Birdwatching in Milton Keynes with The Urban Birder

By David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

Arriving in Milton Keynes on a sunny August day at the invitation of local birders Mark and Gill Baker, I was astounded by how green the place was – wherever I went there were cycle paths, parks, green corridors and lakes – loads of lakes.

Perhaps the most nationally famous of those water bodies is Willen Lake, long known for its ability to attract interesting gulls, Black Terns and waders including a recent Wilson’s Phalarope. Although the southern portion of the lake is a popular spot with local daytrippers, the northern portion is much more peaceful.

We sat in a hide and enjoyed a couple of Greenshanks and a female Red-crested Pochard amongst the more numerous Cormorants and Mallards. Plunge-diving nearby were some family groups of Common Terns that were sharing the same stretch of water as families of Great Crested Grebe. How tranquil.

Perhaps the most interesting place we visited was a relatively unknown one, the Hanson Environmental Study Centre, north west of Willen Lake. It’s a 37 hectare area of meadows, woodland, reedbeds, ponds and of course, a large lake.

The Milton Keynes Council to whom you have to apply for a membership card and a key in order to gain access manages the site. It boasts breeding Grasshopper Warbler, Nightingale and Bullfinch along with 19 species of dragonfly. Both Barn Owl and Little Owl occur and whilst walking around and watching the plentiful Willow Warblers I got to grips with several Marsh Tits.

In the main hide overlooking the lake were at least six Little Egrets roosting in a waterside tree, we heard a Kingfisher calling plus to crown the occasion a Hobby chose to hunt insects high over the lake.

MK’s combination of woodland, riverside parks and numerous lakes provide a contiguous tree lined green corridor that dissects the town. It is possible to cycle throughout this network along The Redway stopping at your leisure to take in the avian sights. I roamed through terrain that yielded a Little Owl and seemed perfect for passage Wheatears.

Exploring the woodland situated to the south and east would be have been a good option too. There’s even birding to be done in Central Milton Keynes around Campbell Park by the huge shopping mall. We grabbed a cup of tea in the complex and then strolled out into the adjoining park to enjoy the vista of the surrounding countryside and Willen Lake that was largely hidden from view by some woodland that potentially harbour both crests and Crossbills.

The park is the highest point in MK and the grassy slopes of the hill I was standing on were favourite haunts for thrushes during the winter. Last year there were exceptional numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Despite the warm weather and the presence of thermals evidenced by the rafts of gliders circling overhead, we did not see any of the expected Red Kites and Buzzards riding on the warm air. But that didn’t matter because my head had been well and truly turned by what I encountered in Milton Keynes.

Perhaps the most nationally famous of those water bodies is Willen Lake long known for its ability to attract interesting gulls, Black Terns and waders including a recent Wilson’s Phalarope. Although the southern portion of the lake is a popular spot with local daytrippers, the northern portion is much more peaceful.

We sat in a hide and enjoyed a couple of Greenshanks and a female Red-crested Pochard amongst the more numerous Cormorants and Mallards. Plunge-diving nearby were some family groups of Common Terns that were sharing the same stretch of water as families of Great Crested Grebe. How tranquil.

Perhaps the most interesting place we visited was a relatively unknown one, the Hanson Environmental Study Centre, north west of Willen Lake. It’s a 37 hectare area of meadows, woodland, reedbeds, ponds and of course, a large lake.

The Milton Keynes Council to whom you have to apply for a membership card and a key in order to gain access manages the site. It boasts breeding Grasshopper Warbler, Nightingale and Bullfinch along with 19 species of dragonfly. Both Barn Owl and Little Owl occur and whilst walking around and watching the plentiful Willow Warblers I got to grips with several Marsh Tits.

In the main hide overlooking the lake were at least six Little Egrets roosting in a waterside tree, we heard a Kingfisher calling plus to crown the occasion a Hobby chose to hunt insects high over the lake.

MK’s combination of woodland, riverside parks and numerous lakes provide a contiguous tree lined green corridor that dissects the town. It is possible to cycle throughout this network along The Redway stopping at your leisure to take in the avian sights. I roamed through terrain that yielded a Little Owl and seemed perfect for passage Wheatears.

Exploring the woodland situated to the south and east would be have been a good option too. There’s even birding to be done in Central Milton Keynes around Campbell Park by the huge shopping mall. We grabbed a cup of tea in the complex and then strolled out into the adjoining park to enjoy the vista of the surrounding countryside and Willen Lake that was largely hidden from view by some woodland that potentially harbour both crests and Crossbills.

The park is the highest point in MK and the grassy slopes of the hill I was standing on were favourite haunts for thrushes during the winter. Last year there were exceptional numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Despite the warm weather and the presence of thermals evidenced by the rafts of gliders circling overhead, we did not see any of the expected Red Kites and Buzzards riding on the warm air. But that didn’t matter because my head had been well and truly turned by what I encountered in Milton Keynes.