One of the most common and loudest bird calls that you are likely to hear at Paxton Pits at any time of the year is the “yaffle” of the green woodpecker. There are plenty around this Autumn, so you are very likely to hear one and there is also a good chance that you will spot it taking off from the ground in front of you as it flies away. Unlike their spotted cousins, green woodpeckers spend a lot of time on the ground, feeding on ants’ nests. They are quite shy but if you do get a good look at one see if you can spot any red in its “moustache”. If you can, it’s a male; females have an all-black moustache.
The kestrel used to be our most familiar and common bird of prey but has been overtaken in recent years by the dramatic increase in the buzzard population. However, many people are still familiar with the kestrel’s unique hovering ability. If you get a chance to look at hovering kestrel through a pair of binoculars, focus on its head and you will see that the bird holds it absolutely steady, almost as if it is glued to a fixed point in the sky! This, combined with its extremely sharp eyesight, enables it to detect tiny movements made by its prey on the ground. Kestrels feed mainly on voles and mice, and recent mammal surveys have revealed a healthy population of these at Paxton Pits.
Coots are a familiar and easily identified bird. Their white faces and beaks are the origin of the phrase “bald as a coot”. You can see coots all year round at the Pits. About twenty pairs breed here, but in winter they are joined by visitors from Northern Europe. In December 2013, over 1000 were counted but unfortunately numbers have plummeted at Paxton in recent years. The reasons for this are a mystery, especially as there are still thousands at Grafham Water.
King Alfred’s Cakes
You can find these round, black fungi growing on dead trees around the reserve. They get their name from the story that King Alfred tried his hand at baking while hiding from the Danes, resulting in him burning some cakes in a 9th century Bake Off disaster. You can’t eat these fungi but apparently they make good firelighters, if you’re ever stranded in the woods.