Departing swallows and house martins

Dr. Raju Kasambe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The swifts and cuckoos have gone, and this month you will see swallows and house martins gathering on wires, also getting ready to depart. They have to leave before their food supply disappears; they only eat flying insects and there are very few of those around in the winter months. The swallows that spend the summer in the UK travel 6000 miles to southern Africa, a journey that takes them about six weeks.

Willow Emerald damselflies

Look closely at willows and alders around Paxton Pits in September and you might see these damselflies perched on the end of twigs. They spend most of their time like this, usually with their wings spread out, rather than in flight. Willow emeralds first appeared in the UK about 12 years ago but are spreading rapidly throughout East Anglia and beyond and are now common at Paxton Pits.

Swans and Cygnets

Kalispera Dell, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By September, most water bird families have broken up. For example, Mallard ducklings usually become independent by about eight weeks after they have hatched. In contrast, you will probably still see swan families on Paxton Pits right through the Autumn and into winter. The cygnets are easily identified by their grey/brown plumage, even though they are as big as their parents by now. The families stay together until the cygnets are about five or six months old, but eventually the parents have had enough and chase their offspring away, sometimes quite aggressively.


Make the most of the next few weeks to pick some of the abundant blackberries at Paxton Pits. They make delicious fruit pies and crumbles, or just stew some up and eat them with ice cream. Leave some for the wildlife though, because small mammals such as mice and voles enjoy blackberries and a wide variety of birds feed on them too. In fact, bramble bushes are good for wildlife all year round as the flowers are a source of nectar for insects, including bees and butterflies, and in the spring their dense prickliness provides shelter and protection for nesting birds.

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