Birds have been quick to take advantage of the new wetland habitats created by gravel extraction. And as scrub and woodland has developed around the Pits, other birds have moved in too, so it’s a great place to see many species.
Around 70 species breed regularly, with several dozen more spending the winter here. To date, 234 species have been recorded at Paxton Pits, though the ‘star’ birds are undoubtedly nightingales, cormorants and the winter wildfowl. You can see a full list of the species that have been recorded on the checklist page.
The nightingale is an olive-brown bird a little bigger than a robin that visits us from Africa each spring to breed. It’s skulking habits make it difficult to see, but the male has a rich, fluting song that thousands of people visit the reserve each year hoping to hear. Nightingales are struggling across the whole country, but against a national trend of decline, our nightingales had been doing relatively well, with annual increases over most of the last 15 years. The last couple of years have seen declines in the whole county, though, and Paxton Pits is no exception.
Cormorants are large, charismatic, mostly-black birds that feed on fish and stand, characteristically, with their wings outstretched to dry them. They are relatively rare as a breeding bird in Cambridgeshire, but the colony at Paxton Pits has been re-established since the late 1980s.
Paxton Pits attracts a large number of herons, coots, moorhens, ducks, geese and swans in the winter months when these species are looking for a winter refuge from the colder north. The first of the visitors generally arrive from September. Gadwalls, Wigeons, Tufted ducks, Pochards and Coots are among the commonest, with smaller numbers of Goldeneyes, Shovelers and Teals. A handful of Goosanders and Smews occur in colder winters. The winter waterfowl at Paxton Pits are counted each year by volunteer birdwatchers as part of the countrywide Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS).
The Friends of Paxton Pits publishes an annual report on the birds and wildlife of the Pits complex, which is available from the Visitor Centre.