a very disappointing visit, as we had expected a lot better. One of the staff at the VC asked if we had seen anything interesting and so I told him of the Large Red damselfly. However, he didn't seem to be very impressed.

Back in the car, I asked what was Ron's bird of the visit? He sat thoughtfully. 'The roast chicken!' He said and tucked into his sandwich.

So we headed for SWT Lackford Lakes. I had heard good things about this Reserve and so was eager to visit. Lackford Lakes is touted as a wildlife oasis, with a landscape of lakes, reeds, meadow and woodland. They have a couple of trails and several Hides, most of which we visited.

We were told by the Visitor Centre staff that a long-staying female Long-tailed Duck was still present, at the far end of the Reserve, so we headed towards it. We popped into a few Hides along the way, seeing Little Egret; Shelduck; Oystercatcher; Little Ringed Plover and Snipe. There were also great views of Blackcap and Willow Warbler.

There weren't too many people about here, but the bonus was that there were no dog-walkers; cyclists or joggers either.

We finally made it to Bess's Hide, where we spotted the LTD after only a few minutes. Unfortunately, she stayed as far away from the Hide as possible. After sitting there for about 30 minutes it was evident that the Duck wasn't going to come anywhere close.

So we made the muddy trip back, towards the Visitor Centre. Not before popping into the last Hide to see if the reported Red-crested Pochard was about. It wasn't. Another Birder then arrived and said that 4 Whimbrel had been reported here. We didn't see them, either. However, we did spot a Red-legged Partridge fly over.

The last birds to be seen were a Jay; a Green Woodpecker and a Water Rail and then another Muntjac, a male, appeared. It was well worth the visit and was vastly better than Lakenheath, on the day. Maybe we had just picked the wrong day.

It was well past 8 o'clock when Ron dropped me off, exhausted, but it was another excellent day out.

The Neverendum Leaflet: 'I can't tell if it's propaganda, till I've had a proper gander.'