Welcome to the 100th WOFC Newsletter! As I write, the autumn mists are
just curling away in the weak early morning sunlight. It appears to be
an early autumn - the spiders are already moving in, and the local swallows
and house martins left more than two weeks earlier than usual, but there
are still some nests with unfledged young taking advantage of the abundance
of insects around just now.
It was reported to be a poor summer for butterflies, but they have been
plentiful in my garden. However, I have had no painted ladies or silver
Y moths, and scarcely any ladybirds - but then, I have seen very few aphids.
On a brilliantly warm, sunny Saturday morning I joined a large group of
butterfly enthusiasts at Bernwood Forest. Having visited many times before
and never seen a white admiral, they were flying in great numbers near
the car park, and the purple emperors were out, too. The whole forest
was alive with butterflies. Large silver-washed fritillaries drifted along
the rides, and I watched as one was actually driven off a flower by a
much smaller skipper.
Seabirds suffered badly in last winter's storms, and the effects of the
altered coastlines have had their effect this summer, with birds such
as terns being forced to nest in lower sites than usual, and suffering
summer flooding. A trip to Juniper Valley gave me a splendid view of red
kites courting. Alerted by a 'different' call, I watched them tumble through
the sky. It reminded me of a dramatic coupling of a pair of cuckoos on
the edge of a cliff in Cornwall against a deep pink sunset witnessed some
time ago. For some years, cuckoos have been missing from my garden - they
used to mate in the willow tree there. But they are plentiful on Otmoor,
where they take advantage of the many reed warbler nests to lay their
eggs. I heard them again on the Somerset Levels, eating a picnic lunch
to the background sound of cuckoos, bitterns booming, and Cetti's warbers
- there are some 60 pairs there.
After a summer of fascinating country walks full of wildflowers, birds
and butterflies, the Club is now looking forward to winter birding in
Norfolk and fungus forays, and an interesting programme of talks.
This is my last newsletter as editor. To my amazement when I looked back
through the programmes I discovered that I took over from Catherine Ross
in 1983 and that my first newsletter as editor was no. 38!
In those days I typed out all the reports and contributions on my sister's
portable typewriter, then did a cut-and-paste job to fit them together
using a standardized A4 front page which was blank except for a green
stripe across the top with the lettering WEST OXFORDSHIRE FIELD CLUB in
This continued until 2002 when the format was changed to a stapled A3
booklet which was printed on the then sophisticated new photocopier at
Burford Community College. In the meantime the typewriter was abandoned
once I had access to a computer and could cut and paste electronically.
The present format started in 2004 when our logo was introduced and Jill
Bailey took on writing the editorial. I thank all members, past and present,
who have diligently written up reports of walks and visits organised by
the Club, sharing them with others through the newsletter. Without you
there would have been no newsletter!
Jill has agreed to take on the editorship. Please send her your observations,
comments, etc. on anything associated with wildlife and the countryside,
as well as your reports of walks and trips that have been made by the
Field Club or with any other like-minded group by the end of March 2015.
Ideally Jill would like to receive your contributions by e-mail as an
attachment. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are
not able to do that please write out your report clearly and send it to
her by post to the address given on the programme.
the Field Club
Thanks to your generosity the Field Club's finances have been boosted
by £173.70 (£98.70 at the plant and book sale at the May meeting
and £75 from the raffle organised by David Roberts at the Summer
REPORTS OF FIELD
Chorus at Cornbury Park 11 May 2014
At 4 am it was cool, overcast and windy when eight of us met at Finstock.
Birds were late in starting to sing, the first one, a Tawny Owl, didn't
call until 4.33 am. We were sure that we also heard its young calling,
too. The main chorus didn't start until we reached one of the small lakes
situated in a dip surrounded by mature woodland. It was stirring, but
comprised only the songs of Robins, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. It became
much quieter as we walked on, with the occasional songs and calls of Wrens,
Blue and Great Tits, and Chaffinches. A Treecreeper called persistently,
but was very elusive in the now leafy deciduous trees and wasn't seen,
but a family party of Long-tailed Tits, which gave themselves away initially
with their chirrupy calls, was soon seen. The extensive areas of Bluebells
were well past their best but the swathes of Wild Garlic were spectacular.
On the walk back to the cars, a Whitethroat, a couple of Chiffchaffs and
a Willow Warbler sang and, closer to human habitation, one of a pair of
Collared Doves was singing 'united, united', like a hoarse football supporter.
Birdsong had been scarce, with a total of only 19 different species logged,
no doubt due to the weather, because with the mix of habitats - open farmland,
ancient broad-leafed woodland and water - there was bound to be more species
breeding here than just those we heard.
List of bird species
logged, with the time the first of each was encountered
04.33 Tawny Owl
05.22 Blue Tit
05.45 Long-tailed Tit
05.30 Coal Tit
06.18 Carrion Crow
04.37 Song Thrush
05.33 Great Tit
05.38 Wood Pigeon
06.37 Willow Warbler
06.38 Collared Dove
Upton 16 May 2014
A small group of four of us set off down Middle Lane, Upton, on a lovely
calm evening. We were greeted by the raucous cawing of Rooks from a large
rookery in the entrance farm garden. On the driveway a quite confiding
male Bullfinch was searching for food - a nice sighting. It only flew
off when a car came into the farm.
On our return we were wonderfully entertained by two young mares in a
field by the cars. They galloped up and down for some time, rearing, mock
fighting and biting, and pushing against each other, then coming to greet
us over the wall. Then off they went again, tearing up and down their
field. It really was a lovely sight.
Cow Parsley (Kek)
Taston 1 June 2014
We had a good turn-out for the walk around Taston which was expertly led
by Ken Betteridge. The route took us through several different habitats
- arable fields, damp and dry grasslands, woodland and village, and by
a stream. This is reflected in the relatively large number of different
plants I was able to record. We were delighted to see Herb Paris holding
its purplish black berry above a whorl of four leaves in the woodland
just off the path. Nearby was a tall allium plant in bud which I could
not identify. Alison found a fumatory growing at the edge of an arable
field which turned out to be Common Ramping Fumatory. The only other place
I have seen this plant growing is outside North Leigh Church.
Unfortunately the promise of tea and cakes by Ann Timbs afterwards at
her home where the walk started and ended did not materialise as she spent
the day at the John Radcliffe Hospital with her husband following an accident
on the farm. We were relieved later that evening to learn that he had
not been seriously affected.
We all enjoyed the walk on this warm sunny afternoon in an area not previously
visited by many club members.
(some not in flower):
Lesser Pond Sedge
Lesser Water Parsnip
Common Dog Violet
Hairy St John's-wort
Photos taken on the
walk at Taston by Mary Elford
Herb Paris, Horsetail forest, Larva of Drinker moth
Wytham Woods 26 June 2014
After such a lovely June it was very disappointing when it turned into
a very heavy downpour for our evening walk at Wytham with the extremely
entertaining and knowledgeable Nigel Fisher who had given us a fascinating
and thought provoking talk back in the winter programme. However, despite
the weather about 14 members and non-members turned out and splashed their
way round with umbrellas and cagoules.
Wytham Woods are an area of ancient semi-natural woodland to the west
of Oxford, owned by the University of Oxford and used for environmental
The woods were bequeathed to Oxford University in 1942 by the Ffennel
family after the death of their only daughter Hazel. The University agreed
to maintain the natural beauty of the woods to allow their continued use
for education and research and that the woods be enjoyed by the inhabitants
Wytham Woods (390 hectares) contain a variety of habitats including semi-natural
woodland, secondary woodland plantations as well as calcareous grasslands,
a valley-side mire, an arable weed plot and a variety of ponds. The SSSI
citation states that the site has an exceptionally rich flora and fauna,
with over 500 species of vascular plants and 800 species of butterflies
Wytham Woods are one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world.
Wytham has a wealth of long-term biological data, with bird data dating
back for over 60 years, (particularly the long-term contribution made
by Dr Andy Gosler on Great Tits), badger data for over 30 years and climate
change data for the last 18 years.
A number of us retired to the White Hart in the village afterwards to
dry out and warm up.
City Farm, Eynsham 4 July 2014
After a spell of lovely summer weather, Friday night was looking uninviting
with a cool wind and dark clouds. Should we take our wellies, take a coat,
a hat and/or an umbrella for a walk around a farm just a few fields north
of the A40? As we congregated it was obvious a wide range of decisions
had been made, a few were optimistic and were in shirt sleeves, while
others came fully prepared for rain and a cooler temperature than of late.
Alan Larkman welcomed us and explained that although he didn't own one
square foot of this land he was fortunate to be able to apply some influences
on how the farm would be worked. The practices Alan is encouraging the
farmer to use are very much as they were in the middle of the last century
when many of us were children, playing and helping out in farmer's fields.
How agriculture has changed since then!
The 80-acre farm is managed as an organic holding, the most productive
fields being used for growing cereals. With no artificial fertilizers
and sprays being applied the yield is reduced but as the input costs are
low these cultivated fields just about make a profit. Several of the poorer
fields have been taken out of cultivation and now support acid grassland
which is cut for hay after the seeds have been set. Alan has experimented
with managing the permanent grassland meadows. These are a challenging
area for farming as the glacial drift heavy clays give poor drainage and
frequent wet boggy areas. In one especially wet area he would love to
establish a plant community dominated by Flag Irises.
Alan is particularly interested in birds and he made reference to how
he has influenced the management of the fields to support the small farm-land
birds in what is known as the 'hungry gap'. This is the result of the
now accepted usual practice of sowing cereals in the autumn and spraying
out the arable plants which produce the seed on which the birds depend
for food over winter into spring. This has led to a big reduction in the
numbers of small birds in the countryside. By using an organic approach,
coupled with spring sowing, small arable plants can flower on until the
weather gets too cold, providing food for birds.
Part of a rather wet upper field has been left fallow for several years.
Here we were astonished to see Field Woundwort in great abundance. This
is an arable plant which is classified as 'Near Threatened' in the Red
Data Book. The rest of the large field is slowly reverting to woodland
with the dominant species being oak. This could develop into 'wood pasture'
as seen in Cornbury Park, parts of Blenheim Park and the New Forest where,
as the trees grow, deer browse on the lower branches and then as the trees
continue to grow the branches and the leaves are too high to be damaged.
This is an ancient form of productive woodland, which allows cattle and
sheep to graze the grass while the trees grow to maturity producing a
good source of timber.
Back near where we parked the cars is an area which 30 years ago was a
gravel pit. It has been back-filled with inert builders' waste and the
original top soil reinstated. As the layer of top soil was rather thin
in places more top soil was brought in from an unspecified location. This
has resulted in a strange mixture of colonizing plants, some of which
are garden plants like Opium Poppy and Larkspur. Of most interest is the
large number of arable plants which have come up, their seed having survived
in the original top soil. Some of these survivors are now rare.
Alan had so much to tell us and was an extremely good guide and interpreter
of the many elements on the farm. I have reported on a fraction of it.
What I appreciated was how he engaged with the farmers who came along,
wishing to hear their interpretations on how they would solve some of
his challenges and when he didn't know the answer to a question put to
him he turned it around.
At one point on the circuit we realised that, despite being so near to
Eynsham and the A40, we could see no building or hear any traffic noise.
What a haven for wildlife! Long may it flourish under Alan's enlightened
guidance. Thank you, Alan for giving up so much of your valuable time
to take us round the farm and share your enthusiasm and dedication with
Plant list (some not in flower):
Good King Henry
Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil
* Rare annuals.
Jill Bailey and Brenda Betteridge
PS. Here is
Alan's response to my e-mail thanking him for giving up so much of his
precious time to take us on a conducted tour of City Farm.
'I was surprised and
delighted that so many people came, although my heart did sink a bit when
the rain started. However, everyone (at least outwardly) seemed to just
shrug it off admirably. If you ever get the chance, please thank your
members from me for being such stalwarts and for all their interesting
and intelligent comments, questions and suggestions. With a couple of
days' hindsight, I can see that just putting things into words, and listening
to everyone's comments, has helped me clarify a number of things in my
Swinbrook 15 July
Nine members and two visitors joined me at the starting place near Swinbrook
Church on a fine evening. The plan was to have a circular walk via Widford,
finishing up at The Swan for a drink while we waited for it to get dark
enough to look for Glow-worms (which are actually bioluminescent beetles)
in the churchyard. This was a favourite summer evening event for the Club
for many years. Recently the numbers of Glow-worms seen had been very
small, and we hadn't been for a while. John and I did our own Glow-worm
walk at about the same time last year and to our surprise found seven
Glow-worms in the churchyard, so I suggested that we gave it another try
with the Club.
We headed off along the footpath from our meeting point towards Widford,
pausing to admire some handsome Cotswold rams. The rear guard of our group
found a large group of Small Tortoiseshells on a stone wall. After looking
at the river at Widford, we followed the bridleway up to the lane, over
Handley Plain and back to the village down the lane. After a drink at
the pub, we took John's bat detector out to the bridge over the Windrush.
It was a warm evening and bats were out in force, swooping over the water.
The bat detector reduces their high-pitched sounds to a level that we
can hear, usually a series of clicks, becoming more rapid as the bat nears
We then headed up to the churchyard. Even though the grass had been cut
and the moon was quite bright, we still found four Glow-worms. I am always
amazed at their bright greenish light. It is the female Glow-worm that
does the glowing to attract a mate. On a return visit 10 days later, John
and I found none, so presumably they had all been successful.
Cherry Plums (ripe!)
Wild Arum (berries)
Tawny Owl (seen and heard)
Little Owl (heard)
Ground beetle (?Violet - too dark to tell)
3 August 2014
There I was, sitting on a bench in the centre of Icomb, an attractive
small Cotswold village, at the appointed time for my second walk of the
summer season. The sun shone and the bees buzzed, and there was absolutely
nobody else around. I was just wondering whether to go home or set off
on my own, when Tony and Alison arrived. The three of us set off for our
3-mile circular walk and managed a reasonable haul of plants. There weren't
that many birds around, as you might expect given the time of year, but
quite a few butterflies and other insects, including a number of very
fresh Magpie Moths.
The interesting grassland by the Westcote Brook on the way back was a
little past its best, but there was still a good display of Great Burnet.
It was a warm day, and we stopped for a rest before tackling the uphill
climb back to Icomb. We enjoyed a welcome cup of tea and some cake kindly
supplied by my fellow walkers before going home.
Robin's Pincushion Gall on Dog Rose
St John's Wort
Lady's Bedstraw Field Bindweed
Wild Arum (berries)
A green grasshopper
A red dragonfly
24 August 2014
Our party of eight members hoping to see the Silver-spotted Skipper were
doubtless disappointed when they heard the weather forecast before they
departed for the venue:
8 Celsius and cloudy. This species does not usually fly until the temperature
reaches 21 Celsius! In addition, they had emerged 2 weeks earlier than
average this year, so the expectation was that the likelihood of seeing
them on 24 August would be rather remote anyway. Needless to say we saw
none, as the forecast turned out to be accurate.
Watlington Hill is a Site of Special Scientific Interest owned by the
National Trust. The sward on this chalk grassland site is very short thanks
to the presence of large numbers of Rabbits. Sheep's Fescue, the sole
food-plant of the caterpillars of the Silver-spotted Skipper, is also
present. There are also plenty of Stemless Thistles to provide nectar
in the late summer for the Silver-spotted Skipper. Despite its absence,
we did see six other species of butterfly: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell,
Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Brown Argus and a single Small Heath, well-spotted
by Alison shortly before we left. This formerly very common species is
in decline on most sites. It has been a good year for Common Blue and
Brown Argus at most sites.
Continuing with Lepidoptera, there were plenty of micro-moths, none of
which could be identified, but we did see a single Treble Bar, a day-flying
macro-moth. This species is common here in the summer months. Several
Saddleback Harvestmen (arachnids closely-related to spiders) were seen.
There were several sightings of Red Kites, but few other bird species
were seen, although Green and Greater Spotted Woodpecker were heard. The
highlight of the visit was definitely the flora. Particularly notable
was the presence of perhaps a hundred Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
plants on the edge of the yew wood on the south-west side of the hill.
A few of the plants were still in flower, despite the presence of green
unripe berries as well as a few black ripe berries. We discovered three
plants of the uncommon Wild Candytuft, Iberis amara on the west side of
the hill. One was still in flower and the other two were covered with
ripening seed. Another interesting find was several Ploughman's Spikenard
(Inula conyza) which is only found on dry calcareous soil.
Between the summit and the car park at the east end of the site we were
surprised to find five Frog orchids, Dactylorhiza viridis (syn. Coeloglossum
viride). Their seedpods were swollen with unripe seed. We also found a
significant number of Autumn Gentians (Gentianella amarella). This is
a biennial whose leaves grow in the first year, and the flowering stems
in the second.
A few minutes after leaving, it started to rain. This gave a strange feeling
of comfort, as we had a good afternoon and missed the worst of the weather.
Red Kite ×3Green
Moths and other
Cinnabar Moth caterpillars
Treble Bar Moth
Brown Argus (probably)
Large black slug
Photos taken by Malcolm
Pair of Common Blues (one with a red mite), Felwort (Autumn Gentian),
Owl Watching in the Car at Ramsden Crossroads
We first saw the Barn Owls on 22 July. We went back the next evening to
see if they were in the same area. And they were. We have been back regularly
to see them, often three or more at a time, and have seen some interesting
One night we were parked in the usual place on the grass verge when a
Rabbit came out of the field and crouched down about 8 feet in front of
the car. The owls were circling about and one spotted the Rabbit. It swooped
down with its talons fully extended but realised its intended prey was
too big and flew off. This was right in front of us - it would have made
a superb photograph.
Another time an owl was in a small Horse Chestnut tree directly opposite
us. Another owl was flying round the tree noisily 'clacking' its wings,
seemingly to drive out the sitting owl which eventually was driven off
and flew away.
Another time three owls were chasing each other. They circled round making
loud 'churring' noises, flying back and forth, often just a few feet above
the open roof of the car. It is likely that the fully grown young were
being driven away by their parents to find their own territory.
We also had two Tawny Owls calling, perched just above the car. A Hare
often came out of the field just at dusk, taking no notice of us.
We have also seen up to 14 Fallow Deer, including a large stag, charging
about the field opposite. A pure white fully grown doe was in the herd
as well. On returning home near to Wood Lane, Hailey, the deer sometimes
cross the narrow road in front of our headlights. One largish fawn almost
panicked one night but soon followed the herd.
Just at dusk we also saw one, sometimes a pair of Hobbies, flying characteristically
very fast indeed across the sky - a marvellous sight. In this very low
light I must assume they were hunting bats. It was far too dark for Swallows
or Martins their normal prey.
Dix Pit Recycling Centre
Once or twice a year I have enough garden waste - about 16 bags of hedge
clippings - to make a trip to the Dix Pit recycling centre, aka 'the tip',
worthwhile. Usually this is in early or mid-July (though I was a bit late
this year). I've made the odd trip in winter too, which is better for
birds. Over the years I have found that it's worth taking a pair of binoculars
and walking around the old gravel pit, now a lake. Access is signposted
down the 'haul road' off the Hardwick-Stanton Harcourt road; there is
a small area, blocked off with some old tyres, on the left at the north
end where you can park and a small parking area just beyond the actual
recycling zone. There used to be a picnic table there and a good view
over the lake but now the vegetation has grown too tall.
There is a marked and well-maintained footpath which leads from there
and goes most of the way around the lake. An unexpected highlight, also
signposted, a short way around is 'The Devil's Quoits', a reconstructed
circle of 30 or so standing stones a metre or so high. It comes as quite
a shock when you're not expecting it; apparently stone circles are not
uncommon along the Thames valley. The area is good for ducks in winter
(a telescope helps) and warblers in summer; it is listed as one of four
top sites in Oxfordshire by The Fat Birder and is an OCC local wildlife
site. There is a heronry on one of the islands and I have seen as many
as ten herons and eight egrets at one time.
The sandy soil supports its own flora, in particular a huge crop of Common
Centaury, and the margins are favoured by butterflies and spectacular
swarms of blue damselflies in July. I'm not sure that it's worth a trip
in its own right but if you do happen to be recycling, then it's certainly
worth spending half an hour or so looking around. The only drawback, which
the fauna don't seem to mind at all, is the faint whiff from the nearby
The species list is the result of a number of short visits
over several years with (of course) some help from Sue.
Mandarin (? - a long way off)
Great Crested Grebe
Insects & butterflies:
A blue damselfly
John Cobb, August 2014
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