Now is the time to see the ducks and geese overwintering in Norfolk and Lincolnshire on the marshes of the Wash, escaping the frozen winters of their northern breeding grounds
Flocks of wigeon with their strange whistling call. Here they are grazing on Frampton Marsh. Later we see them in great rafts, floating out at sea — didn’t know they did that.
Further out, beyond the sea wall (not a wall but a huge earth bank) there are hundreds of Brent geese gathered feeding on the flats, muttering and murmuring to each other — squadrons of them coming in, in great skeins and others taking off and passing overhead. Some crossing the Wash, that big bite that the North Sea takes out of East Anglia between the bulge of Norfolk and Lincolnshire to the North-West. There are hundreds of Brent geese on the marshes at Frampton and a single barnacle goose today, but none of our hoped for white fronted and pink footed quarry or even our familiar greylag or Canada goose — despite an eight mile wild goose chase!
Nearer to Cambridge are the Ouse washes. We visit Manea where the River Ouse overflows and floods the flat farm land at this time of the year. One way there are flooded fields:
On the other side of the levee gulls and crows follow the plough as the rich fenland pasture is prepared for a new crop. The whole area is crossed by a network of dykes, rivers and drains.
We are looking for the flocks of whooper swans that spend their winters here, grazing the drier fields by day. There are also Bewick swans that breed in northern Russia — harder to find, becoming quite scarce, smaller, more delicate with less yellow on their bills. We see a few of these timid birds at Welney, but too far away to photograph.
Above is a whooper at the reserve at Welney where there are also hundreds of beautiful male pochard (below). Males outnumber females enormously, it seems that the females prefer a warmer clime for their winter break. They like shallow water and can be seen diving to feed around the swans who kick up the mud for them, stirring up the invertebrates and plant material.
This year there a plenty of these exquisite pintails swimming in couples.
and the less gregarious shell duck, like this one(below). They spend much time with their tails in the air, feeding, when they display the large orange area under their tails.
As we leave Welney there are tree sparrows in a bramble thicket — rarely seen these days.
They are more active than house sparrows, have chocolate coloured heads and distinctive black cheek patches, males and females are similar. Our last treat at Welney — a barn owl quartering the land behind the centre.