An Alternative Day Out...


Well recently I decided to forgo a Company trip into town and take the time instead to visit, to me at least, a far more appealing environment;  for some time I've had the Fens in Cambridgeshire on my wishlist of places to explore, so I decided to start with Wood Walton Fen.  


Wood Walton Fen is one of a few remaining areas of the ancient fen which covered the area and is a haven for many wildlife species.  Charles Rothschild had already purchased part of Wicken Fen, whch he had gifted to the National Trust and had intended to do the same with Wood Walton.  The National Trust were unable to take the site on so he maintained it as a private reserve for some time before donating it to the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts.  Today, Wood Walton is maintained by Natural England and is classed as a National Nature Reserve, a RAMSAR site and a Special Area of Conservation.  


After an interesting drive (navigation is not one of my strong points, however I did have an unexpected tour of some of the beautiful surrounding countryside!) I finally arrived.  It was a bright and sunny day, lots of blue sky with 'interesting' clouds and it was very blustery.  

I'd decided to try and find my way around both sides of the Fen, so started heading in the direction of the 'Waterbirds' trail.  The first thing that struck me was how free from everyday noise - cars, sirens - it was, then how lushly green and vibrant it looked.  I wandered along by the Ramsey Drain, ahead of me a pair of Jays kept dropping onto the path, eyeing me curiously and then flying up and into the trees on the left hand side. 

All along the path I could hear and was catching brief glimses of Chiff Chaffs as they flitted around in the Hawthorn and Sallow.  From the reed along the drainside, every now and then, there would be a loud declaration from a Wren, before it would flit across the path in front of me, then off into the undergrowth.

Here and there were small troupes of Long Tailed Tits chattering through the branches as well as Dunnocks, Great and Blue Tits.  

As I walked, just above the grasses and stinging nettles, I was catching glimpses of fluttering silvery wings, so paused a while, peering about and waiting to see if the owners would settle.  Suddenly one did so on a Hawthorn branch.  A brightly coloured Large Red Damselfly - one of the earliest of our Damsels to appear and my first of the year!

This one settled to bask in the sunshine for quite sometime, unconcerned by my proximity, so I was able to view it at very close quarters before it decided to continue it's search for a mate.   

 Dancing along the path in the sunshine, were a few white butterflies.  I cautiously  followed them up and down; after a while one obliged by settling amongst some stinging nettles, so I was able to creep closer and see a very smart Green Veined White Butterfly taking a break.  

The spring brood of these butterflies have slightly different markings to those seen later in the year and the one which had settled and 'posed' was a male, judging by the lack of spots on the wings.

As I carried on along the path, there was a loud 'honking' chorus from the field the other side of the drain.  Suddenly half a dozen low flying Greylag Geese appeared over the dyke travelling at speed!  

As I progressed, I passed a few grassy rides and drains on my left, however decided to continue along and then walk up the side of the reserve.  More silvery wings caught my eye and I paused to admire another Large Red Damselfly basking on a log.

As I turned, a brilliant flash of azure blue caught my eye as a Kingfisher went past me at full pelt along the drain.  All the while I was surrounded by birdsong, when suddenly I heard an unexpected song. 

 Coming from an oak tree at the water's edge, was the distinctive song of a Willow Warbler.  Peering through the branches, I caught a glimpse of the songster hopping about in the branches and peering back at me.  

 Satisfied that I was no threat, it then turned it's attention to finding a snack amongst the fresh oak leaves and blossom.

As I turned the corner at the end of the path, it was much less sheltered and very windy indeed, after a while I found a route back along the 'top' part of the reserve, which was far more sheltered.  As I walked, I watched a Buzzard hang gliding above the fields and listened to the chattering and singing of smaller songbirds, deep inside the Hawthorns which lined my route.  

 After a while, I was following a grassy, but rather wet path along the perimeter.  I was having to watch my step, as at one point I had a boot full of water!  I carried on a little way, spying a smart fox up on the embankment, just as it saw me and turned into a red flash as it shot back into the woodland.  

 Deciding it was prudent to retrace my steps, due to there being more water than path,  I went back and turned down a wooded ride, alongside which a mirrorlike drain ran.   It was beautiful.  Clean and wonderfully untidy woodland, birds singing and flitting, sunshine and clear blue skies overhead....  

Turning a corner, I had a huge surprise!  Perched about half way up a large Oak tree, was the russet back of just the biggest bird I have ever seen.  I stood there with the silliest of grins as I watched a Red Kite turn and look at me, then take off with a resigned air at being accidentaly disturbed.  

Momentarily coming to my senses, I grabbed the camera and just about managed a photo through the network of branches above me.  Just very occasionally at home and near to where I work, we occasionally see one or two Red Kites as they pass through; the only other times I have seen them is over in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and in great numbers when we travel down to the Forest of Dean.  So to see one this close....  well the silly grin was there for quite a while, I can tell you!  

 Wandering along, the woodland on my right opened out to a grassy meadow habitat, looking across, I could just make out a sandy coloured rump, which suddenly became clearer as a Chinese Water Deer began to move very quickly away, suddenly followed by a fellow deer, both of them quickly morphing back into the blonde grasses...   

 Finding myself between the two waterbird hides and as time was getting on, I decided to head over to the other side of the reserve to have a little look at Rothschild's bungalow on the way past to the Marsh Harrier Hide. The bungalow, on stilts, was built on the site of an old farmstead and Rothschild used to base his field trips to the reserve there.

 On reaching the Harrier hide, initially all was quiet, however out on the horizon a familiar shape appeared, closely followed by a second, as I watched, it became evident that a food pass was in progress..

The male then flew off and so I followed the female's progress along the tree line,

Before she disappeared into the reeds.  

Whilst I was watching them, there were a further two food passes, with the female returning to the same spot in the reedbed each time, so I suspect that youngsters were being fed.  

 The male carried on quartering and hunting and I had some beautiful views of him against a rather dramatic sky (I timed it well, the only shower encountered was whilst I was in the hide!) 

From what I could see, after each successful hunt, there was a duckling clutched in his talons (and no doubt an unhappy Mother duck somewhere too) 

I thoroughly enjoyed my wander and hope to return on a much less blustery day - I've a feeling that I have not yet seen a fraction of all the creatures that live there.  Wood Walton is absolutely beautiful and I am very much looking forward to a return visit!

 There is more information on Wood Walton and the surrounding Fens here  



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