Following a light dusting of overnight snow, the sun was out so a walk to Fen Drayton Lakes was on the cards. Accompanied by Wendy & Jet, we set off just before 11am.
We followed the river & then circled Ferry Lagoon, seeing Black-tailed Godwits, Ruffs, Golden Plovers, a Little Egret & a rather dark Buzzard along the way.
After a quick chat with the RSPB volunteer work party in the Holywell Lake car park, we carried on around Ferry Lagoon. Upon reaching the south-west corner, I spotted something amongst the Tufted Ducks that were busily feeding near some overhanging willows - I believed this was my target bird for the day, Scaup, which had been reported the previous day, but as it turned out, the bird is actually a hybrid (possibly Tufted Duck X Pochard).
From the viewing shelter in the south-east corner of the lagoon, we watched a Slavonian Grebe diving frequently in the open water & picked out a nice adult Yellow-legged Gull amongst the assortment on the water.
Setting off along the bank of the Covell's Drain, we spotted a white nun & two weasel coots on Far Fen Lake (a drake & two redhead Smews).
On the walk back home, via Swavesey, we saw two separate Barn Owls completing a very enjoyable walk.
A bit of a fortunate sighting this one; I was picking up the kids from the local primary school when I noticed a small finch in a tree in a garden next to the school grounds. It was either a redpoll or a siskin, but I couldn't tell as the bird was silhouetted against the sky. After a few seconds, it flew off, calling - siskin (102). Woohoo!
A mega walk out in the snow today! We were out for three hours & it didn't stop falling all the time we were out (& at the time of writing, it still hasn't stopped!).
We started by heading down to Lowbury Holme & out to the river. Our first good bird was a Tree Sparrow on a feeder in the grounds of the fishing lakes.
We then headed up to Ouse Fen, where we started another search through the many Snipe present in the area. All commons on Cell 1, so we moved on to Sophie's Pool. Two Dunlins were feeding amongst a small Snipe flock on the western shore whilst a third flew across the water, calling as it went. There were more commons in the rough vegetation along the southern shore. We had once chance left, the frost-free outlet ditch in the north-east corner. This area has been good to me, with both Kingfisher & Green Sandpiper here earlier in the month. Today it produced first one, then a second, Jack Snipe (101). Bingo! On my sixth attempt, it was in the bag!
On the way home, a nice male stonechat showed well beside the cattle corral.
Saturday afternoon, & I was leading a sponsored bird walk for the local Wildlife Explorers group, of which my daughter, Holly, is a member. I wanted anything I saw to count on my Foot It list, so at 12:45, I set off down the river towards Fen Drayton Lakes. There were no great surprises along the way & I got to the Holywell Lake car park with plenty of time to spare.
Whilst waiting for the group to arrive at 2pm, I saw first a drake Smew & then a drake Pintail fly over. Things were looking promising!
Everyone arrived for the start of the walk, including Wendy & Holly, & we set off. The walk lasted almost two hours & we saw 40 species in total, although none of them new for my Foot It list. Highlights included a fine drake Goosander on Drayton Lagoon, several Snipes, a dashing male Sparrowhawk & a fly-over Little Egret. We finished with hot chocolate, back at the car park & will hopefully have raised some much needed funds for the Wildlife Explorers Rockhopper Penguin appeal.
The kids left at around 4pm, & whilst we were packing up, a Bittern (99) flew out from the reedbeds, across the lake, circled once & landed in the top of a young willow. It then sat there for about ten minutes before dropping out of sight. Brilliant!
As I had now seen a Foot It tick, I had to walk home to be able to count it, so I decided to stay on until dusk & walk back in the dark. I gave it until 5pm, but hadn't seen anything new, so with the light failing I headed for home. I hadn't even got halfway down Holywell Ferry Road when a Woodcock (100) flew over my head. Magic! Target achieved!
I couldn't stop smiling all the way home.
Woke up to snow!
After the school run & a quick visit to the doctors, there was enough time for a morning walk out to Ouse Fen.
Taking Jet with me, I set out at 10:30. I decided to head to Sophie's Pool as I still had designs on a Jack Snipe.
We carried on along the drove & out into the arable fields.
|One day, all this will be wetlands|
It was time to head back home, but I couldn't resist watching a Marsh Harrier over Cell 1 as it quartered the reedbed, flushing two Pheasants as it went.
|A Woodpigeon looks on through the falling snow|
Sunday morning started a little frosty & a little dull, but my spirits were high as the predicted cold weather had arrived & with it the chance of some new birds.
Jet & I struck out for Ouse Fen at around 9:30am & I was already on 18 species by the time that I had left the village. Things were looking good.
On arriving at the Wetland Project, I decided to check out Sophie's Pool. Although not part of the actual wetland restoration yet (it's a settlement lagoon for the quarry), it usually has a good muddy margin. My luck was in, as virtually the first bird I saw was a Greenshank (89). They are pretty scarce here in the winter months, so picking this up made up for the lack of Green Sandpipers. On the water, amongst the Tufted Ducks, was a lone Shelduck (90). Again, a tricky bird to see here in the winter. At the nearby Reedbed Viewpoint, I was scanning the ducks on Cell 2 when some loud honking calls drifted across the water to me. I knew what they were, straight away, & I quickly picked up three Whooper Swans (91) flying over Cell 3 & away towards the river. Bonus!
|Cell 2, from the Reedbed Viewpoint|
I decided to head off towards Overcote in the vain search for a small flock of Siskins that had been reported the previous day. An hour later, I still hadn't seen them, but I had picked up a Goldcrest & a Tree Sparrow.
By this time, it was 12:30pm & time to head home.
After lunch, it was time to see what the Lakes would offer, so leaving Jet behind, Wendy & I headed out at 1:30pm.
|Waterbirds on the scrape - can you spot the black-tailed godwit?|
|........a wonderful flock of Bewick's Swans (here are 10 of the 18 present).........|
|.......and a stunning male goosander (with a lovely female nearby).|
With my target bird seen & time in hand, it was back to the car park to watch over the Holywell Lake reedbeds.
|Teasels in the sunset|
I saw 73 species in the day (only slightly short of New Year's Day when I clocked up 77). After getting 7 new species, I'm now on 95 against my 100 target.
It's looking good now with more cold weather on the way.
You wouldn't think it possible to record 26 bird species from a play park, but that's exactly what I did this morning, in a little over half an hour whilst our minded children played on the equipment.
Buoyed by all the reports of white-winged gulls in the area, I decided to head to Fen Drayton Lakes in the afternoon, to see what flew in.
I left at 2pm & headed straight down the hill. A brief stop at Mare Fen produced a nice flock of 40+ Black-tailed Godwits & a perching Buzzard.
When I got to the Guided Busway, I headed westwards along the cycle path.
|A bus departing the Swavesey stop on the Guided Busway|
|Swavesey church, from the Guided Busway|
|Flooding along the Guided Busway cycle path|
|Looking north towards Swavesey Lake|
|Jet enjoying the biggest puddle ever!|
|Just made it across!|
By 4:30pm I had had enough - no Caspian, no Glaucous, no Iceland, no Mediterranean! One tick after an hour & a half walking & an hour shivering. I headed along the riverbank, in the dark, hoping for a late Woodcock or an owl. No joy there either.
Reading this, it sounds like I didn't enjoy myself, but rather perversely I did! I had counted 57 species along the way & the exercise is doing me good.
So, I've moved on to 88 out of 100. I'll have to give the gulls another go!
No Foot It possible on Saturday, due to family commitments, although I did see Red Kites from the A14 (which, obviously, I haven't counted!).
The main feature of Sunday morning was the thick mist, so a lazy morning was had & we didn't get out until midday. This time, as well as Jet, I was accompanied by my darling wife, Wendy. Once again, we headed down Lowbury Holme & out to the Fens.
|Mare Fen wildfowl|
Chatting to a visiting birder, he mentioned that the neighbouring lagoon held two Green Sandpipers, so off I headed. Half an hour of watching & I had seen Lapwing, Golden Plover, Redshank, Dunlin & Ruff, but no sandpipers.
As I had come so far, I decided to give the Sewage Works another try. I'm glad I did, because after only a couple of minutes I had picked up a Chiffchaff, following a Long-tailed Tit through the hedgerow at the back.
It was time to make tracks, so I legged it back to the river, north to the Staunch & across into the Wetland Project at Ouse Fen. One sentence; forty minutes walking!
I followed the path between Cells 1 & 2 and was rewarded with singing Cetti's Warblers and calling Water Rails. A fly-past by an alba Barn Owl finished the day off nicely & I headed for home.
Four ticks, so I'm now up to 87 species, which is 87% of my 100 target.
A very short report, this one, as I didn't get out at all yesterday & only managed an hour & a half, with the dog, this morning.
|Jet biting off more than she can chew!|
A later start today, but I was still out before 10:00, with a plan of heading across the river to the Needingworth side. I headed down Overcote Road & quickly had the first new bird of the day in the bag as there were several feral pigeons feeding on spilt grain in the yard at Chain Farm. Yes, I know but I live in rural Cambridgeshire; what chance have I got of seeing rock dove?
Further along, I turned up Long Holme Drove & passed the western side of the Wetland Project and on to the Brownshill Staunch. Unsurprisingly, the river was still running very high.
|Looking northwards from Brownshill Staunch|
|1st winter grey wagtail|
I headed around the Needingworth Quarry works to my next port of call on the western side. Here, a field of mixed game cover crops had been attracting very large numbers of farmland passerines. Reed buntings were the most abundant & I was lucky enough to pick up a tree sparrow in the hedge alongside the field - one of my favourite birds & one I rarely see in this part of the valley.
I moved on, through the quarry's settlement lagoons as the rain started to spit on my binocular's lenses. The large lake at the southern end of the complex held two redhead smew, with a further two on the small pit adjacent. Always a good bird to see, but disappointing that the drake and larger number of redheads seen in December seem to have moved on, along with a recent slavonian grebe.
The furthest point of my walk was the Needingworth Sewage Works, where a lesser redpoll fed in alders alongside several goldfinches & two goldcrests flitted around in some brambles before moving off after some long-tailed tits. However, I failed to see either chiffchaff or treecreeper; species that I have seen here on many occasions.
By this time, the rain had become heavy & constant, so it was time to head back. The trudge along the riverbank was enlivened by two flyover ruff & a buzzard flushed from a hedgerow as I passed by.
Back over the river at the Staunch & into the Wetland Project, I followed the path between Cells 1 & 2 and round to the new reedbed viewpoint. I saw plenty of snipes & pipits along the way, but they were all commons & meadows, no jacks or waters. At the viewpoint, a short-eared owl flew up from the long grass and away over Cell 3.
By this time, I was completely soaked, so it was time to head for home. I got back, five and a half hours after leaving and with 67 species recorded for the day. However, only five of them were new for my Foot It list, taking me up to 82 species seen.
Working the next couple of days, so that's it for the long walks for a wee while, which is no bad thing as I think I need some time for my body to recover!
I was up just after 07:00 & out before 08:00. Remarkably, I was already on one species for my British & County lists by this time as I had seen a barn owl whilst driving home from a New Year's party at around half past midnight! Unfortunately, I couldn't count this for my Foot It list, so the first bird turned out to be a robin, singing in the early morning light.
Heading towards Lowbury Holme, I was lucky enough to see a great-spotted woodpecker & hear a green woodpecker at the same time. The first quality bird was a lesser redpoll at the start of the footpath that leads down to the fens. In the field to the north of the Barrier Bank, two buzzards were searching for earthworms amongst the sparse crops. Middle Fen was as full as ever & the river was still very high - a few select photos below.
|Flooding in the Great Ouse valley|
|Mute Swans in the winter sun|
|Wildfowl on Oxholme Lake|
The final quality bird at Fen Drayton Lakes, was a lovely male stonechat in a game cover crop beside the road. I headed off through Swavesey & back home to Over without seeing anymore new birds.
After lunch, it was time to visit Ouse Fen. I walked down Fen End and out towards the Hanson-RSPB Wetland Project. Heading up the farm track into the site, a flock of farmland passerines contained yellowhammers, corn buntings and linnets. Whilst standing beside a ditch close to Sophie's Pool, a kingfisher flew in & landed about 30m away.
|Barn Owl - possibly a 'Dark breasted/bellied'|
A tally up at the end of the day, & I had amassed a list of 77 species! An excellent start & well on my way to my target of 100 species by the end of the month.