Mike on how going out in the field for one thing can turn up another
This month I am going to return to the old chestnut of how getting out into the field looking for one thing can turn up something else. The story starts in late July, when one morning, a birder friend of mine called me at work to say he was watching a Black Kite hunting the wonderful raptor habitat of the Great Fen, near the village of Holme, due south of Peterborough.
In case you don’t know, the Great Fen is an ambitious 50-year scheme designed to acquire and restore or ‘rewild’ a huge tract of land between Peterborough and Huntington. Even in the first few years, the site near Holme has attracted such great visitors as Rough-legged Buzzard, a couple of Great Grey Shrikes, Crane, Quail, chats, Short-eared Owls, Merlins and so on. There are many Red Kites in this area, and even Ravens have moved in, recently.
So, my daughter Jasmine and I headed down in the evening, to see if the Black Kite might still be around. It is always a pleasure just to visit the site, which is only 15-20 minutes from home, so feels like it is almost on our doorstep. The Great Fen people have turned former agricultural fields into wonderful meadows, rich in flowers and rich in wildlife. So, even standing around scanning for raptors feels like you are somehow looking back in time.
That evening, scanning from beside our car on the rough old road, we picked up several Red Kites, and Buzzards, plus a Hobby and Kestrels aplenty. There were also a few Marsh Harriers about, but sadly no Black Kite that evening. But Jas and I saw a suspicious large raptor in the distance, so decided to take one of the paths that loop round and through the meadows to get a closer gander, even though the sun was sinking rapidly.
The odd Sky Lark got up and there were brief snatches of Reed and Sedge Warbler from the ditches. As we got closer to where our ‘interesting’ raptor should be, we came across a family of Corn Buntings, the full-sized youngsters ‘begging’ with unfamiliar calls. Then a couple of Marsh Harriers hopped out of a nearby field, confirming what we suspected of our earlier raptor sighting. And now it was almost getting too late for larger bird of prey watching, as they all seemed to be heading off to roost, in woods or fields.
We were walking along a richly vegetated ditch, with a dry bottom (after the ), looking and listening, as the sun descended further; though resigned to not seeing the Black Kite. A Chinese Water Deer appeared from nowhere on the other side of a recent mown meadow; then another. Then I picked up a small passerine perched high on an umbellifer along the ditch. I scoped it and it was a juvenile Whinchat, an unexpectedly early south-bound migrant (only the second I have seen in any July, around here) and local year tick 183! We watched it for a bit, as it flitted into a wheat field. Then we saw that there was a second bonus Whinchat just next to it, another juvenile.
But soon, our attention was drawn elsewhere and the poor Whinchats, year ticks or not, got temporarily forgotten. We had heard a bit of rustling vegetation, and was that some snuffling? We turned round and saw, across the field, a Badger had emerged from another vegetated ditch and was working its way through the recently cut vegetation, following its nose for titbits. And it was heading straight towards us.
The sun was still just up, and as we were downwind of the Badger, we just stood still (and I took some photos) and it just ignored us (Badger’s eyes and ears are not as good as their noses!) and got on with its usual early evening activity, while we got superb views. It crossed the path we were on, heading down a little well-worn Badger path and into the dry-bottomed ditch. It was one of the best views of a Badger I have ever had, and one of the only encounters I have had with one at all in true daylight.
But the Badger parade had only just begun. More Badgers appeared, in twos, nose-to-tail, and snuffled along roughly the same route as the earlier pioneer. Jasmine and I watched a total of seven wonderful Badgers wend their way across that recently cut field.
We had come out looking for a Black Kite, but had ended up with year tick Whinchats and the best Badger views we’d ever had. Better than a Black Kite! Not quite…
Badgers appeared in twos, nose-to-tail, and snuffled along the same route as the pioneer
Badgers, Great Fen, Cambridgeshire, July 2018