Although these are fairly nondescript, small brown birds, you can’t miss them in the Spring as they set up their territories. The males love to sit near the top of scrubby bushes and reed stems, singing their hearts out. Their song is not very musical, more a sort of random chattering, but it is long and loud. They also draw attention to themselves by making short flights as they sing, rising a few metres above the scrub and circling for a few seconds before descending to their perch again. A closely related species, the reed warbler, is also found at Paxton Pits but is much less showy and lacks the distinctive eye stripe of the sedge warbler.
Wherever there is water, you will see one of our most familiar water birds – the moorhen. They can be found in towns as well as in the countryside or perhaps even on your garden pond. About 20 pairs breed at Paxton Pits and at this time of year you can see family groups with up to half a dozen fluffy chicks. The chicks soon turn a pale brown but stay with the adults for many weeks. The parents often have a second brood and then the juveniles do something very unusual for birds: they help their parents feed the new chicks. By helping their brothers and sisters they also help themselves, as they share genes with them.
Speckled wood butterflies
As its name suggests, the speckled wood likes partly shaded, slightly damp, wooded habitat, though the male often perches in a sunny spot, defending its territory. Some males patrol more widely, searching for females, which mate only once in their lifetime. The adults you see in April and May will have overwintered as caterpillars or pupae, with the next generation flying in the summer. Unlike many butterflies, the speckled wood population has increased over the last thirty years and is common at Paxton Pits.
One of the earliest dragonflies to emerge in the Spring, the four-spotted chaser is common on the reserve and quite easy to identify. Males and females are very similar, with golden-brown bodies and the four dark wing spots which give them their name. The males are strongly territorial and defend their patch aggressively, chasing off rivals. Look out for males resting on their perches as you can often get a good view of them in this position.