Winter wildlife at Rutland Water Nature Reserve

Rutland Water Nature Reserve is synonymous with one famous summer visitor in particular – the Osprey. But there’s a whole host of other wildlife to see throughout the year, and the winter is no exception. In fact, at this time of year the nature reserve is a haven for thousands of wintering birds and thanks to careful monitoring and management by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust in partnership with Anglian Water, Rutland Water is designated an internationally important wetland site for this very reason.

During the crisp, cold winter months as many as 30,000 wildfowl take refuge at Rutland Water to escape the freezing temperatures of their summer territories in Russia, Scandinavia and Iceland, gathering on the reservoir and the lagoons of the nature reserve to forage the plentiful food supply. During a morning’s walk around the lagoons you will be rewarded with the sight of surface feeding ducks such as Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler dabbling along the shallows, whilst diving ducks including Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Smew and Goosander disappear and reappear as they hunt small fish and other aquatic life in deeper waters. Whilst many of us are familiar with the Mallard, most would not recognise many of the species mentioned, especially not in the summer when many are going through a moult which leaves them looking rather drab. However, against the bleak midwinter backdrop, the iridescent colour of their winter plumage causes the ducks to stand out like jewels in the water and provides the perfect opportunity to get to know them better.

Male Smew

Smew are one of the most spectacular winter sights at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. Photgraphed by Ian Jones

Wildfowl aren’t the only bird species to make the nature reserve their winter home. Golden Plover gather together with Lapwing in large numbers on the islands; preyed upon by the Peregrine Falcon which adds flight to their flock, creating spectacular aerial displays with flashes of golden brown in the winter sun. Overwintering Redwing and Fieldfare frequent the hedgerows, and the contrasting autumnal colours of Stonechat, Brambling, Siskin and Redpoll against a frosty background are a delight to be seen as you walk along the paths of the reserve.

Stonechat photographed by Ian Jones

At dusk, Short-eared owl and Barn Owl can often be seen quartering the meadows close to the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre, their keen sense of hearing detecting the slightest movement of mice and voles amongst the vegetation below. Patience is required to spot the beautifully camouflaged Bittern as they stalk their quarry amongst the reeds; yet it is worth the wait for them to break the cover of the reed bed as they make the most of last of the sun’s warmth and light on those chilly afternoons. As the sun sets, Starlings murmurate over the lagoon before coming into roost in the dense cover of the reeds, and you may even be lucky enough to see an otter make their way along the fringe of the reed bed in search of their supper.

It’s a fantastic time of year to watch wildlife. If you would like to see some of the birds and other species mentioned above but you’re not sure where to begin or you would like to improve your ID skills, we’ve got some fantastic guided walks and events to help you get started. Click here to find out more.

Becky Corby
Community Engagement Officer