Diving Ducks can feed in deep water by submerging completely, disappearing for a few seconds before popping up nearby. The most common at the Pits is the black-and-white tufted duck which you can see all year round as it breeds on the reserve. In addition to these resident birds, hundreds more tufted ducks arrive from Northern Europe in winter, to take advantage of our milder climate.
If you look carefully you might well see another type of diving duck, the goldeneye. These are regular winter visitors to Paxton Pits and one or two are often spotted on Heronry Lake North as well as on the more northerly pits. The male is very distinctive. It has a mainly white body, a dark green head with a large white patch, and of course a golden eye. Goldeneyes migrate here from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Russia.
Herons are very conspicuous at this time of the year, perhaps due to the bare trees and lack of undergrowth. You can often see three or four around Heronry Lake, sitting on dead or bare branches, watching for fish. Herons are top-level predators and can sit in safety, knowing that they are in no danger, though roast heron was a popular dish at medieval banquets.
Near the Kingfisher hide, in what was the garden of Wray House, are some evergreen trees. At this time of year they are particularly important for providing insect food and shelter for a variety of small birds. If you are lucky you might spot a treecreeper or goldcrest here, as well as the more common blue tits and great tits.
You wouldn’t expect to find butterflies in midwinter but several have been reported locally in the last few weeks, probably due to the unusually mild weather in mid-December. The pale yellow Brimstone is well known for being seen throughout the year. The adult insects hibernate in the winter and emerge in milder weather. However, Red Admirals have also been spotted. Until recently, these died out completely in the British winter and recolonised from the continent each spring. That they have been seen in the winter is a sign of our rapidly warming climate.