Commuters on the Norwich line have been getting first class views of some of Britain’s rarest breeding birds as they pass Lakenheath Fen.
Staff and volunteers at the reserve have been overjoyed that for the second year running, two pairs of cranes have successfully raised three chicks between them on the man-made wetland. But to top it off, the birds, which are shy and secretive in the breeding season, have done it in front of an audience of commuters on the Abellio Greater Anglia route between Norwich and Ely.
Only about 25 pairs of cranes breed in the UK each year.
Lakenheath Fen site manager, Dave Rogers said:“Our two pairs of crane parents have done us proud. We put a lot of effort into creating a great home for them here at Lakenheath Fen and they have repaid us.
“The fact that people have been able to spot them from the train as it passes the reserve has only added to the excitement.
“They are such charismatic birds and we look forward to seeing them ranging across the Fens this autumn and winter and mixing in with the other Fenland cranes that now breed in our watery part of the country.”
By using a remote trail camera set up in one of the birds’ favoured feeding spots, Dave and his team were able to capture intimate photographs of one of the reserve’s pairs of adult cranes with their two chicks.
These two chicks made their maiden flight in July. Since then they have been feeding and building up their strength and confidence under the watchful eyes of their parents, before they leave the reserve in the autumn to feed across the wider Fens.
It has not all been plain sailing for the birds because a pair known as ‘Little and Large’failed in their first attempt to breed but succeeded in raising one chick on the second attempt. It is the first time they have managed to do that.
Lakenheath Fen reserve marks its 20 anniversary this year. The RSPB bought farmland between the River Little Ouse and the railway line in 1995 to recreate a wetland, which is now home to many reedbed rarities, including bitterns and bearded tits.
Cranes arrived from Europe in 2007 and when they had their first chicks in 2009, it was the first time they had bred in the Fens for 400 years.