Welcoming back the winter wildfowl visitors

November 17, 2021

The weather is still fairly mild at the moment and we’ve yet to really see any frosts this season, but at Panshanger Park there are other indications that we are moving towards winter. The trees are looking increasingly bare and the landscape is taking on a slightly more dormant air. However, the lakes are currently a flurry of activity due to the influx of the winter wildfowl bird migrants. Ducks such as gadwall, teal, wigeon and shovelers have all arrived from their breeding grounds as far away as Iceland, Russia and Scandinavia where the frozen winters make food sources scarce. The UK’s milder temperatures combined with the lake habitats at Panshanger Park provide much needed food and shelter for these birds.

Having a number of lakes within a site is especially appealing to these ducks as they tend to move between them throughout a day for feeding spots as well as safe places to roost at night. Monitoring these wintering birds is important to see how numbers change over time and which lakes are preferred by which species. The British Trust for Ornithology’s Wetland Bird Survey has been ongoing since 1960 and gathers monthly data on wetland birds found on the lakes. As a result of this ongoing monitoring it has been established that Panshanger Park is the most important site in Hertfordshire for dabchicks (also known as the little grebe). The lakes provide an abundance of food for these diving birds in the form of small fish and invertebrates. Kings Lake is an especially good place to spot these diminutive yet noisy characters.

Why not take the opportunity to have a walk round the park and a closer look at these winter migrants? Look out for the male teals with their vibrant green eye-patch, the shovelers with their comedically large beaks used, as their name suggests, for sifting and shovelling invertebrates from the water and listen out for the happy whistling sounds of the wigeon.

The monitoring of all wildlife within Panshanger is an important way to help inform how best to manage the site for nature and provide information on species, their habits and local populations. We are always looking to monitor more wildlife in the park so if this is something you are interested in helping out with you can contact [email protected]

Jo Whitaker is the Panshanger Park People and Wildlife Officer.

She works for Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and her role is funded by Tarmac.

Panshanger Park is the most important site in Hertfordshire for dabchicks (also known as little grebes) ©Tim Hill