Paxton Pits

Let me tell you about an amazing day I had at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire. I want to share the whole experience with you, so you can feel the thrill of being out in nature and taking photos. Here's what happened:

The reserve runs a Nature Walk on the third Thursday of each month.

The first time I attended it was a misty December morning. 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. Because the birds were a fair distance away, I attached my 1.4x extender to give my lens more reach. But the low hanging mist hanging 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.  

Male WigeonMale Wigeon

Before long, an excited murmur went around the group. After some discussion, we identified a large, duck as a male Goosander, confirmed with the spotting scope.. At this distance, I couldn't get a decent photograph. 

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 Goosander came back 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!

The Kingfisher Hide

We continued our walk around the Heronry South lake and came to the next hide, accessible by a raised wooden boardwalk. To our left,  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 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. 

The Kingfisher darted about, eventually settling on a branch nearby, offering a fantastic opportunity for close-up shots.

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.

Each visit to Paxton Pits brings fresh adventures, whether it's a successful photography session or an unforgettable encounter, such as a dramatic swan attack on the Heronry Lake.

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