A wealth of wildfowl

Back in the autumn Ely Sinfonia, one of the orchestras I conduct, included in their concert a piece by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara called “Cantus Arcticus”. It’s an orchestral evocation of the sounds of the arctic tundra and includes actual bird song recordings of common cranes, whooper swans and other arctic species.

As part of the concert planning our Chair, Roz Chalmers, approached the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) staff at Welney (not far from Ely) to see if they could supply some additional bird song recordings for us to play in Ely Cathedral as the audience were arriving for the concert. They were very helpful and so we suggested they might like to have a stand near the entrance to the Cathedral where audience members could find out more about WWT, join the organisation, or make donations. As a thank you for this the Welney reserve invited members of the orchestra to a floodlight viewing.

the flooded washes from the Welney observatory today (photo by Brenda)

And so it was that today about 25 members and friends of the orchestra met at a cold and slightly damp Welney – which luckily has a nice and warm observatory! The washes around this part of the fens are of international importance for wildfowl, and particularly for migratory swans – whooper and Bewick’s (sometimes called tundra) swans.

although taken in January 2015 this photo was at Welney, of a whooper swan and lots of pochard – much as today! (similarly today we also saw a swan with a damaged wing)

I was hoping to add Bewick’s swan to my 2023 list, but we didn’t have much daylight left when we arrived and although I thought I might have seen a small group in one of the fields on the approach to the reserve I wasn’t absolutely sure, so I decided to leave them off the list. From the observatory we only saw whooper swans – no disappointment at all as both species are great to see. The variety of species around the observatory was limited, but with impressive numbers of whooper swans and pochard, plus some tufted ducks and mallards, it was still a spectacle, and well worth the visit.

whooper swans by floodlight

I think I must have first visited a WWT reserve in the late 1970s. I can’t remember whether I went to Slimbridge first or Welney, and it’s quite probably that my sister and I may well have been taken to Slimbridge by our parents well before my interest in birdwatching started, so perhaps as early as 1971 or so. In more recent times Brenda and I have also visited the excellent centre at Washington (northern England – not the US!) a couple of times – an amazingly unexpected haven in a heavily industrial area.

So although nothing was added to any of our lists today, it was an enjoyable trip out, and nice to share a visit to a nature reserve with some of my musical colleagues.

No new species for January 26th:

Birds = 109
Moths = 0
Wildflowers = 11