Report by David Cromack (February 2015)
Blatherwycke is a picturesque Northamptonshire village, composed mainly of stone-built 19th Century estate houses located in farmland between Kings Cliffe and the A43 (Stamford to Corby road), west of Peterborough. The lake, which forms the greatest interest for visiting birdwatchers, was created by the land-owning Stafford family damming Willow Brook sometime before 1826.
A three-arch bridge over Willow Brook in the village is a Grade II listed building. The original was constructed in the 15th Century and the present version was rebuilt in 1915. From the bridge it is worth scanning the brook in both directions for birds.
Crushed stone farm track skirts the redundant All Saints Church up to a small woodland used for Pheasant raising. Due to fears about falling tree limbs the footpath has now been re-routed across open ground, leading down to a point where open views of the lake are possible. The rest of the walk is on an undulating grass footpath and then a path through cereal crops and hay meadows to Blatherwycke Road.
The best place to park is on the roadside at SP 973 955 (PE8 6YN for sat nav users), by a right-angled bend on the outskirts of the village heading towards Bulwick. There is space for up to six vehicles on hard standing and a raised grass verge. The footpath to the lake is signposted from here.
It is possible to visit the grounds of the 11th Century Church of All Saints located to the south of the Willow Brook which leads into the lake but there is no access to the building itself. From the church grounds it is possible to get views of birds on the stream before it enters the lake.
The newly-aligned path follows a new fence line across grassland. It is possible to make a circular walk back to the starting point, but be warned a long stretch will involve walking along Blatherwycke Road from Kings Cliffe and in view of the narrow verges and the speed of passing vehicles it is not for everyone. From a birding point of view it will be more productive to remain on the southern side of the lake.
The proximity of the Red Kite release area of Fineshade means it is almost impossible to visit Blatherwycke without obtaining stunning views of this elegant raptor, both in flight or perched in trees near to the lake. The success of the re-introduction scheme has also been very beneficial to Buzzards and they can be seen regularly too, as well as Kestrels and Sparrowhawks, at any time of year.
Blatherwycke is our region's prime location for Mandarin Duck. Though this ornamental species was originally imported from China, it has been long established in southern England and the Midlands, but is less common in the eastern region. Birdwatchers wanting to see Mandarins should concentrate their efforts on scanning the water close to the woodland on the southern side of the lake. Occasionally birds will join Mallards and other ducks in open water, but generally the Mandarin is happiest when closer to cover.
Except after periods of prolonged freezing the lake will have open water and attracts a wide range of wildfowl including Mute Swans, Canada and Greylag Geese, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks, Pochards and other common ducks as well as Coots and Moorhens. Goosanders appear occasionally and Smew is a possibility considering the water's proximity to Rutland Water and Eyebrook.
Breeding species include the Mandarins of course, plus Great Crested Grebes, Common Terns, Jackdaws, Carrion Crows, Rooks and common duck species. Over the water you'll be able to see Swallows and House Martins, with Swifts higher in the sky.
In July 2014 a family of Spotted Flycatchers was recorded in lakeside vegetation just past the main wooded area. This migrant from sub-Saharan Africa has become incredibly rare in recent years, so successful breeding is something to celebrate. Grey Heron is a year-round species and is now likely to be accompanied by Little Egrets ...... five were noted perching in trees alongside the lake in July 2014.