One look at the broad bill of a shoveler will tell you how it got its name and how it feeds. You can watch them sweeping their bills from side to side through the water, filtering out plants and invertebrates. They find most food in shallow water and the flooded meadows proved very popular with them last winter. Although they are present all year round at Paxton Pits, they are most numerous in the winter and there is no evidence of them breeding here.
For such a brightly coloured bird, the kingfisher can be hard to spot. You often hear its call first, before you see it flying fast and low across the water in a flash of orange and turquoise. If you are lucky, you might find one perched on a branch, intently watching the water below for fish. Kingfishers have to eat about 60% of their body weight every day and struggle to catch enough fish when rivers and gravel pits are frozen over. They are present all year round at Paxton Pits and we are encouraging them to breed here by providing artificial nest burrows.
We often take starlings for granted, as a common and fairly nondescript bird, but if you look closely at one in a park or garden at this time of year you will see that its plumage is iridescent and brightly speckled with white. Starlings have greatly declined as farmland birds in the UK but the resident birds are joined by huge numbers of continental migrants in the winter. These flocks are famous for their spectacular murmurations as they come into roost in the late afternoon. You can sometimes see these over the Paxton gravel pits, with hundreds of birds wheeling and swooping as they show off their formation flying skills.
Dead man’s fingers
Don’t worry, it’s not a zombie trying to scrabble its way out of a grave. Just another fungus performing the vital service of digesting dead wood. This species specialises on feeding on the sugars in the wood, leaving behind a mushy mess for invertebrates, other fungi and bacteria to consume. You can find it on logs and stumps on the reserve, for example in Rory’s wood.