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RSPB News - Fen Drayton Lakes, February 2009

Posted: 14/01/2009

The cold weather had quite an impact on the wildlife at Fen Drayton Lakes. Some lakes froze over completely, while others only had open water near the centre. This had serious implications for herons, little egrets, kingfishers and several of the duck species.

The diving ducks apparently had no problem finding food, but the dabbling ducks feed on plants growing in shallow water – just the areas that were frozen over. Some were smart enough to join the swans and coots in the open water areas, as those two species pull aquatic plants up to the surface, where the dabbling duck could steal some.

The herons and little egrets, which wade in shallow water in search of fish, were forced to use the brooks, as enough water was running in them to stop ice forming. There are paths beside the brooks, which is unfortunate for these wary birds, as they were frequently disturbed as they patiently waited for fish to swim into reach.

Kingfishers usually perch on a branch or reed stem at the water’s edge, watching for fish to swim below them, so they also found their favourite spots were covered with ice. Such long spells of frozen water forced kingfishers to follow river systems in search of suitable areas, and many of them end up at the coast, where they find fish in rock pools and estuarine channels.

The winter starling roost disintegrated during the cold weather – frozen ground prevented these speckled birds from finding bugs in the soil, so most starlings moved further south and west, in search of warmer conditions. Holywell Lake car park is still worth a visit in the last hour of daylight, to watch wood pigeons, jackdaws and rooks congregating in their roosts, and to watch gulls streaming overhead to their roosts further away.

While the lakes were frozen, bitterns were forced to feed in the same way as the herons, but they were easier to see, especially at their evening roost site in Holywell Lake. Normally, bitterns roost within the reeds, where they are out of sight, but when the water within the reeds was frozen, they chose to roost at the top of some young willows poking up through the reeds. We think they did this too avoid being found by mammal predators, such as foxes, that could walk on the ice through the reeds.

You have probably heard that the Guided Bus will now not be operating until sometime in the summer, later than previously announced. Contractors started laying the guide-way track on the section between the lakes in January, and we have been told that Holywell Ferry Road may now only be closed for one day, and not a week as previously advised. The one-day closure is likely to be at the end of January. There is access to the car park throughout the construction period (other than the one-day closure) – motorists have a minor diversion to follow.

Please remember to feed your garden birds throughout the winter, and make sure there is some fresh water for them to drink too. Give your birds a treat, perhaps with sunflower hearts, suet or dried fruit, and enjoy watching them while you enjoy a cuppa, perhaps in your favourite chair.

Wetland Walkabouts
Join us for a guided walk in search for winter birds. We start from the Elney Lake car park, with the wooden viewing screen, about a quarter mile from Fen Drayton village, just beyond the recreation ground.
Thursday 19 February 10am-12.30pm
Cost: £3 (half price for RSPB members)

Neil Renwick 01954 233267 [email protected]


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