Migrant hawker dragonflies
Even though autumn is here, there will still be plenty of dragonflies on the wing, especially if the weather stays warm. If you see a dark, medium-sized, fast-flying species it is likely to be a migrant hawker. As its name suggests, it was once an uncommon migrant to the UK but now breeds in large numbers, including at Paxton Pits. If you are lucky, you might see a group of them feasting together on a swarm of flies. Given the right conditions, migrant hawkers can still be flying into November.
Another autumn insect, and another species new to the UK, the ivy bee was first seen in Dorset in 2001 and has spread rapidly across southern England and Wales. It is one of the easier bees to identify, similar in size and shape to a honeybee but with more distinct yellow and black stripes. Unlike the honeybee, it is a solitary species: there are no queen or worker castes. Each female makes an individual nest, but thousands of nests can be located in a suitable south-facing sandy bank. The ivy bee feeds exclusively on ivy pollen, which explains both its name and why it is around at this time of year.
Not a common bird at Paxton Pits, but recently several have been seen feeding together on Heronry South Lake, probably because the water level has fallen to its lowest level for many months, exposing mud full of delicious snipe food. Wading birds are notoriously difficult to identify but snipe are relatively easy. Every time you see one you think, “Can its bill really be that long?” Snipe are famous for the strange “drumming” sound the males make in their courtship display. This is generated by the vibration of their tail feathers as they dive. Sadly, you won’t see or hear this display at Paxton Pits as they prefer to breed in upland areas.
The warm summer has led to the early appearance of hedgerow fruits this year, though many seem to be smaller than usual due to the drought. This could be a problem for the many birds which rely on this food source to see them through the winter. Rose hips are one of the best-known species with their large, orange-red, elongated fruits. Not only food for the birds, rose hips have had an important role in human nutrition, being made into jellies, jams, teas and wines. Rose hips are an extremely rich source of Vitamin C, containing up to 1% of this essential nutrient, far more than oranges. During World War 2, when citrus fruit was unavailable in the UK, there was a national programme to make and distribute rose hip syrup and children were paid 3d for every pound of hips they collected.