Great Spotted Woodpeckers

Gerry Zambonini, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Lars Edenius, XC623335. Accessible at

The drumming of great spotted woodpeckers is one of the classic sounds of early spring. The woodpecker does this to advertise its presence, stake out a territory and attract a mate. Although both sexes drum, the male does so more often. The woodpecker bashes its beak against the tree about 12 times in a second. Fortunately, it doesn’t suffer brain damage, or even get a headache, because it has a “shock absorber” between its beak and skull.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes Weed Dance | Richard Towell | Flickr

One hundred and fifty years ago, the great crested grebe was almost extinct in the UK. Its head plumes were used to decorate hats and its feathered skin as a substitute for fur. It was this trade that led to the formation of the RSPB and the grebe population recovered once the persecution was stopped. About twenty pairs breed at Paxton Pits and in the Spring you might be lucky enough to see their spectacular courtship display. This features a combination of head-shaking, bill-dipping and most famously, weed-waving which would put any Strictly Come Dancing contestant to shame. Here is a video, filmed at Paxton pits.


Olivier SWIFT, XC624364. Accessible at

The song flight of the male skylark is another welcome sign of Spring. You almost always hear it before you see it: sometimes you might not see it at all as it can be up to 100 metres above the ground and it’s not much bigger than a sparrow. When advertising its territory in Spring, the male can sing for five or ten minutes without a break. Sadly, skylark numbers have dropped dramatically in the last thirty years, probably due to changed farming practices.

Bee flies

Dark-edged bee fly Bombylius major at Paxton Pits

If the mild weather continues then it won’t be long before some of our early insects appear. One of the most noticeable, and interesting, is the bee fly. This is a large furry fly, easy to identify due to its habit of hovering low above the ground with its long straight proboscis (tongue) sticking out in front. Bee flies don’t just look like bees; they lay their eggs in the nests of mining bees. The female hovers above the bees’ burrows and flicks her eggs into them. When they hatch, the fly larvae feed on the larvae of the bees. Bee flies are common at Paxton Pits as we have a good population of mining bees.

Leave a Reply