Thursday, 12 January 2012

Wicken Fen Revisited

(Apologies to those who sought this post in vain yesterday - gremlins in the system!)

Back in 2009 I kept full descriptive notes of my birdwatching trips. As I had no real reason to write such full accounts the habit soon faded. It does however allow me to make occasional forays into the past from the comfort of a favourite armchair....

"Most people who know the National Trust property at Wicken Fen are familiar with the visitor centre, the boardwalk and the windmill, but the NT have a plan (to be completed in the next 100 years) to extend their holding all the way to Cambridge, buying up farmland whenever it becomes available. They've already acquired a lot of land to the south of the original reserve which is slowly being converted back to a more natural state. Some of this land was on my itinerary for today."

"I crossed the Lode by the delightfully named Cockup Bridge, which does indeed "cock up", in that it can be raised to allow boats to pass beneath. Flocks of Fieldfare were feeding on the wasteland and perched among the bushes as I followed the farm track and passed a lady walking her dogs. Gaps in the hedgerow gave glimpses of Bakers Fen, an area of partly flooded fields which provides a winter home for ducks and wildfowl. As part of the environmental management carried out by the NT a herd of Highland Cattle graze this land and very picturesque they looked steaming in the morning light."

"A rather rough wooden hide stands beside the path and gives shelter and a degree of comfort from which to scan the flocks. I got out my telescope and focused on the birds, mostly Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal. Further over were Lapwing and Golden Plover. From time to time some unseen threat panicked the Lapwing who then set off on a circular flight over the fen before settling once more, with much hesitation and fuss, in their original place. Every time this occurred I peered around the sky hoping it might be a sign that a bird of prey, perhaps a Harrier or Peregrine, would be patrolling but no action today, which disappointed me but suited the birds just fine!"

"To warm up I set off to make a circuit of Bakers Fen. I clambered up on to the muddy bank alongside Moore's Drove and headed north towards Monk's Lode passing through an area grazed by a group of Konik ponies. The path beside Monk's Lode is actually part of a National cycle route so provides rather better underfoot conditions. I looked among the waterside alders in case there were any Siskin present but only Chaffinch were seen and they flew off suddenly as a Kestrel came into view. I sat on some logs to have a cup of tea from my flask, a pair of Swans passed over then a Sparrowhawk flashed by and flew low over the grassland."

"The sky looked brighter as I left the hide and turned along Harrison Drove. I picked my way over some very muddy dips in the drove and walked on to Wicken Lode. A grassy bank curved along next to the lode, reeds whispered in the wind and on the opposite bank cream-coloured Konik ponies grazed among the scrub. A large bird flapped effortlessly towards a small spinney where it settled briefly showing white on its tail - Hen Harrier. But it soon slipped out of sight only to reappear, equally briefly, a little later. It would have been nice to get a better view but I was pleased to have had a sighting of this fine raptor."

"At a place marked as "Pout Hall" on the map a large pool held a number of Coot and Tufted Duck. Then I spotted the Hen Harrier again. It was perched on the remains of a hedge not more than fifty yards away and seemed unaware of my presence. It took to the air and hung suspended on the breeze a few feet above the ground, the afternoon light showed the beautiful barred plumage. It settled again and was surprisingly well-camouflaged among the bare branches. Seconds later it was airborne once more, searching for prey along the hedge, twisting and turning in slow-motion among the bushes."

"Although it was only mid-afternoon the light was already fading so I started to think about heading back. But there was still one surprise left in store. Tramping back to Burwell I noticed what looked like a line of straw stretched across a distant peat-black field, it seemed to shimmer slightly and shone gold in a late shaft of sunlight. I looked through the binoculars to find that it was in fact a flock of three hundred or so Golden Plover."

For an earlier post about this area click here.

Take care.


  1. I'm glad this post re-appeared--and that the comment box is working. There do indeed seem to be gremlins abroad.
    Although I understand the term 'fenlands' to be lowland--I've got to finish reading the wikipedia article to learn more.
    This post is the sort of narrative I enjoy reading slowly--and the photos enhance the word pictures.

  2. Thanks, John. I was one who tried to access the post earlier and assumed, correctly as it turns out, that gremlins were indeed about. Love the highland cattle! Jim

  3. A super post John, I felt I was walking with you. The Golden Plover were no doubt a splendid sight and surprise to see at the end of your walk.
    Nice to look back as you have done with this post, especially when you had seen some super bird species...and the delightful Highland Cattle!

    My comments section on my blog has gremlins too, I am glad in a way it is not only my blog if you know what I mean.

  4. I've seen this area on countryfile a few times and would love to visit one day.

    I love Highland Cattle - ever since I 'met' one as a child at my Dad's friends smallholding, I've wanted one!

  5. What a satisfying day for you, John, and thank you for sharing the walk and your keen awareness of what was going on about you.

  6. It sounds a really good day out, I wish I recognized more birds when I'm walking. It isn't that I can;'t recognize them at all but my eyesight isn't good enough to identify them unless I'm pretty close and usually I have a camera rather than binoculars. A very few I can tell by either shape or call, I keep meaning to listen to my bird tapes so that I can start identifying more of them from their calls.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).