The August sunshine had finally arrived, despite the nearness of September, and the wildlife was appreciating this flurry of fine weather before the season was out. The swallows circled flying above my head, chattering as these feathered acrobats majestically changed direction within a second, the long tail streamers of the males following their lead. Swallows are for me a sign of summer, of endless days and evenings filled with a calmness in the air. Soon these icons of the season will depart for their wintering grounds in Africa, or at the bottom of a pond if old tales are to be believed, and their presence shall be missed. But for now we should appreciate their company as they all line up on the telephone wires as if reporting for a role call – a perfect chance for observing their red-rouged brown face and sleek blue-black plumage through the binoculars.
The water body by the visitor centre is undoubtedly one of the first stops for most visitors reaching the reserve, once they have drawn themselves away from the mesmerising swallows. I was walking over the bridge when someone shouted kingfisher – I quite often see the flash of blue here before it disappears into the vegetation at the far end of the lake where the coots peep and the mallards preen. However, I have never seen it leave its hideout!
In recent years Fingringhoe Wick has developed an intertidal area where fields were flooded to create a vast expanse of mudflats, which are the greatest attraction to waders in the area looking for food or protection. The walk to the hide itself is long and full of chances to see wildlife. A bird called in the tree, and it sounded as if two stones were being hit together like a blackcap’s call but I was told it was actually a lesser whitethroat – the two similar but distinguishable to the expert ear. Movement in the tree gave me hope of seeing the dark legs and grey upper body plumage of this migrant that will also soon, like the swallows, depart for Africa for the winter, although sooner than that it departed from the tree into denser foliage! A fleeting glimpse yet exciting nonetheless. Looking to the sky too held avian wonders as three buzzards drifted on the thermals so high above, what a view to behold from the bird’s eyes – the weather could not have been more perfect for it. A kestrel also hovered in the distance, looking for voles in the grass as its wings beat steadily, its head a fixed point in time.
After leaving the path surrounded by abundant foliage you come upon the fields where butterflies drift to and fro – a large white flew determined towards me while a small heath lingered in the meadow.
Eventually reaching the intertidal hide a kingfisher flew a few metres in front of the visiting humans – less than a second of in depth view of its thunderbird blue plumage was obtained before it vanished, nevertheless it was a treasured sight.
Now waiting in the intertidal hide it wasn’t long before this much loved bird returned. Looking out, the sun was strangely poor for wildlife watching, but I saw a strange shape perched on the mud. Sure enough a view through my binoculars confirmed as much, the white neck patch being easier to determine the species by than its glorious blue in the strange light. It waited patiently on the muddy bank before flying into the air and hovering somewhat kestrel like, although without the precision of this species, over the muddy puddle, before attempting a splash into the water and going back to the bank. This delightful bird continued to do this for some time before taking its leave.
Out on the mudflats a plethora of plover were present, greys displaying their jet black summer plumage, golden glowing in the light along with ringed plover going about their day. The black-tailed godwits stood tall amongst the wader crowd, their longer legs and grander stature distinguishing them from the bar-tailed godwit, which was also present. A turnstone scurried past the bank of birds, while the curlews waded in the water. Amongst the hustle and bustle of a wader filled mudflat the redshanks strolled with their red legs flashing in the sunlight against the darkness of the mudflats. Angels in the form of little egrets waded about the muddy puddles, their clear snow white plumage beautiful against the murkiness of the water in which they broke the stillness suddenly with a sharp plunge to find a morsel of food, as a cloud of avocets with their black-tipped wings danced about in the distant sky.
The common terns were no longer nesting on the island, and it appeared eerily empty without their ‘keeing’ call. The black-headed gulls walked delicately across the mudflats, just leaving a confusion of footprints alluding to their presence after their wings had taken them to the sky. My attention left the patterns in the muddy substrate suddenly as the kingfisher returned and perched on the bank.
The hot sun was making the hide not unlike an oven as it roasted its occupants. It was eventually time to head back, and it was somewhat of a relief to exit the wooden structure, but nonetheless a sadness to leave the wonders of waders behind.
The walk back to the visitor centre was full of equal glory as on the way down, but in the form of insect life. A southern hawker flew past in its impressive blue and green body armour, while a gloriously green willow emerald, a recent colonist to this area, delicately rested on a tree. What a sighting – helpfully pointed out to us by our expect guide.
When reaching the visitor centre the swallows were all aligned on the wire once again – a perfect end to a summer’s wildlife walk.
Walk at Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve with Swallow birding tours for migration day.