On the way home from my weekend in Norfolk (Did I mention I’d been to Norfolk??), I decided to pop into the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Welney, situated on the Ouse Washes. The Washes are the largest area of frequently flooded grazing marsh in Britain and are internationally important for wildfowl.
The purpose of my visit was two-fold: to provide me with a mid-morning tea stop and toilet break and, hopefully, enable me to tick off two new bird species for my 2014 bird list –Whooper and Bewick’s Swans. Tea, toilet and swans… Is that three-fold? Never mind.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a conservation charity, founded in 1946 by Sir Peter Scott – a celebrated ornithologist, artist, one-time Olympic medallist and only child of Antarctic explorer Robert Scott. He also designed the original panda logo for the World Wildlife Fund. Quite a talented chap – I’d take being celebrated in just one thing… Like bird blogging, for example.
The main hide at the Welney reserve provides the visitor with an unusual twist on the traditional bird-watching experience … The faux-leather seats, toasty warm central heating, double-glazed windows, games for the kids, caffè latte on tap and touchscreen info panels to look up sightings are an incongruous far cry from the cold, damp sheds with opening windows that I had started getting accustomed to throughout the duration of this year. I had started to think that it was the lot of the seasoned bird-watcher to spend the remainder of their days battling the onset of hypothermia in rickety wooden outhouses.
If I’m honest, I think I’d be happy with something in between (and tea rather than coffee).
On looking out of the window, I was greeted by the sight of a load of swans – the collective noun escapes me. There were a number of Mute Swans (orange and black bills), but, more significantly – for 2014 listing purposes, anyway – a sizeable smattering of swans with yellow and black bills… This meant that they were either the rather similar-looking Whooper or Bewick’s Swans I had popped into the reserve to seek out.
I had never seen either before, so wasn’t entirely sure how to distinguish the difference between the two.
I recalled that one species has more of a yellow wedge on their bill, compared to the other, which has more of a smaller, rounded canary-coloured area. I couldn’t recall, which was which, which was unhelpful. What it did result in, however, was the creation of an unusual sentence containing three whiches – Something I’ve only ever encountered before whilst reading Macbeth in Year 9. [By reading Macbeth, I, of course, mean reading the York Notes for Macbeth].
A helpful WWT volunteer was able to point out the difference – The wedgy beak belongs to a Whooper Swan and the blobby beak to a Bewick’s Swan. This meant, the multitude of swans in eyeshot were Whoopers.
Sadly, my hopes of seeing a Bewick’s were pretty much dashed, as the I was told that only a few had arrived in the area so far and they usually spent their time away from the reserve. This meant that I was probably only going to add Whooper Swan to the list during this visit.
I scoured the flooded landscape and surrounding grassland in the desperate hope of picking up my second new swan species of the trip, but to no avail. It seemed that all the yellow-beaked swans in the area were Whoopers. My interest was semi-piqued by one with an odd dark splodge on its beak in the distance, but, in the end, I reasoned that it was just a bit muddy.
As darkness fell and there was no further chance of spying a Bewick’s Swan, disappointment set in. I realised that I would probably not get another chance before the year was out. Hmmm, maybe that sounds a bit melodramatic – It’s only ticking a bird off a list!
Later that evening…
After arriving at home after a day paparazzi-ing nature, I always spend a few moments flicking through my photographs – selecting the best ones to proudly show you lovely people what I’ve seen. This very evening was no different, but as I got to the long-range photos of the muddy-faced swan, I happened to notice that there was another swan in the foreground… I squinted a bit and sought textbook enlightenment. It was a bloomin’ Bewick’s Swan – I had seen one, but just didn’t notice. [Further inspection also shows another to the left also]
With peripheral vision like that, I wonder why I don’t get run over more when crossing the road. I also wonder how many bird species I had missed-out on.
In spite of all this obliviousness, I am now at one-hundred and eighty-nine for the year. If you’d like to have a look at the list, click here. If you’d like to look at cute dancing kittens, click here.