Welcoming winter’s visitors

November 29, 2023

Panshanger Park is 1,000 acres of countryside situated between Welwyn Garden City and Hertford. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust is working with the park’s owners, Tarmac, to manage the park for both people and wildlife. 

We are now very much in the midst of autumn, with the autumnal winds whirling the leaves off the trees in a colourful display of orange, reds, yellows and browns. 

In terms of seasonal shifts, we are still getting used to the idea of winter being just around the corner, but at Panshanger Park, we are already welcoming back our winter migrants once again. A variety of different birds make the park their winter residence, so the next few months are a great time to make a reason to head out and look for them. 

On the lakes you’re likely to see plenty of wildfowl arriving at the moment, such as teal, pochard, gadwall, wigeon and shoveler ducks, who all use Panshanger Park as a winter base. Coming from as far afield as Russia and Iceland, these birds seek the milder temperatures of a British winter whilst also looking for good feeding grounds. Happily, Panshanger Park is able to provide safe and food-rich habitats for them through the variety of lakes and wetland scrapes on the site. 

At this time of year, you are also likely to see some of our more terrestrial winter bird visitors. Two beautiful members of the thrush family head west, from eastern Europe, for the UK’s milder winters, usually staying between the months of October to March.

A redwing on a branch ©Tim Hill

The redwing is about the same size as a song thrush and similar looking, but with a distinctive pale eye stripe and a red tinge under the wing (hence the name). Roughly 700,000 of them come to the UK every winter and have been documented to be doing so since medieval times! They tend to be seen feeding in flocks around the open countryside in fields and hedgerows, although, if the temperatures get very cold, they may visit gardens to feed. They like to eat berries and worms.

A fieldfare in the snow ©Tim Hill

Fieldfares are another winter visitor from the thrush family but can be more easily mistaken for a mistle thrush due to their larger size and upright stance. Their heads are greyer than that of the mistle thrush and they will feed in large, gregarious flocks looking for insects, berries and worms. Again, about 700,000 of these birds come to the UK each winter. 

Watching birds, not just our seasonal visitors, is a great activity for winter as sparser foliage in the trees make them easier to spot or see from a lake edge. Next time you’re on a walk around Panshanger Park, take a bit of extra time to enjoy watching our winter visitors and appreciate the journeys that they make each year to get here. 

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.