Lunchtimes at Tewinbury

My journey to work takes me along the B1000 which joins the gentle valley of the River Mimram as it passes to the east of Welwyn Garden City. Over a few days in the latter part of the winter I watched the progressing construction of bird hide at the entrance to Tewin Bury Farm Hotel and as soon as it was finished I promised myself I would visit.
This last week or so I have lunched at the hide and I’ve immensely enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and opportunity to watch some birds as I munch my cheese ploughman’s sandwiches. The hide overlooks a flooded reed bed with scrapes and channels and a willow carr surround, fed by the Mimram that tracks just to the east of the wetland. The hide has two levels, an upper deck reached by stairs and a lower level with disabled access.

The most obvious and noisy of the birds that have entertained me this week are the Canada Geese. As their name suggests they originate in North America and are another introduced species that has now spread to be resident in most of the UK with over 80,000 breeding pairs. The birds were clearly pairing up for the breeding season and were showing some mimicing behaviour as they patrolled the channels, stretching their necks forward, honking in unison. Solo birds were not tolerated and were chased away by the male of the pair. As ubiquitous as they have become it is still a special site to see a skein descend on a lake and arrive en-masse, immediately transforming a tranquil scene into one of bustle and activity.

Much more difficult to see were the Snipe who patrolled the muddy margins of the reed beds, poking and proding at the silt in search of food in the form of small invertebrates, worms and insect larvae. They are now classified as an amber status bird, having undergone a moderate decline in numbers, particularly in lowland grassland areas. Greater than 100,000 birds over-winter in the UK, with 50,000 breeding pairs estimated. They typically move to upland moors in spring, the males ‘drumming’ or ‘bleating’on early spring mornings as a display to attract females.

Later in the week I also managed good views of a pair of Water Rails, patrolling similar zones to the Snipe, but also comfortable in the slightly deeper water margins. The Water Rail is far less common than the snipe with in the region of 1000 UK breeding pairs, though these numbers seem to have remained stable for some time. There diet is omnivorous, made up of small fish, snails and invertebrates.
The Willow carr that surrounds the reserve, interspersed with mature native trees, provides plenty of habitat for small woodland birds. The hide provided great close-up views through the week of Long-tailed Tits, who were occupied in the task of collecting nest material for their delicate suspended nests, Blue Tits, Great Tits with their strident beep beep tikidic call and tiny Wrens with their beautifully melodic singing.

The full list of birds seen over the week at  the reserve includes;
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Long-Tailed Tit
Little Egret
Canada Goose
Water Rail
Wood Pigeon
The reserve is managed by the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust who have a number of local reserves in the area across a range of wildlife habitats. The Tewinbury reserve is particularly important as habitat for one of its elusive permanent residents – the water vole, though seeing one of these enigmatic little mammals is a treat yet to be enjoyed.


  1. what a lovely way to spend lunchtimes! I've never had a good view of snipe, though I did trip over one once!

  2. How great. Canada Geese are now considered to be pests in many areas of the States. This is a strange turn-around, as a flock overhead in winter has always seemed one of the great sights and sounds of wildness to me. But we even see them right in NYC now. I wonder if your tits are related to our Tufted Titmouse, one of my very favorite little birds.

  3. Crafty green poet
    I know what you mean about tripping over them. It's happened to me once with a snipe and a couple of times with a woodcock in the woods. Frightened the life out of me as they wait until you are right on top of them before flying as their camouflage is so good!

    outwalking the dog
    I agree with you. You can't fail to be moved by a low flying skein of geese. I guess the Canada Goose's adaptability is becoming its downfall. Perhaps better though than being an extreme specialist – pandas being an obvious example and consequently suffering due to changes in its environment. I've checked out Tufted Titmice (sic?). What cute little birds. They are of the same family (Paridae) but different species. I assume they hold a similar position to european tits in the north american bird food chain

    Thanks to both of you for commenting.

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