According to the old rhyme, in May the cuckoo sings all day. The male cuckoo’s song is so distinctive, it’s probably the best known bird song of all. However, the female cuckoo has a very different song, often described as a “bubbling chuckle”. Female cuckoos famously lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving the hard work of incubation and chick feeding to the host birds. Each female cuckoo specialises in a particular host species and lays eggs that mimic those of the host. At Paxton Pits, reed warblers are probably the most common host and cuckoo numbers are fairly stable, with about ten birds around every year.
Blackcaps and Garden Warblers
These two warblers are singing their hearts out in May and we have good numbers of both at Paxton Pits. In contrast to the chiffchaff and willow warbler, these two sound similar but look very different! The blackcap takes its name from the male bird’s easily spotted black cap, and the female has an equally distinctive brown cap. The garden warbler is a much plainer brown bird without any obvious distinguishing features at all. Both species have loud, fast songs which are hard to tell apart but the garden warbler’s tends to be longer and faster, with a rushed feel to it.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot several different butterfly species on the reserve in May. The small tortoiseshell is one of the most familiar. Its wings have striking orange and black markings and a blue and black border. Its numbers have fallen in recent years but it is still one of our commonest butterflies. Other species to look out for are the various whites: large white, small white, green-veined white and orange-tip. These are also common, but hard to tell apart when they fly quickly past you!
In May, damselflies start to emerge from the water, where they have spent their larval stage, and are soon present in large numbers around the Reserve. They are closely related to dragonflies, and have very similar life cycles, so what’s the difference? Damselflies tend to be smaller, more delicate, and weaker flyers, but the key difference lies in their wings. Most damselflies rest with their wings folded, and when they do so their fore wings fit perfectly over their hind wings because they are exactly the same size and shape. In dragonflies, the hind wings are bigger and broader than the fore wings and they leave them open when they are perched. The photograph shows a common blue damselfly, the commonest species at Paxton Pits.