This summer I have been doing a series of walks in the Rhee valley in South Cambs. and writing them up as blogs for other walkers to follow (see walking category). At the same time I have revived an old past time of mine – ornithology. This has added a whole new dimension to my walks and it has been great fun building up my knowledge of different species and how to identify them.
As well as my garden I have been walking and bird spotting in a variety of habitats found in the valley and its borders. There is Fowlmere RSPB reserve with its reed beds, ponds and mixed woodland; the farmland around my village and the various streams and ditches leading down to the Rhee. Also the mixed and varied bird habitats found at the Wimpole estate, which offers pastureland, woodland, lakes and arable fields.
My garden backs on to fields and is one of a row of long gardens with a good mixture of trees and shrubs where the birdlife is quite rich and varied. It’s great fun to sit in a deckchair, with a pair of binoculars by my side, waiting to see what may fly by or perch on the fencing. This year we have had successful breeding of green finches and long tailed tits. I have also seen a chiff-chaff or willow warbler – I can’t spot the difference! There are of course numerous blackbirds and I have a resident wren and a robin. Thrushes make an appearance and so too starlings. A lesser spotted woodpecker is a regular visitor and once a sparrow hawk flew low over the fence chasing its prey. My local walks in the village where I live, Shepreth, take me to Docras meadow which leads to the bank of the River Shep. Twice this summer I have been lucky to see a Kingfisher flying low over the water at great speed. There are a couple of buzzards in this part of the valley, they seem to range over to Fowlmere and back; usually high in the sky. Down by the river Rhee there have been a pair of mute swans with young.
Over at Fowlmere nature reserve this summer has been quite busy, perhaps unusually so! All my walks there have been well rewarded. On the lake at the main hide there have been two herons in residence as well as numerous greylag geese. On one occasion I saw a green sandpiper, wading in the mud – confirmed by the warden who came over to have a look! Twice I have seen a kingfisher and once a hobby, swooping down to catch dragonflies and feeding on the wing. On the circular path there have been numerous warblers and tits and a pair of bull finches.
My other favourite place at the moment is the Wimpole estate. I had an excellent bird-watching walk along Victoria Drive from Orwell. Just along the path I spotted a tree creeper climbing up the bark of one of the tall trees and later on, just before the bridge, where a path leads to the left across fields I followed this up with a goldfinch! Over at the Lakes amongst the fighting cootes and the mallards and geese I have seen a black-throated diver and on the higher lake there is a kingfisher this year in residence.
Once you start bird-watching you can’t stop and even short walks to the village shop or letter box become opportunities for a little ornithology. As you acquire more knowledge about different types it becomes progressively easier to identify the minor differences of colouring, tail shape or beak size. It’s interesting to note how much easier it is to remember the details when you make the spot yourself and confirm afterwards – rather than try to memorise the plates in the guide sitting in your armchair!
As you come to know your neighbourhood and the habitats and locations of particular birds its great fun making repeat visits. I remember walking down a track near Fowlmere and spotting a green woodpecker in the grass verge. It flew off into the trees and away. The next time I was more circumspect in my approach and there it was sitting in the trees! This close detailed local knowledge gives the whole activity and extra level of interest.
It would be great to get some comments from others on what birds you have seen in the area this year!