Thursday, 24 June 2021

When Is A Wash Not Awash?

 When it's the middle of summer - we hope!


A "wash" in the Fens of Eastern England means land which is set aside to hold excess water in times of high rainfall. By allowing these areas to flood it prevents potential flooding in towns, villages and on agricultural land. In winter it's normal for all the land in the photo above to be under water, while in summer it can be used for grazing.



This is what it can look like on a winter's evening when it provides a feeding and roosting site for our winter-visiting ducks, geese and swans. In summer it's an important nesting ground for a number of bird species. It is a vulnerable location however, as its function of preventing flooding elsewhere takes precedence over its use for wildlife. Put bluntly if we have a very wet summer the nests get flooded.



The largest "wash" of all is known as the Ouse Washes and stretches for 22 miles between two artificial rivers constructed to get the waters of the River Great Ouse to the sea more rapidly. Large parts of it are managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. Cattle graze here in summer as they have done on the fens for centuries.



One of the most charismatic species, which can be found throughout the year, is the Avocet. They are so common now that many birdwatchers no longer get excited by them but, come on, such an elegant bird with a curiously upturned bill and blue legs should be a star in everyone's eyes surely. Their arrival on British shores occurred during WWII when they found our beaches, protected against invaders by masses of barbed wire, very much to their liking. Hitler didn't come, but the Avocets did.



The RSPB have adopted it as a symbol of their work, which is somewhat ironic as the birds arrived here and prospered without much help from that worthy organisation.



A tiny Wren was making his presence felt by belting out his brief but noisy notes from a convenient song-perch. 



And a bee and a Tortoiseshell butterfly were competing over the nectar of a thistle.



In front of the main hide a juvenile Pied Wagtail was looking rather lost in this big, cruel world.



A Great White Egret stalked the waters of one of the pools. Just a few years ago they were a very rare sight indeed in our wetlands, but it's now a matter worthy of remark if we go to certain places without seeing one.



It was getting mighty warm (by English standards!) as we walked up and down between the various hides and viewpoints. We were probably thinking about our lunch which we'd booked at The Bridge pub - a first meal eaten out since March 2020. But just time to pop back into the main hide for another look at the Avocets....



Another hectic day in the life of the Avocet!

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In my last post people were very kind about my odd obsession with battered and bruised peonies, but there were cleverly disguised suggestions that a field of the flowers must have looked very fine indeed. OK, I can take a hint....









Take care.


31 comments:

  1. I just knew it! What a unbelievably gorgeous sight, and the scent of pink peonies en masse would have been intoxicating 🌸 Gorgeous photos, thanks John. You are right the Avocets are indeed splendid birds, I certainly wouldn't be able to resist a shot or two. The use of land as a 'wash' area is pretty clever, especially in a heavy winter rains situation. Beautiful series of images ✨

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  2. A lovely post, John. When the day comes that I am not enthralled by avocets and no longer stop to spend time with them, my pulse will have ceased!

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  3. Beautiful shots! I was familiar with the term in that context, though it is not used here.

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  4. Beautiful and interesting post John. I would enjoy 'intoxication by peonies' any day - I only had 5 blooms on mine and kept going back to bury my nose in them for the few days they bloomed, such a perfume!
    Beautiful bird photos - the Avocet is interesting and I love the b/w photo with reflections. The wren is always my favorite garden bird - one is outside my window right now pecking on the birdseed wreath hanging from the front porch. Their songs are always deafening - amazing for such a tiny creature.
    The bee and butterfly together on the thistle is a beautiful summertime capture - and what can I say about a field full of cows other than I'm reminded of my Devon childhood where similar sights were just a hop, skip and jump up the lane from from my house! Ah, summer days were the best back then.

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  5. Beautiful photos, John. What a great walk. I love seeing the Avocets there. I didn't know that there were several species of Avocets, and the ones that migrate through here look different from the ones you have there. Same upturned bill though. Beautiful fields of flowers too. Loved this walk. Thank you for sharing it.

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    1. Yes, there are four species of Avocet. I should really call them Pied Avocets, but as they are the only species to occur here I tend to be lazy about it.

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  6. Thank you, John! These photos are such a treat!

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  7. The Avocet is a really beautiful bird - love your images of them John. However, I remain devoted to wee Wrens - Troglodytes - what a wonderful name. I love watching them scurrying hither and thither beneath the plants in the garden like a busy little housewife with no time to spare.

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  8. The Avocets are such handsome birds!

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  9. Beautiful photos, John. The Avocets are absolutely beautiful looking. I've never seen one before so I thank you for showing them. The pink peonies are gorgeous to see.

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  10. I've never seen an Avocet. Such a beautiful bird! Wowsy! I've never seen a field of peonies either. Awesome!!! You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

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  11. I was all ready to say that that photo of cattle grazing on the Ouse Washes was absolutely my favourite when right at the end up loomed those peonies, You did it on purpose to throw me!!

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  12. Avocets or Hitler? No contest. I cannot imagine ever tiring of them.
    Thank you for yet another gorgeous post. And thank you for the peonies too.

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    1. Avocets can be pretty aggressive too, especially defending their nests. That beak is a formidable weapon!

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  13. wow the peonies are stunning. Beautiful photos, especially the bee and butterfly. The Avocets are very handsome.

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  14. The avocet is a beauty. That’s quite a beak. The peonies make me smile, a favourite of mine.

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  15. That baby pied wagtail is so cute!

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  16. Still amazed by those peonies! Here the flower farms are tulips and daffofils, on the west coast.

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  17. Hermoso lugar ojala lo cuiden, a dore las fotografĂ­as. Te mando un beso

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  18. Such a wonderful post! Birds and flowers! Beautiful!

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  19. The sunset photo of the 'wash' is absolutely stunning! A great sunset such as the one you have posted takes some beating!
    A splendid post with needless to say splendid images of the flora and fauna you come across.

    I hope you enjoyed your pub lunch, nice to get a bit of normality back.

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  20. Hi John - thanks for the peonies - they must be wonderful to see. Your info on the Wash being A-Wash or not is so interesting ... while our summers have been somewhat muddled, or muddied, recently - but it's a wonderful area you live in and are able to access so easily.

    Nature is extraordinary - I wonder what it's managed to do while we've all been locked away ... we shall see. I hope your meal was positively delicious!! Cheers Hilary

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  21. We have ‘washes’ here as well, they can prevent a lot of unwanted situations.
    Your bird photos are excellent!

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    1. I'm not at all surprised; the Ouse Washes were part of the drainage scheme proposed by Cornelius Vermuyden (1595-1677) who was a Dutch man. There are still houses in the Fens with very Dutch architecture, built by various Dutch engineers employed in draining the area.

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  22. I think we could do with some "washes" around here as there has been bad flooding recently. Love that field of Peonies.

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  23. L'Avocette élégante est vraiment très belle ! je n'en ai jamais vu dans la nature... merci pour ces merveilleuses images

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  24. It's interesting to me that you use the term "wash" in your neck of the woods. Washes are said to be the "highways of the desert" where I live. We use them for navigation purposes and, hopefully, to avoid hiking over an excessive amount of boulders. Of course, 99% of the time they are dry, but need to be avoided in the event of a rare rain storm.

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  25. The pictures of the birds are beautiful; they look so elegant. Thanks for sharing pictures of peonies. This field is gorgeous.

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  26. What’s not to like seeing a multitude of Avocets and a field of colorful peonies, John. Thanks too for the explaining the distinction between a wash and awash.

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  27. Interesting story about the avocets. Lovely photos, too and they are so graceful. Male American avocets in summer have a brown head and neck. I’m wondering if these are non-breeding males or yours are black and white year around. I’ll have to look it up!

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    1. Ours are black and white all year round, being a different species to yours. They are definitely breeding at the moment.

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