Sunday, March 02, 2008

Paxton Pits

A sunny but very windy Saturday - where to go? How about Grafham Water? We got out earlier than usual (for us) and on arrival at the car park by the nature reserve found the place nearly deserted. The area though is quite exposed and we were really getting blown about as we headed out into the reserve area.

We were sure we'd see nothing except the Black-headed Gulls and feral Greylag Geese but we turned a corner to spot a small group of Fieldfares browsing in a field to the left of the path. The Fieldfares were joined by this Mistle Thrush, which flew up to watch us pass by:














In a small area of woodland approaching the first hide this male Bullfinch moved through the trees, showing his colours well but never very clearly:














There was however very little activity on the water so we decided to move on. From Grafham we headed to nearby Paxton Pits, a nature reserve owned by Huntingdonshire District Council and run in association with the Wildlife Trust. Paxton Pits has a lovely feel to it, the staff in visitor centre are enthusiastic volunteers, always happy to talk you through the reserve (and it's planned expansion - Paxton Pits is going to be a huge nature reserve, it's expanding behind the aggregate company who are removing the gravel and leaving behind a nature reserve).

We decided to walk around the main perimeter. The very first hide we stopped at on the South Heronry lake was probably the best spot for birding for the day. From here you can see the nesting Great Cormorants. This chap probably doesn't have a partner hence parading up and down with fresh nesting material in his beak:













Various others were displaying or actually nest building. Also on the water we spotted a leucistic Gadwall drake:












You can see from this picture the duck is lacking pigment on the head and back, though it retains the black 'bottom' (very uncorrect that!). The Gadwall drakes seemed to spend a lot of time clustered together in a large group paddling around together, then breaking off, as here:



















... before grouping again. Note the overall lighter colouration in the drake too. A few Goldeneye remain, including this drake (click on the pic to see the head colour clearer, the eye shows up well too):











The least common birds about were no doubt the Red-crested Pochards, we counted three, two drakes and one female duck. Red-crested Pochards are highly distinctive as you can see from this (not very well focused) snap:













There was a group of these ducks at Pitsford for most of the winter but we never managed to spot them. As well as being very brightly marked they are also very cautious birds, this group swam about on the edge of the lake briefly (the female is just emerging from a dive next to the drake with a Wigeon in the middle of the group):




















but within ten minutes had scuttled off into cover.

We checked out the 'washout' for waders but the area was deserted, this Song Thrush however checked us out briefly before disappearing:














The swimming lakes, home to the sailing club, has a couple of islands that will be used by nesting gulls and waders. This next picture is of a Great Cormorant mostly in shadow with the light playing off the water:














As you can see I've started experimenting with both light and composition. It's a long road ahead... :) We completed the circuit, by now with one arm longer than the other having carried the camera and lens all the way around. We stopped off again in the first hide and watched the 'garden' birds on the feeders there, joined by this fat looking Grey Squirrel:














Some people love them some people hate them. Cute looking though...

I'd recommend Paxton Pits to anyone. Join as a friend (£8 for a family) and the hot drinks are half price for the whole year :)

Our last stop was at Ditchford Gravel Pits. The area was much quieter than my earlier visit in the week, the reason why was quickly obvious - spent shotgun cartridges and a pair of dead gulls left by whomever had been doing the shooting - illegally too. As a consequence of this what waterfowl that remained kept a significant distance, we did briefly spot a Water Pipit and a pair of Stonechats. There's a field quite a walk from the entrance which is supporting wintering and feral geese and swans including Egyptian, Great White-fronted and Pink-footed Geese. This Pink-footed Goose is distinctive in the company of the feral (non-migratory) Greylag Geese, due to its relative smaller size and the much darker beak:











Ditchford is quite an exposed site so we checked out the geese but then decided to head for home as the wind had picked up again notably.

Garden Update:

We've cleared and mulched the hedge ready for Spring. We now have resident brown rats, along with the mole and the rabbits (who have dug a new home under our garden but with the entrance outside), and last night for the first time we spotted a badger under the feeders! The security light was being set off by the trees swaying in the strong winds, so it got scared but did keep coming back! We are chuffed to bits with the badger :)

We're also digging various borders for planting and clearing around the fruit trees to try and encourage them to grow this year, though in hindsight I should have dug more rubble out before we planted them, as they're effectively living in big plant pots at the moment.

Lots more digging to do to finish the borders, the vegetable patch and then eventually a pond...

The numbers of birds coming into the garden is peaking at the moment I guess there's very little food left elsewhere. We've added Goldcrest to our garden list, and Siskin numbers are up to 15-20, they are very striking little birds, as you can see here along with the Goldfinch and House Sparrow:












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