Monday, 9 December 2013

Wintery Wicken Fen

Yesterday I was off once more with the West Midland Bird Club, this time to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, in search of its very exciting winter visitors along with whatever else we may encounter! En route, I was having a very enjoyable snooze on the coach with some Joanna Newsom in my headphones, when I was rudely awakened by a loud exclamation. However 2 words I don't mind being woken up by are 'RED KITE!', and we had a great view of one flying alongside the road, a nice start to the day.

Upon arrival we noticed some strange fruits growing on a tree near the Visitor Centre which on first appearance looked a bit like green grapes! However when we looked closer they seemed more plum-like and Andy M (acting in his capacity of taster of mystery fruits) tried one, confirming that they were indeed plum-ish, being quite tasty with a small stone.

Mystery fruits!
There's that stone.
A bit of Googling has revealed that they are probably a subspecies of Prunus domestica, although which I am not sure. I waited a few hours to ensure Andy experienced no ill effects, before sampling one myself ;o)

We set off in the opposite direction to the rest of our group to avoid overcrowding of the small hides! The weather was great if a bit breezy and the fen was looking lovely:

Wicken Fen.
Wicken Fen.
Wicken Fen.

Reeds in front of one of the hides.

We made our way round stopping in the hides and soon found ducks aplenty, including Pintail, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler. We heard a fair few Cetti's Warblers too and also outside one of the hides, Bearded Tit - frustratingly they sounded quite close, but we never got a glimpse, I think they were keeping low out of the wind. We had amazing views of a female Marsh Harrier flying towards us over the reedbed, then right over the path we were standing on - brilliant!

Unfortunately I didn't have much time for drawings and I only managed these brief sketches of Teal. Thought I'd have a go at one swimming towards us, I need some practice at that by the looks of things! 

Teal sketches.

Here's a few other things spotted on our way round, although it is harder in winter to find new plants to learn, I haven't forgotten and at least berries are something distinctive to look out for and try to ID:

This soft hair was caught on a very low fence in a spot that seemed inaccessible to larger animals - we thought it might be from a Muntjac?
A deer footprint; as the visitor centre said that both Roe and Muntjac were around on the reserve, we thought the size of this probably made it Roe.
More mystery berries to try, our food taster's verdict was that these were not as delicious! I think they are probably Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). Looking at that name, it's a good job Andy spat them out...
More ginger fence-fluff, this was higher up and very coarse, pretty sure it's from the Highland cattle that graze the fen.
Further on, we saw Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit, and in the distance beyond some farm buildings we could see a huge flock of  several thousand Golden Plover along with Lapwing and starlings. Luckily this was on our route so we could see them much better, along with a small herd of Roe Deer in one of the fields. By the farm buildings we also found Pied Wagtails, Collared and Stock Doves. Back near the visitor centre, we had excellent views of two Water Rails under a feeder from one of the hides.

Close enough for me to get this record shot!
After that the light was starting to go so we made our way back to the windmill to keep watch for those special winter visitors....

Wicken Fen in the fading light.
The windmill.
We were of course waiting for the Hen Harriers to come in to roost in the reedbed! While we waited I spotted a Kingfisher shoot out of the reeds and away over the trees. Then from over the trees, we saw our first Hen Harrier fly in, a stunning male in gun-metal grey! He didn't go straight into the reeds though, instead flew around a bit then disappeared back over the trees. Over the next half an hour or so we saw 2 males who came and went several times, putting on a marvellous display flying over the reeds like slatey blue ghosts. The closest and best views of Hen Harrier I've ever had! To top it all, there was also a pretty epic sunset!

Spot the Hen Harrier (it is there!)
There's one here too!

What a spectacular end to the Bird Club's year!

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up. I'm still alive, and have uploaded the first batch of my Wicken Fen pics to (mine have the date, 8 December, in the file name). Perhaps you might upload some of yours?