Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A day on the fen

This morning, the weather forecast promised a mild day, possibly overcast but with the sun breaking through later, and a gentle southwesterly wind. To me, this suggested that a day on the fen could be very pleasant, so I made a thermos of coffee and some sandwiches, and set off in the Land Rover just before 9 o'clock (not earlier, because I had to visit my dentist in Histon first). What follows is an account of a wonderful day. No rarities, but just a series of really beautiful sightings. So, please, I am not boasting – I really have nothing to boast about! - but just hoping to give you vicariously the pleasure I had.

Starting at the back of Aldreth Hill, I again watched beaucoups of Redwings and Fieldfares busily feeding in the hedgerows and on the field, and periodically coming down to puddles on the track to drink and bathe. There were other species too: a pair of Bullfinches (they always seem to come in pairs, quite romantic really), Blue and Great Tits and Greenfinches and Chaffinches. Oh yes, and Robins, spunky little birds they are, too. Then I went on to Aldreth Fen, along Dam Bank, where I flushed Pied Wagtails from the concrete, and later watched a flock of about fifteen Corn Buntings on the wires, one of them giving little snatches of their distinctive tinkling song. Down to the Haddenham Engine, where I had good views of Water Rail, not a bird you see every day, for sure.

I paused for coffee and a snack, and began to wonder if I would ever find a Little Egret on the fen (two have been reported this year). More ambitiously, I thought Flat Bridge farm might finally yield a Great Grey Shrike. Never mind, I enjoyed visiting the reservoir there anyways, and clocked a pair of Gadwall and about sixty Wigeon, which took flight – wonderful sight! Back to the corner of Dam Bank and Long Drove, where I had my sandwiches while watching a pair of Stonechats together with about eight Reed Buntings. It always amazes me how much wildlife can be found in a scruffy patch of brambles in the middle of a tidy arable landscape. Birds demand so little....

Going along Long Drove, I decided on a detour up to Clayton's Bridge, where my attention was caught by a distand raptor being mobbed by corvids. It was falcon-like and it was bloody bulky. My guess is a juvenile Peregrine, but it was too distant for me to be sure. Coming back to Long Drove, I came upon a small flock of Goldfinches feeding on teasel, and a flock of about fifty Linnets feeding on the ground on goodness knows what, seeds of some kind presumably. Before leaving Long Drove, I spotted another male Stonechat, a bird that's always worth stopping to look at. As usual, a couple of Kestrels were hunting along the drove verges – I swear they hover because they know they look good when they do it.

Over Hillrow Causeway and straight into Fowlmere Drove, which at this time of year is a nightmare of viscous mud and deep ruts. I made it, but only just, to the firmer ground of Back Drove, which turned out to be very quiet, possibly because it was the siesta time of day. I decided to go along the track which parallels the New Cut Drain, in the direction of Ces Burton's old house, hoping for maybe an owl or two. In fact, I didn't find any owls, but I was rewarded with more flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings, a party of five or so Yellowhammers and a little flurry of Long-tailed Tits. After another walk in fruitless search of owls, I decided to call it a day.

But what a day! Nothing to cause a bishop to kick a hole in a stained-glass window, as my old colleague John Andrews used to say, but a memorable day all the same, and further confirmation that the fens are not the barren waste that people often think.

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