War Memorial Gary Trouton

Fen Birds

February 2002

Swans in Stoke Ferry

Stoke Ferry Fen is a magic place for birds. All the common birds of water and land are there. Some move in majestic flights - in the evening the starlings congregate in hundreds, flocks coming from far and wide until, at a thought, the whole murmuration explodes into the waning light, wheels in unison around and around and around and then, at an unseen signal, drops together into the reeds, squabbles for a moment or two and is silent.

In spring, if you time it right, you can see the Bewick swans, which have over wintered at Welney and in other lakes locally. Suddenly they decide to head home for Russia, via Holland and the Baltic. They pass over in V formations of up to a hundred birds at dawn. Not in silence - there's a mass of back-seat flying advice being bandied around. This lasts for a couple of days only. On the fen we are in the wrong place to see their cousins, the Whooper swans, migrate towards Iceland but during the winter some "swan" around on the Wissey.

More frequent formation flyers are the geese - Greylag, Barnacle and Canada belt noisily overhead throughout the winter.

There are rarer waterfowl around. For a few years a couple of Sheldrake were here - and now there are four! Since they stay together, I assume a family group. Rarer perhaps was a group of six escaped domestic Aylesburys. They stayed and grew mightily on donated bread, bur too fat to fly; the last was murdered by an angry Mute Swan just this past spring.

Some birds are common here while rare elsewhere. We have many Reed Buntings, and a Barn Owl scouts the fen at dawn and dusk. The meadows have plenty of Skylarks and there are Wrens in all the hedges. Difficult to see, except as a blue flash, are Kingfishers near the sluices. Three years ago I heard, but didn't see a Bittern. There's only a hundred or so in the country so I keep listening and hoping.

There are, from time to time, real rarities. Every two or three years a Marsh Harrier patrols our skies. But for true twitcher immortality we have had a Little Egret - even better it was in its melanistic (black) form, near the sugar beet factory. This is not quite impossible - the white form is an annual, if unusual, vagrant here. But a black one? Probably never before.

Incredibly and unforgettably we spotted an Indian Roller at the waterworks. (No mistake -we were less than 10 metres from it). It was brilliantly coloured and a long, long way from its South East Asia haunts -how did it get here? This one we did check with the RSPB to see if one could have escaped from an aviary - no news - so perhaps it had fled, sensibly, from Afghanistan.

Odd Billie

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