The previous week had been hectic. My job involves spending time largely at a desk staring at an LCD screen. It can be rewarding. It can be fun. It can also fuzz your brain and turn you into a hobbit. A very good friend of mine, Finn Holding, has a blog entitled The Naturephile. He writes about the nature he sees, predominantly around his home north of Cambridge, in the village of Histon, but sometimes venturing further afield. I’d emailed him earlier in the week with a view to getting outdoors, outside, anywhere. He was planning on going somewhere (the forecast was good), so he agreed to me tagging along.
Sunday morning arrives. It’s cold, fresh and bright. A perfect morning to venture into the Fens. He’d been to Tubney Fen the previous morning and had spotted some exciting bird life, so we headed there. Perhaps inevitably, it was quiet there. A few coots and the odd pair of ducks lazily floated on the water. It was a beautiful morning though, and the quietness was oddly compelling and hypnotic. For me, it was just nice to be outside.
A local farmer arrived, checking on his herd, and Finn had a quick chat. An owl had been spotted here recently, which was exciting, but he complained about the lack of rain and a field full of wheat that was going to ruin. You sometimes forget that these gloriously dry and sunny months aren’t enjoyed by everyone.
We decided to move on - a short drive round to the next reserve at Burwell Fen. A striking bridge crosses the fen itself - a small arc of iron in an otherwise flat environment, that you can see for miles. Things were quiet here too. The thin S of the path wound through the fields and, by now, a delicate heat haze was lifting off the land. However, in this sparse vista, activity was easier to spot. A pair of Merlins danced through the sky - swooping and tumbling, playfully dancing over the fields. Finn exclaiming that they were the first of the season.
As we continued to the gate that cuts Burwell from the outskirts of Wicken Fen, we stopped and glanced around. On a set of fence posts an eerie line-up could be spotted: a set of pigeons being guarded by a juvenile kestrel. Its spark of red plumage standing out above the greys and greens of the hedge.
We strolled back. Passing only one other pair of walkers and a mountain biker. As we approached the bridge, something shot through my peripheral vision: a brilliant flash of blue. I mentioned to Finn who spotted it too: a kingfisher!
I’d never seen one in the flesh before. This one was a little confused as we were some distance from any water, but it may have mistaken a small pond in the adjacent field for something of interest. As we were approaching the fen itself, its more probably location, we walked across the bridge to the top. Finn pointed his binoculars at the solitary tree overhanging the water and, lo and behold, the kingfisher was perched in its textbook pose. The countless pictures and videos of it never prepare you for just how brilliant its colours look in the flesh. Even with my poor binoculars I could make it out in its entirety. The blue mixed with its orange and white chest make it look the most unnatural of birds - a combination of colours you don’t expect to see in the monotone fields of the Fens.
We watched it for a good five minutes before it became disinterested with this portion of the water and swooped off, further up the fen to the next set of overhanging trees. As we remarked on the way back to the car, it can never truly be quiet out here, there’s always something to see.