Ward on the wild side
PUBLISHED: 12:11 13 January 2006 | UPDATED: 13:21 28 May 2010
Dull and drizzly days are not the best for enjoying a walk, but braving the weather for a walk at Wicken Fen last Sunday paid dividends. I hadn't been to look for the great grey shrike that is wintering here before then, so my decision to visit was partly
Dull and drizzly days are not the best for enjoying a walk, but braving the weather for a walk at Wicken Fen last Sunday paid dividends.I hadn't been to look for the great grey shrike that is wintering here before then, so my decision to visit was partly influenced by the chance of seeing this exciting bird.After walking through to Baker's Fen, I spent time scanning the tops of the trees and bushes on Baker's and Adventurer's Fen which would provide the ideal vantage point for the pallid small bird and mammal hunter. As the rain increased and no shrike appeared, I began to wish I'd opted for an afternoon indoors. A single stonechat perched on umbellifer stems lifted my spirits slightly. I walked to the Swaffham Prior Fen end of Harrison's Drove withouthout success, but paused to enjoy the gathering of teal and wigeon on the Baker's Fen floods. This relatively new wetland has been gratefully received by wildlife.Noisy flocks of Canada geese dropped in from the direction of the Cam Washes periodically. These birds are not popular with many people and I certainly preferred the sight of the four, much smaller and compact individuals I had seen on the Hebridean island of Islay at the end of 2005. The Canada geese that occur in single figures there every winter are genuine vagrants from America that arrive with the vast flocks of 60,000 or so wintering barnacle geese that originate from Greenland.The brash specimens that can be found in many parts of Britain stem from the first introduced Canada geese that were set free here more than 250 years ago and are certainly native to Fenland.Moving to the other end of Harrison's Drove finally brought the reward I sought. The shrike suddenly popped up on a hedge 20 yards in front of me. Despite the rain, it perched boldly right on the top of the bushes and nearby trees for the next half an hour or so and showed superbly. It was a wonderful sight on this dull day. I was able to watch it from the nearby Trevelyan's Hide when the rain increased and it moved away from the drove.Two barn owls were also not put off by the weather and performed splendidly. I also picked up a female hen harrier flying at a distance out over Sedge Fen, the first bird to arrive at the five strong winter roost there.