Yesterday, I was lucky enough to visit Welney Wildlife Reserve with my family. It was a trip I had been looking forward to all Christmas, and after an article I had written on the Whooper swan last month, I couldn’t wait to finally meet these amazing birds. Upon arrival we were lucky enough to see the chorus of wetland birds that scattered across the wash, with a flurry of smaller bird, flitting between the reeds. After an unforgettable visit, I am already looking forward to my next trip to this glorious place in Cambridgeshire!
After driving to Welney, we were greeted with the beautiful sunshine to accompany a sharp winter’s air. Without much hesitation, we rushed to the main hide, as it was nearly 12 o’clock, and that was the time to watch the phenomenon that Welney is so famous for – the swan feed!
Whoopers, Mutes, and Berwick’s swans swarmed amongst the diving and dabbling ducks to fight for the wheat being thrown out into the water, as one of the wardens talked us through all the different species within view.
The Pochards were wonderful, fighting and tossing, diving and sploshing through the water to ward off their neighbours and scrap about for the nearest piece of grain. At this time of year it was pointed out to us that we would rarely catch sight of a female Pochard. This was because the females had, slightly more wisely, taken to wintering in Spain. The male’s on the other hand had chosen to reside a little closer to their breeding grounds in Russia so they could return quickly to their chosen territory in the Spring and gain the best chance of securing a spot that would attract a suitable partner for that year.
Here a group of males wasn’t just getting possessive over their food
The Whoopers themselves were a fantastic site to see. This winter 7000 Whooper swans had been counted, so at almost every glance in every direction I could see that flash of the yellow beak as a different Whooper would glide across either the sky or the water to get closer to the food available. After reading about the threat that lead shot played in the mortality of a lot of the swans, who ingested the poisonous metal by accident amongst the reeds, it was sobering again to hear about the vast amount of birds still at risk from the lead shots and angler’s weights left amongst the reeds. It was awful to hear, as well, the risk the birds are under from being shot themselves. A shocking 35% of the swans checked at Welney recently were found wounded as a result of being shot at. Clearly, somewhere either along their migratory path or on their breeding grounds, the birds are not cared for nearly as well as the birds are at this fantastic reserve.
A pair of whoopers taking flight after lunch
After observing the glorious orchestration of the swan feed, we took a wander along the reserve bank, to the different hides along the wash. Here we were accompanied by a number of smaller birds flitting between the reeds, like bouncing beach balls jumping from reed to reed, carried by the wind before landing on a clump of bushes further along the track. After catching breath, the bouncing ball would catch the wind and off it would go once more, bounding from one plant to the next. After a closer look, I managed to capture a slightly amateur shot of a bird, to confirm its identity as my first Reed Bunting. It really was a very good end to a very sunny, happy, and memorable trip to Welney.