just seen my first swallow of the season in Bibury - the very place where
I saw my last swallow wheeling above the church tower in October. The
insects teeming above the calm stretches of river there provide rich pickings
for swallows and bats alike. In October I was surprised to see a mallard
with tiny ducklings, this time it was a swan with cygnets.
In October the flowers were mostly confined to colourful baskets hanging from cottage porches and pub window boxes, and even the public toilets were decked out in no fewer than ten baskets of vivid flowers. This time most of the flowers were in the water meadows - clumps of vivid yellow Marsh Marigolds. Closer to Oxford, the Thames meadows are now showing off their Fritillaries, Cowslips are decorating the verges, and the Blackthorn associated with the recent cold weather is giving way to May (Hawthorn) blossom. The Field Club recently reported a good show of Pasque Flowers at the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust Reserve near Cirencester. More early spring flowers were seen the Club's walk in Whitehill Wood - Yellow Star of Bethlehem, Toothwort and Moschatel.
The oak was indeed flowering well before the ash this year, and the old saying ('oak before ash, be prepared for a splash, ash before oak, be prepared for a soak) has held good, and the soil is cracking for want of water. The lack of rain meant that locally there was no really synchronised dash for the pond by frogs and toads, which usually happens after the first rain once the weather is warm enough. But the spring competition for mates proceeds whatever the weather.
One of the magical moments of spring is the dawn chorus. In the impressive stillness just at first light, when the leaves seem to be waiting for a signal to move, the group of listeners stands fidgeting, cold and bored with the inaction, but fearing to make a noise lest they miss the first call. Then someone hears it - a faint quavering burst of song. Gradually the sound becomes louder and more confident, or perhaps the bird is getting warmer. Little by little, more bird species join the chorus, some cutting in as others leave the choir. To hear such hidden music pouring forth from the dim, misty landscape is an experience not to be missed.
Observing and recording wildlife is vital to its preservation. Every year more than 7,500,000 volunteers monitor the UK's wildlife, assessing some 8,000 species. Of these, 1 in 10 is at risk of extinction. The relentless pressure of a growing population needing more roads and housing inevitably leads to fragmented habitats, which not only means less space for wildlife, but less chance to move around the country in response to the changing climate. If you want to help, there are many wildlife organisations, some of which have special apps which you can use to record bees, butterflies and any other groups of animals, and there are apps to report threats such as the spread of ash disease and the Harlequin Ladybird. The Wild Oxfordshire Environmental Bulletin, compiled from the programmes of a range of local organisations, is a regular email newssheet that gives details of where groups or volunteers are working, and sometimes also training courses for identifying particular groups of species, as well as walks and talks.
If you just want to relax and enjoy the wildlife while we still have it, join some of the Field Club's walks and holidays. Over the winter we have enjoyed a fungus foray in Foxholes Reserve, searched for overwintering birds on the Ridgeway and at Rushy Common near Witney, and gone in search of the first spring flowers. We are really grateful to all the members and other friends of the Club who spare us time to plan and lead our walks.
Jill Bailey (Newsletter Editor)
Nature Reserve 4 July 2016
Martyn took us across BBOWT's meadows to the National Nature Reserve (NNR) which is not accessible to the general public. It is managed by BBOWT for Natural England. As we went he stopped to describe the various habitats which have been created to provide for the requirements of different species, e.g. temporary ponds for freshwater species which need a period without water in the summer to complete their life-cycles. The meadows we went through were arable when BBOWT acquired the land. In 2004 the process of conversion was started when green hay cut from the NNR meadows was spread over them. Twelve years later it is difficult to see that they have not always been meadows full of wildflowers. Adder's-tongue (a fern) took 7 years to become established. There are no Green-winged Orchids in them yet. Here, the Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) plants are the less-common variant with showier flowers that have long, deeply-cut outer florets, making them appear like the flowers of Greater Knapweed. Other flowers found here are Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca), Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Pepper Saxifrage (Silaum silaus).
The NNR was flooded in July 2007. It is taking time to recover and it is good to know that the wet grassland flora found there is preserved in the recreated BBOWT meadows, which are at a slightly higher level and should not flood should this happen again. Grazing the NNR were a herd of Sussex cattle, an ancient breed derived from draught oxen but now kept for beef. They have a red-brown coat and have a creamy white switch to the tail. They are ideal for this habitat as they are not fussy grazers, maintaining their condition even on poor quality feed.
Unfortunately, as the weather on the evening of our visit was overcast and cool, few butterflies were on the wing and we did not see the meadows at their best. Even so, it was not hard to imagine the meadows in their full glory with the purples, yellows, reds and whites of the wildflowers in amongst the grasses waving in the wind. Apparently every year the meadows appear slightly different, as different species come and go in abundance.
Once we had entered
the wood Peter gave us some general information about fungi while our
eyes became adjusted to the lower light conditions. Soon we were finding
lots of fungi in the leaf litter and on fallen branches helped by our
grand-daughters with their eagle eyes. This was the first time they had
been on a fungus foray and they really enjoyed the experience. Charlotte,
who is 8, methodically wrote down the common name of all the fungi as
they were identified by Peter.
Bird-watching trip to Norfolk 21 - 24 October 2016
On our journey to the hotel a number of us stopped for a short break at Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands site where we saw many Widgeon, Teal, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, etc, including a large flock of Whooper Swans which had kindly flown in that very day.
The next morning early a few hardy individuals walked the short distance from the hotel to the coast and were rewarded by seeing a number of other birds which made the effort worthwhile.
After breakfast we all made our way to Titchwell RSPB Reserve where we spent the morning watching large numbers of waders and other birds, the most interesting of which was perhaps the rarely seen Bean Goose. The sun shone for us and the waves crashing on the coast were spectacular.
That afternoon we visited Holkham and had a very pleasant walk down Lady Anne Drive to the hide where we watched, by now the fairly common Marsh Harriers, and the not so common Great White Egret, as well as a party of swallows.
During our get-together after dinner at the Hotel to discuss the birds seen that day we discovered the total was 91 species. So we set off after breakfast the next morning to the marshes at Cley determined to bring the total over 100. A red-throated diver was seen, as well as bearded tits together with the usual waders, geese and ducks at this very attractive site.
But still we hadn't made our 100 total so most of us set off on our final day to Snettisham, and true to form this magical place rewarded us by bringing the total number of species to 102. This included Bar-tailed Godwits, Linnets, Egyptian Geese, rock pipit etc.
We left watching the
Knots performing their graceful murmurations over the estuary in the distance,
finishing a successful and enjoyable trip, ably led by Roy, for the most
part in pleasant sunshine.
There were not many
birds on the smaller Tar lakes except the 'usual suspects' of
We got back to the car park at about 12:45, a bit chilled but none the worse for it. Most of the party then departed but a few of us went to the hide which overlooks the lake inside the Rushy Common reserve. The lack of birds to see from the hide was rather disappointing. When we made a recce the previous weekend there had been about thirty Red-crested Pochard and three pairs of Goldeneye close in, but some work on one of the islands during the week had obviously disturbed the birds and there wasn't much to be seen, although we counted two or three more species and another (or the same) Oystercatcher, making a total of thirty six species.
It was a shame that
the weather was against us as it's usually quite a 'productive' area;
at least there were a few signs of spring with lots of Hazel catkins,
pussy willows in bud and a few very precocious leaves on a Hawthorn near
the car park.
Bird species seen:
Circular walk to Whitehill Wood and Stonesfield Common 26 March 2017
The first part of the walk from the bridge at Ashford Mill is through an open area where poplars, originally intended to be made into matches, have been felled. Here the ground is carpeted with seedlings of Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) - when you see them in such great profusion it is easy to see how quickly this plant can take over an area. Once the path enters Whitehill Wood it runs very close to the River Evenlode. Most of the Yellow Star of Bethlehem plants grow in the area between the path and the river, a habitat which is gradually being lost to erosion. All except two of the eight flowers we found were on that side of the path where there is a little more light. One flower was in the middle of a badger latrine on the river bank! Although there were few flowers we could see lots of leaves.
As we progressed through the wood we were pleased to see Toothwort, Primroses, Wood Anemones, Dog Violets and Townhall Clock. Toothwort is parasitic on roots of Hazel and the pale pink flowers in a one-sided spike soon die back after flowering. Townhall Clock, also known as Moschatel, has a small flower head which is unique. It is dice-shaped with a greenish-yellow flower on each side and one on top. This plant is in the Santalaceae family, of which the only other members in the British flora are Mistletoe and Bastard Toadflax.
We returned to our cars at Ashford Bridge following the road. On the way we stopped at Bridgefield Bridge, where the road goes over the railway, the site of the third rare plant, the Cotswold Pennycress. This is an unusual member of the cabbage family and is an annual. Unfortunately we could see no sign of this plant here but as it so small - it only grows to be about 25 cm tall - with white flowers about 2 mm in diameter it may have been there and we could not see it from the roadside. This rare plant is a Cotswold speciality. Nationally there are 14 sites, 10 of which are within the Cotswolds AONB.
This was a most enjoyable
walk for the 12 people who came along. The weather being fine, sunny and
warm (when you were out of the chilly wind!) made it particularly memorable.
Thank you, Ken, for leading this walk and sharing some of your knowledge
about this area.
Birds (seen and heard):
Discovery of a
Rugged Oil Beetle 22 February 2017
Jean Cole 1932
Born on his parents' farm in the Chilterns, Martin was the quintessential countryman. After service in the Second World War, he virtually spent the rest of his life in the countryside farming and following many countryside pursuits. I first met Martin, and indeed Barbara, when becoming a member of the Field Club in the autumn of 1968. We became instant friends and so remained. At the time I was working on a dairy farm at Northmoor, and I well remember Martin lending us his 'Cock Pheasant', a state of the art piece of hay-making equipment not to be confused with the one you pop in the oven given half a chance! This was an early example to me of Martin's very generous nature.
We were regular members of two pheasant-beating teams on estates in the Burford area for several decades. These were always enjoyable social occasions, meeting a variety of country characters. For me particularly, they were a chance to observe the wildlife in areas not open to public access, as great and much appreciated bonus. As a result of this involvement, we qualified to attend both cock pheasant shoots at the end of the season and hare shoots. It is said that five hares eat as much grass as one sheep. For me, there are now too many sheep in the countryside and too few hares! These a shoots involving us beaters were rather reminiscent of 'Dad's Army', although possibly rather more safety-conscious. Attending ploughing matches was another of Martin's favourite pastimes, where he could indulge and air his considerable knowledge of both vintage and modern tractors.
As an active member
of the Club, Martin regularly attended our indoor and outdoor meetings
and accompanied Barbara on many weekends away. He always gave Barbara
his full support at the Club's soup kitchens (held after chilly May dawn
choruses) and committee meetings held at 'Long Meadow' and throughout
her time as a committee member, Chairman and President. On a personal
note I much enjoyed the hospitality of Long Meadow with overnight stays,
house sitting and in more recent years visits to the local hostelries
with Martin for a bar meal and a pint or two! He will be sadly missed
by us all. To quote an old adage, 'You don't get many Martin Slococks
to the pound'.
(c) West Oxfordshire Field Club 2015
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