In contrast to last spring's editorial, which was written after a lazy
lunch-hour in the garden, this one follows a trip to Somerset during which
snow fell on the Cotswolds. But overall it has been a record-breaking
warm winter. Recently I have seen more foxes on the roads around dusk
and later than for some time. The cubs are well-grown by now, and their
parents must spend a lot of time hunting for them. I also had a burst
of hedgehog 'signs' on the lawn a couple of weeks ago. No obvious toad
run this year, but they have had plenty of wet nights to choose from.
I have on occasion collected up to 80 toads in a bucket in just three
hours to protect them from night drivers. Standing beside the road peering
into the darkness on a cool but humid night, I could actually hear them
coming - croaks approaching in the darkness, heading for the local gravel
pit. Nothing to compare with the cacophony that occurs in a rainforest
following the first rains of the rainy season. One pool I visited in Australia
had no fewer than 12 species of frogs and toads calling at once, and you
could hear them half a mile away. Close up it was so deafening that you
had to move away after 20 minutes, ears ringing as if you had been close
to the speakers at a disco. The volume these tiny frogs were capable of
using their inflatable throat pouches was astonishing.
Spotting my first
swallow of the season returning across the Cotswolds reminded me of another
first - the first collared dove to visit my childhood garden in the late
1950s. I was so excited to see one. Now they are so common that their
repetitive calls become annoying. Since arriving (naturally) from the
Continent in 1956, their number has now reached 230,000 pairs in the British
Isles. The changing climate will bring more new species from the south,
like the elegant little white egret, now residing here.
Then there are the
deliberate introductions, such as white-tailed sea eagles in Scotland,
and red kites in the Chilterns - now a common sight above the garden and
along the M40. To have one swoop low unexpectedly in front of the car
windscreen can be quite alarming - the wingspan is not far short of 6
feet. Sadly, the last golden eagle, the predatory bird with the largest
wingspan in England, is thought to have died, leaving a new record-holder,
the eagle owl, brought to extinction here several thousand years ago.
The source of this returnee is unknown, but it is an impressive bird,
looking every bit the ferocious predator. The RSPB is unhappy about its
return, fearing for its work attempting to boost the hen harrier population,
which the owl occasionally attacks. The eagle owl is not a bird to be
trifled with - friends living in the vicinity of a nest warn to keep clear
of the bird, as it apparently has a temper to match its looks. I would
not fancy the chances of pet rabbits and kittens if it became too common.
Some of our more familiar
birds are still declining. According to Martin Harper, conservation director
of the RSPB, our puffins and turtle doves now face the same level of extinction
threat as the African elephant, and are now more endangered than humpback
whales. I was surprised to see that even oystercatchers and lapwings have
now been added to the 'near-threatened' list.
The Club has been
out birding this winter, with a grand total of 83 species seen on the
trip to Morecambe in October, and 66 species at Slimbridge on a cold but
sunny February day. There was also a trip to Wilstone Reservoir and College
Lake, and in January we revisited Over Norton Park and Walk Farms to see
the farmland birds attracted by the stewardship scheme there with its
many different feeding areas. Corn bunting, reed bunting, yellowhammer,
brambling, tree sparrow and mistle thrush were among the more interesting
species seen. A trip to Otmoor in April saw some early migrants returning
- sand and house martins, swallows and chiffchaffs.
We have also followed the changing pattern of plants and fungi through
the seasons, and now the first brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies
are among us, and bees of all sorts are in the garden. We hope this summer
will see better fortunes for our butterflies. Butterfly Conservation's
State of the UK's Butterflies 2015 shows that over the last 40 years 76%
of resident and regular migrant butterflies have declined, including some
of the commonest species - the gatekeeper has declined by 40% in just
the last 10 years. The main causes appear to be the intensification of
agriculture and changes in woodland management, leading to reduction and
fragmentation of breeding habitat, but the butterflies are also significantly
affected by pesticides and by climate change. Even so, determined efforts
at conservation are paying off, especially by restoring breeding habitat
in series of linked sites. In SE England nearly 1000 volunteers have been
involved in bringing the Duke of Burgundy back from the brink, including
in the Painswick Valleys in Gloucestershire, where the large blue has
also successfully been reintroduced.
The mild weather has led to a mixture of winter and spring wildflowers
- celandines were out in early January, daffodils lasted for up to two
months before fading, and coexisted with snowdrops, crocuses, primroses,
cowslips, bluebells and cherry blossom. We look forward to greater riches
on our summer excursions, and to that gem of spring, the dawn chorus.
While it is important to remember the needs of conservation, and to contribute
where possible, it is even more important never to forget the great natural
world out there, to revel in its splendour and diversity, to celebrate
the remarkable changing of the seasons, to be humbled by the power of
the elements in storm, wind and flood, and to feel a part of the great
plan. The Field Club embraces both, offering a chance to learn about the
natural world and to get out and explore it
and to share it.
Views expressed by
contributors to this newsletter are not necessarily those of West Oxfordshire
A big thank you to everyone who contributed to this newsletter, and especially
those who had to try more than once to get emails through. They are welcome
souvenirs of our much-loved outings, and also help to attract new members.
Please can you let me have your reports of walks and other Club outings,
including any September reports that did not make it into this newsletter,
by the first week of September 2016 for the Autumn newsletter, and any
September reports as soon as possible afterwards. My e-mail address is
firstname.lastname@example.org. E-mailed flora and fauna lists in a single
column, not in a table or spaced with tabs, please. If this is not convenient,
please post handwritten or printed reports to the address given on your
Jill Bailey (Newsletter Editor)
REPORTS OF FIELD
Geology walk at Kirtlington Quarry 27 September 2015
On a glorious September Sunday morning eleven members and three visitors
met up with our leader, Lesley Dunlop, at Kirtlington Quarry, well known
to geologists as an SSSI owing to the wide variety of fossils found there
in past years. Since 1997 the quarry and woodlands adjacent to the Oxford
Canal have been designated as a local Nature Reserve, with a lease agreement
between the quarry owners and the District Council. Steps up to raised
board walks have been provided to enable visitors to examine the exposed
quarry face at several levels.
Disappointingly few good quality fossils remain to be found now, but at
the time when the quarry was working many shell and bone fossils were
discovered, which are now on show in the OU Museum of Natural History.
The rocks exposed in the quarry were probably laid down in the shallow
water of a coastal environment. Evidence for this was provided by the
presence of fossil wood, freshwater algae and crustaceans, dinosaur bones
and rare mammal fossils, indicating the proximity of land.
Historical records indicate that Fullers Earth (a volcanic ash, used for
fulling wool) was quarried at Kirtlington in the early 17th seventeenth
century, and the limestone was also quarried as a local building stone.
But in the twentieth century clay and limestone from the quarry became
important ingredients for the cement industry, and with the quarry's proximity
to the Oxford canal it was well placed for supplying the markets both
to the north and the south.
Picture by Mary Elford
Fungus Foray in Bernwood Forest 18 October 2015
On October 18th 2015
about a dozen people joined Peter Creed on our annual Fungus Foray, this
year in Bernwood Forest. The forest is very popular with dog walkers so
in his introductory remarks, Peter included a health and safety warning
about dog waste not picked up by the owners. Nevertheless, we had a very
fruitful morning examining and sometimes tasting the diverse range of
fungi to be found. We saw several people gathering fungi for eating. Here
is Alison Weaver's extensive list of species seen:
Fungi and lichens
False Death Cap
Yellow Stag's Horn
Slimy Milk Cap
Blue Conifer Bracket
Tawny Funnel Cap
Orange Milk Cap
Blackening Brittle cap
Penny Bun* (Alison's lunch)
False Saffron Milk Cap
Plums and Custard
Pixie Cups (lichen)
Pixie cups lichen
Plums and custard
Plant species noted:
Devil's Bit Scabious
Trip to Morecambe
23 - 26 October 2015
On Friday 23rd October thirteen of us set out for Leighton Moss and Morecambe
Bay and we met up at Martin Mere Wetland Centre for 1 pm lunch on the
This is always a good place to visit in the Autumn and we had great views
of Pink-footed geese from the United Utilities Hide, a large group on
the ground and squadrons more flying in during our three hour visit. Their
numbers are in excess of 10,000 birds and they winter in the United Kingdom
travelling from Iceland and Greenland. Up to 70 Whooper Swans have arrived
from Iceland together with many wintering ducks. We had a distant view
of a Kingfisher sitting for a while on a fence post and a Marsh Harrier
flew over. Large numbers of Lapwings and small numbers of Ruff were showing
It was time to move on at 4 pm and we headed north for another hour and
a half to our hotel, The Clifton, on Morecambe sea front where we were
booked in for Bed & Breakfast for the next three nights. We were booked
in at 7.30 pm for dinner at the Clarendon Hotel, a five minute stroll
along the promenade.
Saturday was forecast to be a wet start as we met for breakfast and there
was a fine view of the sea nearing high tide and pushing a large group
of Oyster Catchers and Curlew ever closer. We headed up the promenade
in our cars after breakfast stopping to scan the few remaining rocks and
groynes for various birds which were waiting for the water to recede again.
High tide is, of course, the best time to see the birds as Morecambe Bay
is as much as seven miles wide and the whole expanse of mud and sand is
exposed at low tide giving the birds rich feeding grounds but allowing
them to spread out over an enormous area.
On our way to Leighton Moss we called in at Warton Crag, an impressive
disused quarry with a high cliff face offering nesting and roosting spaces
for a huge number of Jackdaws plus two roosting Peregrine Falcons which
gave us good views through the telescopes. The expected Ravens were not
showing this time.
Leighton Moss was not far on and we spent the day exploring the Reserve
for delights such as, Great Egrets, Otters, Bearded Reedlings, a large
group of Black-tailed Godwits, Marsh Tit, Bullfinch and then over the
road at the second part of the reserve to the Eric Morecambe Hide for
Water Rail, two Kingfishers, Redshank, Greenshank and Spotted Redshank.
The much forecast heavy rain failed to reach us and we only had the odd
shower as we returned to our base for the evening. It was the night for
putting the clocks back an hour and the next morning was bright with almost
the same high tide at breakfast time as the previous day. We watched another
flock of Oyster Catchers across the road on the advancing tide line and
they had been joined by a Peregrine Falcon eating its breakfast. The Peregrine
took off and flew away carrying its prey, which looked like a smallish
bird, in its talons.
After breakfast we headed up the coast stopping off at a wonderful viewing
point for birds which afforded us good views of Dunlin, Turnstones, Lapwing,
OysterCatchers, Eider Ducks, Ringed Plovers and Great Crested Grebes,
among others. Heading up to Hest Bank where we had lunch and spent some
time trying to fathom out the workings of a tidal Eel pass built into
a flood prevention device. Eels are abundant in this area and make that
incredible journey from the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the Atlantic
Ocean. It is the only sea on earth that has no coastline (a nice bit of
trivia!). The rest of the day we returned to Leighton Moss to feast our
eyes on more birds and of course we had an hour less to do it in.
The following morning after another delicious breakfast we booked out
of our hotel and as it was a beautiful blue sky morning some of us headed
up the coast for some more wonderful bird watching. We called in at Leighton
Moss again and picked up on Bittern and good views of the female Bearded
Reedling on the grit trays which are put out for them as they change from
insect eating in October to reed seed eating as it helps them grind up
and digest their food.
A little further north is a known site for Dipper and Grey Wagtails but
we were not successful this time and only picked up on Dab Chick.
We headed for home having clocked up 83 species.
Bird species seen:
Great crested grebe
Lesser black-backed gull
Great black-backed gull
Wildlife Trust's Chedworth Reserve 14 November 2015
It was raining as just two of us travelled to the Roman Villa to meet
up for the walk, but fortunately ceased upon our arrival there and then
resumed during the drive home. We walked through the woodland on the reserve
path along the track of the former Cheltenham to Cirencester railway,
where it passes along high embankments and through deep cuttings in the
Oolitic limestone of the Middle Jurassic geological period. Interesting
fossils can be found in the scree, and in the cliff sides the surprising
extent of growth of the roots of nearby trees is visible. We firstly made
our way southwards along the path as far as the northern entrance of the
tunnel through the hill above Chedworth village. Most of the trees had
lost their leaves in the preceding windy weeks, and there was little in
the way of bird sounds. We admired the masses of moss and liverwort species
growing alongside the track as we made our way back towards the Villa,
and then beyond, northwards, as far as two trees on the edge of the reserve,
each completely covered in silvery-grey lichen from the bases of their
trunks to the ends of their twigs. It had been a surprisingly enjoyable
walk given the wet autumn weather.
WOFC trip to Wilstone Reservoir and College Lake 6 December 2015
It was dull and breezy when two of us met up with three RSPB members at
Wilstone Reservoir, two other WOFC members having gone directly to College
Lake. Visibility was surprisingly good, so we had good views of the many
wildfowl present. As is usual at this time of year, the most common waterbirds
were coots and tufted ducks. Other species included a little grebe, great-crested
grebes, gadwalls and mallards and, in the sheltered areas of water and
on the grassy banks, loafing or feeding wigeon, teal and shoveler. A single
goldeneye took some time to find among all the other waterbirds, but once
spotted, everyone got good views. Small flocks of long-tailed tits, goldfinches
and fieldfares moved ahead of us in the hedgerow as we walked along the
path to the bird-watching hide. The hide overlooked a shallow area of
water where a large mixed flock of lapwings and golden plovers had congregated.
Also here were lots of cormorants and, constantly milling around, noisy
black-headed and lesser black-backed gulls. Just in front of the hide,
on the muddy banks of a feeder stream, a little egret stepped daintily
to and fro showing its bright yellow feet. A small flock of nervous linnets
and a couple of flitting meadow pipits were feeding on an area of weed-covered
It was very busy later on at BBOWT's College Lake visitor centre, due
to an art exhibition, so we soon started a circuit of the of reserve.
However, it was very quiet bird-wise, with only a few of some of the waterbird
species present that we'd logged earlier in the day at Wilstone - apart
from two common snipe seen by the couple who'd come directly here. So,
before leaving for home, we retired to the centre's tea room for tea and
Birds species seen:
Lesser black-backed gull
Over Norton Park and Walk Farms 31 January 2016
14 hardy Field Club
members and one guest braved a truly miserable day at the end of January
for a return visit to Mike and Sarah Kettlewell's farms at Over Norton,
where farmland birds are fed throughout the year. It wasn't easy to pick
out individual birds in the gloom, but nevertheless David Rolfe managed
to assemble a list of 27 species and we were very impressed by our visit.
The farms have been in stewardship schemes for 15 years to increase biodiversity.
The bird feeding programme includes millet year-round to help tree sparrows
and reed buntings, and from December to May mixed feeding to attract chaffinches,
yellowhammers, linnets, skylarks and corn buntings. Our thanks to Mike
for his warm welcome and giving us his time. If only more farmers had
his commitment to the preservation of farmland birds.
Lesser black-backed gull
Mary Elford and David Rolfe
and Wetlands Trust 14 February 2016
Thirteen members turned
up on a beautiful blue sky but very cold north-east windy day at Slimbridge.
Adrian did an amazing 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. marathon and clocked up 62 species.
Well done, Adrian!
The group list for
the day totalled 66 species (White-fronted Goose included Siberian (orange-billed)
and Greenland (pink-billed) races):-
Lesser black-backed Gull
Great black-backed Gull
Chipping Norton walk for Signs of Spring 3 April 2016
Spring was definitely in the air as we set off from the Worcester Road
car park in Chipping Norton. The sun was shining and the wind had lost
its very cold edge. The tiny front gardens we walked past on our way to
the church were colourful with spring flowering bulbs and shrubs and the
churchyard was awash with daffodils. We took the footpath which comes
out by the site where there was once a castle. Then it was uphill all
the way to the Banbury Road, which we followed until we reached the start
of the permissive path through the woods on our left. On the verges and
under the hedges were some of the common wildflowers which are typically
out at this time of year: Hairy Bittercress, Dandelions, Ivy-leaved Speedwell
(with a very insignificant little pale blue/mauve flower), Lesser Celandines,
Daisies, Sweet Violets (white), Red Deadnettle and Dog's Mercury.
Once on the path which runs through the strip of woodland running parallel
to the road the only signs of spring were the bursting buds on the Horse
Chestnut and Sycamore trees and the Spanish Bluebells coming into flower.
With a thick ground cover of Ivy in the wood there were few other plants.
Part way up we stopped to admire the view to Over Norton, from which point
we chose to walk along a field margin rather than in the wood. At the
end of the field we turned left down a path through more woodland with
an understorey of hazel where there were some old lime trees with prolific
epicormic growth - a wonderful habitat for birds. From here we could see
the hedge in which Mike Kettlewell hangs the feeders for his farmland
birds. As we left the woodland we became aware of a Chiffchaff singing
- a very definite sign that spring is here.
Leaving a very muddy track we entered a grass field in what was once Over
Norton Park. An earlier use of the land here for cultivation is indicated
by some ridge and furrow to one side. We crossed wet areas marked out
by rushes and rosettes of Marsh Thistles, where springs rise and run down
to the little stream. Also in these fields are some old trees which were
probably remnants of the parkland. One old Ash tree had lost its top and
all that remained alive was the bottom part of the trunk, which sported
big fungal brackets part way up, with a couple of branches. The broken
off part of the trunk lay on the ground and had King Alfred's Cakes and
Turkey Tail (fruiting bodies of fungi which live on dead wood) growing
on it. The only flower we found in the field was the rather insignificant
When we reached the Over Norton Road we decided to take the shorter of
the two routes back to the car park as we had taken so long to reach this
point. The path we took was along the side of an arable field, then through
a recently planted wood, crossing the stream where Celandines made a pretty
picture growing on the bank overhanging the water. By the bridge were
just two flowers of Coltsfoot. Tony and Alison saw a Comma butterfly and
two Jays in the wood and we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming.
Our circuit was completed when we reached the churchyard again. Thank
you, Ken for leading this interesting walk.
I recorded 58 plants which I could identify, 21 of which were in flower
(listed below); also Male Fern and Soft Rush.
Sweet Violet (white and mauve)
Grape Hyacinth (garden variety)
Common Field Speedwell
Dog's Mercury (male only)
Yellow Archangel (variegated)
Ramsons (in bud)
Birds (mostly heard
and not seen):
Great Spotted Woodpecker
The following report
was omitted from the Autumn 2015 newsletter:
Walk at the RSPB's Otmoor Reserve on 11th April 2015
13 of us turned up for this walk on a windy and damp morning, which became
brighter as the morning progressed. Songbirds were a lot quieter here
than they had been a couple of mornings earlier, no doubt influenced by
the weather. However, in the car park we were greeted by singing chiffchaff,
robin, dunnock, wren and chaffinch. As we made our way along the path
from the cars, in the adjacent Closes field we saw lots of breeding lapwings,
heard our first of several redshank calling and a singing skylark. On
reaching the bird feeders suspended from a couple of small hawthorn trees,
we saw blue and great tits and chaffinches feeding aloft, with dunnocks
and pheasants taking advantage of any bits and pieces of seed falling
to the ground. The elevated bridleway provides a good view of the very
large Greenaways field, and while we were scanning over it several wildfowl
species were feeding on the pools and many hirundines high above them
were catching aerial prey. In the distance, towards Charlton-on-Otmoor
church tower, 3 buzzards were soaring. Later on, as we approached the
path to the bird-watching hide, spectacular numbers of linnets, chaffinches
and reed buntings were feeding on spread grain provided through a farming
stewardship subsidy. From inside the hide, lots more feeding birds could
be seen on the path beyond it. Also from the hide, a little egret could
be seen stepping daintily here and there through one of the shallow pools.
When we reached the reed-bed screens, most of us saw one of the pair of
marsh harriers present, which eventually went on to breed on the site.
On the walk back to the cars one keen-eyed member of our party spotted
a common lizard sunbathing on the side of a fence post. After a few seconds,
it slipped quickly into a convenient vertical crack in the post.
Birds seen or heard:
Great crested grebe
In Defence of the Black Rat
The Black Rat (Rattus rattus) originated in India and arrived in the UK
with the Romans some 2000 years ago. Some say the fleas carried by the
black rat brought back from the Crusades during the Middle Ages were the
source of the 1348-53 Black Death that killed three million people in
England, more than half the population at the time.
Originating in China, the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) arrived in the
U K in 1730 from the Baltic, and quickly displaced the smaller Black Rat.
I highly commend the
efforts made by organisations and individuals in eradicating the Brown
Rat from the islands of Handa, Canna and Ailsa Craig, thus protecting
the breeding seabird populations from predation.
However, I fail to
understand why the RSPB is spending over £1 million in a scheme
to remove the Black Rat from the Shiants, their last UK stronghold, in
order to protect the resident Puffins (Fratercula arctica), which are
showing no significant signs of decline.
Those of you who watched
the recent programmes on BBC4 about our declining seabird populations
will be aware that the threat to the food supply is the greatest concern
for our seabirds, with the possible exception of the Gannet (Sula bassana).
The RSPB is endeavouring
to eradicate a species from our islands whichis closer to qualifying as
a native than the Brown Rat, on a par with the Rabbit, which was also
brought here by the Romans. Is this really what conservation is all about?
Control, yes - but not eradication!
Graham J Wren
John Brucker 1929-2016
One of our esteemed vice-presidents has died at the age of 85. For many
years he led us on walks, especially for birdwatching in Blenheim, then
afterwards for an enjoyable pub lunch with his wife, Vivienne. He was
an eminent ornithologist, being County Recorder for 22 years, and editing
the County Bird Report. He also wrote more than 70 columns for the Oxford
Times, contributing the fees to a Conservation and Ringing fund set up
by the OOS. John joined the OOS at the young age of 14, and later was
its President from 1975 to 1978. He was very active as an adviser and
motivator of conservation projects, especially those at Stratfield Brake,
St Mary's Fields, Kidlington, and Woodstock Meadows.
Old members will remember
Colin, who has died as the relatively early age of 67, and his wife Isabelle.
He was a first class naturalist and often won our Members' Night quiz.
....spring has arrived!
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