Sparrowhawk display flights
If you have a feeder in your garden, you might have been lucky enough to see a sparrowhawk swooping through to snatch an unsuspecting blue tit. Spring is the best time of year to see sparrowhawks behaving differently. In preparation for the breeding season, they make long display flights quite high in the sky. Both the males and females do this and occasionally you might see them together. Unlike the similar-sized kestrel, they do not hover, but flap their wings quite slowly. The display is varied, and includes circling, gliding and sometimes stooping, dropping a short distance before resuming. Their profile is also different from that of the kestrel, with shorter, broader wings and a relatively long, square tail.
The song thrush certainly lives up to its name at this time of year. Many people regard its song as second only to that of the nightingale: it’s melodious, loud and varied, but famously repetitive. Thrushes don’t seem to be able to resist repeating each phrase, as if each one is just too good to use only once. They also love to be seen, usually singing near the top of the tree or bush, very unlike the skulking nightingale. Of course, all this is not for our benefit, but to advertise the male’s territory, in the hope of attracting a mate. Song thrushes have declined in the UK in recent years, probably due to loss of hedgerows and pasture, but you can still hear and see them at Paxton Pits.
There is a rookery in the belt of trees to the north of the sailing lake and in March it is bustling with activity. The birds are building their nests, or refurbishing those from last year, carrying large twigs in their beaks and adding them to what seems from below to be an untidy pile, but must be able to securely support these large birds, their eggs, and later their chicks. It’s a long way to fall. Rooks are highly gregarious birds, they nest together, feed together and roost together. If you see more than two crows, they’re rooks: you don’t need to be close enough to see their bald faces.
One of the earliest shrubs to blossom, the blackthorn is covered in white flowers in March, before its leaves appear. In the autumn, these flowers will produce sloes, dark purple fruits like tiny plums. Sloes can be used to make wine and to flavour gin. Blackthorn is abundant at Paxton Pits. Its dense, spiny nature makes it an ideal, safe nesting site for many birds, including warblers, thrushes and dunnocks. It’s also an important food source for bees, moths and especially for one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, the black hairstreak. Brampton Wood, just a few miles away, is an important site for this elusive insect, and it’s just possible that it might appear at Paxton Pits one day.