We’ve joined other high-profile organisations to call for substantial changes to the Welsh Government’s proposed sustainability law, amid concerns that the latest Government proposals are too weak to deliver on bold promises made by Ministers. For more info go to WWF Cymru’s website http://wales.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/changing_the_way_we_live/sustainable_development_bill/our_response_to_the_first_consultation/
In part one of this blog I told you about my quest to get a Goldeneye photo from Freiston Shore. I don’t really set myself any targets at the start of the year. I see people saying they want to see 300 species of bird this season, or top the year listings. I am not into all that. I keep lists, but they are really only for my own curiosity rather than in any competitiveness. Having said all that, I do have personal goals that I would like to achieve whilst out watching the wonder of nature. I really would like to get a good Buzzard photograph in my repertoire. I had the same thing with Kingfishers; I still haven’t got the iconic shot of it in full frame sitting on a branch, but I now have one I am happy with. Another bird on most a bird photographers list is the Barn Owl in flight photo. One magical afternoon at Frampton Marshes last week provided me with the opportunity to get a bit of personal fulfilment and ten magical minutes of bird watching in the setting Lincolnshire sun.
The wife and I had spent a full afternoon at the reserve taking in the sights and sounds of thousands of over wintering wildfowl going about their business. Large flocks of Lapwings and Starlings had begun to fill the lagoon islands to roost. The hedgerow by the visitor centre had already given us excellent views of a scarce farmland bird here in Wales, and indeed England, the Yellowhammer. The trees had a fair smattering of Linnets around; these had not only attracted us, but also the resident Merlin at Frampton. The UK’s smallest bird of prey is not much bigger than a Starling, and is a top aerial predator. Watching it as it pursues a small bird in flight with such dogged determination you can only but marvel at the agility of this small falcon.
We were walking back to the excellent 360 Hide to watch a Little Egret we had seen fly in, when something flew almost directly over us. I had one of those heart skips a beat moments; I turned to my wife and said “Barn Owl”. To our astonishment it began quartering the field directly next to us. It was in full hunting mode and paying us little attention. It could not have been more than thirty feet from us. It’s not the first time I have seen this, but the first time this close. It continued to quarter and hover over the field next to us for about ten minutes, occasionally dropping down to try and catch some prey, before it finally moved on. The memory will live with both of us for quite some time.
We did make it to the 360 Hide and spent the last minutes before it started getting dark watching the Little Egret going about its business. Suddenly everything went up. The air was full of “puu-witting” Lapwings, Starlings and geese. There were literally thousands of birds in the air at one time, words and images simply could never do it justice. What was the culprit for this sudden cacophony? There in the midst of the chaos was one of Britain’s most beautiful birds of prey, and sadly most persecuted, a male Hen Harrier. I must admit, there was nowhere else I wanted to be right at that moment. No optics were required, just your eyes, as we sat and watched the drama unfold outside the hide window. The Hen Harrier wasn’t lucky as far as we could see, but he would be back for another go!
For the final part of this blog I will be telling you about our ventures further south, and “across the border” to North Norfolk and the nature reserve of Pensthorpe. We had one more magical moment to add to our list.
© All Images – Anthony Walton
I have been off on my travels again, hence the lack of blog last week. It was time to visit the in-laws again over on Lincolnshire side of The Wash. For the new readers of this blog, The Wash is the migrating bird equivalent of the Roscoe P Coltrane speed trap in the Dukes of Hazard (showing my age here!). This salt marsh inlet on the east coast of southern Britain acts as a stopover point for large number of wintering wildfowl. Why travel further south when you have some of the best salt marsh feeding grounds in Europe? Of course a large number of birds attract a large number of bird watchers and twitchers, and on some days there seem to be more silhouettes of people with scopes on the sea wall than skeins of geese in the air.
Whilst there I spend a lot of time at Freiston Shore, which is a wonderful small reserve, and only five minutes’ drive from my in-laws house. This makes it easily convenient to pop out for the last few hours before sunset to see what is about. I also travel around The Wash to the much bigger reserve of Frampton Marsh.
This is just about your last chance to see our wintering wildfowl as the days are getting longer, and they are getting twitchy to return to their northern breeding grounds. Some have probably left already. At Frampton and Freiston there were still plenty of geese around. Large numbers of Greylag Geese were feeding on the fields surrounding the reserve. Greylags are hence called as they are always the last of our winter visitors to leave, they were said to be lagging behind. Freiston had a good number of Brent Geese that were quite approachable. I always think they look like they are wearing a string of pearls around their neck.
Freiston only has the one small hide looking over the lagoon, but they have cut “gaps” in the hedgerow for you to view the birds coming and going. If you are patient, and very quiet and keep quite still you can get some excellent close up views of Redshanks and Black-Tailed Godwits as they feed along the shoreline of the lagoon. Curlews tend to be much shyer, but they do occasionally come obligingly close. I have not visited anywhere else when I could watch them feed unaided by optics without them flying off at the slightest sound.
The star attraction at Freiston for me this visit was a group of Goldeneye. I say a group; there were three ladies and one very lucky drake. I spied them in the middle of the lagoon on my first visit and was told if I had been there five minutes earlier they were right outside the hide … you get a lot of that when you are a birdwatcher! I made it my mission to get a closer photo of them during my week long stay in Lincolnshire. On my subsequent visits I saw some wonderful mating behaviour with the male throwing his head back until it touched his tail feathers, and then snapping it forward with a loud call. Unfortunately they were too far away to get any decent photos of this, but sometimes it is just great to just watch nature do its thing. The week was nearly out, and I still hadn’t got the shot, the wonderful sunshine we were blessed with at the beginning of the week had given away to dull battleship grey skies, and there was snow in the air. You know when you watch those nature documentaries where they always seem to get to the point where they had all but given up hope, and exactly at that point, the subject matter appears like magic and everyone goes home happy? Well that is all true. I had about half an hour of light left, and I decided to return to the lagoon hide for one last look. I opened the window … and there they were, right outside. I managed to reel off a few shots, albeit grainy ones due to the poor light, before they became aware of my presence and headed back to the sanctity of the middle of the lagoon. Job done!
In part two of this blog I will let you know what I saw at Frampton, including a magical moment with Britain’s most enduring bird which will live in my memory for quite some time to come.
It is exactly a year to the date I started blogging for RSPB Cymru. I am eternally grateful to them for allowing me the opportunity to enthuse my passion for wildlife through these webpages. I would also like to thank you all for taking the time to read them and post comments. I hope I have inspired some of you to get out there and immerse yourself in the natural world.
BON APPETIT BIRDS - hours of fun for the whole family and you also help your garden birds! http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/getinvolved/learning/b/learning-blog/archive/2013/02/20/bon-appetit-birds-the-perfect-half-term-activity.aspx
This week we’ve launched the annual search to find Wales’s most wildlife-friendly farmer. The Nature of Farming Award celebrates farmers who work hardest to help threatened countryside wildlife, such as lapwing , brown hares, bees, butterflies and plants. It’s run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph. All the details on how to enter can be found on the RSPB website at – www.rspb.org.uk/natureoffarming