The swift is one of the last summer visitors to arrive, and one of the first to leave, but you will be able to see it around Paxton Pits until August. It is a superb flyer, probably the fastest bird of all in level flight, and small groups often fly around houses, making a distinctive “screaming” sound as they catch insects. Swifts rarely land: they feed, sleep and mate on the wing, only needing to land when nesting. They fly huge distances, not only on migration, but every day in order to find food. When a baby swift leaves the nest in late summer, it will not land again until it is ready to breed, two or three years later!
Norfolk Hawker dragonflies
For over 100 years, this dragonfly could be found in the UK only in the Norfolk Broads. However, in 2013, a new population was discovered at Paxton Pits. Since then, it has thrived, and started to spread along the Great Ouse to other sites. You are most likely to see them at Hayling Lake or Rudd Lake, flying over the water or resting on the reeds. They have a short flight season, just a few weeks in June and early July. Now that they have moved into Cambridgeshire, perhaps we should call them by their alternative name, the Green-eyed Hawker. The photograph shows how they got this name.
The Peacock is one of our commonest and most easily identifiable butterflies. Its distinctive eyespots probably act to deter or distract predators. Many other butterflies and moths have similar markings, as do some birds, lizards, cats and fish. It’s not clear why they have evolved in all these creatures, perhaps for a variety of reasons. You can see Peacock butterflies all year round, but in June look out for their caterpillars on nettles.
You can find several species of orchid at Paxton Pits. One of the most interesting is the Bee Orchid. As you can see in the photograph, the flower looks like a bee. What you can’t see is that it also smells like a bee! This attracts male bees looking for a female to mate with. The male bee will be disappointed but will carry away some pollen and fertilise other bee orchids that it visits. At least, that’s what happens in some Mediterranean countries. In Northern Europe, including the UK, we don’t have the right sort of bees and Bee Orchids are self-pollinating.