Stonechat Travels 4

Stonechat Travels 4

Wheatear feeding on the Northern Loop, 6 October 2021.

It's been over a year since we started our study of stonechats and, as this weekend marks World Bird Migration Day, it seems appropriate to highlight the fact that the stonechats are back, and they are not the only ones!

Every autumn we eagerly await the the arrival of our wintering population of stonechats.

These attractive little birds bring a splash of colour to the many ditches at the Great Fen, along with various other species that join us at this time of year, some of which may only be passing through.

Many stonechats were ringed in 2020/21, and we followed their movements around the Living Landscape. Due to the large size of the Great Fen, as you can see from its boundary, this is not an easy task, but thanks to our many volunteers we re-sighted (recorded subsequent sightings of birds, after they are ringed) a good number of birds, and obtained some useful data.

The stonechats are not the only birds arriving, or passing through the Great Fen at the moment, and so, as this weekend is World Bird Migration Day, it seems appropriate to mention a couple of other species.

The whinchat can be seen perching atop of the dead stems of hemlock at this time of year. The birds don't breed in the Great Fen, but this is a particularly productive time to look out for them. They are very distinctive, with their prominent, creamy eyestripe.

The wheatear is our own little 'roadrunner', most often seen darting along the bare tracks in the Fen. Their long legs suit the ground dwelling habits of this species, hunting for insects as it explores our trails; the distinctive white rump of the bird is visible, as it flies ahead of you. Only yesterday I was watching such a bird on the the Northern Loop, This month, there are heading down from the north, heading abroad, to Africa, south of the Sahara. They stop off with us to refuel, seeking out the drier, open ground, where they can hunt for insects. In spring, they can be seen again, heading back north, and we have spotted them on the tracks but also, around the wet farming test beds.

Wheatear by Henry Stanier

Wheatear on Northern Loop 6 Oct 2021, by Henry Stanier

A wheatear on the hunt for food along the Northern Loop trail, in the Great Fen.

Now that access has improved up at the Great Fen, with freshly resurfaced roads, come and visit, and walk one or more of our trails, such as the Northern Loop. Later this month, you might like to explore the Great Fen as part of the 'Big Wild Walk', and help The Wildlife Trusts tackle the nature and climate emergency? 

Whenever you visit us, if you see any stonechats, wheatears, or whinchats, I would be very interested to receive your records. You can find my details on the Monitoring & Research page.

If you would like to know more about this project, then book a place on the forth-coming talk on 'Stonechats of the Great Fen', courtesy of our Cambridge Local Group, on 29 November this year. The volunteers of our Local Groups do a fantastic job of promoting the Wildlife Trust and its work; raising money, and supporting our Members, and so much more, so why not join in one of their many meetings?

If you would like a more personal insight to the Great Fen, book a place on my online talk next month. 'A Year in the Life of a Great Fen Monitoring and Research Officer', will be an in depth account of my time in the Great Fen, how I got there, and my thoughts on the future; I hope to see you then.

Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring & Research Officer)