Because the land is very flat to the north of Cambridge there is a lot of infrastructure to deal with flooding and that includes extensive flood relief around Earith. A couple of weekends ago there were lots of waders and ducks making the most of the flood waters there including black tailed godwit and blue winged teal (Spatula discors), an unusual visitor from north America.
The birds were too far away to photograph individuals but we estimated there were 2-300 in total. There were many other birds on the water and mixed in with this group were teal (Anas crecca), redshank (Tringa totanus) and the ubiquitous black headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus). We didn’t see the blue winged teal but the regular teal, shoveller, redshank and godwit more than made up for that.
Right at the start of the walk there were two coot nests, one was being sat on and the other was in the final stages of construction.
And whilst the female was occupied with home making, the male was otherwise engaged defending his territory and squaring up to another male:
Unfortunately all this mating activity was to no avail, on the same walk a week later the flood water had receded and both the coot nesting sites were left high and dry and were deserted. But there is a huge area here which is suitable breeding habitat for coots so hopefully they found somewhere a tad more permanent
It was a bright and sunny spring morning and the route was regularly punctuated by the song of chiffchaffs which could be seen flitting around the trees. And then this little chap popped up right in front of us on a bramble just a few feet away
The chiffchaff has a distinctive song from which it gets its name and is one of the first migrant warblers to arrive back in the UK from its winter feeding grounds in north Africa. It can be heard as early as late February and at this time of year there are many of them singing in the tree tops.
After my last post, my long time blogging friend, Scott, mentioned in a comment that he was reading a book set in my part of the world, viz the fenland of East Anglia. And that reminded me that during the Covid lockdown we’ve beeen allowed to drive a few miles to exercise outdoors, and back in April I ventured over to a local fen for a walk with my camera.
The Fens are a unique ecosystem characterised by lakes, reed beds and low scrub which create habitat for a wide range of wildlife and they’re a great place to see flowers, birds, mammals and reptiles. It was a glorious sunny day when I was there and the wildlife was abundant, including this male reed bunting who posed beautifully for his portrait:
Reed bunting (Dansk – Rørspurv, Latin – Emberiza schoeniclus)
Cuckoos (Dansk – gøg, Latin – Cuculus canorus) were cuckoo’ing all around the Fen – it’s apparently a good year for cuckoos here in the UK, and I heard one for the first time ever in the village a few weeks ago – and bittern (Dansk – rørdrum, Latin – Botaurus stellaris) were booming. The bittern is a smallish brown heron which lives and breeds in reedbeds and is extremely rare in the UK, only 191 males were recorded in the UK by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in 2017. Their booming call is an amazing sound and it can carry for over a kilometre. It’s difficult to find a recording that really does it justice but if you click on the link this one hopefully gives you a good idea of what they sound like. Even though when they boom they’re very disticntive and easy to hear, they’re not easy to see unless in flight as they blend in perfectly with the background of the reedbeds. But one of these days I hope I can post one of my own pictures of a bittern to show you.
However, one bird that is easy to see is the marsh harrier:
Marsh harrier (Dansk – Rørhøg , Latin – Circus aeruginosus)
The marsh harrier is another one of the British birds of prey whose numbers have recovered significantly since the 1960’s presumably after the pesticide DDT was banned, and this one is a male hunting small mammals or birds over the low scrub of the fen.
The marsh harrier is a constant on the Fen, and it seems the bittern may be coming one too, which is fantastic. But the cuckoo isn’t, they’ve laid their eggs for the host species to rear and will soon be heading back on the perilous journey to the rainforests of sub-Saharan west Africa, hopefully to return to the UK next year to fill the spring air with their wonderfully distinctive call.