One of the most common dragonflies at Paxton Pits in early summer is the scarce chaser. They are a local speciality, the Great Ouse valley being their stronghold. The male has a powder blue abdomen and is often seen perched on a tall reed or grass stem on the riverbank, aggressively defending its territory. The female is even more striking, especially when newly emerged, being bright orange with a distinctive dark pattern of triangles down the centre.
The male whitethroat also likes to perch prominently, usually on top of a hedge or bush, singing its short, scratchy song. This makes it one of the warblers you are most likely to see throughout the summer. Whitethroats are doing well on the reserve with about 60 pairs counted on last year’s breeding birds survey. There are also about 20 pairs of the similar looking, but smaller, lesser whitethroat.
“Cabbage whites” are actually three closely related species which can be hard to distinguish as they flutter past. The green-veined white is the easiest to identify, due to the distinctive markings on the underside of its wings, which give it its name. The large white and small white do differ in size but it is notoriously difficult to judge and there is some overlap. A more useful feature is the amount of black on the tips of the upper side of the forewings; large whites have darker and more extensive marks. On our regular butterfly surveys, we sometimes record these butterflies as “unidentified whites”, if we only get a quick glimpse of them.
Next time you walk along the Meadow Trail, after you come off the boardwalk by Rudd Pit, have a look in the grassy area on the right. This is a good location for common spotted-orchids which come into flower in June. This is Britain’s commonest orchid. The flowers come in various shades of pale pink but have distinctive darker pink stripes and spots. The leaves have dark spots which give the plant its name.