The closing of the year presents a good time to summarise the wildlife goings-on that have taken place over the past 12 months. Overall, it has been an exciting year; however varied water levels posed a challenge for some species to overcome.

Early winter flooding meant the reserve effectively became one giant lake. The ducks were having a great time with large numbers of wigeon, tufted duck, pintail, shoveler and goldeneye counted. Wading birds that like shallow water struggled to find higher ground, but the few areas that were suitable resulted in large counts of black-tailed godwits and lapwing, amongst others.

Fluctuating water levels are not good for species which nest close to the water and so it proved when spring flooding in April resulted in many of the nesting islands for gulls, waders and terns being washed out. It was really fraught to watch the birds trying to build up their nests with twigs so that their eggs remained out of the water. Most couldn’t do it in time, but a few managed to build up their nests over a foot higher. Once the water receded somewhat, these birds were sat proud on towering nests.


Turtle Dove at the orchard by Henry Cook

Our reedbeds are managed with the hope of scarce breeding birds using them. This year, a pair of bittern were observed to be likely breeding on site. Although we often hear a territorial male in the spring, this is the first time we have recorded nesting evidence. Bearded tits are also likely to have nested on site for the first time after sightings of a family group with youngsters were reported. These are both good signs that the work we carry out in the reedbed is working and that it is in the right condition with habitat and food availability for our target birds.

Nightingales hadn’t been heard on the reserve for a few years, but following habitat work that we have carried out over the past two winters, we were overjoyed to hear two males singing their wonderful lyrical song from deep within an area of scrub in the spring. A female was later seen with one of the males, suggesting breeding may have taken place.

Our other headline species is the turtle dove and surveys revealed up to five singing birds around the reserve, a welcome increase from previous years for this red-listed species. They went quiet after a while, but we confirmed breeding for at least one pair with a family group seen in August.

Following the breeding season, the reserve sees an annual build-up of mute swans which come here to moult their wing feathers. During this time, they are flightless and need large waterbodies to feel safe on. The counts achieved by our volunteers were huge with 233 counted in June.

The year threw up a good number of rare and scarce species which were largely found by a loyal band of local patch watchers. Amongst these have been White-tailed Eagle, Firecrest, Smew, Caspian Gull, Kumlien's Gull, Little Tern, Scaup, Glossy Ibis and Hawfinch.

Into the winter months a murmuration began. Black silhouettes appear en-masse in the sky before the setting sun. They wheel around and create wonderous shapes. These are made by starlings which fly into the reedbed to roost. We are lucky that most years they visit, but their presence is never guaranteed. A fitting finale to the year.


Starling murmuration at Fen Drayton Lakes by Gill Parish  


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