It's the 22nd of October and most of our expected winter guests have already made an appearance down at the reed beds. Ring tail hen harriers (11/10), short eared owl (14/10) and merlin (18/10) have all shown up sporadically down the fen in the past number of weeks. In addition to these iconic winter guests we have seen other sometimes overlooked guests such as brambling, siskin and redpoll. It’s a fantastic time of year to visit Ouse Fen, the early morning or before dusk the ideal time to see and hear the species mentioned. Knowing the flight calls of the smaller species such as brambling and siskin can be paramount in picking these birds up on a visit.

These have all arrived from northern climes, taking refuge in the UK for the winter as conditions in northern/eastern Europe will make the winter survival difficult. Some years we see species come in small numbers (due to mild weather elsewhere) or in "explosion years" where some irregular occurrence (extreme weather, failure of berry crop etc) has driven unprecedented numbers of a certain species our way such as Waxwings in the winter of 2010. This year we have already seen massive numbers of Jays moving in from Europe, it is thought that the failure of the acorn crop in countries such as Italy has meant these continental Jays have to move to find their favourite winter food.

Fieldfare - photo; Steve Dobromylski

We also recently started to welcome our annual influx of "winter thrushes" (redwings and fieldfares)  , these arrive in early October from Scandinavia, Russia and other chilly spots such as Iceland. They migrate at night and can be heard over towns and villages on still evenings calling to each other in the dark to stay in contact. They arrive to feast on the glut of berries in our hedgerows. The feed communally and when they have our hedgerows stripped clean they will move and feed in massive flocks in fields with other species. They are both very well marked, handsome looking birds.

On top of all this we add the winter swans and ducks that choose the UK as wintering grounds. At the weekend the reserve saw its first whooper swans of the season arrive. They joined the increasing numbers of ducks such as shovler, teal, wigeon, gadwall and pochard. All these duck species breed in the UK but our breeding bird numbers are massively increased from birds returning south to escape the harsh winter further north. It’s a great time to try finding a scarcer visitor such as a scaup, smew or pintail duck.

Redwing on hawthorn - Photo; Steve Dobromylski

Don’t forget to scan the skies for big flocks of lapwing, golden plover and if you’re lucky starlings doing their aerobatic displays.

So let this blog entry act as a winter checklist for you. Get your boots, binoculars and Bovril out and have a ramble down the fen in the coming weeks in search of our winter tourists. Enjoy your visit and let us know what you see.

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