Spring wildlife highlights

Wicken Fen - Cuckoo in flight

The days are getting longer and (hopefully) warmer and spring is breaking out across the nature reserve. Our native species are being joined by our summer migrants who have spent the cold winter months in Africa and Southern Europe. Here's our guide to what to look and listen out for this spring.

Chiffchaff - These small olive brown warblers are one of the first summer migrants to arrive in late March. There is a small population which can be seen year round but the vast majority are summer visitors to the Fen. The bird gets its name from its distinctive 'chiff chaff' song. 

Chiffchaff
Close up picture of a chiffchaff

Cuckoo - The first cuckoo of spring is eagerly awaited on the Fen. The European cuckoo is about the size of a dove and both sexes have bluey-grey backs and heads, with brownish white barred chests. Throughout the breeding season male cuckoos can be seen perched prominently in the tree tops, tail cocked and wings drooped calling to attract a mate. Females have a distinctive 'bubbling call'.

Cuckoo in flight
Cuckoo in flight

Hobby - Similar in size to a kestrel, the hobby has long pointed wings like swifts. Hobbies can accelerate rapidly in flight & are capable of high speed aerial manoeuvres & can often be seen taking mayflies and dragonflies on the wing. Best seen on warm days when there are plenty of flying insects around.

Hobby taking a mayfly in flight
Close picture of hobby taking a mayfly on the wing

The Dawn chorus - Described as one of the true wonders of the natural world - but you'll have to up early to catch it at its best. The dawn chorus reaches its peak in early May as male birds sing to attract a mate, stake a territory and warn rivals away.

The early risers of the bird world are song thrushes, robins and blackbirds who start to sing about an hour before sunrise, followed later by warblers and wrens.

The dawn chorus - a true wonder of the natural world.
Close-up of wren on a tree branch

Marsh Harriers - The largest of the harriers, recognised by their long tail and light flight feathers with wings held in a shallow 'V' formation. Females are larger than males and have a creamy head.

Males often have more than one mate and are not allowed anywhere near the nest. Lookout for aerial food passes, where males pass prey to the females. The best place to see this is in the skies over the reedbeds.

Marsh harriers performing mid-air food pass
Close pic of marsh harriers performing aerial food pass

Wild flowers - A riot of colour breaks out across the Fen in late May & June as wild flowers take centre stage. Lookout for the rare marsh pea, ourple & yellow loosestrife, marsh thistle, ragged robin and early & southern marsh orchids. Identifying flowers can be difficult so our Rangers will be out & about placing information boards around the Boardwalk to help you identify the various species as they come into flower.

Wild orchids on Sedge Fen
Close picture of wild orchids along Wicken Lode bank