For many of us, spotting wildlife is a key part of a visit to WWT
Welney. So while our hides are sadly closed due to government
restrictions, knowing where else to look on site is even more important.
Below are some hints and tips on how to enjoy the wildlife and landscape of our wetlands, without stepping foot in a hide…
On arrival around the visitor centre
Utilise the hedgerow, trees and flowering plants to listen out for and spot small garden birds and warblers. As you leave the car park and make your way towards the visitor centre, you come to a sculpture and some benches, which we refer to as the doughnut, due to its shape. Pause here and listen for garden birds in the immediate area, you will often hear wading birds, ducks and geese from Lady Fen too. This is also a great spot for insect watching too – look out for bees, butterflies, ladybirds and many other species. Chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap pass through in spring, with the possibility of one or two staying on for summer.
On your way to the centre you cross a bridge over one of our ponds and can see the bird feeders to the right of the centre. Check the ponds for moorhen and sedge warbler and be alert for a possible kingfisher flypast. The bramble bushes and feeders are favourite spots for our resident tree sparrow population – you can compare them to the house sparrows also on site. A short stroll following the footpath around the centre brings you to our ‘green space’ which has a few tables and chairs set out and access to a willow screen overlooking Lady Fen.
Once you have entered the centre, been welcomed by our team and paused for a takeaway coffee or tea, use the veranda and top deck of the centre for elevated views of the bird feeding stations and Lady Fen. This higher vantage point can reveal more wading birds at the water’s edge as well as providing views of the pools in the middle distance. Watch black-tailed godwit, avocet and redshank regularly on the pools, joined by little ringed plover, greenshank and sandpipers as the spring progresses. Cattle egret, little egret and great white egret have all used this area of the reserve and can often be seen using the ditches, pools and grassland.
Footbridge and Main lagoon
The footbridge from the centre to the reserve is often used by pied wagtails, sparrows, swallows and martins. Later in spring we should also be able to enjoy swifts in the air above it too. Whilst the main observatory is closed, we have introduced some cut out viewpoints in the wood panelling between the bridge and the hide itself. Or for ground-level views we have a willow screen with viewing cut outs which can be accessed from the footpath beneath the north wing hide. This provides views of avocet, redshank, black-tailed godwit and any other migrants passing through like spoonbill or greenshank.
At various points between the hides we have lowered the top of the bank to allow views across the reserve, we have also added an all access viewpoint between the main hide and the north pond dipping station, this has now been tried and tested by a regular electric scooter user and has met with approval. There are further points which have screens, some of which have steps to access.
As water levels continue to drop on the reserve, and with birds still arriving back for summer there is plenty of movement between the Lady Fen and the washes. This means lots of activity above the footpaths as the birds fly around the wetlands - black-tailed godwit, redshank, oystercatcher and avocet being the noisiest.
Listen out for reed bunting, sedge warbler and reed warbler in the reeds, soon to be joined by whitethroat as the vegetation grows up between the trees. Along the footpaths a variety of early flowering plants are providing the first insects of spring with some much needed food. Solitary bees are out on the wing, eagerly followed by parasitic species like the bee fly, many of the more exotic looking wasps in summer live a similar lifestyle, using the hard work of other species to nurture their young.
Picnic and seating benches are placed along the length of our footpaths to give you opportunties to sit and take in the surroundings, using your senses to fully apprecaite the reserve.
Dragonfly ponds and summer walk
Although it is a little early for damselflies and dragonflies out on the wing, the dragonfly ponds are still a lovely area to sit and enjoy the tranquillity of the reserve. The reedbed beyond will fill with warblers in the weeks to come, closely followed by cuckoo. Many birds will use the roof of reedbed hide as a vantage point, stage for their displays or to feed on the insects attracted in the sun, including yellow wagtail, shelduck and redshank.
The first swallows and house martins have started arriving back, sand martins mixed in with them too. The uninterrupted views across the washes from the summer walk are the best place to see the flocks of Icelandic black-tailed godwit passing through, some of the remaining winter ducks and those that will stay to breed in summer. All this activity attracts the interest of peregrine, marsh harrier and the occasional red kite. Hobbies will soon be returning to feed on the house martins and dragonflies that fill the reserve over the summer months.
There are so many amazing wildlife moments to be had during the spring months and we’re sure you’ll discover even more than we can mention here. So as we carefully reopen our site, why not book your tickets and make the most of nature on your doorstep!Book your visit