Paxton Pits Nature Reserve runs a Nature Walk on the 3rd Thursday of each month. On a misty morning in December 2017, I attended for the first time.
I arrived early and joined four people sitting round a table in the visitor centre, while we waited for everyone else . The number rose to around a dozen before we set off at 10.30am.
First view over the lake
We started by walking through the scrub, looking for Fieldfare and Redwing, without success.
Our next target, the Heronry South lake, which had a tall wooden fence with viewing slits at various heights, big enough for my 100-400mm lens to poke through. Due to the birds being a fair distance away I soon attached my 1.4x extender to give my lens more reach. But the low hanging mist hanging still limited the view.
The warden, Martin, set up his telescope and scanned for visible birds. He soon pointed out a Green Sandpiper on the edge of a small island, dwarfed by a Grey Heron standing beside it. Other sightings included Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Moorhen, Coot, Black Headed Gulls, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Shoveller and Teal.
Soon an excited murmur went around the group and a short discussion over the identity of a large duck standing on the edge of a small spit of land ensued. The spotting scope confirmed a male Goosander. At this distance I couldn't get a decent photograph. But our route lead us closer, later in the morning.
I found one benefit of a nature walk, such as this one at Paxton Pits; there is always someone around able to identify sightings.
The Hayden Hide
As we neared the Hayden Hide Martin pointed out a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the nearby trees. I had seen these birds on the feeders beside this hide on previous visits.
After carrying my hide clamp
all morning, I could now put it to use. Although the Canon 100-400mm lens
has fantastic Image Stabilisation, making hand holdable shots possible, supporting it always helps sharpness.
As soon as I locked the clamp in place, the male Goosander came into view. It was possible to capture images of him this time. Then we spotted a female close by - a real treat to see the pair!
We continnued our walk around the Heronry South lake and came to the next hide, accessible by a raised wooden walkway. To our left was another Grey Heron perched above the water on a branch.
The bird of note spotted from this hide was a male Goldeneye. He was too far away to photograph.
There were many gulls around. I don't know about you, but I struggle with distinguishing one species of gull from another. One I do recognize, as there are so many of them around, is the Black Headed Gull (although in winter they don't have black heads, just to complicate matters). One of the warden's favourite birds turned out to be the Common Gull (not so often seen) and he pointed out the differences between them. Seeing them side by side made it easier.
One thing we didn’t see from this hide was a Kingfisher.
Common Gull (left) and Black Headed Gull in winter plumage (right)
Excitement on the way back
With our two hour walk drawing to a close, it was time to head back to the Visitor Centre.
We retraced our steps, and I found myself at the back of the group. Those ahead of me stopped for a moment at the viewpoint and I heard the warden mention Goosander again. When I reached the same point, I looked through the fence and spotted the male bird about to take off, a great photo opportunity that everyone else missed.
By this time the rest of the group had disappeared, but as I turned, I glimpsed a flash of blue. I wasn't going anywhere just yet!
There it went again. A Kingfisher darted out from the willow and perched on a tree opposite me. I didn't care that the bench was wet; I sat and waited to see if it would come closer.
Back and forth he flew, before settling for a minute or two on a branch just below the viewpoint, offering me the chance to capture fantastic close ups of this gorgeous bird.
It wasn't until an hour later that I tore myself away and headed for the car. I knew by now I had missed the cup of hot soup waiting for me at the visitor centre.
As I reached the car, the warden stopped me to say goodbye. I assured him that this wouldn't be the only time I accompanied him on a nature walk at Paxton Pits. Indeed, we have been back many, many times since. You might like to read about the dramatic event I witnessed on the lake in July 2021.