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NEWSLETTER No. 89– SPRING 2009

EDITORIAL
For me, winter is the time for trees – outlining the landscape with their stark skeletons. On many Cotswold roads, especially that from Burford to Cirencester, they droop over the roads like very old men, their gnarled arthritic arms festooned in what – in a winter mist – appear to be cobwebs, but in reality are the winter remains of Traveller’s Joy (Old Man’s Beard). The great oaks of Blenheim have so many cracks, crinkles and hollows that they always seem like the illustrations of children’s fiction – you can almost imagine you see a face in the trunk. But it is the yews which to me most make their brooding presence known. A churchyard giant has seen many generations of humans come and go – it has witnessed the optimism of baptisms, the joy of marriages and the grief and despair of funerals and burials. Oxfordshire has its share of giant yews, with one in the churchyard at Heythrop having a circumference of 7.5 m.
After a long, cold winter, spring has finally burst forth. In St Hughes’ gardens at the weekend I saw wild Bluebells in flower, and also Fumitory. The week before, the Primroses were not as numerous as in previous years, but the stitchworts were twinkling in the hedges on the Quantock hills in Somerset, and the Buzzards were courting on the Somerset levels. There was a Skylark singing above my garden in mid-February – the earliest I’ve ever heard.
Judging by the number of road-kills, the Rabbits are already breeding prolifically. Increasing numbers of Magpies are playing “chicken” on the roads as they leave it till the last minute to abandon their finds.
Again, the Toads seem to have migrated in small groups this year – no great numbers flattened on the roads here. But the cherry tree on next door’s lawn was encircled by headless toads the other morning – any ideas on the culprit? I’m guessing a cat.
The greening of England is also proceeding in another sense of the word, with the government about to promote the purchase of greener cars, set up a scheme for getting old polluting rust-buckets off the road, and encouraging the use of wood-burning stoves. In the last few years the push for biofuels led to them being grown on former agricultural or forested land, forcing food cultivation to shift to more marginal areas, with increased need for fertilisers and greater risk of soil erosion and excessive irrigation. The saving in fossil fuel emissions was countered by the increased output of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of forests to make room for the biofuel crops. An interesting line of research in the western USA is the use of large vats of algae producing energy by photosynthesis, arrayed in the desert like the great hectares of photovoltaic solar panels.
The wood-burners are not always environmentally such a good idea. Apparently we don’t really have enough wood available, so much of it is imported from Canada, entailing considerable burning of fossil fuels to cut it down, transport it to ports and then by ship to England and by truck to the stores.
With the demise of set-aside, one wonders what effect this will have on our wildlife. The potential loss of habitat for mice and voles may well impact on our already threatened Barn Owl population and also our Kestrels. In an attempt to help, conservation groups, including BBOWT, have been putting up owl nesting boxes to compensate for the loss of many old eaves as barns and farms are converted to elite homes with UPVC eaves. In November the Oxford Times reported a scheme for inmates of the Spring Hill open prison near Bicester to make the boxes in their workshops, with no charge for manpower. Mike Read’s splendid talk on owls has made us even more aware of what a great loss it would be if we allow them to decline without putting up a fight for them.
It is rumoured that the sound of the Cuckoo may soon be seldom heard in the land. In years past Cuckoos have mated in the willows at the end of my garden. But last year I heard but a single Cuckoo – on Dartmoor.
While some wildlife is in decline in Oxfordshire, it is encouraging that some is on the increase. Last year a European Beaver, escaped from captivity and set up home on the Thames in Oxfordshire. A Beaver introduction trial is taking place next door in Gloucestershire, so maybe these animals will return to us after an absence of some 400 years. Polecats, spreading east from their stronghold in Wales, have reached Oxfordshire. And it seems Oxfordshire has one of the purest Polecat populations in England, with very few Polecat–Ferret hybrids (Ferrets were originally bred from Polecats). Apparently Polecats survive better in the wild than Ferrets. As the Mink population is brought under control, the Polecats may perhaps do even better.
The Club has had a wide range of activities this year, ranging from trips to various parts so the Cotswolds to further afield at Slimbridge, and to the Living Rain Forest near Newbury. We had our usual dawn chorus with President Graham Wren in May. Those who went on the walk along the River Coln were treated to a colourful fly-past of the Red Arrows, who coiled their streamers into a colourful heart with an arrow through the middle. Included in the programme was a ‘scenic’ summer walk that took in Badbury Hill and Faringdon Folly.
Winter talks have ranged from the fauna of the Farne Islands to the dragonflies, butterflies and other British wildlife, both local and further afield, including a splendid illustrated talk on Barn Owls, where even the life-long twitchers among us learned something new. Speaking of twitchers, we have discovered a “plant twitcher” - Brian Laney’s talk on rare and localised wildflowers of Britain was an amazing array of fascinating species and where and when he had seen them, delivered with great enthusiasm that left us all eager to hear still more.
Our social included the usual Christmas dinner, back at the Maytime at Asthall now it has recovered from the 2007 floods, and a summer party at the Swan at Radcot Bridge. Hopefully, this coming summer it will at last be warm and dry enough to sit out by the river there.

Jill Bailey



ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 6 March 2009


The 46th Annual General Meeting of the West Oxon Field Club was held on 6 March 2009 at the Methodist Church Hall, High Street, Witney. Fewer members than usual attended –about 30 – sickness may have limited the numbers. The President, Graham Wren, took charge of the proceedings.
First, the Treasurer, Tony Florey, introduced the balance sheet for 2008. After explaining some of the expenses, he told of the need to raise the Annual Subscriptions for 2010. He proposed that they should be £20 for single and £30 for double, with £3 for juniors and £3 per meeting for visitors. The members endorsed this unanimously.
Tony then spoke about Muriel Seward, who had died recently, aged 97 years. She, together with her husband, Len, had been a loyal Club member for 25 years.
The Chairman, Sue Morton, then summarized the Club’s activities during the past 12 months. These included trips to Slimbridge, Ardley Quarry (complete with hard hats), Eastleach for the Dawn Chorus (followed by breakfast at Hailey), Newent and Sherbourne. A short visit to Diss and a Summer Party at Radcot Bridge completed the outdoor ventures. There was also a full programme of indoor meetings culminating with a Christmas meal at ‘The Maytime’ at Asthall. Avery Baines and Ray Edwards were thanked for their efforts in completing the programmes. Suggestions for other summer outings and leaders where possible were invited.
Then Tony Florey paid tribute to Avery Baines who has retired from the Committee. She has prepared the Club Programme for 20 years (carrying on the good work of Dorothy Bolton). She was presented with a Gift Token and given Life Membership of the West Oxon Field Club.
After the President had acknowledged the contributions of some of the long-serving members of the Committee (40 years in one instance), the Meeting concluded with a talk by Mike Reid on ‘The Barn Owl – under cover of darkness’. The visual display and amusing delivery were what we have come to expect from this popular speaker and everyone departed content.
Jean Kenworthy

YOUR NEWSLETTER


A week or so ago I wondered if this newsletter might be the first not to be produced but I need not have been concerned as you have turned up trumps and enough contributions have come in to make up a newsletter. Jill Bailey, as ever, has come up with a very interesting editorial. Most of the outdoor meetings have been covered by reports with the notable exception of the Fungus Foray which is a shame as I heard that a rarity was found. Was this ratified?
The deadline for the next newsletter is the end of August 2009 but if you write up your report soon after the event, when the information is still fresh in your mind, please send it in straightaway either by e-mail as an attachment (Word is preferred) or on paper by snail-mail to the address given on the programme.

Brenda Betteridge (Newsletter Editor)
E-mail: bbetteridge@phonecoop.coop

OBITUARY

Muriel Seward 1912–2009


Members will be saddened to learn of the death of Muriel in February. She was a very keen member of the Club with her husband, Len. They were very keen cyclists and older members will remember their nature-cycle trips they led round the Minster Lovell/Asthall area.
With her husband, Len, she was a WOFC member from 1979 until 2004 when he died and she moved from Kidlington to Goring-by-Sea to be nearer their daughter. She enjoyed living there very much and attended the day centre up to 4 days a week and on Saturday mornings. In April 2008 she re-visited their other daughter at Churchill in the far north of Canada and went dog-sledging on the Truckers’ Road and also on the Rocky Mountain railway. Churchill is the settlement where Polar Bears congregate and wait around until the sea ice freezes again.
She had many happy memories of the Club, and I always sent her a programme and newsletter to keep her up to date with the Club activities.


Tony Florey

REPORTS OF FIELD MEETINGS

Faringdon 3 August 2008

This was a departure from our usual field study expeditions this summer and was mainly for the far-reaching views of the countryside.
We met at Badbury Hill and walked around the Iron Age hill-fort which is renowned for its spectacular Beech trees and the Bluebell displays in spring and early summer. Some of the trees are really impressive and make one wonder how the relatively slender trunk manages to support the weight of the array of huge branches spreading out above. From the east side a fine view of Faringdon town and the surrounding countryside opens up. Like most of the summer, however, it was rather overcast and rain threatened at times so was not very inviting for any butterflies to sport themselves as we headed off through the fields and down
to Great Coxwell tithe barn.
This impressive building dating back to the early 1300s was one of William Morris’s favourite buildings and would have been used to store a variety of crops but mainly grain brought to the barn in sheaves, threshed on the open threshing floors and then stored in the granary.
After lunch at the Swan at Radcot bridge we headed up to Faringdon Folly which was having an open day and we climbed the stairs of the 100-foot high tower to marvel at the view from the top and pick out various places known to us. It was built by Lord Berners in 1935 as one of the last follies in the country. On a clear day as many as five counties can be seen.
David Roberts



Northleach 6 September 2008
There was a wedding in the church the afternoon Ken had chosen to lead a walk from of Northleach which meant that there was no parking left in the square, but as there were only five of us who arrived in two cars it was not a problem – on-street parking spaces were found not far away. The wedding party must have been disappointed with the weather which was probably the reason why so few members turned up for this walk. It was cool and it rained for most of the duration – fortunately not enough to soak us.
We soon left the town behind, climbing up through the fields to the west. Stopping to regain our breath we looked round at the view and identified Blackheath Clump to the west and Bradbury Castle to the south. We turned towards Hampnett, walking along Helen’s Ditch before joining Monarch’s Way. Although some summer flowers were still hanging on, there were definite signs that autumn was nearly here with the fruits ripening in the hedgerows and Ivy in flower, providing food for late insects. At the edge of an unharvested wheat field several flowering arable plants, including the rather rare Dwarf Spurge, were spotted. The wheat, long overdue for harvesting, was sprouting in the ear.
The conditions under foot were very wet and as we entered the valley water seemed to be running everywhere. We passed a stone-built sheep wash, which had been restored, before we climbed up the hill to Hampnett church. From here the route back to Northleach crossed a field on which manure had been spread. In the field below there was plenty of opportunity for washing our boots – it was flooded! On regaining the road by the Old Prison we resisted the temptation to stop for a cup of tea in the café there as we were all anxious to get home and dry out.
Thank you Ken for leading this walk and giving it added interest with information about the history, geology, etc. as we went along.

Flowers recorded:
White Deadnettle
Stinging Nettle
White Clover
Creeping Thistle
Spear Thistle
Red Clover
Rye Grass
Ivy
Pineappleweed
Hedge Woundwort
Lesser Burdock
Greater Plantain
Annual Meadow Grass
Hedgerow Geranium
Red Bartsia
Dandelion
Herb Robert
Wood Avens
Wild Basil
Field Bindweed
Blackberry
Meadow Vetchling
Ribwort Plantain
Lesser Knapweed
Smooth Hawksbeard
Sowthistle
Cow Parsley
Black Medick
Field Scabious
Knotgrass
Nipplewort
A mallow (garden escape)
Mayweed
Hogweed
Field Poppy
Dwarf Spurge
Heartsease
Forget-me-not
Scarlet Pimpernel
Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill
Groundsel
Germander Speedwell
Black Bindweed
False Oatgrass
Cock’s-foot
Perennial Sowthistle
Greater Convolvulus
Meadow Buttercup
Common Ragwort
Yorkshire Fog
Prickly Lettuce
Redleg
White Campion

Birds:
Goldfinch
Red-legged Partridge
Grey Heron
Mallard
Buzzard
Brenda Betteridge

Coln Valley Walk 14 September 2008

On a rather dull but dry afternoon a group of Field Club members took a fairly leisurely stroll along the edge of the River Coln following its winding way from the village of Coln St Aldwyn to Bibury. This is a very pleasant walk through the Coln Valley with undulating farmland on both sides for most of the way – quintessential Cotswold country with sheep grazing in the valley and on the hillsides.
From a naturalist’s point of view it was slightly disappointing as there was little flora and fauna to be seen other than Swans, Mallards and Moorhen on the river and a few field birds listed below and some blackberries and other autumn fruits growing in various hedgerows.
The walk is approximately 2½ to 3 miles, quite short really but we were glad to reach Bibury to sit in the garden of the ‘Catherine Wheel’ and enjoy a welcome cup of tea during which we were treated to a fly-past of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in V formation.
The finale of the afternoon was an aerial display by the ‘Red Arrows’ during which several emissions of coloured ‘streamers’ were made, one of which was a heart with an arrow through the centre. I have never known the RAF be so romantic!

Birds seen and heard (H):
Swans Mallards
Moorhen Crows
Starlings Blackbirds
Robin Long-tailed Tits
Pheasants Wren (H)
Chaffinch (H) Jackdaws

Tony Mattingley


Chedworth 9 November 2008

Seven of us met up near the NT Roman Villa on a wet and windy afternoon. There was still some autumn colour, mainly on the lower parts of beech trees where the leaves had escaped the wind and remained intact. We only did the shorter walk of the two mentioned in the winter programme: along the old railway track and back through the ancient coppiced deciduous woodland. The coppice stools here haven’t been cut for many years; some of the oak and ash ones are 3 m in diameter with up to twelve 30-cm-diameter boles growing up from them, forming a high canopy. During the walk several toadstools of different kinds were seen. Earlier, on the way to the rendezvous, we saw literally hundreds of winter thrushes, mainly fieldfares, which were eating haws on roadside hedgerow trees. Despite the rain it was an enjoyable walk.

Birds seen:
Buzzard Redwing Magpie Tawny Owl (heard) Wren
Mistle Thrush Pheasant Woodpigeon Great-spotted Woodpecker Nuthatch
Jay Long-tailed Tit Blue Tit Great Tit Fieldfare

David Rolfe


Cornwell 4 January 2009

It was a very cold, frosty winter’s afternoon when seven Field Club members were joined by a family of four (as guests for the afternoon), at the start of our walk from the small village of Cornwell through its estate on public footpaths.
This is a ‘model’ village with its own small Norman church and Jacobean Manor House. The architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (famous for his Mediterranean-style village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd) completely rebuilt the village and laid out the manor garden, channelling a brook under a cobbled footpath, across a road to make a shallow ford and then on to feed the manor pool.
Starting from the telephone kiosk we followed the road through the village until we reached a wood on our left. It was very crispy underfoot from the hard frost and at this point a few flakes of snow started to fall and the sky threatened more, but fortunately it came to nothing. Continuing our walk we dropped down to a stream and crossed a small stone bridge, under which icicles were hanging, and climbed a short but steep hill which lead to a narrow lane bordered by a tall hedge. A pair of Buzzards flew low above us as we continued along the lane. After a quarter mile we branched right dropping down to another valley and crossing another small stone bridge we climbed a short hill which lead into the churchyard.
The church of St Peter is interesting in that it has a little belfry, an old sundial and a stone slab from a coffin which acts as a seat inside the porch. It is the church where Rachael Ward (Maggie from the ‘Thorn Birds’) was married. It is screened by a group of very old Yew trees and by the gate we stopped to admire a three which was laden with reddish coloured fruit, thought to be Malus ‘John Downie’.
We continued our walk, passing the side of the Manor House and its orchard (in which we counted 17 Blackbirds and 10 Fieldfares busily feeding on fall-down apples) returning via the village to our starting point.

Finally, we could not resist a short walk down the ‘main’ road to take a look at the front of the Manor House and pool through the elegant wrought iron gate and admired a pair of swans looking very graceful on the lake further down.
Birds seen:
Buzzards Blackbirds Fieldfares
Rooks Crows Greenfinch
Wren Chaffinch Pigeons
Jackdaws (large flock) Robin

Tony Mattingley

MEMBER’S CONTRIBUTIONS


There is always something new
On Thursday 14 August, a decapitated partially plucked juvenile Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) was found on our top lawn, near by was a pile of feathers and a quantity of peas obviously from its crop. About half of the breast meat had been untidily removed on both sides, lookin as if a shovel had been used! – not a neat job – the trademark of a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). I temporarily moved the carcass into the sunlight to take several photographs, and then replaced it. The following morning the carcass had gone and a Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) feather (see below) remained as evidence of the predator. This has to be the most exciting record for the garden in our 13 years here (near Ross on Wye), although I have seen Goshawks overhead on several occasions. Another first for the garden was a Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) on 16 September 2008.


Graham J. Wren


Sightings from Stonefold

‘Our’ Barn Owl
A few days before Mike Reid’s fascinating talk ‘The Barn Owl—under the cloak of darkness’, Ken noticed some owl pellets on the floor of an open shed in our garden. We forgot to take them to the meeting but one of Mike’s slides illustrated all the different pellets making it easy for us to identify ‘ours’ as those produced by a Barn Owl. As well as the pellets Ken noticed copious white splashes all down planks of wood stood upright for storage – the owl had obviously used these to perch on. A few weeks later at dusk, a Barn Owl was seen through the utility room window perching on a Hawthorn bush. It stayed there for about 20 minutes before flying off down the lane.
Golden Plovers
This March we were privileged to witness flocks of Golden Plovers, wheeling around in the sky over the fields to the south of our home. They turned as one, flashing their white bellies and made up different formations, rather like shoals of fish. Presumably they were on migration to their breeding areas on the moors in the north of England. Sometimes they landed in the newly sown field next to our garden, giving us good close-up views with the binoculars. Busy in the garden we would notice their presence by their characteristic bubbling calls as they flew overhead
Brenda Betteridge




 

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