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Birdwatching bounty this month at RSPB Lakenheath Fen

By Newsdesk Bury

The month of May is probably the best month of the year for birdwatching here at RSPB Lakenheath Fen. There is just so much to see and hear.

Arguably one of the best spectacles is the feeding flock of hobbys that descend upon the reserve and feed ‘en masse’ for a couple of weeks during the month.

If you are not familiar with these aerobatic birds of prey, they are similar to kestrels size wise. They have very distinctive silhouettes and resemble giant swifts with their scimitar like wings. They spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa and start arriving in Britain in mid-April every year.

Hobby Falco, adult bird in flight(10348027)
Hobby Falco, adult bird in flight(10348027)

Unlike most birds of prey, they mainly feed on insects that they catch in the air. These include dragonflies, damselflies, large beetles and other aerial plankton. They are therefore best seen on warm days when there are plenty of bugs flying. They also take bats and birds such as swifts, swallows and martins if they can get them.

What tends to happen each year is the first hobbys arrive from around April 15 onwards and the numbers gradually build up through the month. By early May, there are often at least 30 of them feeding overhead. Indeed, as I write this article in early May, counts have already exceeded this number. The reserve record is actually at least 65 birds feeding together over Joist Fen viewpoint. This was set on May 4, 2011. As there were so many birds in the air at once, we actually gave up counting after a while as it was so difficult!

Although we don’t know for certain why this happens, it seems they migrate in and use the reserve as a feeding up and staging point before they disperse to their breeding grounds. Only a couple of pairs tend to stay on to nest on the reserve, where they nest in old carrion crow and rook nests. They purposefully nest late in the year in order to feed their young on juvenile swallows and martins.

If you would like to come and see our annual hobby spectacular on the reserve, weather permitting, they tend to be around in big numbers until the third week in May, so you need to get here quick. Although they are best seen from Joist Fen viewpoint, which is around a mile-and-a-half from the visitor centre, they can also be seen from various points closer to the visitor centre, especially when it is cloudy. As they mainly feed on insect, they are best seen a couple of hours either side of midday, when the sun is at its highest.

The reserve is always open. The visitor centre is open daily 9am-5pm. RSPB members visit for free. There is an entrance charge for non-members: Adults £4, students £3 and children £2 (first child free per family group.) Please ring 01842 863400 or email lakenheath@rspb.org.uk for more information.

We hope to see you soon!

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