Thursday, 8 January 2015

A visit to Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB reserve

Taking my chances with the forecast I headed over to Burton Mere Wetlands on Monday - the alternative to having a day out with the camera being to unpack yet more untouched boxes from our house move... it didn't take long to decide between the two! Having been to this reserve previously, I knew that a lot of the birds would be a reasonable distance away from the hides and that it was a day for 'the big lens', a Sigma 150-500 zoom lens which I bought last summer - a lens of which I'm very fond, but don't use nearly as much as I should because frankly, it's heavy, and in some places feels a little conspicuous!

The reserve is managed by the RSPB and is renowned for its fantastic habitats for wetland as well as woodland birds and other wildlife. Hides and viewpoints look out across the reedbeds, wet grassland and fens, and trails take you through woodlands, and past old fishery pools, reedbeds and arable fields which have been planted to attract birds and other wildlife. 

View from Marsh Covert hide

Looking out across the wetlands from a hide close to the reception building was the sight of hundreds of Lapwings, the air filled with the sounds of their other-worldly calls. As birds whose numbers have suffered significant declines making them currently a red-listed species, it was wonderful to see so many here. Amongst them were good numbers of Golden Plover, also Redshank and Dunlin, and a selection of Gulls (mostly Black-headed that I could see). 

Male Teal
In the nearer pool tiny Teals, the males with their colourful heads, and their calls like toy whistles mingled with Shoveler, Coot, Moorhen and Mallard. The Water Rails known to skulk in the reedbeds near the visitor centre evaded me once again. 

From the calm and entirely out of the blue, almost as one the Lapwings took flight, something having disturbed them, though it wasn't immediately clear what. From nowhere four Curlews flew directly overhead and away, calling as they went. (There was a bit of a mismatch between the speed of the Curlews and my reactions - the photo below being the best of a pretty bad bunch!) 
Spooked - Lapwings and friends take flight
Leaving the scene and nearly the frame!
Moments later the likely reason for the disturbance became clear as a beautiful female Hen Harrier appeared in the distance. For a few memorable moments, probably no more than a minute or two, I watched as she floated low over the grassland, scanning for prey and occasionally dropping down in pursuit of some unfortunate creature. Only the second time I have knowingly seen one of these incredible raptors, my sightings of these birds otherwise restricted to pictures in reports of depressingly predictable tales of persecution. With the equally predictable lack of associated prosecutions.
Female Hen Harrier (quite a distance away!)
Eventually harried by Crows, she disappeared out of sight again. This was all too far away for anything approaching a good photo (at least for me and my lens - 500mm at full stretch), but in the photo above you can just about make out the white above the tail (the 'rump') which distinguishes her from other harriers, and also the long barred tail which gives female and juvenile Hen Harriers their nickname of 'ringtail'.

Bank Vole
Heading back across to other side of the reserve I heard the familiar scurrying and scuffling in the undergrowth generally meaning one thing - voles.  Usually at this point I will search in vain for a tiny creature that has long since made itself scarce, but on this occasion I hung around and scanned the undergrowth, and then scanned again. Skillfully keeping him or herself firmly in the shade of the brambles I finally found the tiny vole munching on leaves and managed to grab a handful of photos before he/she disappeared again, the 150-500 lens feeling ridiculously out of proportion photographing this tiny mammal less than 2 metres away from me.

As well as the abundant natural food available in the surrounding fields, there are a number of bird feeders - great for observing woodland birds up close. 

I stood and watched at some of these feeders as various birds including Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue, Great and Coal tits came and went either at, or under the feeders, some perching for long enough to me to take their photo, like the female Great-Spotted Woodpecker clutching at the peanut feeder, the Nuthatch who gave him/herself away with calls (like someone whistling to get your attention), and  Goldfinches with their pretty twittering calls and eye-catching flashes of colour.

A brief stop in the Marsh Covert hide was quiet in comparison with other areas of the reserve on this occasion, however in the far distance two female Stonechats could be seen. 

A day out with 'the big lens' left me with ever so slightly achy arms, but delighted to have come back with the memory of seeing one of our most beautiful (yet sadly and needlessly persecuted) birds of prey - a remarkable start to the New Year! 


  1. Stunning, turned out to be a lovely day. Gorgeous captures, Jan. Wonderful :)

    1. Quite different scenery and birdlife to what I usually see this side of the county - another place really worth visiting. Thanks Kez :)

    2. :) your welcome :)

  2. Great to read the adventures behind the images Jan

    1. Thanks very much Ash - I don't know if you've been before but it's a wonderful place to visit, wish I lived a little closer! :)