Today the river Great Ouse has decided she has had her fill, she can take no more and so has decided that now is the time to let it all flow out. Yes today the river is in flood, we are not talking epic proportions, YET! but a little more rain, which is forecast, and it will be much worse.
You know it is bad when the Swans and Ducks are swimming the fields!
My dad called me foolhardy for wandering these flooded paths today, I call it dedication to a patch! Which do you think? foolhardy or Dedication? Yes there were times when I wasn’t sure where the rivers edge was (one particular deep drop off as it goes) but hey that is what extended tripods are for right? I managed to keep my powder dry the whole walk (even if I had to turn back in the end) but more on all that later.
Foolhardy or Dedication
Leaving my house I was running late, after dropping the little lady at school, and spending way too long trying to get my Fitbit working properly (bloody thing), I did consider staying home and sleeping ready for my night shift, but hey you only live once (no idea where this cavalier attitude has come from today), but fortune favours the brave or rather pays off for the late running wildlife blogger. as I left my house looking up to judge the weather a stunning Red Kite drifted over! A cracking bird and a great garden tick (surely a doorstep counts as garden?).
|Red Kite in silhouette over my house|
Heading into the patch proper, I made my way to the enclosed paddock and began the squelch through the wet muddy fields that lay before me. If I thought they were wet last week they were nothing when compared to today. Deep puddles covered vast areas of the grass. In many places these glassy, clear, bodies of water were reflecting the dull grey skies, while around me Long-tailed Tits and Chaffinches twittered about the hedgerow.
My watery, splashing approach to the muddy, chocolate brown, expanses of the Great Ouse was interesting as the gulls, Rooks and Mallard shared the soaking fields, some swimming others hunting for juicy worms in the thick grass.
|Flooded Ouse to the East|
|Ouse to the West Flooded|
Deciding to walk West along the river towards the future flood plain forest. The lakes below Manor Farm. I marveled at the numbers of both Black-headed Gull and Common Gull using these temporary lakes as a source to loaf and wash. A Grey Wagtail flew down stream, looking for a dry spot to walk the banks of the frighteningly fast moving waters with no luck. Overhead his distant cousins Meadow Pipits flew; and closer relatives Pied Wagtails hopped the fields looking for that one ideal spot to scratch around for a living.
It was while wandering; enjoying the peace that only comes when there are no other people in sight; and thinking about how well the wildlife copes with adverse weather, while we humans struggle. When I hit my first puddle. Now puddle is an understatement, it is at the junction of two paths, where there is a bit of a dip at the two gates, and a small ditch (usually water free), the Ouse was now rapidly filling this ditch.
Starting wading I quickly realised there was no hope in hell that I would get through this water and keep my socks dry, despite my boots. And so I decided to use the fence as a path. Precariously balancing myself, I edged along the sturdy metal gate until I could go no further. And then moved onto the, barbed wire topped, fence and slowly, painfully edged along; until the water was shallow enough for me to walk again. Foolhardy or Dedication this is the question?
Finally on dry land again I walked on, pausing briefly to watch as a Grey Heron fished the field, standing behind one of the small bushes that edge the river Ouse he was most definitely in the field rather than on the river (see below).
|Grey Heron fishing the water or field?|
As I approached the aqueduct, having waded through another couple of smaller floods, I was greeted with a very large stream of water leaving the river and refilling the old canal section. There was no sign of the board walk bridge, or path, for quite some way, but I decided to push on. In for a penny as they say. This time the water was shallow enough to wade all the way, although it was a close run thing. As for the two gentlemen stood on the aqueduct, I’m sure, were convinced I’d fall in. They certainly moved off quickly enough once I had made it through.
Passing through the dark, but surprisingly dry, tunnel I was out into the Manor Farm area once again. And it wasn’t long before the wildfowl were up flying around. It is a great opportunity sometimes to learn to identify ducks in flight by just standing here and watching; as the flocks whirl around the skies, evading some unseen threat.
This time I watched as at first 2, then a further 5 Goosander powerfully streaked across the skies and off towards Cosgrove. Picking out the odd Gadwall in the larger flocks of Wigeon and much smaller Teal, it was another education in duck watching.
The path was now pretty much a small river all the way to the small board walk; that crosses the first of many run-offs of the Ouse into the flood plains. And here looking out across the muddy, high, waters of the Manor Farm pits I could see another two Goosander. Lots of Mallard and Shoveler. And Broken wing my friendly Greylag Goose, that has survived at least two years here without being able to fly!
In the flooded trees Robins, Dunnocks and Wren held court with their loud songs, while above them in the trees good numbers of Song Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare filtered through. A single Pied Wagtail stopped to admire its reflection in the crystal clear waters.
|Pied Wagtail resting over the floods|
Barely looking at the camp site lakes, well there were 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Great Crested Grebe and a Coot. I carried on West. Again mainly splashing my way along the new brook that is the path. Suddenly a massive flock of Canada Geese flew over honking loudly, passing me several times before settling over the river on more flooded puddles, half scaring the local Moorhen to death.
As I approached another of the channels from the Ouse into the pits I paused, firstly to watch as a runner, did exactly as I had earlier and used the fence as a way through the water, and secondly to scan the far corner of the lakes for ducks. It was mainly more of the same but again one of the male Pintails was still in residence, boosting my spirit a little. I crossed over the channel and was a little startled at just how ferocious the water was as it sped under the old stone bridge, without leaving an inch of air.
I was nearing the Millennium bridge now and while I waded through the long, but shallow flooding before it I spent a few moments looking for the local chats. Their weedy habitat is much diminished now but a pair of Reed bunting were happy to pose for a photo or two; and across the river a small finch flock picked its way along a distant hedge; mainly the common Goldfinch and Chaffinch but a couple of Greenfinch keeping them company.
|Reed Bunting (male)|
|Reed Bunting (Female)|
Pushing on I hit a major piece of flooding as the river once again crossed the path. Searching out any low lying parts of the path to whip across to the larger lakes. I once again struggled on through the deeper waters, kicking plenty up onto my trousers but never quite breaching the tops of my boots (although there was barely an inch to spare). As I drudged through the deep waters, kicking up detritus as I walked, I flushed up at least 10 Meadow Pipits from the watery weeds to my right. It is amazing how they can produce so many different calls as they fly out of somewhere; I had to check each one just in case!
I reached a bend in the river and looked back, I was quite impressed with the amount of water covering the path and grass behind me. Then looking ahead I could see I was in for a lot more! As I watched, a pair of Mallard swim across the path in front of me. Standing, feeling worse than if I were stuck between a rock and a hard place, a couple of the local Green Woodpecker found my predicament rather funny as they issued their mocking, laughter calls from either side of the pits.
I chose to push on once more. Foolhardy or Dedication?
Too Much Water
As I did it became apparent that the water covering this section of the path was rushing full flow off of the flood plain and back into the river. It was like walking across a hundred metre wide river. The force at the deeper points actually made walking a little tricky; and I was worried I had gone too far now. But I carried on and after only a couple of dicey moments I was through the deepest parts, and back into more static waters.
Ahead of me the path was lost. I could not see where the river ended and the flood began. This was at possibly the steepest bank of the river around the patch. So I really wasn’t too keen to follow the path I had on my last walk (across the grass), one wrong step and I would be in a good couple of metres of very fast flowing, cold, water. So sticking close to the fence I began to prod my way forward using my tripod as a measuring stick. This was really Foolhardy or Dedication, I’m not sure which.
While I waded a flock of 9 Linnet flew up from feeding in amongst the seed rich weeds, still tall enough to poke their tall, almost elegant, necks above the water. Further on a large party of Goldfinch sat feeding, knowing full well there was no hope of anyone getting near them. The water was at the tops of my boots and was deeper sill further on. This was the end of my attempt at walking the full patch today. I may be foolish, but I’m not stupid.
Defeated I turned to walk back. Not overly happy that I would have to wade through every flood I had already traversed once on my way here. But dry feet are more important than seeing what is around the corner.
The Long Trudge Back
A little disgruntled I made my way back through the shallows and on to the fast flowing sections, round the corner, past the the millennium bridge and onto an area of dry (ish) grass. I stopped for a moment realising just how cold my feet were despite my fleece lined boots and thick socks.
Just as I was about to give up all hope and forget birding completely the female Stonechat hopped up over the fence quickly followed by the male, I was glad to know they were still surviving (I hope the cold spell we have coming doesn’t affect them too much), I didn’t stop for a photo, preferring to get the blood flowing by quick walking.
The walk back to the aqueduct was pretty uninteresting with the exception of a stunning Kingfisher popping up on a low branch beside the river, his entire focus was on the fast moving water below him and so I was able to stand and watch him for a few moments before he finally realised my presence and flashed off up river avian (my camera was in my bag by now). However in the trees to my left a Magpie gave me a consolation photo op.
|Magpie at rest|
I decided to have a small rest, my back gets sore much quicker in the cold, and finding a bench looking out over the camp site I sat down, fortunately just across the river a small gaggle (can you call 10 birds a gaggle?) of Canada Geese sat resting and preening and so I decided I would attempt to capture the wing flap. It took a good fifteen minutes watching and missing the flappers to finally capture what I wanted.
|Canada Goose Forward Flap|
|Wings Back Canada Goose|
Rather than go back through the rigmarole of wading through the floods beside the river any more I thought I would head up past the Old Lock. This was not much better though! About half way through, the path was gone! And a sea of murky brown spread out before me.
Wading my way through, carefully the water was close to topping my boots, I was still able to enjoy the birds around me, as a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over with its bouncing flight, a tiny Treecreeper pecked its way around the trunk of a blackthorn and a male Bullfinch flew over emitting its flute like whistle as it passed.
Stopping near the Old Church I looked back and attempted to capture a little of the flooding, it’s not a great photo but shows a little, I hope, of the flooding East of the canal.
|Views of some of the flooding|
I hope I haven’t bored you all too much with this post. I know it is not as “wildlife” focused as normal, but sometimes other elements come to the fore slightly more. In my defence I did add two new patch year ticks in Red Kite and Greenfinch so it was well worth it for me (68 for the year already in only 3 walks!).
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