You might suggest that the middle of Winter isn’t the best time to check out new nature spots and you might have a point, especially here in the heart of the fens where you’re liable to find yourself stuck in the mud if you walk around with your eyes glued to the sky.
On the other hand, isn’t Winter one of the times when we most need a shot of something new from the outdoors? Having visited Wicken Fen many times previously, we were a touch surpised to spot a marker for Kingfishers Bridge Nature Reserve floating just above it on the map. Today’s weather was drab and overcast so forget wide-angle landscapes, so it was time to grab a long lens and go hunting for wildlife!
This reserve piqued my interest because it publishes a remarkably consistent twice-weekly bird census as well as a yearly one for moths. Now, I wouldn’t count myself as much of a moth photographer so it’s the first that appeals to me, but you have to admire the effort and completeness. Here you have a fabulous resource telling you (more or less) what you might expect to see on your visit, with a little luck thrown in!
The reserve consists of a main lake on the West side, flanked by reed beds, with several meadows to the East, each offering up a slightly different environment for wildlife. A footpath snakes around the exterior of these, running parallel with a bridleway to the South and West. This bridleway – the West side of it anyway – forms part of the Fen Rivers Way. It’s worth noting that – to protect birds during the breeding season – the upper path is closed from late February to the end of June, so it’s not possible to walk a complete loop during those months.
Despite the dreary conditions, I did manage to get at least one close-up bird photo thanks to this little wren. What a mean-looking little fella! Wrens always strike me as much louder than their diminuitive size suggests they ought to be and this one was content to pose for a minute or so as we followed the main bridleway around the North-West corner of the reserve, bordering the River Cam. Locking focus on something so small at a distance is like one of those steady-hand games; if you ever want to become a professional wren photographer you’re going to need a steadier hand than I have, that’s for sure!
One thing you won’t struggle to focus on though are the larger creatures roaming the fields here. These “Konik” horses, along with water buffalo and cattle help to graze the environment and to keep it suitable for a host of other residents. This one in the centre of the photo below was grazing on teasels, which is certainly dedicated, if not my first choice of vegetarian food. At one point we also spotted a well-camoflaged muntjac deer peeking out of a central reed bed before it melted back into the foliage.
In spite of the sun only poking through for half an hour, it was a fun walk around the outer loop (a little over 3km / 2 miles). It seems that there will be a mobile cafe returning closer to the return of Spring (it’s temporarily closed as of January 2022) and who can deny the appeal of that on a chilly day? Interesting, also, to have glimpsed a bushcraft course being run in an adjacent patch of woodland!
Here are some other birds that made an appearance:
Plus a few more that will require some further identification!
Based on today’s short walkabout, my advice for photography here is to skip the first and largest of the hides – it’s great for getting a panoramic view of the main lake but much too far for getting decent photos with even a super tele lens. Sticking to the defined paths near the West side, following the banks of the Cam North will get you closer to the lake and reed beds. Along here were several promising-looking spots where a little patience and silence might pay off. I’ll certainly be back in the not-too-distant future to test that theory out.
Interested in visiting the reserve? It’s only about 30-35 minutes drive from central Cambridge.