A celebration of birding, generally within a 10 mile radius of Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, UK.
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No, this post is not about submarines, rather it is about a bird that does what a submarine does. The going underwater bit, not the firing torpedoes at unarmed ships bit.
I put down my book ( “I Partridge, we need to talk about
Alan,” by Alan Partridge- it's so refreshing to hear an author tell it like it
is. I say “hear” rather than "see", because Partridge has a way of writing that
is so good you can honestly hear his voice thrusting forcefully into your head
as you experience his literary prose. Literally.)
I set off.
I had an appointment with a rather dapper bird to
I’d promised Dunc that I would see it. He had to stay at
home unfortunately- family stuff- playing with the littlest Poyser or something
(not a euphemism), so I had to witness the sinewy snake-neck ( again, not a euphemism)
on my own. Then I thought to myself, why drive all that way by myself, that’s saaad!
So I roped in my esteemed colleague, Rich (by which I mean
his name is Rich, not that he is a friend who is wealthy - although he‘s not short of
a bob or two- lets just say he can afford to eat takeaway Chinese meals, two,
maybe three times a week, and often does!)
As we drove on we passed a few flocks of grazing swans. “
not today my white friends!” ( not racist- they were white) I shouted, “ I’m off to see a White-billed Diver” (
again, not racist. I will and often
do look at birds that are not white or do not have white in their name. In fact
later on I looked at some Goosanders flying over, and although they are quite
white, they do have other colours on them as well.)
After a pleasing drive of just shy of an hour and forty
minutes ( take that, google maps route planner!) along some of Lincolnshire’s
most interesting minor roads ( sadly not the A1111) we arrived at the river
Witham, and walked up to where a group of twitchers were looking forlornly at
the wrong part of water. I strode up onto the back as if to announce my
presence, looked down upon the large bird (an actual bird- i'm not using slang here) in front of me and then turned to look
back at Rich. He gave me a look that seemed to say, “ how did you know it was
there, and how did you manage to see it almost twenty five metres away?” I just
smiled and started taking pictures. Easy!
Within five minutes we’d drunk it in, had our fill and were
heading back to the car to avoid any mid- afternoon traffic. Job done! “How can
we have truly enjoyed the experience and gained anything from such a short time?”
you may ask- well, we did enjoy the experience and we did gain something. Just look
at the photos, and imagine what they’d be like if I had a really decent camera!
Then back for tea and medals, and I definitely had earned at
least one, no matter what the nay-sayers might
think. “All you did was turn up and see the bird straight away without having
to search really hard for it”, they might say. “So sue me!” I would reply. if
you can’t handle the heat, you shouldn’t be in the kitchen. Or by a river in
this case. As I say, I had definitely earned a medal of some sort. Not the Victoria
cross perhaps, I didn’t kill anyone or take out a german mg42 machine gun nest
single-handedly armed with only a hand grenade and a commando knife- maybe just
one of the lesser medals like the D.F.C , the D.S.O or D.H.S ( not sure about
that last one). Rich also deserved some kind of reward, not least for driving me
there and back, so I bought him a can of Spryte.
We’d been gone too long, and I suddenly remembered that I was beginning to yearn for
the flatlands of the Cambridgeshire Fens for some reason. Maybe it was the
experience of being in the flatlands of the Lincolnshire Fens- I can’t say- but
something was tugging me off towards the eastern part of western East Anglia that
I, and many others like me, call home. Yes, Lincolnshire was flat, maybe too flat,
maybe not flat enough, but it wasn’t the Ely Ten that I’ve come to know
and love. You can keep your Quadring Eudyke, and your Pode Hole, your Whaplode
and your Tumby Woodside, I’ll settle for Ely, the "Himalayas of Cambridgeshire". For
my money it’s the place to be, and I’ve been all over the place, from Bungay to
Thrapston, Costessey (pronounced Cossey by the illiterate proles who live there)
to White Roding ( again, not racist, I can’t
stress this enough!)
goosanders. Far from being white, they have all the colours of the melting pot.
White-Billed Diver. As you can see, it's bill is actually cream and pale blue, not white at all!
A busy weekend at Welney just passed. Watching the swans at dawn, expecting them to fly out at first light. The frozen waters and cold temperatures meant that they were reticcent to move, and only started leaving in ones and twos after eight o'clock. Four Bean geese flew overhead as we watched with a group of visitors, and flocks of godwits were shaken into action by passing harriers. Peregrines buzzed the wash later on, and in the ensuing scramble, a few Dunlin and Curlew panicked amid the Wigeon and Teal. Along the water's edge smaller birds ignored the spectacle of the wildfowl and waders. Bearded Tits pinged unseen in the reeds, and a pair of Stonechats perched above Meadow Pipits and Snipe in the muddy fringes.
As the afternoon wears on, gulls begin to appear and gather out on the open water- many hundreds of Blackheaded and Commons, a Caspian with the Herrings and Lesser Black-backs, and a lone Glaucous Gull. Now the Barn Owl floats up and down the bank. All day the constant bugling and yapping has echoed across the wash.
I hadn't planned any birding this weekend but Rich and Alex came round on Saturday wanting my assistance with Rich's "help the old and infirm" outreach programme visit to Wicken, and then on Sunday, Dunc dragged me along as child minder - ironically involving similar duties in the main, although with some slightly disconcerting " my two gay dads" overtones ( not helped by Dunc referring to me as his birding wife- I'll pretend to be a gay guy for you Dunc but I draw the line at being the wife- that is, and always has been woman's work).
Needless to say, I had the last laugh as I enjoyed the heck out of two thoroughly enjoyable outings that didn't even involve going to Norfolk. Except for the part when we were in Thetford. which is in Norfolk- but only just. It's like Suffolk's gateway into Norfolk- a deliberately deprived town devised to soften the massive culture shock that would surely be felt by any suffolker leaving his(or her) county ( countess). Soham provides the same service in Cambridgeshire.
Birders in a supermarket car park post Christmas. Sherlock would deduce that Waxwings are about. A small flock of 13 birds in Bury St Edmunds made a convenient distraction in the drizzle.
The convenience angle was apt as this was another drive out while the littlest Poyser slept in the back. She'd woken by the time we arrived at Thetford where some warehouse roofing attracted a small but catholic, gathering of gulls. We missed a 1CY Glaucous Gull but a smart, milky latte Iceland Gull and 3 cracking Caspian Gulls allowed a close and meaningful appreciation. Great value.
1CY Caspian Gull, standing out like a sore thumb
4CY Caspian Gull, more subtle but still distinctive
So the New Year started with a twitch. A great bird well outside the Ely 10 by several hours of travel. The long staying Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire is the first wintering bird since the 70's and an enigmatic bird indeed.
On home turf Ely's Big Year 2017 has started with the aim of finding, identifying and recording credibly as many species of life as we can within the Ely area, with a particular focus on the Wildspace. A good introduction here
Not one of my photo's I'm afraid but I was in the car as the picture was being taken by Simon Patient on our Arctic epic some years ago. I was deluding myself that I may be able to see Short-eared Owl like this while taking the toddler out for a drive (read baby sleep with some roadside birding thrown in and mini walk). Two afternoon trips ensued the first to Burwell Fen where up to 15 have been seen in the last week and then later in the week to Eldernell. Both sites were bustling with birders and others with lenses, at Burwell the sunset was gorgeous and I got side-tracked into taking photo's of Owls, Kestrels and Folk against this backdrop.
That is an Owl there
The afternoon trip to the Nene Washes resulted in closer views of the Owls and also the semi-resident Cattle Egret trying to hitch a ride on the backs of the grazing Sheep. A few Cranes added to the continental vibe as did the 20 or so roadside Buzzards encountered across the fen. Although I did see the Owls better and got some video footage the black spots that have appeared (as the did on my last Lumix) have got too much. Having practised on my old camera with the guidance of some You Tube DIY guides I have now cleaned the sensor by taking the camera apart and hopefully will have ridded the camera of this problem for awhile. Apparently the large optical zooms on these create a vacuum when retracting that draws dust back into the body over time - very irritating.
I didn't get anywhere near the images I might have liked but the long shutter speed and high digiscoped magnification in the gloaming gave an interesting impressionistic image which I doubt I could have created intentionally.