Welney WWT Reserve, January 2016

January is always a good month to visit the excellent reserve at Welney. Upmarket birding from the Visitor Centre Café with a coffee, followed by good views over the Ouse Washes, an SSSI, from a glass-fronted, centrally heated hide, and an interesting talk from the warden before the midday feed.

The visit began with the whooper swans, winter visitors from Iceland, (around 7000 on the reserve and surrounds). The warden had placed potatoes conveniently close to the café viewing area, upon which the whoopers and other wildfowl were feeding. We also delighted at the tree sparrows on the seed feeders below the window, a rare sighting for our group. Reed bunting, several tit species and goldfinches were also competing for food.

We ordered lunch then settled into the main hide, (the only hide accessible due to the high water), accessed by the footbridge from the Centre. A few of us glimpsed what we thought was an otter but this turned out to be a mink, well known to the staff and proving difficult to catch.

The flood waters were high, with strong winds causing waves to lap against the base of the hide, and very few swans present. Male pochards were numerous with just a few females evident; mute swans, a handful of whooper swans, a few pintail and tufties completed the line-up. Apparently the whoopers don’t like feeding in rough water conditions so the earlier views on Lady Fen had to suffice. A kestrel hovered on the wind over the banks of the reserve. We did manage to read the orange leg ring on one whooper and discovered its history from the clever interactive screen in the hide.

There were about 1100 Bewick swans, (from artic Russia), on the washes but none were visible as they are much shyer than the whoopers. We had an interesting talk from the warden and then watched him risk life and limb as he waded chest high into the waters, feeding grain to the assembled wildfowl from a wheelbarrow, floating on an inner tube, - not an easy task in the buffeting waves.

Over lunch we listed the 34 species seen, not bad on a blustery winters’ day:

Whooper and mute swan, greylag and canada goose, pochard, mallard, teal, wigeon, pintail, gadwall, shoveler and tufted ducks, shelduck, redshank, curlew, godwit, dunlin, grey heron, coot, moorhen, cormorant, pied wagtail, blue and great tits, goldfinch, house and tree sparrow, reed bunting, robin, blackbird, wood pigeon, magpie, kestrel and black headed gull.

A productive and enjoyable day at Welney.

Peter Heath