Milton Keynes may not seem the best urban birding location in the UK, but we have our fair share of interesting places for the birds. Sadly many have declined over the years through neglect or pressure from the growing town, but there is always potential. So here are my The 5 best sites to spot birds in Milton Keynes.
The 5 best sites to spot birds in Milton Keynes
A few details about local wildlife hotspots to be found in (and around) Milton Keynes.
As you will see they are mainly lakes, Milton Keynes has a lot of lakes of various sizes, so I’ve added Little Linford wood in to break up the lake theme, and each site title can be clicked on to take you to a Google map of the area. Now onto my 5 Top Birding Spots of Milton Keynes.
Formally Known as Manor Farm
Currently The Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve (where the majority of posts on this blog are located) is the premier location in Milton Keynes for waders, and passage birds. It is currently no.1 in my 5 Top Birding Spots in Milton Keynes, although is always pushed by Linford Lakes.
Created from a recent gravel workings. The area is a complex of small interconnected lakes, and pools, fed by the river Ouse. You can read all about it in more detail in my Introducing the Patch pages. The nature reserve is covered under Main Pits and Stilt Pits.
In terms of habitat, it is currently a combination of river side pools and lakes, and Farm land. Although what the place will eventually look like I’m not really sure. Tree planting has taken place all over and one day will be full of large trees as well as open scrub and water. It will be wonderful.
The wildlife that can be seen there varies, but there are good numbers of wading birds at the right time and if the weather has been kind, especially Lapwings; as well as Little Egrets, and water birds; but the odd passage bird turns up sometimes, and it has had some really good birds. (Best birds – Cattle Egret has been recorded, and Great White Egret appear most years, at least once; Black Winged Stilt and Pectoral Sandpiper have both also been recorded).
The area is also good for Butterflies such as Small Skipper, Large Skipper and Marble White to name but three. And there is a breeding population of the rare White Letter Hairstreak near by. Dragonfly numbers have always been good but are increasing thanks to the large amount of water. Banded Demoiselle occur in huge numbers. Red-eyed Damselfly and Small Red-eyed Damselfly, are regular. Skimmers, Hawkers and all manor of larger Odes are also regular. And a whole host of insects can be found, if you look hard enough.
Willen lake was once THE number one location for birds in Milton Keynes. The nature reserve on the north lake used to have a changeable water level. In peak wader migration it would be lowered to attract passage birds. Real rarities like Caspian Tern, Whiskered Tern (2 at once) and Black-winged Stilt (tried to breed) have turned up. And Spotted Crake was almost annual. Smaller waders turned up with such regularity that annual stints and other sandpiper were expected.
Then they built the road through the middle and it all changed.
The water level is now no longer changed and the birds don’t turn up as much as they used to. The South lake is also a very busy area for “fun”. It still holds excellent duck numbers, especially in winter. And the odd good bird, usually a rarer grebe or duck (Slavonian Grebe and Velvet Scoter the most recent). But not remotely as many as it used to. It can however still hold surprises, such as the recent Bearded Tit, that appeared.
The South lake gull roost, which used to be huge has diminished, probably due to the increase in water sports. Sadly there is also a lack of people watching the lakes now. Many regular birders having moved on to better, less disturbed areas.
There is still interesting wildlife around. I have personally seen huge numbers of Banded Demoiselles along the river, and Otter have been seen in front of the hide, playing in broad daylight. Bat numbers are quite good I believe. And butterflies can easily be seen during the summer months. It can be a very tranquil location, the peace pagoda and Buddhist temple would be evidence of that.
Parking however is now a costly affair. The main car park by the water sports and family area charge quite a bit (as does the one behind the peace pagoda). But there are two free parking areas. One opposite the sewage works, and one by Willen sports pavilion. Although for a new visitor it could be tricky to locate.
Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (Permit only)
Formerly Known as Linford Lakes, ARC Pits, Hansen Centre (and loads more)
This little oasis of a nature reserve, run by the parks trust is actually under threat. The local council in their wisdom is building houses closer and closer. And has turned the surrounding land into a country park. So rather than the rugged farmland that has attracted Short-eared owls it is more manicured land, and has become a haven for dog walkers and youths! 2022 has seen a large fence keep some of the youths from damaging the hides thankfully. And the CP is now actually excellent wild grass land for much of the year.
Sometimes we really do need to allow nature to do as it wishes.
Anyway, the wildlife is still very good. Anything can, and does, turn up. Six species of Heron have been recorded there in recent years, decent waders and duck turn up regularly and the reserve once even held a River Warbler. It was home to the first inland breeding records for Little Egret and has held all 5 species of resident Owl at different times. Most of the species of Milton Keynes dragonflies have been recorded here; and there are some good moth and butterfly records.
The permit only element and total lack of dog access must really help. They certainly are reasons why I visit quite a bit.
Currently you can drive around the back of the reserve on a public road, so some viewing is possible without a permit. Although the road is rough and there is no right of way to stop.
The actual reserve has its own small car park. This is reached down a road opposite the turning to the black horse pub car park (the road is owned by the fishing lakes so again no stopping) but is permit only.
Permits can be obtained from the local parks trust: Linford lakes Nature Reserve.
The largest of the Milton Keynes lakes. Located in the South-east of the city. It is a huge body of water that now holds an OK Gull roost.
The lakes often have interesting ducks and other water birds. These include: Great Northern Diver, Red Necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe and Black-Necked Grebe. And has even had real rarities like a Spotted Sandpiper once!
Personally I probably know this lake the least of all. I have never lived that side of the town. But there are good birds, butterflies and other wildlife to be found here. Just look at Holding Moments blog all about the lake and it’s residents. (Sadly now invite only).
What I do know is that there is a great pub on the lake. A semi-newly built building that looks like a converted windmill. They do some nice food. And you can look out over part of the lake which offers some nice views with your pint.
Little Linford Wood is a BBOWT nature reserve set quite a way up a (what would appear private) road. It is a piece of ancient woodland that is a haven for wildlife. Even with its close proximity to the M1 motorway. This one is the furthest outside of Milton Keynes and near the walled village of Gayhurst. It has a small car park but I must admit it isn’t an area I would want to visit at night.
The wood is home to a great array of butterflies with Purple Emperor; White admiral ; and in the past wood white all distinct possibilities. In 2021 it held a Golden Oriole for a brief visit. Dragonfly numbers are also really good here and you can find huge swarms some years at the right time. When it comes to Birds, the woods used to hold all three woodpeckers (although I’m not sure about lesser spotted anymore). And does hold Woodcock at the right time. As well as Tree Sparrow and other finches and buntings on the edges, in the winter.
It is the bluebells that make this wood though.
In spring it is a wonderful site to see the carpet of purplish blue spreading out under the ancient oaks.
Beyond The 5 best sites to spot birds in Milton Keynes:
In Milton Keynes we are blessed (as a City – as of 2022) with so many great sites that I could have made this a much longer post. So here are a few other sites, that did not make the 5 Top Birding Spots in Milton Keynes list. But are still worth a look:
- Gayhurst Quarry (Another good water body, but not easy to access).
- Stone Pit Fields Country Park (great for Butterflies and Dragonflies).
- Walton Balancing Lakes (Near the OU, good for Dragonflies and Water Rail).
- Linford Wood (a small piece of ancient woodland in the heart of the town, often has Tawny Owls calling).
- Howe Park Wood (another piece of ancient wood great for rare butterflies and Dragonflies)
- Blue Lagoon (a deep lake by the rubbish tip, great for gulls, butterflies and dragonflies)
If you can visit one of these sites then please do. And if you do, let me know what you see. They can turn up some wonderful wildlife and it is always nice to hear about local sightings.
It is always worth noting though, that anything can turn up anywhere. Recent birds like Black Redstart (Buildling site) and Yellow Browed Warbler (Bancroft) turned up in very odd areas. There was A Black Winged stilt in 2022, that was found on a tiny pond in Bletchley. And Interesting birds often occur in a small waste patch of Central Milton Keynes!