I am extremely fortunate on two counts. First and foremost I have wonderful in-laws, who are great company, and it is a pleasure to spend time with them. Secondly, they happen to live on The Wash, one of the birding Mecca's of the country.
The Wash is one of the largest estuaries in the country, and as such is an important habitat for a large number of wintering geese, and waders. With it being such an important habitat there are large numbers of nature reserves dotted along the coastline from Skegness in Lincolnshire, to Hunstanton in North Norfolk.
I have just come back from a long weekend near Boston, Lincolnshire, to help my wife’s parents celebrate their wedding anniversary. Fortunately there was plenty of time to do a bit of bird spotting.
The nearest reserve to them is Freiston Shore. It will always hold a special place in my heart, simply because that was where it all began for me. That light bulb moment when an interest becomes a hobby. It all started with a Canadian Goose. The wife and I were walking the circumference of the lagoon, when we spied a pair of the geese coming over the rise from the water’s edge. Following them, and appearing one by one, was seven balls of yellow fluff, their chicks. It was simply brilliant, and both me and the wife were caught up in the moment, waiting see how many more would clamber up the banking. We had nothing to aide us watching; no long lens on a camera, nor binoculars, and it is something we have stuck to doing since. Yes, we own the optical equipment now, but nature is always best enjoyed with nothing more than your own eyes. It never ceases to amaze me how often people in hides miss something happening in front of their own eyes, as they are focused on something sixty feet away!
Freiston Shore is now Frampton Marshes little brother. The relatively new RSPB/ Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust reserve opened a few years back and comes decked with several hides and scrapes. Massive numbers of Brent Geese gather there in the winter, and I was lucky enough to witness this spectacle over Christmas. The sheer scale and noise of tens of thousands of geese in flight is something that lives with you for a long time.
I was introduced to Newport Wetlands by a very friendly, but somewhat embarrassed volunteer at Frampton Marshes three years ago. She clocked the Welsh accent, and asked where I was from, so I told her, just a bit North of Cardiff. She then started to wax lyrical about the Newport reserve, apologising that Frampton was nowhere near as established yet. I didn’t even know of Newport Wetlands existence until then. I made it a priority to visit as soon as I got back to Wales. I must admit, I left there feeling immensely proud to be Welsh.
These three reserves have given me some of my greatest wildlife moments to date, and will never stop giving. Up until Sunday I had only ever seen one Tree Sparrow in my life, they are sadly quite rare and even scarcer here in South Wales. The hedgerow in the car park at Freiston was full of them, at least twenty! We called in Frampton on the way home; it was cold, misty and gloomy. All there was to watch were a small number of water fowl going about their business. You have days like that, so we started to head back to the car and ultimately, back to South Wales. Suddenly we clocked movement at the edge of the reeds in the distance, and out came two Great Crested Grebes doing a full weed slapping courtship dance! It was a moment of brilliance in the murkiness of the day, and something to cheer the soul for the long journey back West.
Newport Wetlands has already given me Hobbies hunting dragonflies over the lakes; Bitterns in flight over the reed beds; Marsh Harriers soaring on thermals hunting prey; Little Egrets fishing in the lake whilst you share a cup of coffee with friends at the visitor centre and my first ever “twitch” when I went to see the Glossy Ibis down at Goldcliffe … I can’t wait to see what this year brings!
Two super bits of writing well done both
Lovely comments Nigel ... Thank you! ;o)
Thank you for sharing your memories and obvious love for the RSPB's Reserves, and the wonderful wildlife that they protect.
I have not been to the east coast for a number of years but can sttest to the number and quality of the birds and wildlife, but have to say that the quality close to home is not too bad either.
I've been visiting and birding the area that is now the Newport Wetlands, for over forty years, long before the involvement of either the CCW or RSPB, so I feel I can attest to the work put in by these two bodies and the improvement achieved, not in specifically attracting birds, which were always here, but in making them accessible.
The work in converting the post industrial, Uskmouth lagoons, creation of the saline scrapes, at Goldcliff, and the changes of land, (or more precisely, water), management, on the reserve as a whole has persuaded, birds that used to pass on by, (possibly to some of the fine RSPB reserves on England's East coast), to stop around and even breed.
The recent addition of hides on the site has added the facilities to allow even better sightings than previously possible. It is now possible to see Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Bearded Tit, and Avocets, in the space of a few hours, in addition to many more common yet no less attractive birds.
All this is within a half hour drive of the City centre of Newport. It is even available by public transport, six days a week, for less that three pounds return.
Newport wetlands is still a work in progress as a reserve, but is showing a lot of promise, the wonderful Visitor Centre run by the RSPB attracts a great number of casual visitors, who the staff work hard to educate and inform about the wonders of wetlands and wildlife
All in all a long way from the farmland and industry that a young boy cycled to all those years ago, the Wetlands is a place of great memories, past, present and still to come.
I urge anyone who can to set aside some time to visit this wonderful place and create some memories of their own