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No.101

SPRING

2015

 

 

EDITORIAL

A leisurely 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.

Jill Bailey



YOUR NEWSLETTER


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 Editor)


Saltwater Crocodiles - Photo by Mary Elford


REPORTS OF FIELD MEETINGS

Dry Sandford 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.

Mary Elford


Fungus 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.

Fungi seen:
Ascomycetes sp.
Beech Jellydisc
Bitter Poison Pie
Bitter Webcap
Black Bulgar
Boletus pruinatus
Burnt Knight
Butter Cap
Calocera cornea
Candle Snuff
Clouded Funnel Cap
Clustered Toughshank
Collared Parachute
Collybia dryophila
Collybia dryophila
Common Puffball
Cortinarius croceus
Dead Moll's Finger
Funnel Cap
Hedgehog Puffball
Ivory Woodwax
Japanese Parasol
Ochre Brittlegill
Pluteus salicinus
Rosy Bonnet
Saffrondrop Bonnet
Stump Puffball
Sulphur Knight
Sulphur Tuft
Toughshank
Upright Coral
White Saddle
Yellow Stag's Horn

Mary Elford

Pictures by Mary Elford



Cranham 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

David Roberts

 

Trip 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 the difference.
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 vagrant.
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 86.
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:-


Avocet
Bar-tailed Godwit
Blackbird
Black-headed Gull
Black-tailed Godwit
Blue Tit
Brambling
Brent Goose
Buzzard
Canada Goose
Carrion Crow
Cetti's Warbler
Chaffinch
Coal Tit
Collared Dove
Common Gull
Common Scoter
Coot
Cormorant
Curlew
Dunlin
Gadwall
Gannet
Goldcrest
Golden Plover
Goldfinch
Greater Black-Backed Gull
Great Crested Grebe
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great White Egret
Green Woodpecker
Greenfinch
Grey Heron
Grey Partridge
Grey Plover
Greylag Goose
Herring Gull
House Martin
House Sparrow
Jackdaw
Jay
Kestrel
Knot
Lapwing
Lesser Black-Backed Gull
Linnet
Little Egret
Little Grebe
Long-tailed Tit
Magpie
Mallard
Marsh Harrier
Meadow Pipit
Moorhen
Mute Swan
Oystercatcher
Peregrine
Pheasant
Pied Wagtail
Pink-footed Goose
Pintail
Pochard
Red Kite
Red-legged Partridge
Redshank
Redwing
Ringed Plover
Robin
Rook
Ruff
Sanderling
Shelduck
Shoveler
Skylark
Snipe
Sparrowhawk
Starling
Surf Scoter
Teal
Tufted duck
Turnstone
Whooper Swan
Wigeon
Woodpigeon
Wren

David Roberts


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 Ear.
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 Wood Mushroom.
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 interesting walk.

Plants in flower:

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

Fungi identified:

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

Birds seen and heard:

Robin
Blackbird
House Sparrow
Crow
Wren
Skylark
Fieldfare
Wood Pigeon


Brenda Betteridge

Cotswold 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 plumage.
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):

Blackbird
Black-headed Gull
Blue Tit
Buzzard
Carrion Crow
Chaffinch
Chiffchaff
Collared Dove
Coot
Cormorant
Curlew
Dunnock
Fieldfare
GSWoodpecker
Gadwall
Goldcrest
Goldeneye
Goosander
Great Crested Grebe
Great Tit
Greenfinch
Grey Heron
Jackdaw
Little Egret
Long-tailed Tit
Magpie
Mallard
Moorhen
Mute Swan
Pochard
Red-crested Pochard
Redwing
Robin
Rook
Shoveler
Smew
Starling
Teal
Tufted Duck
Water Rail (h)
Wigeon
Woodpigeon
Wren

David Rolfe

Visit 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 to breathe.

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.

Mary Elford

 

Oxford 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.

Mary Elford


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:
Lesser Celandine
Primrose
Cuckoo Flower


Birds seen or heard:

Carrion Crow (calling)
Nuthatch (calling)
Wren (singing)
Magpie
Bluetit (2)
Great tit (2 calling)
Robin (singing)
Blackbird (2)
Song thrush (singing)

Graham Wren


MEMBER'S CONTRIBUTIONS


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!
Ed.

Fieldfares

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 June.
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 Norway.
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

OBITUARY


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 bars.
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.

Jill Bailey

 

 

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