Thursday, 17 January 2019

Jan 17th Welney

Dad and I have ventured into the Brecks today as we have made the long ride to Welney. This Wildfowl and Wetland Trust site has been getting some attention lately, not just from the popular wild swan feeds, but from an American duck that has stopped over for a lengthy visit. A drake ring-necked duck is the American equivalent to a tufted duck. It even resembles it with its black and white plumage but minus the tuft. The neck of the duck isn't the most notable feature, though, its the bill which is divided into a tricolour band of light and dark grey. And if the scarce duck isn't enough, there's also a few cattle egrets around. If I don't see one, then I was hoping to see the other, or both.
Tree Sparrow
House Sparrow
View from the main observatory
It was flipping freezing at Welney today! Strong icy cold winds batter me making me shiver for warmth. Good job the main observatory hide was lovely and warm with its indoor heaters. Whooper and mute swans and hundreds of pochard with the odd tufted duck and mallard were waiting at the front preparing for the free hand out of food that the wardens here will be doing at midday. Meanwhile, the island behind them was jammed packed with hundreds of black-tailed godwits huddled together, each one with their heads tucked under their wings asleep. Sadly, there was no sign of the ring-necked duck here, which is where it is normally seen from. I reluctantly left the cosy warmth of the observatory and joined Dad outside to walk down to the duck's other hang out spot adjacent to the Reedbed Hide. Back into the freezing cold I go!
Whooper Swan
Mute Swan
Black-tailed Godwits
The landscape that the Ringed-necked Duck could be hiding in
A vast open landscape of flooded fields awaited us when we got to the hide. No luxury of heaters here. It was back to the old fashioned wooden shacks exposed to the elements from now on. Wigeon, teal, shovelers, godwits, redshanks, lapwing and a few dunlin were dotted across the view in front of me, swallowed up by the vast space of the landscape. Most appeared distant and small in comparison. If the duck I was after was here, I wasn't going to spot it properly without a scope and I left that at home!

Black-tailed Godwit
More Godwits
Trying out one of the smallest hides I've ever seen
Defeated, we made our way down path on the other side of the main observatory for a short walk and to visit the other three hides. It was time to see if the cattle egrets were around. We were distracted by a chiffchaff and some stonechats that played hard to get (or photograph in this case) along the way. In the end, we only managed to visit one hide before Dad insisted that we should go see the 12 o'clock swan feed. So we were unable to get near to the field where the cattle egrets could be at. However, I did manage to spot their larger cousin, the great white egret, though it was extremely distant on the opposite side of the reserve's flooded fields.

A very distant Great White Egret
Swan Feed
We returned to the observatory just in time for the swan feed and talk. There weren't many whooper swans for this feed as most of them are out in the surrounding cultivated fields and would only return for the after dark evening swan feeds, which is quite a spectacle if you've never witnessed it before. For this feed, it was mostly the mute swans and the many hungry ducks that I saw earlier making a free for all pile up for the seed being thrown out to them by a volunteer with a wheelbarrow. No ring-necked duck still. It seemed even the free food wasn't enough to draw it in.
Whooper Swan
Tufted Duck
A Mallard hybrid
After lunch, we made a short drive down the road to a bridge. Apparently, from what I was told, the cattle egrets were now seen somewhere around here. We scanned the area, but all we could find was a kestrel. It turning out to be one of those days.

The escaped Ringed Teal (left)
Defeated, again, and with still plenty of time before we had to leave for home, we made our way back to the reserve for another crack at those two remaining hides that we didn't manage to get to the first time round. Before attempting the walk again, we made a quick visit to the observatory to check if our American friend showed up. Nope, though we did see an escaped ringed teal. I left the warmth of the observatory empty handed once more. At least this time we had succeeded to reach these two hides, not that we saw much other than what we've already seen so far, let alone that elusive ring-necked duck. A pair of fieldfares played the same game as the stonechats and the chiffchaff before reaching that second and final hide, the Friends Hide.
Black-tailed Godwit
Cattle Egrets
But then our luck changed. As we exited the Friends Hide, three small white heron-like birds suddenly came into view flying over the bank bordering the road. Cattle egrets! I couldn't believe it. Then they decided to land on top of a hedge and I battled the wind, time and my camera's temperamental focus to get a photo or two before they went down to ground and out of view. I was so relieved. A flock of sheep were nearby, so I expect that they went over to join them. This is the same type of egret that you will find sitting on top of elephants and following buffalos around in Africa, but here they have to make do with sheep. With the cattle egrets in the bag, was it the ringed-necked duck's turn? We made one last visit to the observatory. No.
Whooper Swans on a field
Along the way home, we came across a couple of fields with gatherings of whooper swans (and possibly the odd Bewick's amongst them). Not a bad way to end what was quite an eventful and cold day at Welney, though a ringed-necked duck would have made it even better.