After the wettest summer for 100 years, this Easter was the coldest for
5 years. Many garden plants, such as my pink camellia and the glorious
evergreen Clematis armandii, both often flowering in late February, are
still without blossom, while I continue to enjoy the snowdrops and crocuses.
Also missing are the huge dozy bumblebees that usually bask on my doorstep
on sunny days and zoom unsteadily around the garden, seeming to see me
only at the last minute to take avoiding action and buzzing angrily at
my unwanted presence.
Usually by now the blackbird is nesting in my climbing hydrangea, and
sometimes even a thrush, robin or goldfinch, but there are scarcely any
birds in the garden. In fact, there have been hardly any since last summer
- no goldfinch singing all winter, no robins, small tits or finches. Feeders
have remained full for months on end. Our suspicions lie on the great
increase in local cats rather than the weather. The reason - feeders 150
metres away are being visited as usual. Some towns and cities have as
many are 1500 cats per square kilometre. There has been a spat of new
figures for the number of birds and small mammals killed by cats this
year, but research shows that it is the skilled hunters among them that
are responsible for the bulk of the kills. Keeping cats in during the
early part of the morning when birds come out to feed, and having a bell
on the collar, have been shown to help a great deal. For some species
even the presence of a model cat near the nest will prevent parents from
entering to feed their young.
Last year was a poor breeding year for many of our wild birds, especially
those that feed on insects. But some seed-eaters also found food hard
to come by, especially woodland birds depending on seeds from trees, which
were in short supply. Nor have the seabirds been exempt. The RSPB fears
that the recent bad weather may be the reason why hundreds of puffins,
razorbills and guillemots have washed up on beaches in the north-east
of England and Scotland. At the same time some migrants are already arriving
from Africa - sand martins, swallows and spoonbills among them. But the
migration back to the Arctic has been delayed, with bitterns and swans
reluctant to move on.
Already after last year's cold, wet weather, wildlife has suffered some
big declines, but this winter has been particularly bad for them. A brief
mild spell around Christmas saw hedgehogs and dormice come out of hibernation,
only to be faced with freezing temperatures and a serious shortage of
food only a short time later. Badgers, too, suffer from severe winters.
The cubs are born in February, and are extremely vulnerable to the cold
and their parents to shortage of food as the cold weather keeps invertebrate
prey numbers low.
You might think water voles would benefit from such weather, but winter
clearing of ditches, more pronounced after the flood of the past year,
deprives them of vegetation valuable for winter food and as protection
from predators. Cattle trampling soggy river banks compact the soil and
make it difficult for the voles to dig tunnels and for grass to grow.
Even in a normal winter, 70-80% of the water vole population will perish.
High river levels also flood kingfisher nest holes. Otters flee rising
water, which results in more road kills as they cross roads when water
levels under the bridges are too high. The wet weather has a further,
unseen side-effect - hibernating butterflies become more prone to attack
In the same week I read of the closure of Didcot power station and the
potential use of duckweed as biofuel. Might we yet see another plan for
a large reservoir in the vicinity to grow duckweed? (I jest!) Nature is
fuelling our economy in other ways, too - tiny robots programmed to mimic
the patterns of ants foraging are learning the fastest routes to their
goals; potential uses include searching for chemicals and perhaps explosives.
Algorithms derived from ant behaviour have been used to study crowd behaviour
and design public places to cope with queuing and varying flows of people.
The magic of photosynthesis is being unravelled in an attempt to develop
new ways to harness solar energy. And computer designers are now looking
to DNA design and replication for inspiration.
Despite the bad weather, the Club has been out and about this winter.
We have explored Shotover and the autumn woodlands of the Gloucestershire
Wildlife Trust's Chedworth Reserve, foraged for fungi at Sydlings Copse,
and studied the geology of the Faringdon area. We enjoyed a trip to North
Norfolk in October, once again seeing the great flights of ducks and geese
at Snettisham. A more recent trip to Farmoor led to sightings of scaup,
goldeneye, Slavonian grebe, snipe and treecreeper. While the scaup were
in full breeding plumage, the Slavonian grebe was still in winter plumage.
Our winter talks have ranged from stunning photography of birds in flight
to a close look at river fly life, the geology of local building stones,
and warmer reminiscences of flowers of the Algarve and birds of the Seychelles.
We hope that the weather will improve for the summer outings of this,
the Field Club's 50th year.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
The 50th Annual General Meeting of the West Oxfordshire Field Club was
held at Witney Methodist Church, High Street, Witney on 1st March 2013.
The meeting was opened by Sue Morton who took the chair.
Apologies for Absence
These were received from Graham Wren, Mary Elford, Derrick Cotterill,
Diana Johnson, Gillian Oldfield and Ken and Brenda Betteridge.
Matters Arising There were no matters arising and the minutes of the 49th
AGM were accepted as a true record and signed by Sue Morton.
Treasurer's Report This was presented by Tony Florey. As there is £1258.62
in the bank there will be no increase in subscriptions this year. Tony
Florey thanked Adrian State for printing the programmes and the newsletters
and not charging the Club for this. There had been extra income from the
Carterton Tombola, the Plant Sale and other sundries. There were no questions
raised and voting was positive, therefore the report was accepted. The
report was proposed by Jill Bailey and seconded by Yvonne Townsend. It
was proposed by John Cobb and seconded by Ann Dossett-Davies that as Adrian
Gardener is willing he continues as auditor.
Chairman's Report This was presented by Sue Morton. It was a summary of
the Club's activities over the past year including the indoor meetings
with talks from a number of very good speakers, the various walks around
the countryside and visits to Cornwall and Norfolk. Sue thanked David
Roberts, David Rolfe and Mary Elford for organising the walks and Yvonne
Townsend for arranging the trips and the Summer and Christmas parties.
Election of the Committee As all members are willing to stand again the
Committee was re-elected en bloc. This was proposed by Tony Mattingley
and seconded by Alan Cole.
AOB A reminder was given of the Summer Party which this year will celebrate
the Club's 50th Anniversary and will be held in Shilton on 10th August.
There was no other business and the meeting was closed.
The evening continued
with a talk and some superb photographs by Dr Graham Lenton on The Birds
of the Seychelles.
Many thanks to all of you who have contributed to this issue, especially
Jill who once again has come up with an interesting editorial. It is good
to have on record reports of our meetings and what we see on our walks.
We are grateful to those of you who take the time to write these. They
enable us all to share in the Club activities. This year we hope that
some of our sightings in Oxfordshire, by more precise recording, will
also be of value to TVERC (Thames Valley Environmental Recording Centre).
Please send me reports of walks and other club activities for inclusion
in the Autumn 2013 newsletter by the end of August 2013 by e-mail or written
clearly on paper by snail-mail to the address given on the programme.
Don't forget we also like to include any observations and experiences
of the natural world you have had that you would like to share with other
members. As you will see, once again our President, Graham Wren, has provided
us with some of his interesting observations. In the Spring 2012 newsletter
he urged us to eat more venison when he drew our attention to the burgeoning
deer population and its consequences on our countryside - a subject which
has come to the fore recently in the press and on TV.
Bob Hamilton 1918-2012
Last October we were very sorry to learn that Bob, who was a member of
the Field Club from 1983 to 2006, had died from pneumonia in Witney Hospital
while recuperating from a hip-replacement operation.
Bob was brought up in Hampshire. He was a keen scout and ranger and became
a leader in the early years of Scouting. All his life he enjoyed music
and, when a teenager, attained a Certificate of Merit from the Royal College
of Music, becoming a skilled player of the mandolin; he also played the
guitar and keyboard. After leaving school he did an apprenticeship in
agricultural engineering. During the war years he spent long hours maintaining
farm machinery out in the fields.
When we first knew Bob he was the superintendent
© Judith Russell
of the Waterworks
at Worsham and lived in a tied house within the grounds. One of the many
tasks that Bob did daily was recording rainfall, the monthly totals of
which he relayed to the media. Even after his retirement in 1983, when
he moved into a house in Worsham, he continued to record the daily rainfall.
Being a keen gardener, Bob joined the Witney Horticultural Society and
helped at their shows. Growing dahlias and fuchsias was his particular
interest. I still have some of the fuchsia varieties he gave me as cuttings
from his plants in the 1980s. After Witney Hospital was built he worked
on the rose bed every month for many years.
Another of Bob's pastimes was bird watching and when a member of the Field
Club he enjoyed a trip to Titchwell when he noted down that he saw Little
Egret and Black-winged Stilt for the first time. For many years Spotted
Flycatchers nested in his garden, giving him much pleasure as he watched
their distinctive feeding behaviour, darting out from a branch to catch
a passing fly. The Field Club's annual plant sale benefitted from plants
he grew and donated for several years.
We convey our condolences to his daughter Judith, her husband and other
members of his family.
REPORTS OF FIELD
Moth trapping event
15/16 June 2012
On the evening of 15 June, entomologist Richard Comont and I set up an
MV (mercury vapour) moth trap in Ken and Brenda Betteridge's wildlife-friendly
garden near Worsham, West Oxfordshire. We also set up a small actinic
trap in a former quarry next to the garden. Although it was a very windy
night with some rain, we were delighted after such a poor season to have
a total of 29 species of macro-moths in the traps. Seven Field Club members
came the following morning to be introduced to the contents of the traps.
The moths in bold in the table below were the first of those species to
be reported to the Upper Thames Butterfly Conversation website that year.
We are grateful to Richard for sharing his expertise and to Ken and Brenda
for their hospitality.
Heart and Dart Large
Small Elephant Hawkmoth
Common Marbled Carpet
Rustic Shoulder Knot
Setaceous Hebrew Character
Oxford Canal -
Thrupp to Shipton-on-Cherwell 16 September 2012
On the pleasant morning of 16th September 2012, 21 people aged between
2½ and 86 came along for a circular walk starting by the Oxford
Canal at Thrupp to Shipton-on-Cherwell, with a diversion to look at the
remains of the village of Hampton Gay and the now ruined Elizabethan manor
house. The canal was built in 1787 and the railway in 1848. It was here
that 34 people died in a train crash on 24 December 1874.
We were also joined by Julie Kerans from the Thames Valley Environmental
Records Centre (TVERC) bringing with her a GPS device. GPS (Global Positioning
System) is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of
24 satellites placed into orbit by the US that enables the precise location
of a particular plant to be recorded. Julie came along to show us how
to use the GPS as TVERC would prefer to have the precise location recorded
against the species names in the lists that the Field Club gathers on
field trips. It was fortuitous that we saw a limited number of plants
and birds which enabled this neophyte to cope with the technology!
Plants seen: Mugwort,
Red Bartsia, Ragwort, Knapweed, Yarrow, Teasels, Ploughman's Spikenard,
Soft Shield Fern, Goat Willow (eared variant), Hop, Spindle, Hairy Brome.
Birds seen: Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Moorhen, Great Tit, Wren, Black-headed
Park on the eastern outskirts of Oxford 7 October 2012
On 7 October 2012, 11 people gathered on a cool and misty morning for
a guided walk with Ivan and Jacqueline Wright and Bonnie Collins of Shotover
Wildlife. It proved to be a fascinating and informative tour of this beautiful
place that has lovely views over Oxfordshire and is an SSSI. Wildlife
habitats there include heath, marsh, woodland and meadow, leading to a
wide diversity of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. To get
to Shotover, one travels along the old road from London, a route once
taken by Haydn who was travelling with a 100-piece orchestra to perform
In prehistoric times Shotover was a forested area which may have been
inhabited by animals such as elk, reindeer and wild ox. Wild boar were
known to roam the area. The forest was dominated by Oak, with other species
including Field Maple, Aspen, Ash and Wild Service Tree. Additional species
such as Henbane and Ground-elder were introduced by the Romans for their
medicinal uses. Even today, the oldest areas of the woodland can be identified
as some of these species can still be found there. Traces of human habitation
on Shotover have been found with the discovery of flint tools such as
arrowheads which occasionally are still found in the ploughed fields around
Shotover was once part of the Royal Forest of Shotover which covered a
much larger area to the east of Oxford. During the Civil War so much timber
was taken from the wood that in 1660 Shotover was deforested and the slopes
given over to rough grazing. In the following 250 years the open heath
and marsh became a popular haunt for local naturalists who studied Shotover's
The multi-layered geology of Shotover makes the hill what it is today:
sandy heath caps the hill, spring-fed marshes have developed on glacial
clay in the valleys, and there are remnants of ancient woodland on the
surrounding heavier clays. We were introduced to two of Shotover's 'veteran'
trees: Dick's Crab Apple with an estimated age of around 150 years and
a girth of 3 metres and the Shotover Oak which is thought to be 400 years
old, dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I. This tree may owe its longevity
to the process of pollarding.
Of particular interest to our group was the on-going study of beetles.
Ivan showed us the mechanism for collecting beetles - a washing-up bowl
containing a special liquid that is hoisted high into oak trees to catch
beetles. The resultant species (deceased!) are then studied under the
microscope for identification. During the last 15 years more than 550
species have been recorded.
Jacqueline is the County Recorder of Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts)
and she introduced us to some of 100 species present on Shotover which
we examined with hand lenses. Ivan's special interest is solitary bees.
There are nearly 500 species of bee and wasp in Britain (mostly solitary)
and, amazingly, well over a third of these have been recorded around Shotover
over the last century. Ivan showed us the nests of parasitic wasps in
a sandy bank.
Although there was little bird activity in the woods during our visit,
110 bird species are recorded with 60 breeding on Shotover.
Our grateful thanks to our guides for giving their time so generously.
We were each given a folder of leaflets on topics ranging from ants to
trees, and from geology to legends many of which are beautifully illustrated
by Jacqueline and Bonnie.
Thirteen members of WOFC met up for a delicious dinner at the wonderful
Cailey Hall Hotel, Old Hunstanton, Norfolk, on 16 October for our three-night
To have a good chance of seeing the wader spectacular at Snettisham we
had chosen a window of 3 days when the spring high tides were over the
magic 7 m. The times were 8 am on Wednesday, 8.45 am on Thursday and 9.32
am on Friday, but this entailed leaving the hotel before breakfast at
least 2½ hours before high tide so as to be in position at Sanctuary
Hide in plenty of time.
Wednesday dawned with heavy rain early on so we abandoned plans for that
day and headed for Titchwell Marsh RSPB Reserve and had a good morning
there watching the birds, notably large numbers of Ruff and a large flock
of Golden Plover.
After lunch we headed for Brancaster Staithe and then Lady Anne's Drive
at Holkham. It was good to see two Grey Partridge there, a bird I had
not seen for several years and there were good numbers of Jays in the
woods which had come over from the continent a week or so before. We also
had good views of Marsh Harrier. On the way home a lone Barn Owl performed
for 10 minutes patrolling backwards and forwards across a tussocky field
while another Marsh Harrier flew low overhead.
The next day was a repeat, almost, of Wednesday when there was early heavy
rain clearing to give a fine day. We visited our local beach within walking
distance and headed for a
sandy rocky spit which juts out into the sea about 1 mile along the dunes
path. This proved to be perfect for seeing a large number of waders just
after the high tide pushed them up on to the spit, and was particularly
good when a large flock of Knot took off and flew in front of us before
landing further back down the beach where we were able to have close views.
Later in the morning some of us used a car pass to drive down to Snettisham
Rotary Hide and some walked from the RSPB car park. The tide was out,
exposing vast areas of mud way out into the Wash, and the birds were well
spread out. There were notably a large flock of Golden Plover close in
and large numbers of Knot way out, viewable through the scope. This is
an amazing wild area for birds to feed. The shingle beach still had some
flowering Horned Poppy.
The last morning six of us left the hotel at 6.30 am making the considerable
sacrifice of missing out on a Cailey Hall breakfast! We left our cars
in the Snettisham car park and headed out for the third hide (Sanctuary
Hide) just as it was getting light, a walk of about 1½ miles. A
considerable number of bird watchers and photographers were congregating
above the beach as we took up our seats in the hide overlooking the bottom
end of Pit 4. Redshank were coming over the bank and dropping on to a
small island first of all, and there were Little Grebe in the water in
front of us. Later very large numbers of Oystercatchers flew over and
congregated in a group on a shingle bank in front of the hide. Then came
thousands of Knot in swirling masses, performing wonderful patterns as
they came in ever increasing numbers to land in huge swathes, which were
continually moving and seemed to flow into and across the water from an
island that was completely covered and then formed a large amorphous mass
pushing the Oystercatchers back. The noise of their wings and their calls
was breathtaking as up to 50,000 waders had left the now flooded Wash
and came over the bank to land in front of us. These were augmented by
many large skeins of geese flying noisily overhead.
This was one of Nature's most spectacular sights and one I had been waiting
20 years to be there at just the right time - a fitting climax to our
List of birds seen/heard (H) over the 3 days:
Great Crested Grebe
Great Black-backed Gull
(H) Green Woodpecker
(H) Great Spotted Woodpecker
Fungus Foray at Sydlings Copse 21 October 2012
Twelve people attended the foray, expertly led as ever by Peter Creed.
We were hopeful that we would see many more fungi this year compared to
the dismal collection in the very dry autumn of 2011 and we were amply
rewarded. Over 50 species were seen on this beautiful reserve with its
diverse habitats, including the following (not an exhaustive list owing
to the exhaustion of the scribe!):
© Mary Elford
Bolbitius vitellinus Yellow Field Cap
Collybia butyracea Butter Cap
Laccaria amethystina Amethyst Deceiver
Lycoperdon perlatum Common Puff ball
Mycena rosea Rosy Bonnet
Agaricus xanthodermus Yellow Stainer
Clitocybe nebularis Clouded Funnel
Gymnopilus sp. Rust Gill
Sepia Webcap Cortinarius decipiens
Suillus granulatus Weeping Bolete
Collybia peronata Wood Woollyfoot
Lactarius subdolcis Milk Cap
Trametes versicolor Turkeytail
Lactarius pubescens Bearded Milk Cap
Coprinus picaceus Magpie Inkcap
Clitopilus prunulus The Miller
Hypholoma fasciculare Sulphur Tuft
Hebeloma sp. Bitter Poisonpie
Mycena polygramma Roof-nail Bonnet
Armillaria mellea Honey Fungus
Scleroderma citrinum Common Earthball
Russula ochroleuca Ochre Brittlegill
Panaeolus sp. Mottlegill
Lactarius tabidus Brch Milkcap
Lepista nuda Wood Blewit
Mycena galericulata Common Bonnet
Xylaria hypoxylon Candlesnuff Fungus
Laccaria laccata The Deceiver Tephrocybe atrata
Brittlestem (Psathyrella sp.) Conacybe sp.
Clustered Bonnet (Mycena inclinata)
Psathyrella spadicea Chestnut Brittlestem
Stereum hirsutum Hairy Curtain Crust
Xylaria polymorpha Dead Man's Fingers
Russula emetica The Sickener
Marasmius sp. Pearly Parachute
Geastrum triplex Collared Earthstar
Crepidotus mollis Peeling Oysterling
Macrolepiota rhacodes Shaggy Parasol
Biscogniauxia nummularia Beech Tarcrust
Datriona mollis Common Mazegill
10 November 2012
Five members met up near the National Trust Roman Villa on an overcast
but fine afternoon. A Nuthatch was calling high up in the trees as we
set off towards the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's Chedworth Reserve,
which straddles the railway track of the former Midland & South Western
Junction line (later part of the Great Western Railway) between Cheltenham
and Cirencester, which was opened in 1891 and passes through Chedworth
Woods. The track bed includes both high embankments and deep cuttings,
which show a geological sequence in the Middle Jurassic period (about
180 million years ago) and where fossils can be found in the Oolitic and
shelly limestone scree.
First, we walked southwards along the track towards the tunnel. Some trees,
mainly Beech, still retained their leaves, and it was like walking along
a colourful woodland ride. The ground on both sides of the track was covered
with lots of moss and liverwort species. We passed the tufa spring, where
water containing lime emerges from underground and flows over the rocks
and plants which become covered with limescale (petrifaction). When we
reached the entrance to the tunnel, we about-turned and retraced our steps
to where we'd entered the reserve, and then walked the northern part of
it, passing a couple of medium-sized trees, which were completely covered
with silvery-grey lichens from the base of their trunks to almost the
ends of their twigs, on our way. Our route back to the Roman Villa took
us through a formerly coppiced but now a semi-natural part of the woodland
where tight clusters of mature Ash and Oak trees now grow from the original
Bird species seen:
Buzzard, Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker,
Robin Blue, Tit Great Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Jay, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch
Farmoor Reservoir 24 February 2013
It was a very cold but clear morning with a northerly breeze when nine
members met in the visitors' car park.
When we arrived at Reservoir 1, the smaller of the two expanses of water,
we could see in the distance small flotillas of Goldeneyes among the many
Coots and Tufted Ducks. Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits flitted ahead
of us at the waters edge as we walked along the causeway between the reservoirs,
and several Great-crested Grebes and a couple of Little Grebes were seen
just off-shore. From a new bird-watching hide situated halfway along the
causeway, we obtained better views of the Goldeneyes, and a Slavonian
Gebe, disappointingly for us still in its winter plumage. On our way to
the Pinkhill scrape hide, a Kestrel was perched on the edge of a pump-house
roof surveying the nearby grassland, no doubt an energy-saving way of
hunting for prey rather than the usual hovering. From the hide, we saw
Teals, Wigeons, a Lapwing, a Common Snipe and several Fieldfares. After
leaving the hide to walk the northern edge of Reservoir 1, several small
bird species were seen in the hedgerow, including a Treecreeper. On scanning
the open water once more, two pairs of Scaups were spotted near to the
Goldeneyes. It is unusual to see Scaups at an inland site and, in particular,
in full breeding plumages, as these birds were - a fitting end to our
winter's day stroll.
Bird species seen:
Great Crested Grebe
10 March 2013
Five of us turned out on a very cold afternoon for a circular walk from
Nether Westcote. Starting out from 'The Feathered Nest' pub we set off
down the lane and soon turned left off the increasingly muddy track on
to the accepted footpath which leads down through the fields, past a pond
which is being taken over with Reed Mace.
Crossing over the fast-flowing Westcote Brook, which eventually flows
into the River Evenlode, we walked through an area with lots of bushes,
which in March should have been a haven for birds, but due to the harsh
conditions were virtually empty. As the path became increasingly muddy
and I knew there was worse ahead we retraced our steps and then branched
off and headed uphill towards Church Westcote. This is the first time
I have been down here and not even seen a deer. They are usually plentiful
across these fields. Just before reaching the road below the church we
did see some purple violets and a patch of Butterbur in flower.
Returning along the road across the top of 'Tattle' we stopped to inspect
the topograph and discover the names of some of the places we had been
seeing on the far-reaching views towards Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold.
We returned to the cars feeling lucky that snow had not caught up with
us as the sky had been quite threatening at times.
Birds that we did see were Redwing, Fieldfares, Bullfinch, Raven, Long-tailed
Tits and a Moorhen.
For many years villagers have always called the piece of land separating
the two villages 'Tattle'. Does anyone know the meaning of this word?
Hair worm wound
round a beetle 3 April 2012
We were walking by the gravel edge near the bridge over the River Evenlode
at Stonesfield Common when I noticed two medium-sized live black beetles
(species unknown) seemingly drowning. I gathered up one out of the water
with my hand, the other seem to be wound round with very fine strands
of what looked like brown fishing line. I pulled it out with a stick on
to the land and the 'fishing line' turned out to be an extremely thin
brown smooth worm which unravelled itself to a length of about 4 inches
The Oxford Book of Invertebrates (OUP 1971), p. 3 states: 'The Nematomorpha
(Hair Worms). These long thin worms (up to 32 inches - 800 mm) are free
living as adults in freshwater and damp soil, but the juveniles are parasitic
in insects and other arthropods. They enter their host, often a beetle,
and feed parasitically, then emerge as adults.'
Alison Weaver (via Tony Forey)
Bird-watching holiday to Morocco 17-27 March 2012
Within 3½ hours of leaving Gatwick we were boarding a mini-bus
at 11 am in sunny and warm Marrakech and spotting our first birds on the
way to our hotel at Ourika in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains,
1 hour away. Fifteen minutes later we were on our way in the bus again
winding our way 30 km up a twisty steep road through some wonderful scenery
with snow-covered peaks in the background, stopping along the way to see
Red-billed Chough, Long-legged Buzzard, Black Redstart, Moussier's Redstart,
African Bluetits, Dipper and Cattle Egrets; the list went on and we reached
the ski station at Oukaimedan about 6,000 feet up in the snow line. Here
we saw Crimson Winged Finch, Rock Sparrow and Atlas Horned Lark as we
walked further up. It was pretty cold up here and rather incongruous to
see our first camels in the snow. It was dark when we returned to our
hotel for a delicious dinner.
No lying in bed in the morning but up and out for a walk at 6.15 am just
as it was getting light and the air was alive with bird song - Nightingale,
Blackbird, Common Bubul, Song Thrush. Down in the trees, through some
wet pasture I saw my first ever Hawfinches, feeding high up in the tree
After breakfast we left for a long day's journey to Boumaine Dades, stopping
for birding breaks along the way.
Over the 10 days we travelled about 1,200 miles and did a lot of walking.
We saw over 190 species of birds, experienced some wonderful scenery from
high mountains to arid desert, sand dunes, gorges and coastal beaches,
ate some tasty different food, met some friendly people and saw some colourful
and memorable sights. All this to be experienced just 3½ hours
Many of my friends in the club will know that I have long pondered the
origin of weathercocks. We see so many on our field trips, gleaming in
the sunshine atop the splendid Cotswold churches. At last I have found
the answer - courtesy of an article in the Western Daily Press. It seems
weathercocks were first introduced to Europe in the fifth century by the
Pope, who issued a Papal Bull commanding that every church tower should
have one as a reminder of the watchful eye of the Almighty. Early weathercocks
had a tube in either side of their bodies, so that when the wind blew
they emitted a crowing sound - another reminder of the Almighty, and of
the Last Supper, when Jesus prophesied that the cock would not crow until
the disciple Peter had denounced Him three times. Some have served a less
respectful purpose in more recent times. At Clyst St George, near Exeter,
the Home Guard used to use the local weathercock for target practice.
The use of weathercocks may date back even further. It is said that the
Ancient Greeks, who believed that winds had divine powers, also used weathercocks.
So maybe this was another example of a pagan practice being adapted by
the Christian church for its own ends.
Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - Clutches of three: how common?
As some of you already know, I started my nest photography project in
the spring of 1964 with the intention of photographing a full clutch of
eggs on the nest plus the habitat of all the regular British breeding
birds. After four seasons of photographing nests on the dairy farm where
I was working and in the surrounding area of farmland and gravel pits
in the Thames Valley at Northmoor in West Oxfordshire, I had accumulated
a total of 35 species.
Early in 1968 I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Bruce Campbell
(the Club's first President) who was acclaimed in many circles as 'the
Prince of Nesters'. He very kindly initiated my successful trip to Handa
in May of that year. In 1969 it was time again to spread my wings. I visited
Dungeness on 19 May, when the warden of the reserve, Bob Scott showed
me a Stock Dove nest, my first, with three eggs which I duly photographed.
Having previously photographed Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) and, by the
end of the 1975 breeding season, Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turur), Collared
Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and Rock Dove (Columba livia), all with clutches
of two eggs, I consequently wondered how significant was the Dungeness
clutch of three. During the late 1970s I found another Stock Dove nest
with three eggs on the floor of an old disused stable on the Barrington
Park Estate on the Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire border. I noted these were
all fresh eggs and did not include an infertile egg from a previous clutch.
In the autumn of 2000 I erected a chimney-type Tawny Owl nest box on a
Perry Pear tree in our garden in south Herefordshire. It was occupied
by a pair of Tawny Owls (Strix aluco) the following year and four young
successfully fledged. In 2002 Grey Squirrels took up residence - these
were discouraged! In 2007 Tawny Owls were again in charge, fledging two
young this time. Each year from 2009 to 2011 Stock Doves have occupied
the nest box, with varying success.
As usual, in mid-February 2012, I checked the nest box removed the old
nest and relined it with wood shavings. I observed a pair of Stock Doves
in the pear tree on 18 March, one of which entered the nest box. Checking
the site on 8 April I was amazed to find my third clutch of three. The
next visit was on 21 April when all three eggs had hatched with the young
4/5 days old. By 6 May only one young remained, about three-quarters grown.
Later in the month it was seen feeding and flying around with the adults.
As we all know the weather in 2012 was far from ideal for a successful
breeding season and these Stock Doves were probably two of the many victims.
John Campbell, who was in charge of the natural history collections at
the Oxfordshire Museum Store at Standlake, informed me that there are
18 clutches of Stock Dove in the Jourdain Society Collection there but
only one with three eggs. I have checked my library, consulting 14 books
with reference to British birds' eggs and nests, etc.; only five mention
the possibility of Stock Doves laying more than two eggs. My conclusion
is that clutches of three are not common. What is your experience?
Graham J. Wren
The Flight of the Blackbird
Since 1959 I have been driving around the country lanes of my native Berkshire/Oxfordshire
and for the past 18 years here in rural Herefordshire. Blackbirds (Turdus
merula) have caught my eye more than any other bird species as they cross
the highways swooping just a foot or so above the tarmac and often only
a few inches - this action sadly proving fatal all too often. You may
well be thinking we all know this! However, I have noticed with particular
interest over the last decade or so when driving in urban areas that Blackbirds,
in general, fly much higher, propelling themselves over the roofs of the
average car and surviving.
With the breeding season soon getting in full swing and with bird activity
much greater, remember when driving in the countryside to ease your foot
off the accelerator pedal, lower your fuel costs and help preserve one
of our finest songsters. You may think perhaps that my observations are
wishful speculation - comments welcome.
Graham J. Wren
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