One of the few advantages of the perpetual traffic jams ringing Oxford
is that they afford the driver time to observe the wildflowers on the
verges. While the borders of our busiest roads will never rival the deep
country lanes of the West Country, the coastal banks of Cornwall with
their white three-cornered garlick, red campions and bluebells or the
narrow single-track roads of the Cotswolds in their variety of species,
they do support a remarkable succession of wildflowers through the year
- and through the years. One of the glories of the Cotswold country is
the abundance of moon daisies in summer and, in shorter vegetation, the
meadow cranesbill. Along the very edges of the roads, especially in drier
situations, are the little mats of bastard toadflax, and its pale flowers
standing out in dim light. What is that they like about the dusty road
edge? Yellow flowers tend to catch the eye - the primrose spangled banks
of the Quantock hills and Exmoor, followed by carpets of cowslips, the
daffodil-decked roadsides and field edges of south Gloucestershire, and
the bold dandelions that would surely have been cultivated in gardens
were they not such aggressive weeds.
Some roads seem to have their own special assemblages of species. I have
watched a section of the A34 near Yarnton transform over the years from
a bank of horsetails to unexpected stands of Michaelmas daisies, and now
the ubiquitous moon daisies and other tall wildflowers. Where the southern
Oxford ring road meets theA34, brassy sowthistles, wild chicory and golden
stands of ragwort have made a splendid show. And at the Redhill junction,
I spotted what looked very much like alsike clover. For once, I wished
the traffic was moving even slower so I could get a closer look. In spring,
Oxfordshire abounds with cow parsley - or lady's lace as it is often called.
As summer lengthens and the verges grow taller, bigger and bolder relatives
take its place - hogweed, wild carrot and Alexanders. And now autumn is
upon us, hips, haws and berries gleam like jewels among the fading vegetation,
and the individual yellow flowers of ageing sowthistle and hawkbit and
the white of campions appear like stars in long grass.
friend remarked that now the county council is cutting the verges less
frequently we shall see a much greater variety of wildflowers. Not always.
The roadsides around my village have changed from flower-rich banks to
a waist-high mixture of stinging nettles and brambles. Heaven help any
pedestrian who needs to jump out of the way in a hurry if a careless car
comes speeding around the (now much more obscured) corner. I wonder if
anyone has been recording roadside assemblages to study the effect on
them. With the decline of field-side refuges, hedgerows and roadside verges
have become increasingly important in supporting pollinators for our crops.
According to State
of Nature 2016 report, the UK has lost more of its biodiversity over the
long term than the global average, and ranks as one of the most nature-depleted
countries in the world. Yet public spending on biodiversity as a percentage
of GDP fell by 32% between 2009 and 2015.
While the swallows
and martins may have departed our shores, the local birds are starting
to come into the garden more often. I was delighted to see a greenfinch
- the first since trichomonosis took them out. Parties of long-tailed
tits are ranging round the village, and plovers, sandpipers and even the
occasional osprey are taking advantage of the local gravel pit lakes on
A strange movement
on the lawn caught my eye one day earlier in the summer. At first it looked
like a thrush slamming a snail on a stone - but I have had no thrushes
this year. Then I saw it was a blackbird pulverising a large slug on the
grass, exasperated jerks of its head flicking the animal across the grass
then stomping to cleaner sections of grass to repeat the procedure. It
took about fifteen minutes to clear enough slime off it for the bird to
consider it suitable for its offspring, and finally it flew off, slug
in beak. It was hard to imagine a young blackbird being able to swallow
such a large morsel, let along cope with such a noxious diet.
As usual, the garden
has been host to a wide variety of bees - many solitary bees and bumblebees.
Some large bumblebees even made a nest behind one of my soffits - I hadn't
thought of them as high rise nesters. Crescent-shaped nibbles on the leaves
f certain plants revealed the presence of leaf-cutter bees, who glue pieces
of leaf together with their saliva to build their nests. In late summer,
the rasping of wasp jaws on the fence is a common sound as they gather
shavings to expand their nests. It's been a poor summer for garden butterflies
-I haven't seen any painted ladies, red admirals or commas, or silver
moths. In fact, not a single annoying moth around a lamp of a night. But
there are still silhouettes of late hawker dragonflies flittering past
my closed blinds as I sit at the computer.
Now the Club is about
to settle into its round of winter talks, the usual fungus foray led by
Peter Creed, four days birding on the North Norfolk coast, and the social
delights of the Christmas Party and the January Members' Night. Then,
by late March, the first outings to look for early spring flowers such
as Star-of-Bethlehem and Pasque Flower.
We are grateful to those members and other friends of the Club are willing
to give up their time to plan and lead our walks. Our thanks, also, to
the good ladies of Shilton for our splendid summer party.
I am really grateful to all those who contributed to this newsletter,
most of you without having to be prompted. It's great to have this record
of the club's activities to look back on the years to come, and to encourage
potential new members to join us.
Please can you let me have your reports of walks and other Club outings
newsletter, by the first week of April 2016 for the Spring newsletter,
and any April reports as soon as possible afterwards. My e-mail address
is firstname.lastname@example.org. E-mailed flora and fauna lists in a single
column, not in a table or spaced with tabs, please. If this is not convenient,
please post handwritten or printed reports to the address given on your
Jill Bailey (Newsletter
REPORTS OF FIELD MEETINGS
Dawn Chorus at Minster Lovell and Crawley 1 May 2016
Six members turned up in the darkness just before 4.00 a.m. for this walk.
It was clear, frosty and still, with a magical sunrise later on during
which, from the Minster Lovell water meadows, the Crawley Mill chimney
stack and buildings remained dark and were silhouetted against the brightening
sky beyond. As we were assembling, a pheasant and a tawny owl called,
but it wasn't until we had reached the ruins and river some twenty minutes
or so later that other birds tentatively began to call and sing. The resident
jackdaws and mallards and a distant skylark being the first of these.
As is usual, once the song thrushes had started to sing the dawn chorus
really took off with other species such as blackbirds and robins joining
Whilst walking through
the grove of conifers after crossing the wooden river foot-bridge, we
heard the high-pitched song of a goldcrest and the repeating song of a
chiffchaff, and as we started to cross the meadow beyond, a tawny owl
flew out of the trees, over the hedge into the next field and out of sight.
The Maggots Grove rookery was already busy when we reached it, with young
birds perched adjacent to the nests and adult birds toing and froing,
calling to their young as they did so. On climbing the path through the
wood, we didn't hear or see the expected resident marsh tits, but after
crossing Dry Lane, we picked up the usual common whitethroat and yellowhammer,
and one bird that we usually see near the ruins, the barn owl, on this
occasion being continually harassed by a carrion crow. Several blackcaps
and a willow warbler sang as we walked along the bridle path towards Crawley
Mill, where several young lambs in a small paddock became the centre of
attention for 5 minutes or so.
As we made our way
through Crawley, a grey wagtail flitted here and there over the water
near the bridge and 4 treecreepers moved ahead of us through the willow
trees that line the roadside brook. Further on, quite a number of species
that frequent gardens were also noted. A long length of new dry-stone
walling on one side of Farm Lane was admired as we made our way out of
the village, as was the misty sunlit view back across the valley towards
the mill on the opposite side. Towards the end of our circular route,
the distinct repeated "ooo-ue" notes of a stock dove's song
greeted us from the line of old and gnarled black poplar trees over towards
the river where a colony have nested in tree holes for many years. It
had been an ideal dawn chorus walk - good weather, dry paths and a variety
of bird species singing and calling almost on cue, and a final total of
List of bird species logged, with the time the first of each was encountered:
03.58: Tawny owl
04.20: Carrion crow
04.39: Song thrush
04.40: Red-legged partridge
04.50: Wood pigeon
05.00: Great tit
05.10: Green woodpecker
05.20: Blue tit
05.35: Common whitethroat
05.37: Barn owl
05.50: Willow warbler
06.00: House sparrow
06.03: Feral duck
06.06: Great spotted woodpecker
06.08: Grey wagtail
06.11: House martin
06.12: Collared dove
06.20: Mistle thrush
06.50: Stock dove
07.00: Feral pigeon
Walk in Bernwood
Meadow 5 June 2016
Peter Creed led a walk over Bernwood meadow, a traditional haymeadow and
a treasure trove of wild flowers and butterflies. The ancient hedgerows
are carefully managed, and the meadow cut for hay between July and August,
as was the old tradition. The ancient ridge-and-furrow system means that
the area has both damp furrows and dryer ridges, which support different
communities of plants. 139 species of plants were recorded on the day,
but, as is the Club's custom, only those in flower then are listed below.
The full list is available
from the editor for those who are interested.
Five spot Burnet Moth larva (L) Lacky Moth larva (above)
List of plant species
False Fox Sedg
Common Spotted Orchid
Early Marsh Orchid
Narrow Buckler Fern
Wild Service Tree
Plant list by Brenda
Betteridge, pictures by Mary Elford
Moth morning 18 June 2016
13 people came to Ken and Brenda Betteridge's home near Worsham for this
annual Field Club event. Dr Marc Botham, butterfly and moth ecologist,
and I had set up two moth traps in the garden and two in the adjacent
former quarry on the previous evening. It was a warm, calm night and Ken
kindly covered the traps at the break of day to prevent all the moths
escaping as our arrival time was not until 9 a.m..
It had been a poor year for moths, so we were pleased to record 77 macro
and micro moths. 3 Eyed Hawkmoths were the stars of the show. Our thanks
to Marc for sharing his impressive knowledge and to Ken and Brenda for
their hospitality. Refreshments were enjoyed and Ken showed members the
Bee orchids that were flowering well and in a good number in the quarry.
Marbled Orchard Tortrix
Tawny Marbled Minor
Large Yellow Underwing
Barred Fruit-tree Tortrix
Heart & Club
Setaceous Hebrew Character
Common Yellow Conch
Heart & Dart
Glow worm walk
at Swinford 21 July 2016
When John and I did
our recce of this walk a few days earlier, it was a beautiful July evening.
After a gentle stroll around Swinbrook, listening to bats on the bat detector
as it got dark, we went to the churchyard where the female glow worms
were on good form. Including some seen on the nearby verges, we saw 17
glow worms, the most I have ever seen in the few years I have been going
there. It was looking good for the Club's visit in a few days' time. Unfortunately
the warm, sunny weather broke on the day of our visit and the rain got
heavier as we went for our walk, which was much quicker than usual. A
few more members joined us at the pub while we waited for it to get dark,
and by the time we arrived at the churchyard it had stopped raining. We
found just four glow worms, all in the churchyard and none in the verges.
Still, it was encouraging that there had been so many a few days before.
Report on Upton Lane, Burford 4 August 2016
This is a lovely,
quiet, narrow lane for a walk (even if it is on tarmac). Six of us walked
for a couple of hours on a glorious night, the views across the fields
are beautiful and it is a superb walk at any time.
We always see hares
on this walk in the lower field, and often see roe deer a well.
St John's wort
Old man's beard
Green woodpecker (H)
Blackbird (M 1)
Roe deer (x2)
Tony Florey and Alison Weaver
Oven Bottom and Aston Upthorpe Downs 14 August
A party of eight members enjoyed a 7 km walk through open access chalk
downland designated under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
The area is part of the North Wessex Downs between Wantage and Reading.
The main object was to see late summer butterflies but as usual, there
were many surprises. The first kilometre was over a neglected bridle path
and yielded few butterflies, only single individuals of Large White, Meadow
Brown and Speckled Wood. Just before the first increase in gradient we
spotted much chicory in flower. This beautiful flower is often seen on
roadside verges in this area. A little higher up there was plenty of wild
carrot and a few Globe Thistles in flower.
After about 45 minutes we reached a junction with Grim's Ditch, an ancient
track close to The Ridgeway. Here there is an almost dried-out dew pond.
At its edge is a very tall specimen of Purging Buckthorn and plenty of
White Bryony. We then turned right onto Grim's Ditch where we saw a few
Common Toadflax coming into flower and a pair of mating Meadow Browns,
one of which had several red parasitic mites clinging to its head.
Corn Buntings are
usually present in this area, but alas, not on this day and we had only
seen a single Red Kite.
Meadow Browns plus red mites
We arrived at Oven
Bottom at about 12.15 and decided to have lunch near the entrance to this
small SSSI. Already the numbers of butterflies to be seen had increased
enormously. There were tens of Common Blue, Chalkhill Blue and Brown Argus.
This is the best site I know of for the latter.
Common Blue male
The more observant
members found Harvestmen crawling in the grass. Although not strictly
spiders, they do belong to an order within the arachnids. The species
seen was the Saddleback Harvestman. A few weeks earlier, an Elephant Hawk
moth caterpillar was found here by a friend of mine, but there were none
on this occasion.
Rousel's Bush Cricket female
However, we did find
two Rousel's Bush Crickets, one of which was captured in a wide-necked
jar for closer observation. This species is slowly moving northwards due
to global warming. One butterfly that is much scarcer than usual at most
sites this year is the Small Copper, but we saw a total of three at Oven
Bottom, including a mating pair. Another butterfly doing relatively well
here is the Small Heath. We saw about five.
After spending 45
minutes at Oven Bottom we walked back to the Dew pond and then turned
right to the top of the valley and then walked down what local butterfly
enthusiasts call Juniper Valley. This is grazed by sheep and the resulting
short grass means that there are plenty of chalk downland flowering plants
for butterflies. However, the weather was now cooler and we saw few. We
then returned via West Hagbourne for tea and cakes after our much-enjoyed
four hour stroll.
Common blues mating
Norton Geology Walk 11 September 2016
Lesley Dunlop of the Oxfordshire Geology Trust led about 15 of us over
this fascinating SSSI. This must be the rockiest walk we have been on!
Large rocks have fallen down from the cutting to the floor, making it
a real obstacle course. But it was worth it as Lesley pointed out the
various formations of rock and strata at this very important geological
The cutting exposes Jurassic oolitic limestone rich in fossils, and stained
red by iron oxide. Around Hook Norton veins of iron compounds run up to
10m thick. The iron content was probably not high enough to be worth extracting
until the 19th century. Formerly used by the Great Western Railway, loads
of iron ore were transported from Hook Norton to the Midland and Wales
Managed by BBOWT, the SSSI has a wealth of wild flowers and insects, with
banks of limestone grasslands mingled with scrubby areas and patches of
woodland. The retaining walls contain a wealth of mosses and lichen species.
Beaten by the Weather
Unusually, we lost
two of our trips to the weather this summer. The joint excursion with
the RSPB to Greenham Common for nightjars was called off at the last minute
because of high winds and heavy rain, and further bad weather led to only
the leader turning up for the trip to the Birds of Prey Centre at Newent.
Pond dipping at Farmoor reservoir with the Ashmolean Natural History Society
21 May 2016
We saw this event advertised in the Oxford Mail and joined the walk on
what turned out to be a very enjoyable but very wet day.
Dr Pascale Nicolet was very enthusiastic and happy to share her knowledge.
She took us round the Shrike Meadow area and Pink Hill, dipping perhaps
8 to 10 ponds. We saw fascinating insects and plants - especially the
great diving beetle, quite an inch and a half long, plus newts, tadpoles,
damsel fly larvae, freshwater shrimps, etc. and plenty of water plants.
Some of the ponds
had originally been filled with the scraped mud and polluted extracts
from the reservoir, containing heavy metals, and then refilled naturally.
As the water for the reservoirs is extracted from the Thames, in winter
the water has nitrites in it from farmers' fertilisers. One pond, however,
was nitrate-free. It was replenished by an aquifer.
We saw and heard several cuckoos, plus the usual birds lately arrived,
including Cetti's warblers. We saw a few lady's smock - the first we had
On the drive back
over the central causeway a young great crested grebe was resting right
in the middle of the road. It was too young to fly, but had propelled
itself along on its 'elbows' - which were bloody. A driver coming towards
us picked it up and put it over the retaining wall, which the bird couldn't
get over. Off it went like a rocket into the water. Then we saw another
that was netted by a fisherman, admiring its scallop-edged feet and its
We felt we had done something unusual, only for the fisherman to say "Oh,
we see these all the time".
Alison Weaver and
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