Wee­don’s World

Mike on how go­ing out in the field for one thing can turn up another

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - Mike is an ob­ses­sive patch lis­ter and keen wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher in his home city of Peter­bor­ough, where he lives with his wife, Jo, and chil­dren, Jas­mine and Ed­die. You can see his pho­tos at weed­world.blogspot.com

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

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