Birdwatching at RSPB Fowlmere

Get ready to discover a hidden gem in Cambridgeshire! The RSPB Fowlmere nature reserve has been flying under our radar for almost 40 years, but now that we've stumbled upon it, we're hooked.

This tranquil oasis is perfect for a leisurely stroll while spotting local wildlife. We're keeping our fingers crossed to catch a glimpse of the elusive turtle doves that visit during certain times of the year.

One of the reserve's standout features is its rare chalk stream habitat, home to brown trout and water voles.

Did you know that this site was once famous for its watercress beds until the 1960s? Today, reed beds thrive, nourished by the natural chalk springs.

Reed beds at fowlmereFowlmere in February

Winter at Fowlmere

Join me on my first visit to Fowlmere in February, as we begin our nature walk.

We rose early, braving the chilly, misty morning. Luckily, the mist lifted as we approached Cambridge, and we made our way through picturesque villages and down a narrow lane to the car park.

As we entered the peaceful reserve, we passed a small wooden building and a chemical toilet facility.

We weren't expecting to see that!

Our first sighting was unusual. 

A splendid rooster! Yes, a domesticated chicken. Apparently a flock of them had been dumped on the reserve, and the handsome fellow in front of us was one of the last remaining. Who would do such a thing?

Following the signpost for Spring Hide, we headed in an anticlockwise direction. The recent wet weather had left the path quite muddy in places, but that didn't deter us.

We settled into the first hide, but unfortunately, the wildlife was playing hide-and-seek, and we didn't spot anything exciting. So, we moved on to explore more of the reserve.

Taking a Bird's Eye View

A detour led us to the elevated Reed Bed Hide, accessible via a set of wooden steps.

From this vantage point, we enjoyed a stunning view of the reed beds and a large pond/small lake. And that's where we hit jackpot!

We spotted a group of Teal, an attractive little overwintering duck species. The males' chestnut heads with dark green eye patches and yellow triangular markings near their tails were a treat to behold. The females, while less flashy, were still delightful.

Just as we were taking it all in, a large flock of noisy Greylag Geese flew in to the pond, adding to the excitement. Let's see what other wonders this reserve has in store for us...

Male and female Teal in the water at FowlmereFemale (left) and Male Teal

Fieldcraft Skills - or Not!

As I trudged beside the wet, muddy fields, a sudden movement caught my attention.

Two brown hares darted into view, and I quickly snapped away, capturing as many photos as I could before they bounded off across the field. The thrill of that unexpected encounter still lingers!

Meanwhile, my husband was way ahead of me, as usual. He often takes the lead, but it can be a double-edged sword. While his pace lets him spot things first, his, shall we say, 'enthusiastic' approach often scares off the very creatures I'm trying to capture on camera.

Today, however, I got lucky.

Let's just say my husband's fieldcraft skills need some work. He still hasn't grasped the concept that shouting to get my attention only guarantees that the wildlife will be long gone by the time I catch up.

I, on the other hand, try to tread softly on the grass beside the path, while his boots crunch on the gravel, announcing our presence to every bird and beast within earshot.

Brown hare running across the muddy fieldBrown hare

Winter Blooms

As we rounded the bend, a splash of white caught our eye.

A stunning cluster of snowdrops lined the pathway, their delicate petals shining like tiny beacons in the winter landscape.

And just a stone's throw away, the bright green of watercress still thrived in the stream, a resilient survivor in the midst of RSPB Fowlmere's winter wonderland.

Snowdrops aplenty beside the pathSnowdrops
Remnants of the old watercress bedsWatercress

A Conversation with a Fellow Bird Watcher

As we wrapped up our winter morning stroll at Fowlmere, we stumbled upon the Drewer hide, where we finally encountered another human being - a rare sighting on this cold February day!

We struck up a conversation, and our new friend shared some valuable insider knowledge.

He revealed that later in the year, this hide is a hotspot for spotting kingfishers, and we made a mental note to return. He also mentioned that a white Water Rail is known to frequent the area, although neither of these elusive creatures decided to make an appearance for us on this ocassion. 

Our Spring visit to Fowlmere

Join me on a return trip to Fowlmere in May, where the weather had a dramatic makeover since our last visit. This time, we walked into a record-breaking Spring Bank Holiday, with the mercury soaring to a scorching 26°C.

As we stepped out early morning, the air was alive with birdsong, and the landscape had transformed from dull brown to spring green.

We had the place almost to ourselves, which only added to the magic.

We decided to mix things up and head in the opposite direction, making the Drewer Hide our first stop. As we settled in, we were treated to a heartwarming scene: an adult Little Grebe tenderly feeding her chicks. The mirror-like water created perfect reflections, making it feel like we were right there with them. Want to take a closer look?

Little Grebe and babyLittle Grebe and her baby

A Bevy of Warblers

As we made our way through the reserve, the air was filled with the sweet melodies of warblers. The leafy trees made it tough to spot them, but I managed to capture a Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler on camera.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that telling these two birds apart can be a real challenge.

One key difference is that Chiffchaffs have darker legs, but that's not always a reliable clue, especially when the light isn't on your side. Another distinguishing feature is that Willow Warblers have longer primary feathers on their wings.

But here's the thing: if you're lucky enough to hear them sing, it's a whole different story.

The Chiffchaff's repetitive "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff" call is unmistakable, while the Willow Warbler's song has a beautiful, melodic tune. So, let's take a closer look at these amazing birds.

Chiffchaff against the blue skyChiffchaff
Willow Warbler singing among the treesWillow Warbler

Suddenly, we heard the distinctive chatter of a Sedge Warbler.

We scanned the horizon, and soon enough, we caught a glimpse of this elusive bird. I quickly grabbed my camera to capture the unique sound it makes - take a listen!

Although it was too far away for a close-up shot, I've added a photo from a previous walk to give you an idea of its striking features. Notice the white "brow" above its eyes and the stripy crown - these are telltale signs of a Sedge Warbler.

Sedge Warbler photographed from close by, on a different walkSedge Warbler

As we climbed up to the raised Reed Bed hide, the scenery unfolded before us. We were now level with the tops of the reeds, and our patience was soon rewarded.

Just a few minutes in, I caught a flash of movement near the water's edge. My heart skipped a beat as I spotted a Reed Warbler.

I couldn't believe my luck - these birds are notoriously elusive, and getting a clear view, let alone a photo, is a rare treat. But today, I was in the right place at the right time. Look at the difference a clear view makes by comparing the two photos below. 

Reed Warbler hiding amongst the reedsThe "normal" view of a Reed Warbler, partially obscured by the reeds
Reed Warbler in clear viewAnd an opportunity to see it in full sight

Marsh Harriers Over The Reeds

As we scanned the horizon above the reeds, we caught a glimpse of Marsh Harriers in action. I'm pretty sure we saw three, but only two were flying together at any given time. It was clear they were breeding in the area, and one of them was a young bird still learning the ropes.

The adult bird put on a show, snagging food not once but twice and then disappearing into the reeds for a while.

I was determined to get a good shot, but it wasn't easy.

When they flew against the bright blue sky, I could use multiple focus points to get a sharp image. But when they flew in front of the trees or above the reeds, it was a different story. More often than not, my photos ended up with a sharp background and a blurry bird.

Of course, I would've loved to get sharper photos of these amazing birds of prey. But let's be real – many people never get to see Marsh Harriers up close, so I'm not complaining.

I feel lucky to have had the experience, and I'm happy to share it with you.

Marsh Harrier against a blue sky with prey in its talons
Marsh Harried flying in front of green trees
Marsh Harrier in flight
Marsh Harrier flying into the reeds

An Unexpected Bird Call

As I was taking in the majestic Marsh Harriers, a loud, piercing call suddenly jolted me out of my bird-watching trance.

I was stumped - what bird could be making that noise?

My curiosity piqued, I scanned the surroundings, and that's when I spotted them: a small cluster of Linnets perched in a nearby tree, right beside the hide.

As I zoomed in, I was treated to a stunning view of the male Linnet's vibrant pinkish breast feathers.

The females, while less flashy, were still charming birds in their own right.

And then I noticed it - a distinctive pale cheek patch on both males and females, a telltale sign that these birds were indeed Linnets.

Male LinnetMale Linnet
Female LinnetFemale Linnet

I couldn't resist capturing the moment, snapping some photos before switching to video mode. Okay, I'll admit it - my video skills need some work, but bear with me, and let's enjoy the delightful sights and sounds of these lovely birds together!

Ready to Spread Your Wings at RSPB Fowlmere?

First, pick your perfect time to visit - winter, spring, or whenever you're ready to get back to nature.

Then, lace up your boots and take a stroll through this stunning reserve.

Remember to tread lightly, and you might just spot a rare bird or two!

By taking this first step, you'll not only get a rush from spotting your first bird but also support the RSPB's vital conservation work.

So, what are you waiting for? Join the flock and start exploring the world of birdwatching at RSPB Fowlmere!

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