Friday 16 February 2024

The Fens - 14th February 2024

 A adventure:

An early start in the rain saw un convene at grey Eldernell in the Nene Washes at about 8.30 overlooking the astonishing flood quite literally filling the space between both levees.  To think that I have walked down Long Drove in the summer that bisects the marshes.

There were hoards of dabbling ducks and a few Pochard and Tufted Duck along with a scattering of Cormorants and ‘normal Geese and Swans’ while flocks of Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwits, Golden Plover and Dunlin moved in both directions as they sought drier land.  Only the Lapwings seemed to be ok about landing on some of the floating islands of vegetation and several were even perched on exposed Willow snags.

Black-tailed Godwits

We started to walk along the levee in the search of Owls.  James found one within the few hundred yards.  It was not the hoped for Long-eared but an equally splendid Short-eared.  It was a very pale one and we watched it snuggled onto its exposed bit of Hawthorn. 

Short-eared Owls

A second bird was then found about six foot away a little higher up and was a much darker bird and was sitting in a more LEO type way which was educational.  Red Kites hunted low along the bank and out over the floods and Alder copses and gave superb aerial performances and Marsh Harriers and Buzzards were similarly active.

The lake just inland held Tufted Ducks, Shoveler, Great Crested Grebes and two pair of Goldeneye and while they were looking at the wildfowl I located one of the Long-eared Owls which was something of a relief.  It was nestled into the Brambles and was quite soundly asleep.  To think that I used to see this species on quite a few of my winter days out in the south-east with several roosts to choose from but nowadays they are a real thrill to see and it was a new bird for the crew.  I could not find any more in the hedge despite knowing that several others were in the same patch.  I suspect that people are using thermal images to pin point them nowadays.

Onwards to the flooded Alders and their famous Tawny Owl but would it be sitting at the mouth of its hole just six foot above the water?  Unfortunately not but there was a Treecreeper singing and the Kites came even closer.

Red Kite - Alan Bishop

Red Kite

Red Kite

Roe Deer, Buzzard and a Mute Swan

A Great White Egret and two Little Egrets were up on the top of the levee before being moved on by a Buzzard and scanning around we picked up eight Roe Deer.  There were to become a feature of the day. Another chance glance up and four Cranes gracefully but silently drifted across the landscape. There are seemingly as many around here as out in the Broads but with so much water around we were quite fortunate to connect with these ones.

Cranes - Antony Wren

The breeze was getting up so we ambled back stopping to look at the LEO again which had shuffled around into a face on position and even opened those orange eyes and had a quick feather fluff for us while back at the SEOs and third even darker bird was ‘now’ sitting just three foot from the now actively preening pale bird. We all agreed that it was not there before but on looking at the first lot of pics – there it was as plain as day.  How six of us never saw it I just do not know.  It was noticeably small that the pale one and probably the darkest I have ever seen.  I am not sure if you can sex SEOs.

Long-eared Owl - Antony Wren

Short-eared Owl - Antony Wren

We all missed the left and bird

Short-eared Owls - all three

A pair of Kites came even closer while we watched the Owls and were snatching twigs from the hedge to take back to a nest in the Willows with that eerie whinnying echoing all around us.  A Chiffchaff and showy Cetti’s Warbler were in the hedge ditch with a few Tits and down on the edge of the flood there were Meadow Pipits, Stonechats and Reed Bunting working their way through the floating reeds against the edge.  The upper strand line was actually at least seven foot higher up the levee than the current water level.

A cup of coffee before moving on was interrupted by two more Cranes flying silently over.

Cranes - Alan Bishop

Cranes - Antony Wren

On towards Welches Dam but we soon all pulled into convenient layby to watch a huge herd of Swans.  Most were Whoopers but there were Bewick’s scattered amongst them and they were not too difficult to pick out.  Hundreds of Lapwing were feeding with them along with a good flock of Golden Plover and at least 40 Ruff which was quite impressive while nearly 50 Roe Deer were visible!  I associate them as a quiet deer of woodland edge and field; of a single buck or a couple of hinds and well grown fawn but here they were in mixed groups of up to 17.  It was most surprising. The rest of the day we encountered numerous groups and buy the time I had entered them all on to iRecord we had seen 97 which is a lifetimes worth!

Mixed Swans

Welches was frankly disappointing with no Tree Sparrows.  The feeders were full, the interp was still all focused on this iconic species but the one local visitor who we saw only saw one last year and none have used the extensive boxes for some time.  The species in declining even further.  House Sparrows were in the big multi roomed house and there was plenty of action from the tits and finches on the feeders but no little rusty capped friends.

We walked up to the first hide and unsurprisingly the flooding here was even more extensive than at Nene with barely a piece of vegetation poking above the lake than stretched from one side to the other and either way north and south as far as you could see.  There were fast flying flocks of whizzing Teal and Wigeon but little else so after a quick look at the distant Whoopers and some Buzzards were walked back.  A Hebrew Character was found around the loos – that is a moth by the way…

Blue Tits - Alan Bishop

The floods meant that the cut across to Welney was a no go so we opted for the long route around but it did get us very close to some roadside Whoopers on the way. Time for a coffee with a view out over Lady Fen.  Wow… a vast expanse of fenland fields with Swans dotted in the distance and three Cranes crossing the landscape in a leisurely manner while 15 Cattle Egrets and a host of Black-headed Gulls followed a tractor that was cutting back the old reed along the ditch edge.  Throw in a couple of Great White Egrets, rowing Rooks and Jackdaws, an angry Oystercatcher, ‘V’s of Golden Plover, scraggly flocks of Lapwings and a phalanx of Curlews and it was a pleasure to sit there and take it all in.

Cattle Egrets - Alan Bishop

Cattle Egrets

When the Tree Sparrows eventually decided to come in and join their House Sparrow and Reed Bunting buddies on the feeders, the picture was complete.

Tree Sparrows - Alan Bishop

Tree Sparrow - Antony Wren

 Lapwing - Alan Bishop

There was time to pop over for the late afternoon feed from the main hide and although there were only four Whoopers and a Mute Swan just out front, there were two fine drake Scaup among the thrashing hoards Pochard and Mallard when it came to their seed hand out.  Watching the Mallards actively diving was possibly the funniest thing I have seen in a while.

Scaup - Antony Wren

Pochard - Antony Wren

Pochard - Antony Wren

Scaup & Pochard


two male Scaup 

two male Scaup

two male Scaup




The water was unbroken in all directions but there were a few Pintail and a pair of Goldeneye amongst the dabblers bobbing around on the choppy waters.

Mute Swan - Antony Wren

Whooper Swan - Antony Wren

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

With the Gulls starting to poor in for the night we took that as a cue to depart for the two hour journey back home passing out last herd of Roe Deer, a floppy eared Brown Hare and four Little Egrets on the way back out to the A10 after a rewarding day in a part of the country I seldom visit.

Brown Hare -  Antony Wren

Roe Deer - Antony Wren 


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