Places to see birds

Ouse Washes RSPB Reserve

Ouse Washes RSPB Reserve
Berwick Swan by John Busby

The Ouse washes extend from Earith in Cambridgeshire in the south to Denver in Norfolk in the north. The washes are a large strip of grassland, some mile wide and over 20 miles in length - nestling between two parallel drainage channels - initially created to hold excess flood water when the fens were drained in the seventeenth century.

It produced such a wonderful area for wintering wildfowl that most is now owned by conservation groups who have improved the habitat still further. The RSPB centre is situated looking over Hundred Foot Drain, where a number of hides are situated. These are better visited in the afternoon when the light is better. The washes hold staggering numbers of wildfowl in the winter. The largest numbers will be wigeon, but teal, shoveler, pochard and pintail are all present in good numbers, and scaup, goldeneye, smew and goosander may be seen in hard weather.

But it is the wild swans that is the main attraction. Large numbers of Bewick's swan, some 10% of the world population, and a smaller number of Whooper swans frequent the washes and surrounding fields, so keep a look out as you approach the reserve. Winter also brings hen harriers, merlin and short-eared owls. Waders may include black-tailed godwit, redshank, ruff, snipe, dunlin, lapwing and golden plover. It is an wonderful area for bird-watching and an interesting day is assured, but wrap up warm as it can be bleak in winter.