Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Ouse Washes Nature Reserve

On a beautiful Saturday morning, we dressed up warm and drove through the beautiful Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire countryside. Our destination was the Ouse Washes Nature Reserve. I was very keen to check out this place when I read on its website that thousands of widgeons spent the winter here. I couldn’t imagine how noisy it would be if you have that many noise-boxes about. It would be a blast.

It was a very pleasant drive and Babe had the roof of the car down. We sang our hearts out to the American Rock anthems CD. After about 2 hours we arrived in Cambridgeshire and I noticed how flat this county was. It was this huge space because the clouds and the landscape seemed to blend in together. A pity that this wonderful space was dotted with wind-farms. I have seen wind-farms before but they were high up in the mountains, not by the roadsides. Roadtrip D200  19-03-2011 12-18-09

This must be a farming county. We drove through fields of leeks and other green stuff (?) and noticed lots of scarecrows in various disguises. As we continued our journey, I spotted my very first hare. I have been living in the UK for nearly 15 years and this was my first sighting of a hare. There was no place to stop and take photographs. I kept my eyes peeled towards the fields as Babe whizzed through just in case if I spot one. Sadly, nada, zilch, zero. But, I’m still very happy that I’ve seen one.

“Then you should say what you mean the March Hare went on. I do. Alice hastily replied; at least—at least I mean what I say—that’s the same thing you know”

~Lewis Carroll~

After a very, very bumpy drive, we arrived in one piece at our destination. As we got our gear out, a flock of very vocal Oyster Catchers flew above us. Babe said that it was a promising start. Ouse Washes D300s  19-03-2011 12-56-12

In the heart of The Fens , the Ouse Washes formed the largest area of washland (grazing pasture that floods in the winter) in the UK. They cover the area between two diversion channels of the River Great Ouse: the Old Bedford River and the New Bedford River (also known as the Hundred Foot Drain). The parallel rivers, ditches and banks formed the very distinctive feature in this otherwise very flat landscape. You could say that the washland was a very large, 17th century flood control structure designed to retain winter flood waters from the Ouse and prevent it from flooding the valuable surrounding farmland, and this function was still performed even today.

As we walked through from the car park, there were two set of feeding areas. We just had to stop and spotted tree sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, reed buntings, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and pigeons having a feast. It was a wonderful place for photography. Then there was the decision where do we start our adventure. There were 10 bird-watching hides that stretch across about 31km and all were facing the wash. But first we have to cross this very tranquil Old Bedford River. Ouse Washes D200  19-03-2011 13-05-23I had to stop by these bushes because it was alive with tree sparrows. I guess they must have been very used to people pointing their lenses towards them. They just ignored us and continued eating, gossiping, and twittering happily. I read in the brochure that this site was responsible for the tree sparrow support programme. They have done very well.Ouse Washes D50  19-03-2011 15-30-12We walked on the boardwalk that meandered through the reeds. In summer, this place will be teeming with hunting dragonflies and damselflies. Above us, we watched a kestrel hunting. Then we arrived at out first hide, aptly named Welches Dam. And the first thing that strike me was how huge the washland was and all the waders seemed to be congregating on the opposite end of the hide:-(  Too far away for effective photography!!!Ouse Washes D200  19-03-2011 13-15-36I could hear their distinctive whistling ‘whee-oo’ before I could see them. There were hundreds of widgeons but they were scattered all over the washes. There were also redshanks, lapwings, snipes, shovellers, galdwalls, mallards, teals, tufted ducks, pochards, mute swans, coots and whooper swans. We have seen all of these before but not in these huge numbers. I am sure there are other waders out there but these were the ones that I could see through my binoculars.Ouse Washes D300s  19-03-2011 13-26-15We decided to check the hides towards the counter drain so that we don’t have to walk facing the sun. By this time, it was getting very warm. We heard the drumming of the Green woodpeckers and spotted nearly a dozen of them flying about with their cries echoing behind them. As we we walking towards the Kingfisher Hide, Babe startled a kingfisher!!! Don’t know who was more surprised:-). Here we spotted more widgeons feeding among the reeds. But what caught our attention was the mating displays from a pair of Great Crested Grebe. It was so romantic :-)Ouse Washes D300s  19-03-2011 14-18-44After a quick lunch of cheese and onion pasties and washed down with hot coffee from a thermos, we checked out the next hide, Grose. The distance between the hides were getting further apart, too. Here, as usual more widgeons, Little Grebes and fighting coots. But the main centre of attraction was 5 sleeping Avocets, the emblem of the RSPB. How I wished they were closer to the hides.Ouse Washes D300s  19-03-2011 14-50-41I would have loved to continue on but by this time Babe was feeling exhausted. Better not tire him out because we still had a long way to drive home. So we decided to call it a day and call in another time. All in all, we’d a wonderful time at this beautiful reserve. We might come in summer when there were about 2k cattle (and sheep) grazing, wading birds breeding, ducks nesting. migrant birds returning, dragonflies and damselflies hunting. I couldn’t wait.

The only wader that I would have liked to have seen was the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits. I had never seen this particular bird before. According to the website, they usually peaked at over 2000 in March and were a spectacular sight once they attained their rich 'tomato soup' colour breeding plumage. Later, when the wildfowl numbers declined rapidly, the Garganeys will appear. They might be there somewhere in the huge washlands. It was just that we hadn’t seen any. I will definitely take a rain cheque for that.

On Sunday, it was the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It wasn’t as gorgeous as Saturday but the Earth’s position relative to the sun meant that it was officially time for the birds to start chirping. But I think they have started practicing their chirps a long time ago. So officially we have left Winter behind although we have been having these spring-like weather for weeks.

“The first day of spring is one thing

and the first spring day is another.

The difference between them

is sometimes as great as a month”

~Henry Van Dyke~

The Vernal or Spring Equinox heralded in re-growth and rebirth. Mother earth had awakened as seen in my garden. New leaves were unfurling, green shoots from the bulbs pushing through the warming soil and best of all, ladybirds out and about. They were crawling everywhere. Coventry D200 F  15-03-2011 11-51-03

Spring is when life’s alive in everything”

~Christina Rossetti~

We decided to check out the natives at our favourite playground. The reserve was alive with bird songs, all trying to undo each other. We met Kay, sans Andy, and had a natter as we walked into the Baldwin Hide. Kay then went off searching for Andy. The usual culprits were about. And we noticed that the resident pair of Great Crested Grebe were checking out their previous nesting pad. Oh dear, I hoped they were not thinking of it cos last year, they lost all their chicks to the big, bad heron.

We walked through the woods and it was quite empty. Either the birds were having a siesta or they were busy elsewhere. We decided to call it a day and went home. I think I took more photographs of my feathered friends in our garden earlier that day. We now have a family of house sparrows coming regularly. I always know they were at the feeder because they were a noisy bunch. Apart from them, a pair of dunnocks, a robin, blackbird, blue tits, wood pigeons, a flock of starlings, our resident wren, a pretty collared dove and Mr. Bushy Tail take turns at the feeder. I’ve also hang a few fat-balls on the bushes for them, too. All were very common birds and mammal but they were always a delight to watch and always welcome to our humble garden.

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