lunch hour spent basking in the spring sunshine enjoying a good book while
listening to the goldfinches, tits, starlings, robins and a host of other
garden birds, with the occasional piercing cry of a red kite wheeling
overhead, has put me in the mood for an editorial. It has also led to
the first mosquito bites of the year, soon followed by the eviction of
the first wasp of the year from my study. I had heard the faint rasping
of a wasp scraping building materials from the garden fence as I read.
But the swallows are mating on the telephone wires leading to house and
the sand martins are also back earlier than usual at the local gravel
pits. A few weeks ago I enjoyed excellent views of three Garganey at one
of the local gravel pits, as well as a rather late courtship display from
a pair of Crested Grebes. The synchronised head-bobbing and parallel swimming
was smoother and more elegant than any pair of human synchronised swimmers.
After the recent wild winters, it is heartening to learn that some birds
are increasing in number again. Puffin numbers on the Farnes are up, and
the project to remove rats from Lundy Island has given the birds there
a great boost. Last year was also a good one for bitterns: more 'boomers',
or singing male bitterns (140) have been recorded than ever before. Good
news, too, that at last there appears to be government movement on setting
up large marine reserves in our overseas territories around the Pitcairn
Islands, Ascension Island and the South Sandwich Islands. If the plans
come to fruition, they will double the size of the world's existing marine
protected areas (MPAs), protecting rare and threatened whales and sharks,
as well as corals and fish.
The warm spring and summer weather also boosted some butterfly populations,
with more than half of our species increasing in numbers. There were record
increases in Marbled Whites, Ringlets and Brimstones, but species such
as the Chalk Hill Blue, Adonis Blue and Cabbage Whites, which emerge later
in summer, fared worse as the weather turned cool.
Autumn found the Club in Norfolk for its annual birding trip. Whether
we have been on the Norfolk coast, Gibraltar Point, Leighton Moss, Pulborough
Brooks or even further afield, the wheeling displays of thousands of birds
swooping and turning in synchrony never fails to astound. First appearing
like a drift of smoke in the distance, they head for the saltmarshes and
lagoons for the night. There are so many such plumes that the spectacle
can last for an hour or more. Many Club members also enjoy the evening
'murmurations' of starlings at Otmoor, and for my part, also on the Somerset
Levels. On the Levels the RSPB has a special starling telephone hotline
in season, which will tell you approximately where and when they think
the birds are most likely to come in on that day.
The club has enjoyed many autumn and winter walks and outings. Even in
mid-November at Charlbury some 26 species of wildflowers were seen, as
well as many fungi. A visit to the Cotswold Water Park provided a good
selection of birds, including Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Whooper
Swan and many waders. We had two warmer outings - to the newly refurbished
Oxford Natural History Museum and to Crocodiles of the World.
It is, I believe, the first time a field Club newsletter has pictured
crocodiles. May we see many more unusual species in the future.
A big thank you to everyone who contributed to this newsletter. We appreciate
the time and care that goes into these interesting reports. Our President,
Graham Wren, has again given us some of his observations from his long
experience in the field. It is sad that even in the wilds of Scandinavia,
birds like fieldfares are still suffering loss of habitat. I took his
advice by leaving several large half-apples on my lawn for the birds before
going away for a week. I left them core side down, but when I returned
they were all core side up, and there was very little flesh left on them.
Jill Bailey (Newsletter
- Photo by Mary Elford
OF FIELD MEETINGS
Pit 28 September 2014
Geologist Lesley Dunlop led a fascinating walk around Dry Sandford Pit.
13 people were in attendance.
This site (a SSSI) is nationally important for its geology and biology
where the results of fluctuating tropical sea levels in what is now Oxfordshire
can be seen in the exposed layers of low sand and limestone cliffs. The
cliffs contain many corals and visible fossils of marine creatures dating
back to the Jurassic era. 41 species of ammonites, some the size of dinner
plates have been found here. The site is just 7.5 hectares and contains
a fascinating mosaic of fossil-rich cliffs, limey fenland, ponds, streams,
chalk grassland, scrub and woodlands. Sandford Brook runs through the
site. In some areas water seeps out of the ground, draining through sandstone
with iron content producing strikingly orange water.
Our thanks to Lesley for sharing her knowledge with us and for providing
copies of instructive information sheets.
Foray in Nettlebed Woods 12 October 2014
Seven members and four visitors joined leader Peter at a new venue for
the Field Club, and it was a pleasure to spend time rooting around in
this ancient beech woodland.
Bitter Poison Pie
Clouded Funnel Cap
Dead Moll's Finger
Yellow Stag's Horn
Pictures by Mary
Walk 19 October 2014
This is a popular Autumn walk which the Field Club last did in 2011 and
takes us into Laurie Lee country, not far from his native Slad.
Eight of us turned up by the little school on Cranham Common on a beautiful
sunny mild day with a brisk south west wind and we headed off down into
the valley before crossing over past the trout lake and climbing up again
through magnificent beech woods. Although many are comparatively young
trees there are some wonderful older specimens amongst them which have
grown tall and straight on the hillside.
As in 2011 the autumn
has again been exceptionally mild so the autumn colours were not at their
best but looking across the wooded landscape there was a good mix of greens,
yellows and browns. Up above Sheepscombe a fine view opened up towards
Painswick and Haresfield in the distance. It is interesting to note that
Painswick church boasts a peal of fourteen bells, whereas mighty Gloucester
Cathedral has only twelve and Westminster Abbey has only ten.
Above us stood the hilltop Sheepscombe cricket ground bought by Laurie
Lee in 1971 and now owned by the village it must be one of the most beautiful
cricket grounds in the country.
After another brief climb we plunged into yet more wonderful beech woods
passing a large old badger set in what is mostly the Ebworth Estate gifted
to the National Trust by the Workman family in 1989. The house itself,
probably a Tudor hunting lodge sadly became derelict and in the 1960's
was used by the local fire brigade and subsequently burned to the ground.
There is still a Deadly Nightshade growing from the ruins next to where
the front door used to be.
Further on is the amazing beech tree in a field which has an ash tree
growing through the middle of it and actually fused into it in one section
with a hole going right through the base to the other side, this has been
severely damaged in last winter's storms and a large section of the ash
tree has crashed to the ground.
Photo by David Roberts
to Norfolk 21 - 24 October 2014
On the morning of Tuesday
21 October we headed off to North Norfolk on a three day birding trip
and the forecast was for the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo. We arranged
to call off at Wildlife and Wetland Trust Reserve at Welney for lunch,
a 1,200 acre site on the Ouse Washes which is a haven to more than 9,000
migratory Whooper and Bewick Swans over the winter.
When we arrived the wind was blowing pretty hard but the rain and hail
which came at intervals in heavy bursts soon blew through, so we managed
to time it well and were in the hides during the downpours and in between
there was some blue sky. About 100 Whooper Swans had arrived on site.
Most of these were in family groups and could be viewed well from the
luxurious main hide through the large sloping plate glass windows. There
were also good views of about fifteen Snipe, a flock of Golden Plover,
Lapwing and a variety of ducks and waders.
Our bird count there was fifty bird species, not a bad start. Amazingly
there were still House Martins feeding young in a nest under the bridge
and they were flying close to the front of the observatory.
Thirteen of us met up at the Caley Hall Hotel in Old Hunstanton in the
evening and enjoyed a super dinner.
After an equally delicious breakfast at 8am we set off for Titchwell RSPB
Reserve on a good bright sunny morning after the previous day's strong
wind had mostly abated.
Notably we had good views of Marsh Harrier, Dark-Bellied Brent Geese from
Arctic Russia, which flew in in small flocks, and some wonderful skeins
of Pink-footed Geese flying high down the coast in fascinating formations,
having flown from Iceland and Greenland via stopping off points in Scotland
and North Western England. On the beach we saw Grey Plover, Dunlin and
Sanderlings scurrying along the water's edge on blurred legs, probing
for submerged invertebrates. There were good views of Curlew and it was
useful to see both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits together to compare
After a late lunch at the Reserve we returned to the hotel and then a
few of us walked down to the beach by way of the golf course and over
the sand dunes. The tide was very favourable and we saw and admired large
flocks of Knot and hundreds of Oystercatchers. Sometimes the Knot would
take off and as they turned into the light would change from a dark colour
to a lovely silver before swirling around and landing again.
After dinner our call back had increased yesterday's total to 73 species.
Following 8 am breakfast on Thursday we headed off to Lady Anne's Drive
at Holkham and walked down to the main hide at the edge of the wood. We
spent some time here watching Marsh Harrier performing and flocks of Greylag
and Pink-footed Geese. There were large numbers of Jays around in the
woods feeding on acorns.
We followed the boardwalk through the woods and on to the sandy beach
which stretched for miles in both directions and was extremely wide. We
had picked up that a Surf Scoter had been seen in the area and way off
across the beach in the distance we could see a small group of people
with telescopes, so some of us headed out across the sands and eventually
came up to them. Just off shore were a small group of Common Scoter and
among these a beautiful male Surf Scoter with large bright orange bill,
white patch on forehead, a large white patch on the nape. This was a first
for all of us and it eventually took off and flew south. A rare American
We headed back via a path at the edge of pine and oak woods, seeing and
hearing Goldcrests and Coal Tits up in the branches above us. We drove
to have a late lunch at the Lavender Centre at Heacham, stopping on the
way on the side of the road where a few telescopes were positioned. We
had heard of a Great Egret in the area and after ten minutes or so it
appeared from behind some bushes, took off and then settled again out
of sight in some reeds further away. This is a rare but annual vagrant
from the Mediterranean region or Africa. While waiting for it to appear
we watched four Grey Partridges showing that lovely orange brown face
every now and then, feeding on some stubble in the next field, another
increasingly rare bird in this country. What a morning!
After late lunch at the Lavender Centre we headed off down to the RSPB
Reserve at Snettisham. Some of us walked the 2.5 km while others were
able to drive with a couple of car passes to go through the "shanty
land" of holiday buildings along a gated track.
I like to walk along a path by some flooded borrow pits and savour the
moment when you come up over the top of a shingle bank which is all that
keeps out the massive expanse of the Wash which was a huge area of mud,
water channels and sea stretching over to Lincolnshire on the distant
shore. The tide was due to be a good 7.1 metres and was coming in fast.
On the sea edge and stretched into the distance were large and small groups
of waders, seagulls, ducks and some geese. Hundreds of Oystercatchers
kept moving back from the advancing water, very smart looking birds. Many
thousands of Knot were spread in large groups around the Wash and every
now and then a group would lift off from the mud and wheel around in close
formations catching the light. A large group of Golden Plover was feeding.
Redshank and Godwits were probing the nutritious mud for food. Boldly
marked Shelduck were dabbling in the shallows and up on the mud. (The
hide which we had used so effectively two years ago was smashed to matchwood
after last winter's storms, and a second one had been upended and relocated.)
Everywhere there was the continual retreat from the ever-advancing water
of thousands of birds. A little later as we were preparing to leave and
the light was going large formations of Pink-footed Geese and Greylags
flew over the top of us, calling loudly, returning from a day in the fields
on to the water of the Wash where they spend the night in large numbers
which were building every day by further migrants flying down from up
North. It was just about dark when we arrived back at our cars. A truly
great birding spectacle. Our bird species count for the three days was
The next day, Friday, we departed for home after breakfast and some of
us called in at Titchwell Reserve again, after hearing reports of two
Yellow-browed Warblers being seen there that morning. These are rare visitors
from Siberian taiga. But after waiting around for an hour or so we abandoned
the search. We did manage to see clearly a Cetti's Warbler sat on a willow
branch before it quickly disappeared into the bushes again. An elusive
bird, often heard, rarely seen.
A nice end to our Birds seen:-
Greater Black-Backed Gull
Great Crested Grebe
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great White Egret
Lesser Black-Backed Gull
Charlbury Walk 16 November 2014
On a typical misty mild autumn morning Ken Betteridge was joined by six
WOFC members for a circular walk from Charlbury. We set off from the Ditchley
Road, taking the footpath which goes up the side of an old disused limestone
quarry. This quarry is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest
on account of its geology - at one end the strata of rocks underlying
this part of West Oxfordshire are exposed. The hedges round it have grown
thick and tall so we were unable to look into it. But no matter! There
was plenty to interest us outside it as we started to spot fungi at the
base of the hedges on either side of the path. Not having a fungus expert
with us we consulted Peter Creed's Guide to Finding Fungi in Berkshire,
Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire which I had remembered to bring along
with me and soon identified a Wood Blewit in the leaf litter. Others we
confidently identified in this area were Candlesnuff Fungus and Jelly
Coming out into the open we had good views over Charlbury and appreciated
the subtle autumn colours in the countryside. As we slowly progressed
we noticed the fruit in the hedgerow - the crimson and orange spindle
berries, the hard green crab apples, the bright red berries on the Holly
bushes, the dull red of the abundant haws, the black sloes still with
a bluish bloom and the strings of red berries of the Black Bryony. Although
late in the year we saw 26 species of plants in flower, some of which
were ephemerals at the edges of the arable fields making the most of the
continuing mild weather and, hopefully, having time to set seed to provide
food for the small farmland birds over winter into the spring. As expected
at this time of year we saw and heard very few birds. A Robin serenaded
us with its plaintive winter song at the beginning of the walk and a couple
of male Blackbirds flew over the track before we joined the Saltway, making
a fuss about something.
Our return route took us down the side of Pintle Stripe, which is a beech
plantation, where we found lots of different fungi. Some of them were
very impressive creamy brown toadstools with caps up to 20 cm across.
We spent some time trying to identify them and the others in that area
but as we found it difficult we photographed them and took specimens home.
Even then it took me ages using several books and the Internet before
I was fairly confident that the large toadstools were Clouded Funnel.
The other fungi accompanying these were Ashen Knight, Common Bonnet and
As we neared the end of the walk our route took us along a bridle path
above the lovely valley known as Clark's Bottom. This brought us onto
an unadopted road on the outskirts of Charlbury, from which we took a
short-cut through the houses back to our cars in Ditchley Road. It had
taken us 2½ hours to walk 3½ miles but by not hurrying we
had enjoyed being out in the countryside and experiencing what it has
to offer at this time of year. Thank you, Ken, for taking us on such an
Lamium album White Deadnettle
Geranium robertianum Herb Robert
Sinapsis arvensis Charlock
Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell
Veronica serpyllifolia Thyme-leaved Speedwell
Euphorbia helioscopia Sun Spurge
Bellis perennis Daisy
Senecio vulgaris Groundsel
Marticaria discoidea Pineappleweed
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sowthistle
Crepis cappilaris Smooth Hawksbeard
Solanum nigrum Black Nightshade
Lamium purpureum Red Deadnettle
Poa annua Annual Meadowgrass
Lapsana communis Nipplewort
Heracleum sphondylium Hogweed
Capsella bursa-pastorisi Shepherd's Purse
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Brachypodium sylvaticum False Brome
Tripleurospermum inodorum Scentless Mayweed
Euphorbia exigua Dwarf Spurge
Galium verum Lady's Bedstraw
Dactylis glomerata Cocksfoot
Arrhenatherum elatius False Oat-grass
Cerastium fontanum Common Mouse-ear
Lepista nuda Wood Blewit
Xylaria hypoxylon Candlesnuff Fungus
Auricularia auricula-judae Jelly Ear
Pleurotus ostreatus Oyster Mushroom
Agaricus silvicola Wood Mushroom
Clitocybe nebularis Clouded Funnel
Tricholoma virgatum Ashen Knight
Mycena galericulata Common Bonnet
seen and heard:
Water Park 7 December 2014
After driving through a period of torrential rain which fortunately moved
rapidly eastwards before the walk started, 10 of us met up at the Neigh
Bridge car park near Somerford Keynes for this joint Field Club / Oxford
RSPB group walk. We were pleased to see several red-crested pochard on
the lake adjacent to the car park, but these paled into insignificance
when we reached the lake near Lower Mill, because here there were almost
40 in the bright sunshine and close to the shore, all in full breeding
The next lake had mainly tufted ducks and wigeon on it. The several cormorants
also here were easily finding and catching quite large fish to swallow,
not always successfully. Surrounded by trees, the next lake was surprisingly
good for wildfowl with a good number on it. Species included a female
smew, a female goosander and a pair of goldeneye, in amongst the many
mallards, wigeon, gadwalls and tufted ducks. Also here, were a few shovelers
and a small number of little egrets. We ate our packed lunches back at
the cars and then travelled the short distance to Waterhay, where 10 curlews
feeding in a nearby meadow, a chiffchaff and a calling water rail were
the only species of note. The day had been fine and bright after the early
rain and we'd logged 43 species.
Birds (h - heard):
Great Crested Grebe
Water Rail (h)
to Crocodiles of the World 11 January 2015
Eight intrepid members gathered in the tropical warmth of Crocodiles of
the World near Brize Norton for a tour to see the collection built up
by Shaun Foggett. He began his interest in crocodiles at an early age
- his first acquisition was a Cuvier's dwarf caiman. Over many years feeding
and caring for the animals in his collection and studying their biology
and behaviour, Shaun gained further valuable knowledge on the care and
support of all kinds of crocodiles.
By summer 2009, his collection had grown to 21 individuals; all housed
in a purpose-built enclosure at his semi-detached West Oxfordshire home!
In February 2011 Shaun opened Crocodiles of the World in premises at Crawley
Mill but the collection soon outgrew the building so it was moved to its
current location, formerly Foxbury Farm Shop in February 2014. It is home
to more than 100 crocodiles, alligators and caimans from 14 different
species of crocodilian and is dedicated to their conservation and to the
education of human beings about these ancient animals from pre-history
who tend to get a bad press and who engender fear and anxiety in us. There
are also monitor lizards, snakes, turtles, tortoises and other reptiles
and even fish in the collection.
Although they appear to be similar to the untrained eye, crocodiles, alligators
and the gharial belong to separate biological families. The gharial having
a narrow snout is easier to distinguish, while differences are more difficult
to spot in crocodiles and alligators. Crocodiles have narrower and longer
heads, with a more V-shaped than a U-shaped snout compared to alligators
and caimans. The upper and lower jaws of the crocodiles are the same width,
and teeth in the lower jaw fall along the edge or outside the upper jaw
when the mouth is closed; therefore all teeth are visible unlike an alligator
which has small depressions in the upper jaw where the lower teeth fit
into. Also when the crocodile's mouth is closed, the large fourth tooth
in the lower jaw fits into a constriction in the upper jaw. Crocodiles
have more webbing on the toes of the hind feet and can better tolerate
saltwater due to specialized salt glands for filtering out salt. We learnt
that crocodiles can stay under water for up to 4 hours before surfacing
We watched crocodiles being fed (tasty pieces of skinned rat, in case
you are wondering) and later were given a fascinating talk in the education
centre by one of the keepers, Jamie - he was very knowledgeable and passionate
about crocodilians. We learnt about the conservation work going on at
the zoo - most importantly for the critically endangered Siamese crocodile
- there are believed to be between only 500-1000 remaining in the wild.
We were shown how to handle a one year old American Alligator which most
of us were then thrilled to be able to hold.
Everyone left in one piece and we thank the welcoming staff for a very
informative and enjoyable afternoon.
University Natural History Museum 19 February 2015
On Thursday, 19 February 2015, twenty members enjoyed a visit to see the
Entomological Collections at Oxford University Natural History Museum,
which includes the collection bequeathed by the Reverend Frederick W.
Hope in 1849. There are now 7 million specimens, with 20,000 more added
each year. The museum houses the second largest collection of British
insects in the UK. The oldest known pinned specimen in the collection
is a butterfly dating from 1702.
Dr James Hogan was our guide. He showed us how a single species of butterfly
can vary in colour and form. Pest control is an important and time-consuming
part of James's job. He showed us the damage that can be done to specimens
by the larva of the Museum beetle. Metal cabinets are now used instead
of mahogany and it will take 10 years to secure the collection.
We were shown the first examples of Tsetse flies found by Dr Livingstone
and sent to the museum. We also saw a tray of insects that had been collected
in Australia by Darwin and sent to Oxford. Climbing up a wooden staircase
we came into a huge attic space with beautiful and decorative wood work,
a stained glass window at one end and rows of mahogany cabinets. It was
here that the first public debate on evolution took place between Bishop
Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley in 1860.
The visit was hugely enjoyed by all and we thank James for explaining
the history of the collection and the work that goes on behind-the-scenes
at the museum.
Betty Daw's Wood 29 March 2015
The weather forecast for the Club's visit to this reserve was certainly
not favourable for a walk in the wood in either Oxfordshire or Herefordshire.
As a result, the stalwarts decided to stay put except for the very brave
Margaret from Church Hanborough and, of course, myself, being the leader.
We were duly rewarded with virtually dry conditions overhead although
rather damp underfoot, but we were suitably dressed. Birds were rather
scarce, not helped by the frequent strong wind, but Mary's timing for
the visit was perfect - the wild daffodils were spectacular. We were rewarded
with an excellent Sunday lunch at the nearby Kilcot Inn (my local).
Other flora seen:
Birds seen or heard:
Carrion Crow (calling)
Great tit (2 calling)
Song thrush (singing)
An Emergence of Cockchafers
On a gloriously hot summer evening we drove to Cassington for the Bike
Night gathering of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts. On arrival we
were directed into a large field acting as a car park at the back of some
houses. The grass in the field had been cur recently, but was still about
four inches long.
When we returned, just at dusk, the field was mostly empty of cars. As
we approached we were surrounded by flying cockchafers just emerging from
the earth. They were whirring and buzzing about all around and bumping
into us. We stood and watched this very fascinating and delightful experience.
It would be impossible to gauge how many emerged, but it must have been
many hundreds - probably many more.
Alison Weaver & Tony Florey, 30 June 2014
A Fascinating Fungus
On a bitterly cold, dry December day Tony, his cousin Richard and I went
to the Corinium Museum in Cirencester. After a good few hours spent in
a fascinating and interesting absorption of the Roman exhibits, we went
into the re-creation of a Roman garden, which was rather bare at this
time of year. There were several large terracotta pots full of earth but
empty of summer plantings. On closer inspection we were surprised to see
in one pot a collared earthstar fungus. This is a fungus I have only ever
seen once before, which I thought was uncommon. However, the reference
books state that these are 'common'.
Alison Weaver &
Tony Florey, December 2014
The Cherokee Indians put the earthstar fruit bodies on the navels of babies
after childbirth until the withered umbilical cord falls off, "both
as a prophylactic and a therapeutic measure". Just thought you'd
like to know!
Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris), distinctive with their slate-grey head, nape
and rump, contrasting chestnut-brown back and very dark tail and known
to many country people as 'felts', are traditionally part of our winter
scene in the British countryside, their familiar harsh chatter echoing
across the skies. These large Thrushes, at 25 cm the same size as a Blackbird
(Turdus merula), breed in Scandinavia, and can generally be seen from
October top April in flocks of varying sizes, often associated with the
smaller Redwings (Turdus iliacus), 20 cm, feeding in the main on the usual
abundant supply of hawthorn berries and other wild fruits. Both species
are nomadic during the winter months, moving widely in response to weather
conditions and the availability of food.
The birds generally visit gardens only during severe weather, when they
will readily be attracted by fallen apples. I well recall during the winter
of 1979, while working on a top fruit farm in west Oxfordshire, 13 tonnes
of apples (Worcester Permains and Epicure) being dumped in the orchard
between 3 and 9 January during steady overnight frosty conditions and
daytime temperatures not exceeding 30C. This resulted in some three thousand
Fieldfares arriving during this cold spell. By the time mild conditions
returned, only the stalks and pips remained, many of the latter being
consumed by a flock of Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla).
I have long had a particular fascination for Fieldfares and a desire to
visit Scandinavia to photograph their breeding cycle. During my trips
to Norway in the 10980s, I photographed a variety of nests containing
4 to 6 eggs. These are generally similar to those of Blackbirds in colour,
a dull bluish-green spotted and blotched with reddish-brown and grey,
while others are bright blue with red-brown blotches, and in size 29 x
21 mm. These are incubated mainly by the female for about two weeks. I
also photographed incubating birds, but never adults feeding young, not
having been there at the right time of year. In 1993 I revisited south
Norway with two fellow caliologists, hoping to fill this gap. We arrived
on Sunday 6 June in the late afternoon, having calculated from data recorded
on previous visits that at least some nests should contain young in early
Unlike Redwings, Fieldfares are generally colonial nesters. The main colony
was towards the top of a valley in a widely spread, open birch wood, containing
in the region of 50 nests. The total for the whole valley ware around
100 breeding pairs. The nests, similar to those of the Mistle Thrush (Turdus
viscivorus), sometimes with a foundation of twigs, are mainly constructed
of grasses, with a thin cup of mud and an inner lining of fine bents.
These vary in height from 3 to 10cm, often close to the trunk and also
in the forks of outer branches. Other tree species used include oak, alder,
willow, spruce and larch. Occasionally nests are on the ground when located
above the treeline, or on racks used for drying fish on the coast of Arctic
As we had no scaffolding on which to erect a hide, we needed to find a
suitable nest site on a hillside which could be overlooked, as had happened
when photographing an incubating in May 1989. There are other factors
essential for photographic success: acceptance of the hide by the adult
birds, young at the right stage, at least half-way through the two-week
fledging period, plus favourable weather in the form of the site being
illuminated by the sun, and unlimited time. Fortunately we found an ideally
situated nest and, with everything in my favour, I was able to complete
my Fieldfare photographic series. The results were rather reminiscent
of a school report, satisfactory, but could do better, as said by the
majority of wildlife photographers because the perfect picture is nearly
always out of reach!
Loss of habitat is the greatest threat to the continuation of a species.
There may well be a severe decline in Fieldfare breeding numbers on this
particular site of open bird wood in the future unless some action is
taken to conserve it. The main threat is grazing by sheep, resulting in
no natural regeneration; Scotland all over again, although only one Red
Deer was seen here. During the winter of 1988/9 three metres of level
snow fell, the heaviest fall since 1927. This resulted in significant
damage to a considerable number of trees. Many branches snapped under
the weight of snow and in some cases the trees broke in half.
Predation appeared much less of a problem, with only one pair of Magpies
(Pica pica) in the valley, their population regulated by the extreme shortage
of food during the winter months, Ravens (Corvus corax), however, presented
more of a threat; with snow still on the ground and no leaves on the trees
many nests are easily visible. One nest with well grown young was in the
very top of a birch tree, reminiscent of the time when Rooks (Corvus frugileus)
nests high in the elms. This was soon located by a marauding Raven. Quickly
seizing one of the young, the predator immediately had at least a hundred
Fieldfares in hot pursuit, but none actually made contact with the Raven.
As the late Chris Mead would have said: "This was perfectly natural".
May we long hear the harsh clatter of Fieldfares filling out winter skies.
Graham J Wren
Jean Vick 1925-2014
I first met Jean in the late 1970s at the Field Club, but it wasn't until
later, on a trip to the Scilly Isles, that I really noticed her. I first
noticed her by her absence - she was missing when we were going to move
on. I was told that this was "just Jean" - she liked to be alone
sometimes. I spotted her sitting on a promontory overlooking the turquoise
sea, where she appeared at one with the landscape. I think she was happiest
then, absorbing the wilderness around her and blending with it. I recognised
a kindred soul, and set out to become her friend.
It took some time, but I was well rewarded. We shared the same nature,
it seemed - an interest in people, but also a great contentment in being
alone with nature. It was also a great pleasure to find a friend with
whom I could share my religion, and as Jean's health deteriorated, we
went to many moving healing services together. She was a great travelling
companion, enjoying people-watching and wildlife-watching and not caring
much about comfort. It was great to share the wild places with someone
who didn't feel a need to talk a lot.
Jean was a warm, kind, highly intelligent and intellectual person (she
was a qualified aeronautical engineer), always interested in those around
her. Even when she was confined to a nursing home for the last few years,
she maintained an interest both in her friends and in current affairs.
She remembered everything about everyone, it seemed, and had many visitors.
Her last few years were spent in a great deal of pain, unable to walk,
and confined indoors in a nursing home. I don't know how she coped with
this so stoically - being out of doors in the wild meant so much to her
that being trapped indoors must have been rather like being kept behind
She was a great participant in the organisations to which she belonged-
the WI, Field Club and no doubt many others down the years - joining committees
and making a contribution, both in ideas and opinions and in basic things
like tea-making. She joined the field Club in the early 1970s and at one
time was its Vice President. She was an enthusiastic participant in outings
and holidays. Many of us have fond memories of her excellent company on
holidays from the Scillies to Mull, from being caught in the middle of
a huge Irish bog on the Burren in as a great thunderstorm swept down on
us, to chasing a mouse across our hut in the middle of the night on Skomer.
Jean's favourite place, I think, was Bardsey Island, with its solitude,
peace and wildlife.
Jean grew up in Finstock and spent much of her life there, very much involved
in village affairs - the kind of person who makes village life tick.
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