|Whoopers at RSPB Ouse washes|
First up, RSPB Ouse Washes. I was quite surprised at the low-key nature of the place. A wooden shed for a reception centre with the warden out, a book with sightings, and then the hides. It was just me and a few (other) old blokes having a leisurely look around the reserve. There were Whoopers Swans in abundance. Its amazing to be driving through flat countryside and see fields full of hundreds of wild swans, but here they are, and at this reserve they were quite close. There was a Short-Eared Owl hunting the bund from the road on the way in, 2 Stonechat along the path, 3 distant Buzzards, and round the centre a few Tree Sparrows - quite a tick for those of us from Essex/Herts. A male Sparrowhawk slipped low past the hide, a Fox patrolled the edge of an adjacent field and a Muntjac stood and watched from the edge of the reed bed. There were lots of wild fowl on the washes, thousands of Wigeon, good numbers of Pochard and Pintail, and if you ever want to see lots of Coot in one place then this is the reserve for you.
|Whoopers in a field|
Then on to Welney WWT. I hadn't seen the new centre and very impressive it was - lots of staff, lots of cake, pictures on the wall for sale, and a stonking £8.20 entrance fee for non-members such as I. The reserve itself was full of non-birders on a day out; mainly old folk but families here too.
The water level was lower than at the RSPB centre and the birds better for it. On Lady Fen - bought by the WWT and being developed - there was Short-Eared Owl and Barn Owl, Dunlin, a Curlew, Shelduck, a few Little Egrets, and a herd of Whooper Swans in the distance. A family party of four Roe Deer crossed the back.
On the reserve there was a Peregrine and 2 Marsh Harriers at the north end, about 4000 Black-Tailed Godwit at the southern end, and all the ducks you would expect in front of the hides. And as I walked back to the reserve in the late afternoon several thousand Golden Plover flew this way and that in the sky. with a low sun on their white bellies and golden wings it was if a massive cloud of golden glitter had been sprinkled across the sky.
So Welney won hands down for birds, entrance fee excepted. Welney is getting bigger and better, whilst the RSPB reserve looks for all the world like they wish they didn't have it. Its not hard to see why - the RSPB reserve is on the wrong side both for access from the nearest birding population, and for observing as the natural view is SE into the sun. The reserve is massive and at a time like this is an expanse of water with distant birds on the far side. In addition one of the main reasons for the reserve - breeding Black-Tailed Godwit - no longer applies as they have moved on.
All the things that work against the RSPB reserve work for the WWT reserve. Easier access from the south-east; a narrower drier reserve with the sunlight behind you when viewing birds; and now better birds. The WWT are spending heavily on the reserve including developing Lady Fen which can be watched from the elevated watching platform by the cafe, so this reserve is only likely to get better.
Some birders will like the quieter relaxed feel of the RSPB reserve, but I think it will be Welney I return to in the future.