Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Ouse Washes, Ashwell and Ely

Planning to meet Heather's brother and his wife in Ely, we set out early on 22nd February to arrive for lunch.  Driving down through the fens we noted that the land was saturated, rivers and drains were very high and floods were abundant.  The three storms that we had had in February were showing their devastating effect.
We enjoyed an excellent lunch in Ely and had a quick wander to see the cathedral and photograph the magnificent hellebores in the gardens before heading off to the Welney Wildlife and Wetland Centre on the Ouse Washes for the swan feeding.  The Ouse washes are designed to flood during the winter months in order to protect surrounding areas from damage.  This year they were certainly doing their job.  Normally hedges, gates and fences are visible above the water but this year it was more like an inland sea; the main road over the Washes from Ely to Wisbech was under 12 feet of water.  It was our first visit to this centre and I had never seen such luxury in a bird hide: carpets and central heating, whatever next.  For more hardy photographers there were conventional hides to either side.  It was dusk when we arrived and the swan feeding was at 6.30 so opportunities for photography were limited, although I did manage a couple of landscapes and a whooper swan in poor light.  When we arrived there was a huge flock of pochard in front of the hide.  These gradually flew away as dusk approached and the whoopers arrived like squadrons of V bombers.  Gradually the numbers of whoopers built up until there were three figures and at 6.30 the warden donned a diver's dry-suit and went out with floating wheelbarrow filled with grain to feed them.  He also gave a very informative talk during which he told us that the number of swans was lower at the moment as many had already begun their return migration; partly due to the abnormally mild winter and also because of the high levels of water on the washes making it too deep to feed.  There were no bewick swans remaining as they had either, like the whoopers, begun their return migration or not come at all, instead remaining in the mild arctic.  All the result of the climate emergency and rather worrying.  Eventually it was time to leave and head on to Malcolm and Maureen's house, a journey seriously impeded by extremely complicated roadworks and diversions around Cambridge.

To view large, please click on an image.

We enjoyed a very pleasant weekend with Malcolm and Maureen which largely involved a lazy day on Sunday.  We did venture out eventually and later went for a walk around the village so I could indulge in some twilight photography of the magnificent church in Ashwell.  A preprandial couple of pints in the fine Three Tuns was, of course, mandatory.

 Monday saw us take our leave of Ashwell, after photographing one of their hellebores.  We returned via Ely, calling in to visit the cathedral and to have lunch.  An excellent weekend.

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