Returning ducks

Male and female wigeon, by Jim Stevenson

Many of the ducks at Paxton Pits leave us in the Spring to breed in Northern Britain or Scandinavia. By October, they have returned to spend the winter in our milder climate and you will see far more on the reserve than in the summer months. The wigeon is one of the more common types of duck at Paxton. Males are usually easy to identify because they have a chestnut head and a distinctive creamy yellow stripe on their forehead. However, when they first return in the autumn some are still in their post-breeding plumage so, initially, they are hard to tell apart from the duller, grey-brown females. Male wigeon have a loud, piercing whistle which is one of the characteristic sounds of the fens in winter. Wigeon are dabbling ducks, often feeding on water plants in shallow water and on flooded meadows.


Andrew Whitman Flickr

If you visit Paxton Pits regularly you will inevitably see a muntjac deer, crossing a track or scuttling into the undergrowth. If you are lucky, and keep still and quiet, you might get a longer view, as muntjac can be quite bold and continue feeding, even in broad daylight. Muntjac originate from southern Asia and were introduced by the Duke of Bedford to his Woburn estate in the 1920s. They have adapted well to life in the UK and continue to spread northwards and westwards. Unfortunately, they are voracious browsers of shrubs and saplings, and can quickly clear woodland of its undergrowth. This has a detrimental effect on breeding birds and is quite likely a factor in the reduction of nightingale numbers from much of Paxton Pits. A major programme of fencing, to keep the muntjac out, followed by habitat restoration, is planned to reverse this decline.

Mammals on our Trail Cameras

Paxton Pits is home to a good population of mammals but, except for the muntjac, they are much less conspicuous than birds and insects. This is for the simple reason that most are nocturnal. Recently, we have started to survey our mammalian residents, to build a up a detailed picture of their numbers and distribution across the reserve. To some extent, we can do this by looking for indirect evidence such as badger setts and otter spraints (poo) but for many small mammals, camera traps are an essential tool. We have placed these around the reserve this year and have been very pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of sightings. One great benefit is that we can share our sightings with everyone. You might not be lucky enough to spot an otter, badger or water vole at Paxton Pits but you can see them on our videos. We regularly update our videos, both on our website and on our YouTube channel.   

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