Friday 29 November 2013

Seasonal Splash ~ Swans at WWT Welney

Whooper Swan, WWT Welney

I had been looking for an opportunity to visit WWT Welney for the winter wild swan feed. It proved to be a memorable and wonderful experience, one that I would highly recommend.

You know you are getting closer to the wetlands around Welney and Hundred Foot Bank when the ornate masts (or towers) of Ely Cathedral, the Ship of the Fens, cross your horizon.

On arrival at WWT Welney, we were greeted by a couple of Mute Swans like the one above. You can see that this particular bird has been ringed. Many Mute Swans make Welney their year-round home. They have distinctive orange bills and are called 'mute' because, unlike other breeds, they do not make much noise, save for the whirring flap of their wings when they are airborne.


Enter the Whoopers! Whooper and Bewick's Swans flock to the site in their thousands (along with ducks) during the winter migration from Iceland, Siberia and the Arctic Tundra.

As the afternoon light began to dim, more and more swans gathered in preparation for the 15.30 hrs feed. This meal, apparently, is more like an afternoon snack. It keeps the birds satisfied until the 18.30 hrs floodlit swan feed.

East Anglia is renowned for its wide skies, distant horizons and for the quality of its light. This may have been a raw and indifferent November afternoon, but the light on the water was magical.

Some (but not all - see here) believe that the area began to take on its present guise back in 1630 when the Duke of Bedford scheduled an engineer from the Netherlands to implement a drainage scheme in the Fens. This action resulted in the emergence of two new rivers and the flood plain we know as the Ouse Washes. Welney, one of the areas that benefited from the draining scheme, is left to flood each winter, thereby providing the perfect habitat for its over-wintering wildfowl.

There was much wing-flapping along with numerous departures and arrivals ...

... and just occasionally a Swan Lake moment when an eerie hush pervaded, allowing the grace and elegance of the birds to be appreciated by all.

There were moments of preening and moments when the Pochards tried to tweak the swan feathers if the large birds came too close.

It was the swans that had drawn us over to Welney on this occasion, but naturally we were open to all comers. It was a joy to see good numbers of Lapwing (red conservation status).

The photo above intrigued me ... the Whooper's head reflection seems to have been cut in two by the ripples.

The photo above shows the Mute Swans mingling with the Whoopers. There were good numbers of Pochard dodging about in between. 

More arrivals as feeding time draws near! These swans have left their sugar beet fields in the fens and are heading in for a snack of grain.

These swans are all Whoopers. Bewick's Swans also have yellow bills, but are smaller than the Whoopers. The yellow markings differ between the species. You can read about them here.

Time for a mingle ...

... and a chance to eye up the competition in the pecking order.

This drake Pochard seems to know there will be plenty for all.

And finally, the moment arrives. Food, glorious food!

When it comes to the crunch, you have to be in it to win it! It's a case of up tails all ...

  • Words for Wide Skies - a poetry anthology on sale (while stocks last) in the WWT Welney shop. It contains my poem inspired by the hares at the reserve.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Frostflowers: Fractal, Feathered or Fern-like?

This is the time of year for Jack Frost and his ice patterns!

The swirls in the photo above graced the roof of my car some days ago and made me wonder how they came to form in the way that they do.

I am, alas, no scientist, but it seems that small environmental changes, for example in air temperature, air movement, in the number of water molecules or in the quantity of dust particles, cause an ice pattern to grow, perhaps by developing long frond-like arms, thereby deviating from its original flower-like design.

But what causes these formations in the first place? Well, in the case of windows, it seems that frost patterns emerge when a pane of glass is exposed to sub-zero temperatures on the outside and moist air on the inside. Water vapour in the atmosphere condenses and becomes frost on the internal surface of the glass. These days with central heating, we rarely see frost patterns inside our homes, but I recall the high sash windows of my teenage years and the chilly patterns that delighted us on winter mornings.  

Friday 15 November 2013

Beautiful Birds ~ at Snape Maltings

We drove into Snape Maltings for Aldeburgh Poetry Festival last weekend, and had hardly parked the car before this Kestrel alighted on a nearby telegraph pole.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Monday 4 November 2013

Seals and Cetaceans ~ Humpback Whale near Minsmere

Reports have been coming in of a Humpback Whale off the coast of RSPB Minsmere. You can read the story on the BBC website here. I gather it may be the same whale that was recently spotted off the Norfolk coast. 

Whale-watchers today were stationed at RSPB Minsmere and at Dunwich Heath (NT).

Dunwich Heath: there is a small marine life observatory shed on the cliff (not quite visible from this photo).

Sunset off Minsmere

Friday 1 November 2013

Seasonal Splash ~ Flatford Mill RSPB Garden, Needham Market and Sutton Hoo

'A prickle of hedgehogs'

The RSPB Wildlife Garden at Flatford was about to close for the winter, but I just loved the novel collective noun on the brown post! 

There was one solitary Ladybird, flexing her wings. You can see just how long these wings are in comparison with the spotted elytra. 

Fungi in the RSPB Garden

Mute Swans at Flatford Mill

Autumn gold at Sutton Hoo

Scarlet Rowan berries at Needham Market, Suffolk

We had visited the lakes at Needham Market before, but had not noticed this tunnel. The sunlit disc above was actually a blue sign ...

A little further round the path we encountered a fiery Spindle tree, with these stunning berries ... The wood was used for spinning - hence the name.

There were also some Rosehips, adding to another splash of autumn colour  ...

I recall (like the person who commented on a photo here) going to the local child clinic at regular intervals to collect our allocation of rosehip syrup and orange juice for the youngest family members.