Welney Wetland Centre has had another successful year with the headstarting work of Project Godwit; a total of 48 hand-reared black-tailed godwit chicks were released into the wild, bringing the total to 112 over the last three breeding seasons. The wild population was boosted by the return of 21 of these headstarted black-tailed godwits, from their wintering grounds, in southern Europe and northern Africa, to the area they were released last year. These birds will prove to be a necessary addition to the breeding population in years to come as their experience at raising chicks builds. The work of WWT and RSPB to protect the wetlands the wild pairs are breeding in is vital to secure the future of this species. At the time of reading this our black-tailed godwits will be well on their way south for winter, and we won’t see them again until next spring.
Late summer and autumn is a busy time for the reserve team at your local Wetland Centre, as we ensure the habitats are just right to receive migratory birds passing through and our first winter arrivals.
September sees wading birds like greenshank, green sandpiper, curlew sandpiper and whimbrel dropping in, as they travel from their summer breeding grounds to the warmer conditions of Southern Europe. By lowering the water levels on the pools, we can create muddy patches as ideal feeding areas for wading birds, looking to refuel on their journeys.
Another bird which has become increasingly associated with the Washes is the common crane. The past few autumns have seen a common crane spectacle, with increasing numbers of cranes soaring across the skyline and feeding on the reserve. These birds are resident in the Fens, but whilst they like space from one another during the breeding season, they gather in flocks to forage throughout the winter. This provides an incredible chance to watch good numbers of cranes mid-September to mid-October, check our website, facebook and twitter closer to the time to find out what they are up to this autumn.
It is not just the birds on show. September is the peak time for the willow emerald damselfly. A recent coloniser to the UK and the reserve, these glistening emerald green damselflies favour the willow trees along the paths, often perching on leaves and branches. Other dragonflies and damselflies to look out for include common and ruddy darter, migrant hawker and the banded demoiselle.
Come October it is time to say goodbye to the cattle. They have spent the summer grazing the Washes, creating tussocks and bare ground for feeding passage and over-wintering birds, and will be returning next spring. October may be your last chance to explore the Summer Walk, depending on water levels. Look out for later summer flowering plants such as redshank and water mint, butterflies like gatekeeper and ringlet as well as cormorants roosting on the wires overhead.
This is the time that numbers of wildfowl increases, with the arrival of wigeon, pochard and pintail plus greater numbers of mallard, tufted duck and teal. Wigeon in particular arrive in good numbers, feeding along the banks and pool fringes. Listen out for their charismatic whistling calls as they graze the washes, creating low ‘bowling-green’ areas known as wigeon lawns. October also sees the return of whooper and Bewick’s swans for the winter and late October the first 3.30pm Swan Feeds start.
November is the perfect time to come along to an evening floodlit Swan Feed. With the water levels low before the winter flooding, the pools in front of the Main Observatory can take on a definite ‘Swan Lake’ appearance. This winter we will be making changes to our floodlit feed schedule ready to introduce our new Swan Supper evenings – check the website for details of this exciting new experience.
Throughout autumn it is all hands on deck for the reserve team as volunteers and staff carry out essential conservation work before the winter water levels rise. Tasks include: coppicing and pollarding of trees to encourage new growth, strimming vegetation on the islands and in front of the hides in readiness for next spring, topping with the tractor and mower around pool edges to create ideal open areas for feeding and roosting birds.