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An amazing day at the Nene Washes (1 Viewer)


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Yesterday I was planning for a long time. Eldernell was always a favoured place to visit due to short-eared owls, but upon the discovery of a long-eared owl roost in the area, I may have lost my mind a little. In 2022, I tried and failed to see them at Deeping Lakes, which made my excitement escalate even more. That, and this is the hardest to see and most sought-after owl in the UK. It is also, in my opinion, the prettiest. Even prettier than a barn owl, the beauty of which always seemed searing to me.
But, before I had fun, I would sweat. And bleed.
I don't know what I was thinking when I cycled across a rail crossing in icy conditions. The crossing was very dangerous for cyclists, as the road approached at an angle, not head-on. As a result, I crashed on my bike. I later read advice that crossings should be built at an angle like this. Whoever wrote that has never cycled across a crossing like this.
At any rate, I soon arrived at Eldernell and sought out the long-eared owls. And, indeed, one was right where I expected it to be. It was so difficult to see in that bush that for a moment I thought I was 'jumping at shadows'.
I did what I could, watching the bird for any signs of disturbance. It didn't show any. I then saw another long-eared owl nearby. It was much easier to see, but with a catch. Careful to avoid disturbing it and pleased that it showed absolutely no sign of being disturbed (eg not stretching and raising its ear tufts into a deep V), I got some nice photos of it whilst staying at a distance. But I then realised that it was visible only from where I was standing.
Any movement to the side and branches concealed it. As a result, I was effectively monopolising the view. By then, people noticed me and as I went to look elsewhere, a crowd had formed. That definitely disturbed the bird- so much that when I approached the area next to see it long after everyone had dispersed, I saw it had moved further into the bushes.
That actually made me rather upset. I then sought the tawny owl, found it nearly immediately, and took great photos. Unlike with the long-eared owls, the river formed a natural barrier. Otherwise I'm sure it would have ended up disturbed by that crowd, as well.
After that encounter, I saw a distant merlin, and two cranes in the distance as well
A group of whooper swans flew over
And the I noticed a short-eared owl hidden in the bushes. It was very close to where I was standing, and almost impossibly well hidden. I didn't come for it, but I was very pleased to see it as well.
Returning to the floodbank, I noticed a male hen harrier hunting the floodplains. It initially stayed distant, but then flew directly towards me. It then turned, and flew sideways at reasonably close range. And I got the best views I have ever had of a male hen harrier, the kind I hoped Roydon Common would give last year, but never did.
Satisfied, I then left
It was a great day on Saturday, I didn’t see the Merlin but in all had 2 male Hen Harriers, male Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, 3 Red Kites, 3 Buzzards, Sparrowhawk, 4 Kestrels, Barn Owl, 2 Short-eared Owls, Long-eared Owl, Tawny Owl, 6 Cranes, 4 Great White Egrets, and 38 Whooper Swans.

Probably my best views of male Hen Harrier too.
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Had a quite wonderful return at Eldernell on the Nene Washes on Sunday, enjoying great birding and meeting great folk including the legendary Farnborough John and his partner/wife Maz, then a lovely girl from Telford, and finally Hen Harrier-mad Des from Yorkshire who I had so much in common with and we had a great laugh about life in general. Meeting these folk really enriched my day.

On what is becoming a well-beaten winter birding route for me, I started off at Eyebrook Reservoir, where superb views of wildfowl were enjoyed from the perimeter road, including 4 drake Smew, several Pintail, and numbers of Goldeneye, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Shelduck, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, and Greylag Goose. 4 Great White Egrets were seen and hundreds of Lapwing were present. A Raven and a few Red Kites were seen en-route.

Moving on the 35 miles to Whittlesey, I checked out Thorney Dyke, an uneven country lane to the north of the Nene, where I located 51 Common Cranes. I soon went back through Whittlesey and out to Eldernell, arriving at lunchtime where I tucked into pasty and enjoyed hot tea and a whole box of cherry bakewell's! I stepped out into a strong, cool breeze, and soon found the Short-eared Owl and 2 Long-eared Owls in the hedgerow, showing well. Even better, the Tawny Owl was literally in full view, lapping up the sun rays but shielded from the wind. During the afternoon, 44 of the 51 Cranes flew in, as did 8 Whooper Swans. 2 Green Woodpeckers and a Stonechat were seen, whilst a single Redwing was with Fieldfares in the trees. Distantly, huge numbers of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, and Starling took to flight, undoubtedly flushed by a raptor. A few Red Kites, Buzzards, and Marsh Harriers were knocking around, and a huge Peregrine observed things from a telegraph pylon. A few Kestrels hovered and a few Roe Deer, Muntjac's, and hares were seen. Mid-afternoon, in brilliant light and calmer conditions, a male Hen Harrier worked its way across the marsh, showing well until it went down, only to re-emerge twenty minutes later and fly away to the left. As dusk encroached, a 2nd male Hen Harrier emerged and tussled with one of the resident Barn Owls, and the Short-eared Owl showed superbly over the fields. The Long-eared Owls did not appear from the roost, but I briefly saw a female Merlin which quickly disappeared from view, as well as a Sparrowhawk. Several Great White Egrets flew overhead to roost, as did hundreds of corvids, against a beautiful pink sky.

Eldernell, what a place!
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