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An early morning visit to RSPB Lakenheath Fen will be well worth the effort, with an influx of winter roosters to delight in

One of the highlights at Lakenheath Fen at the moment is the autumn and winter roost of whooper swans on a wet area of the reserve called the Washland.

This area lies just north of the Little Ouse river and is viewable from the riverbank footpath – and in the colder months is a really good spot to look for ducks such as gadwall, shoveler, teal, wigeon and pochard. Waders like redshank and lapwing often join them with little egret and kingfisher, too.

The swans tend to arrive after dark each evening and leave in the early morning within a couple of hours of dawn. According to current counts, it looks like there are more than 200 spending the night here, though the earlier you visit in the morning the more you’ll see as they leave in small groups from dawn onwards, honking as they go.

669635744 (22121487)
669635744 (22121487)

Later in the autumn each year the whoopers are joined by Bewick’s swans, though we never get as many of these on site as whoopers. You can tell the whoopers and Bewick’s apart from the mute swans mainly by their bill pattern (see the photo) but they are a little smaller and tend to swim in the water with very straight necks- without the shallow ‘S’-shaped curve of a mute swan.

Other wildlife of note on the reserve at the moment is the increasing numbers of redwing, joined by a few fieldfare in recent weeks, which are a little larger and make a harsh chattering call – this is what usually alerts you to their presence. Siskin are a common sight (and sound), too, and can be seen close-up feeding on the nyjer seed feeder at the Visitor Centre. These pretty yellow finches will have flown here from Northern Europe for a milder winter.

Out amongst the reedbeds further west from the Visitor Centre, visitors are getting good views of marsh harrier and bearded tit – two specialists of Fenland habitats. Marsh harrier numbers on site build into the autumn as they roost in the reedbeds, sometimes with the odd hen harrier in lucky years. Its not unusual to also see peregrine, merlin or barn owl at dusk.

Bearded tits have not long switched from their summer diet of insects to their winter diet of reed seeds, and this is what makes them conspicuous to visitors – they can often be seen perched atop reeds in loose feeding groups, leapfrogging over each other as they move along. Often the first sign they are near is when you hear their pinging calls – familiarise yourself here if you haven’t heard them before – it really helps in spotting them to know what they sound like. See rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/bearded-tit/

I hope this update has been useful and hope to see you soon!

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