Monday, November 24, 2014

Nene and Ouse Washes

Today I took the Brandon Marsh team on the last Away-Day of the year to visit the Nene and Ouse Washes, finally calling in at Wicken Fen. Thanks once again to the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for use of their minibus over the past year, and what a fantastic finale in glorious autumnal conditions!

Another Away-Day
After a brace of Red Kite on route our first stop was a look at the Nene Washes and our chosen spot along Eldernell lane. This is an area which comes off the A605 just east of Coates. Access is gained almost opposite the last in a line of council type houses. Continue until you reach the wash barrier bank and park in the small car-park between the bank and Moretons Leam (Grid ref: TL 318992).

More swans join the Bewick's and Whoopers on the Nene Washes!
Arriving in glorious autumnal sunshine It wasn't long before a trio of Whooper Swans got the day list off to a good start. A pair of Marsh Harrier next, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and then at distance along one of the many ditches a couple of Common Crane came into view, even display dancing briefly during our stay. Hen Harrier ring-tail next and perched on a nearby electricity pylon the unmistakable outline of a Peregrine. Several large flocks of Fieldfare passed overhead during our stay along with the odd Redwing, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Green Woodpecker and Greenfinch. Huge flocks of mixed Lapwing and Golden Plover were given little respite by the constant raptor movement and at one point three Roe Deer were also on the move. Yet another raptor during the drive back down to the main road, when a Sparrowhawk flew across the track in front of the bus.

Whooper Swans just off the A605
A stop off along the A605 on route to RSPB Ouse Washes for a look at approx. 150 Swans, mainly Whooper Swans but several Bewick Swans were also among the group.

Short-eared Owl at RSPB Ouse Washes
The late morning, lunch and early afternoon was spent in the heart of the fens at RSPB Ouse Washes enjoying the hides and tracks which overlook the flooded pasture. After parking in the centre car park a walk south to the Welches Damn hide saw yet another mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover take flight. It wasn't long before the culprit was identified grounded in a recently ploughed field, a stunning Peregrine making light work of a captured Golden Plover. Lunch in the hide and a selection of wildfowl included: Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Gadwall and Wigeon.

Short-eared Owl looking quite menacing in the strong sunlight!
Just prior to reaching the second of the three hides along this section four Bearded Tit teased us for a good while popping up and down and flying along the reeds, but my attempts to get any decent images proved fruitless. A coupe of Stonechat were also along the same stretch of reedbed. Then came the bird of the day for me when my first Short-eared Owl of this autumn appeared, quartering for a while before actually settling on the edge of the same field the Peregrine had utilised earlier! A look North of the reserve centre at the Kingfisher Hide before heading off to our final destination had additions to the wildfowl list and this included of note several pairs of Pintail, Pochard and strangely only a single♀Goldeneye was recorded.

My arty-farty attempt of sunset at Wicken Fen
With dusk closing in fast our final destination was the National Trusts Wicken Fen and our reasoning for finishing here was to take a look at the renowned harrier roost. A Little Egret flew west as we parked up and after finding our strategic position on the reserve we settled down for the show. I have to say it will go down as one of my best UK birding experiences! First the Marsh Harriers appeared with several females and a single male, then the Hen Harriers, with a trio of ring-tails and a stunning male, this followed by at least three quartering Barn Owls, one passing almost overhead. As if this wasn't enough excitement the whole spectacle took place as we stood in the heart of the reedbed with pinging Bearded Tits and calling Water Rails and Cetti's Warbler all around. Fieldfare, Redwing and even a Great Spotted Woodpecker overhead, plus some huge flocks of Starling and Jackdaws going to roost. A new moon graced the crimson sky to the west and as the temperature plummeted and the mist descended over the reeds a Woodcock to end a fantastic day as we made our way back to the car park.