A regular column from Rachel Shaw of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.
The first frosts of the winter came as a bit of a shock to me. Even in the office, I have a warm mug of tea, not just to drink; it’s also a convenient hand-warmer.
Wetlands are perhaps one of the best places to visit at this time of year. During the autumn, our resident ducks are joined by a number of different species sometimes in very large numbers.
Amongst the mallards and tufted ducks, there could be shovelers with a long, broad shovel-shaped bill; small teal with a bright green wing patch; smart pintails with long, pointed tail feathers; and pochards with chestnut-coloured heads. These ducks have flown from Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia and continental Europe where the winters are much colder and food is hard to find. They will stay here for the winter and then return north to breed.
As I watch them, I wonder how cold my feet would be if I dangled them in the water. Fortunately ducks have a clever way of keeping their feet warm so they can swim on the lakes and even stand on ice. Ducks and many other birds have a counter-current heat exchange in their legs. As warm blood from the body flows down the legs, it passes close to the cold blood returning from the feet and going back into the body. The heat is transferred; making the cold blood going back to the body warmer, and the warm blood going into the feet colder. The ducks’ feet are always cool so when they are in water or standing on ice they don’t lose vital body heat.
Two key Wildlife Trust nature reserves in south Lincolnshire are the wetlands at Willow Tree Fen and Deeping Lakes. Both reserves attract large numbers of wintering ducks as well as a range of other bird species. Despite being a drained arable farm prior to 2009, the new fenland reserve of Willow Tree Fen is already attracting large numbers of wildfowl such as wigeon, teal and mallard. There are also waders including lapwing, redshank and snipe. Willow Tree Fen is between Baston and Spalding on the road that connects the small hamlets of Tongue End and Pode Hole.
Deeping Lakes consists of a number of flooded gravel pits which in winter hold large numbers of ducks, gulls and geese including goldeneye, shelduck and pochard. Wintering thrush species, redwing and fieldfare, are also attracted to feed in the hedgerows on the reserve.
Deeping Lakes is south east of Deeping St James off the B1166.