On Sunday, May 8th our day began at 7 am when a team of volunteers and a ranger assembled to start our annual Breeding Bird Survey. Armed with maps, binoculars and pencils (pens don't work and the rain and they have a habit of drying up when you need them most), we set out in ones and twos to cover the entire reserve and the quarry. The longest routes can take 4 hours while the shortest ones take an hour and a half. We will repeat the whole exercise in June and then the maps will be analysed to get a handle on our breeding bird population.
By 9 am, when most of us had returned to the Visitor Centre to hand in our maps and have a chat, the cart park was already full to overflowing. By tea-time 470 people had been through the building and even more had been around the trails. What's the big attraction?...........Nightingales.
I still can't tell you exactly how many nightingales there are on the Reserve, but see below. What I can say is that we have some new territories and we have quite a few vacant ones still.
On the Meadow trail we get at least one nightingale in most years, this year we seem to have four. There is a cluster of singing males between the boardwalk and the top of the steps in the Meadow. The habitat is good, but I have seen domestic cats in the area, so there are risks in nesting so close to the village. Loose dogs are also a worry.
On the Heron Trail we seem to have 3 or four singing males on the track past the hides. The hot spot is between Ray House Garden and Pater's Field. There are one or two more near the moorings and two in Rory's Wood.
The Sailing Lake is another regular place to hear nightingales. This year we have only found one there.
The Old Dump is the area of dead trees beyond the Dragonfly Pond. There is at least one in there and one at the back of our arable fields.
Finally, there are sites along the Ouse Valley Way near Washout Pit and along the concrete road that leads to the Pumphouse at the Offord Intake, on the north side of Pumphouse Pit. This gives us an extra two or three birds.
From the above, I can say that we probably have between 11 and 13 singing males. I'm still hoping that more will arrive. Our target is twice that many.
Of course, not all of our visitors are here for the nightingales, but a huge proportion are. On that Sunday, we had a visiting birdwatching group and an army of birders competing in a bird race, to see who could see the most species in 24 hours. The the other group of visitors that peaks at this time of year is composed of photographers. Nightingales are big business around here!
On Friday I was at Hinchingbrooke Country Park for a meeting. As I walked down from the car park to the Visitor Centre I heard two singing nightingales. There may be more.
Top birds seen at Paxton Pits this week include at least 4 cuckoos, a turtle dove (briefly), stone chat, a common sandpiper and a spotted flycatcher. Little gulls, a Arctic and black terns have passed through, but you might still catch some if you are lucky.
Photos by Peter Hagger