It's all very well liking nature and the outdoors; enjoying tramping through fields and woodland; and getting home with muddy boots, damp clothes and cold feet. But every so often one craves a little bit of luxury. Nothing wrong with that.
So it was that yesterday my brother Les and I made our way to the Wildfowl And Wetland Trust's reserve at Welney to admire the spectacle of the Whooper Swans and other birds that congregate here during the winter months.
The picture of the modern visitor centre (above) doesn't really convey how luxurious the experience is: there are meeting rooms, a shop, video screens and an excellent cafe with views out onto the neighbouring fenland. Then there's a bridge which leads over to a heated observatory - far too swish to be called a hide.
And what can one observe from the observatory? Thousands of birds which make this place their winter home having fled the harsher climes of the Arctic. In the photo above you can see four Greylag Geese swimming in the foreground; then behind them is a mass of Black-Tailed Godwits conserving their energy by standing one one leg and dozing with their heads tucked under their wings; and behind them an assortment of geese and ducks as well as some Whooper Swans.
The Whooper Swans are what most people come to see. They are only here during the winter, migrating down from Iceland. Exactly where in Iceland was something of a mystery at one time and I remember reading Sir Peter Scott's account of his pioneering trip to discover the remote valleys where they nested during the summer. It's fitting then that they come to Wildfowl and Wetland's centre in winter, as the Trust was founded by Sir Peter.
Also here in large numbers are the little Pochards, which always look a bit like bathroom toys. Nearly all the Pochards here are males, the females, very sensibly, winter down in the Mediterranean.
There are also some of our resident Mute Swans, recognisable by their orange beaks with a black knob at the top.
We went for a stroll along to the other (unheated) hides where we were lucky enough to get good views of a Marsh Harrier gliding effortlessly over the washes, causing chaos among the other birds. There were also several Stonechats perching conspicuously as we walked between the hides.
But then it was time to return for a cuppa and a toasted teacake in the cafe before going back to the main observatory (above) to await the 3.30 swan feed.
The birds seem to have an uncanny sense of time and started gathering before the observatory in anticipation of feed time.
Then, as the sun began to set, (yes, it sets at about 3.45 pm at this time of year) the wheelbarrow full of grain was pushed along in front of the observation windows and the swans were fed.
The fading light made photography a bit tricky but a few pictures threw up interesting results like the amazingly blurred wings of this Mute Swan.
The commentary assured as that the birds actually have plenty to eat without this little treat. The mallards however, greedy as ever, didn't seem to agree!
It was beginning to get dark as the feeding concluded.
As night fell the distant lights of Welney village began to glow on the horizon, the sky darkened, and more swans flew in from the surrounding fields to roost for the night. Meanwhile the floodlights began to illuminate the birds in the foreground at the end of a memorable day.
Bird-watchers list of notable birds:
Whooper Swans, Mute Swans, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Pochard, Pintail, Shoveler, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-Tailed Godwit, Cormorant, Heron, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Pheasant, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow (many on the feeders near the cafe) and a Barn Owl flew from a post near the car park as we started for home.