It feels like winter never gets going anymore, gone are the heavy frosts and biting north winds and the fieldfare and redwings are only now starting to eat the hawthorn berries along the track to the reserve.
In last month’s column, I finished off my walk looking at the siskin feeding in the alder trees by Bess’s hide. We get large groups gathering this time of year and if you scan through the flock with binoculars usually you can pick out the red smudge on the head of the lesser redpoll, a smart little winter visitor which likes the company of siskin and long tailed tits. Bess’s hide looks out across Long Reach Lake and it’s worth spending some time in the hide trying to spot the beautiful head plumage of a great crested grebe. We take this fascinating bird for granted but they were nearly hunted to extinction for their deep orange head feathers. If you look to the island on your left I can almost guarantee a noisy gathering of Egyptian geese. This is now a regular breeding visitor to Lackford Lakes, but it will not tolerate the attentions from the familiar Canadian and greylag geese. Have a look at the flocks of wildfowl and try to pick out the deep red head of a male pochard, or the elegant long tail plumage of a pintail.
Walking away from Bess’s hide, take time to stop on the large metal bridge and look into the Culford stream below.This tiny piece of water holds good numbers of wild brown trout and the now common and unwanted American signal crayfish. The bridge you are standing on gives a clue to the history of the site – try to imagine the large aggregate lorries full of gravel thundering over the bridge en route to help build the A14 or the runway at RAF Lakenheath.
The next hide well worth a visit is Atlas; it sits half way along Plover Lake with a large wooded island directly in front of you and a long reed fringed edge to your left. Scan the reeds slowly and deliberately and say to yourself “I will see a bittern” and you may get lucky and spot this iconic and very secretive wetland specialist. We can have up to four bittern fishing on the reserve, but actually spotting one is a slow and rewarding task . . . good luck.
Moving up the track to the new Steggals Hide, look in the pine trees to your left and it’s possible to see all three species of woodpecker and the clumsy big bill of the crossbill. We have only just completed the new eight-sided hide which sits out on the peninsulabetween Plover Lake and Wilsons Flood and commands a fantastic all round view. Lots of birds use this end of the nature reserve and I get great views of snipe only metres from the hide, good numbers of lapwin,g and the bittern is never far away.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Lackford Lakes volunteers for the help, support and skills they bring to the work parties every Tuesday and Thursday. We have built this hide entirely from start to finish using hard work, determination and the kind donations from two of our fantastic volunteers.
A slow walk back to the visitor centre from Steggalls Hide can take over 30 minutes. Take this time to reflect on what you have seen, heard and experienced. It’s possible to spend all day on the reserve and easily see over 60 bird species, not to mention all the other wildlife like otter, stoats, weasels, water vole and deer, but please also take this time to appreciate all the hard work and commitment that goes into the management of the reserve, visitor centre and the education department.