Barnwell Country Park

Barnwell Country Park, in Northamptonshire, is only a short distance from my home and therefore one of my regular walking routes.

As it is relatively small, at 37 acres, I can walk round the whole park in a morning. Although that rarely happens as I end up making numerous stops to photograph the wildlife along the way. There are five lakes with pathways in between. The river Nene runs along two sides of the park and the road to the market town of Oundle borders the third.

There are two birdwatching hides, which my American friends will know as blinds and two screens. They provide somewhere to watch the wildlife while remaining somewhat hidden myself.

The LowLands Hide

My first stop when walking around Barnwell Country Park, this hide is only a short stroll from the car park and overlooks the Lowlands Wildlife Refuge.

The benches are not locked to the floor as they are in some hides.  This means if I am the only occupant I can position the tallest bench at my preferred "window".  The first time I visited I had my hide clamp which holds the center column of my tripod. Not ideal, as there wasn't a surface at the right angle to clamp it to. I now take my full tripod with a gimbal head as there is plenty of room to set it up inside the hide.

Blue Tit bird

I have photographed Blue, Great and Marsh Tits, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Wren, Magpie, Tree-creeper, Robin, Reed Bunting and Nuthatch on and around the feeders in this area. I try to avoid including the feeder in the picture if possible.

I missed a Yellowhammer here one morning. The other occupant of the hide was keen to show me the picture he had taken minutes before my arrival. In all my visits, I have never even got a glimpse of one of these birds at this reserve.

There are logs close by, that present more attractive photo opportunities than the hanging feeders. Nuts and seeds stuffed into the crevices encourage the birds to land and investigate.

It's not only the birds that take advantage of the free food, the grey squirrels also enjoy the feast! 

Chilled out squirrelChilled out grey squirrel

Many hides claim a tame robin, and the Lowlands Hide is no exception. He sometimes joins me inside the hide, hopping around the benches looking for treats. With my long lens on the camera, he is often too close to focus on! When I manage, as in the photo below, I get a lovely soft background as the distant foliage behind the robin is out of focus.

Tame robin

I saw my first Kingfisher from this hide. I was so excited I forgot to check the settings on my camera!  A shutter speed of 1/60th of a second wasn’t fast enough, resulting in blurred photos.

The surrounding wooded area means the light levels at this hide can be low. This means increasing the ISO (International Standards Organization) or sensitivity of the camera's sensor to get fast enough shutter speeds. The downside of doing this is the noise (or grain) apparent in the photos. If I get the exposure wrong and have to lighten it on the computer the noise increases.  I often overexpose by up to one f-stop to avoid this problem. The technical term for this is "exposing to the right". 

Barnwell country park - The KingFisher hide

Walk down past the children's play area and you will come to a little bridge that crosses the lake. Just beyond is the Kingfisher Hide. The light levels here are better for photography.

The hide faces Little Lake which is a popular fishing area for these attractive little birds. You have to be sharp eyed to spot the flash of blue and orange plumage!

The wardens have positioned branches leaning over the water as perches for the kingfishers, but I have yet to see one in use. It takes patience to get a sighting and then it is likely to be a distant one. Even my longest lens hasn't quite got enough reach to get a good shot in these situations.

In August 2017, I was in for a treat. I waited and watched for over 2 hours, but no sign of the kingfisher. When it was time to pack up and head home, I turned around, reaching for my camera bag, and spotted my quarry perched on the tree beside the hide!

Grabbing the camera I got two frames before he flew off. The photo below was one of these and it won me Runner Up in a local newspaper's photo competition.

Male kingfisherMale Kingfisher

A tree-creeper frequents a tree to the right of the hide, and I have spotted other birds such as Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits, Robins, Nuthatch, Carrion Crows and the occasional warbler nearby. 

Various  ducks,  Grey Heron, Black Headed Gulls, Greylag and Canada Geese, Great Crested Grebes, Cormorant and Mute Swans are amongst the birds I have seen on the lakes. 

Red Kite fly overhead, alerting me to their presence by their mewing call. Not that long ago these birds of prey were almost extinct but I see them on most visits now. I also see Buzzard passing over the park.

Red kite with beak open

Barnwell's Breeding birds

Mallards, Mute Swans and Great Crested Grebes breed each year at Barnwell Country Park. 

Swans mate for life and are very protective of their young families. The male, or cob, is diligent about keeping the Canada Geese away from the cygnets, rushing at them hissing, with wings raised until they fly off.

Male Mute Swan chasing goose away from cygnets

 The pen (female) tends to the cygnets' needs with care and attention. I could almost see her teaching her little one right from wrong in the photograph below, taken in June 2017. 

Mute swan familyMute Swan family

In November 2017 I witnessed a pair of Mandarin Ducks mating, but sadly did not see any Mandarin ducklings at Barnwell Country Park the following spring.

Mating Mandarin Ducks in waterPair of Mandarin ducks mating

I followed the nest building and rearing of young Great Crested Grebe at Barnwell in 2017 and devoted a separate page to them. 

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