Ward on the wildside - Freezing wait for geese visit

PUBLISHED: 11:34 10 March 2006 | UPDATED: 21:44 28 May 2010

It hasn't been a cold winter by any means, but as I stood in the middle of Thetford Forest following overnight temperatures of eight degrees below freezing with my hands and most other limbs rendered virtually useless, I was glad to escape this well-known

It hasn't been a cold winter by any means, but as I stood in the middle of Thetford Forest following overnight temperatures of eight degrees below freezing with my hands and most other limbs rendered virtually useless, I was glad to escape this well-known 'cold-spot' in the heart of the Breckland and return to the Fens.It is easy to forget that it is sometimes weather conditions elsewhere that bring certain birds here. In the last three weeks there has been a really nice influx of white-fronted geese into south-east England and a few flocks have put down in the Fens.That morning, I hoped to catch up with a group that had been frequenting fields near Purl's Bridge. I had missed these notoriously 'wild' birds twice previously, and hoped it would be a case of third time lucky. It didn't look good on arrival, with only a hundred or so whooper swans in the favoured field. After 20 minutes, cursing my bad luck again, I noticed some geese dropping down a quarter-of-a- mile to the north, near Pymore railway bridge, and I stalked my way across the arable fields until I could see if they were the ones I was hoping for. The second flock of geese that flew down were greylag geese, certainly not up to the standard of the genuinely wild visitors from Russia.However, a clear view of the grazing flock revealed several 'white-fronts' to the heads of some of the geese. They were there, and I counted 28 in all mixed in with their feral relatives. They will have come across the North Sea from Holland or Belgium in response to harder weather there.I then made my way to Welney, which has also hosted some of these dainty, black belly-barred grey geese with their little pink bills and 'blaze' of white at the base of their bills. From the comfort of the observatory, I couldn't see any geese, but a little later a group of 26 flew in at height from the south-west - more white-fronts! They flew right down the wash before circling back and dropping down on Cock Fen on the far side of the washes.My visit was made even more rewarding by a tiny, mistle-thrush-sized male merlin - our smallest falcon - dashing past and then three more white-fronts flying into roost as I walked back to my car, as even more scarce wild geese, the nine regular bean geese, padded around their favourite field behind the new visitor centre.

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