Barnwell Country Park

Nestled in the heart of Northamptonshire, just a short distance from the market town of Oundle, lies Barnwell Country Park.

This sanctuary for nature lovers and bird watchers offers a stunning array of scenery, the serene River Nene, charming pathways, and five lakes.

Gravel extraction in the 1960s led to the formation of the lakes.

Otters thrive around the lake areas and are a celebrated attraction, drawing nature enthusiasts keen to glimpse these elusive mammals.

Open to visitors (and dogs) year-round, the park provides an idyllic escape for all ages.  Children have their own play area complete with a woodland zip wire.

Upon arrival, guests will find a visitor's center, the Kingfisher Cafe and public restrooms. While admission is free, parking is available for a nominal fee based on the duration of your visit.

Mating Mandarin Ducks in waterPair of Mandarin ducks mating

A Classroom Beneath the Sky

Barnwell Country Park is more than just a wildlife haven; it serves as an outdoor classroom.

Engaging activities, such as bug identification and tree spotting, are designed to spark curiosity and educate young explorers about the natural world.

Inside the visitor centre there are activity sheets that encourage children to observe and record what they have seen. The adventurous can stick their hands inside mystery boxes to see if they can identify the objects. There is also a selection of skulls to aid with wildlife identification.

For the toddlers there are regular ranger-led Nature Tots events. School-age children are not left out, with activities such as mini-beast safaris, orienteering and pond dipping on offer. 

The Bird Hides at Barnwell Country Park

The park is home to two main bird hides, along with several sheltered lookout points, offering seating and partial protection from the elements while retaining an open atmosphere.

The Lowlands Hide

Blue Tit bird

A quick stroll from the parking area takes you to the Lowlands Hide, overlooking a reed bed and bird feeding station.

The reeds here are popular in the spring as a nesting area for reed and sedge warblers. During the summer, the showy banded demoiselles with their electric blue (male) or green (female) bodies and wings are in abundance.

Visitors can move the benches inside the hide for an optimal viewing angle through either of the windows.

The wildlife I have photographed at Barnwell includes...

  • Blue, Great, Long Tailed and Marsh Tits
  • Dunnock
  • Reed Bunting
  • Nuthatch
  • Mallard Duck
  • Common Pheasant
  • Bank vole
  • Grey Heron
  • Greylag and Canada Geese
  • Otter
  • Buzzard
  • Swallows
  • Bullfinch

If identifying birds like the tree creeper or goosander seems daunting, our guide on bird identification for beginners can help you start your birdwatching journey.

Chilled out squirrelChilled out grey squirrel

The KingFisher Hide at Barnwell

Beyond the children's play area and across a footbridge, the Kingfisher Hide awaits.

Here, the lighting is more conducive to photography. It faces Little Lake—a favored spot for the elusive kingfisher. Spotting these vibrant birds requires patience, and even with a long lens, their swift movements can be a challenge to capture.

During one memorable visit, after hours of waiting, a kingfisher appeared right beside the hide just as I was about to leave, resulting in the photo below, a prize-winner in a local competition.

Male kingfisherMale Kingfisher

Wildlife Photography Tips

To aid in capturing stunning photographs, the wardens have strategically placed logs with nuts and seeds near the Lowlands hide to attract birds and other wildlife.

This setup means that even basic cameras with a zoom lens, or smartphones, can achieve great results.

For those desiring the blurred background effect, a professional camera setup is advisable.

To turn your snapshots into stunning imagery, understanding how to adjust your camera settings is crucial in wildlife photography.

Tame robin

Because trees surround this hide, lighting can be challenging for photographers. To capture crisp images, adjusting the ISO to compensate for the low light is necessary, albeit at the risk of introducing digital noise.

A helpful technique is to overexpose slightly, known as "exposing to the right" or ETTR, to minimize this noise.

The page on low light wildlife photography will provide more details about this. 

Barnwell's Breeding birds

Red kite with beak open

The park is a nurturing ground for species such as Mallards, Mute Swans, Red Kites and Great Crested Grebes.

The swans, are particularly, known for their lifelong bonds and protective behaviour toward their young. Observing the swans' family dynamics is a treat as captured in a photograph series from June 2017, shown below.

Male Mute Swan chasing goose away from cygnetsSeeing off the Canada Geese
Mute swan familyMute Swan family

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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