Thursday, 27 October 2016

Trevor's Birdwatching Bonanza

Our own Trevor Gunton popped into my office yesterday, absolutely overflowing with excitement after an hour in the Hayden hide. This is what he wrote.

The combination of lower than normal water levels and the onset of the autumn migration has led to a birdwatching treat at Paxton Pits over recent weeks.

While our much-loved Kingfisher Hide is closed for renovation, watching from the Hayden Hide has become really outstanding with 30 species being spotted in just an hour. Migrant birds such as widgeon ducks have been arriving from Iceland for a month and are now joined by flocks of redwings and fieldfares from Scandinavia and more birds are coming our way, including hoards of tiny goldcrests and, hopefully, the chaffinch’s northern cousin, the brambling. At the same time, we still have our resident reed buntings and both pied and grey wagtails. If you see large white birds across the pond, they may be swans but increasingly they turn out to be little egrets that spend the whole year here. Then there are the waders such as lapwings and green sandpipers that will stay with us until the big freeze. But pride of place must go to the our kingfishers that have been so busy fishing in the shallows that they have completely ignored all of our visiting photographers.

The unprecedented appearance of sandbars and islands has provided perfect loafing and drying-out areas for hundreds of water birds. Hunched-up herons and egrets are joined by rows of black cormorants, always accompanied by drifts of white gulls. There are rarer birds too. Quite often we are visited by a great white egret, which is  almost as big as a heron and has a yellow bill, not a black one. We used to think that these were stray migrants from southern Europe, or perhaps escapes from captivity, but now they are breeding in the UK and we expect them to increase in the coming years.

During a visit at dusk, you can watch all of the birds on the lake disappear while many thousands of birds some in to roost in the trees. The wooded islands become crowded with sleeping cormorants, rooks, jackdaws, herons, egrets and stock doves. In the coming weeks we can expect to see a sky-dancing murmuration of starlings over the meadow, south of the visitor centre. (At the moment there is a roost in Washout Pit reed-bed.)

If you live locally, or you pass Little Paxton on your home commute, you have access to some world-class wildlife watching for no effort and it’s free. Right now, the autumn colours of our trees are reaching their best and, due to their watery reflections, we get twice the effect. It’s magical, but brief, time of the year.

Our next guided tour is on Thursday, November 17th at 10:30. Why not join us?

Photo: Kingfisher taken on Heronry South Lake by PK Smith.