Sambourne Village

January 2009

The cold frosty weather has been great for taking walks around the village.

As we followed the footpath from Coughton back to Sambourne in early January we were pleased to see a flock of ten yellowhammers in the hedgerow just before we reached Sambourne Hall Farm, and while we were watching them a similar number of lapwings flew over. Since both of these farmland birds are declining in numbers it was encouraging to find them still in our area.

The weather has also maintained a high level of bird activity in the garden. Large numbers of green fiches, gold finches, chaffinches, blue tits and great tits together with four bramblings and the odd siskin are managing to empty a feeder each of sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts daily. Fat balls are regularly encrusted with long-tailed tits and these, together with starlings, can make short work of them. Blackbirds, robins, pied wagtails and others are feeding underneath on the fallout from the seeds and fat.

The pleasure to be gained from seeing the garden birds is a great consolation for the discomforts of winter.

February 2009

One morning in late January we were treated to some breakfast-time entertainment by two foxes that came to explore the corner of the field beyond our garden. For a while they just stood looking around then one decided that there might be something of interest in the neighbouring garden. This one nimbly climbed up the hedge and stood on top surveying the garden. It then jumped down for a closer inspection, reappearing on top of the hedge a few minutes later. I was aware that foxes are good climbers, but this isn’t something I’d witnessed before.

The birds must have heard that we would be taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on 24th January as we had some real surprises. The frosty morning meant that good numbers of birds were drawn to the garden feeders. Throughout the winter we’ve regularly seen up to four bramblings augmenting the more usual finches and tits. That morning there were 8 bramblings, a siskin and two (never before seen in our garden) redpolls.

The recent covering of snow has persuaded some fieldfares into the garden and at one point 17 were feeding on some apples we had provided for the blackbirds. Also, whilst out walking around New End to enjoy the snowy landscape we watched a raven, a bird normally associated with mountains and moorland, performing some aerobatics overhead.

March 2009

A two-week bird-watching trip to Mexico has rather limited the opportunities to observe what’s going on in the Sambourne area as winter draws to an end. We were absorbed by the sight of such avian delights as Keel-billed Toucans and Violaceous Trogons amongst the Mayan ruins of Cichen Iza and Palenque, and mammals such as Howler Monkeys, a Neotropical Otter and Nine-banded Armadillo going about their everyday activities.

Back home we found the winter visitors still much in evidence and at the time of writing (March 9th) there are large numbers of fieldfares and redwings in the field behind us and bramblings and siskins are to be seen on the seed feeders. However, the first hawthorn leaves are showing and catkins are maturing so we’re now looking forward to the arrival of spring and seeing the first brimstone butterflies and hearing the first chiffchaffs before the end of the month.

Having seen so few bees in the garden last year we’re keen to do what we can to support garden wildlife. We have the usual nectar-rich plants such as buddleia and sedums, but the latest Webbs “beautiful gardens” publication has other interesting ideas such as a log home for solitary bees that we might just try.

Stop-press! On March 15th, whilst walking along the lane from Dagtail End towards Feckenham, we had our first sightings of brimstones on the wing – a sure sign that spring is springing!

April 2009

A visit to the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve at Upton Warren on March 18th provided more signs that spring had arrived with the presence of the avocets that have now become regular visitors for the summer, and little ringed plovers that have been breeding there for many years.

On a walk along the bridleway through the woods off Wyke Lane on March 22nd we noticed that several of the puddles along and beside the path contained frog spawn and the spring sunshine had brought Comma, Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies out of hibernation. A few days later we heard a chiffchaff calling in Wyke Lane.

In the garden at the start of April we noticed the first freshly-emerged Orange Tip butterflies on the wing in addition to the Brimstones that had been around for a couple of weeks. It appeared that by April 14th the last of the bramblings had departed for their breeding grounds, there having been a peak of about a dozen in the garden on March 31st.

Swallows were spotted during visits to Gloucestershire on April 10th and 15th. After reading reports of the declining cuckoo numbers it will be interesting to see if we hear them around Sambourne as we usually do.

May 2009

Last month I speculated about the chances of hearing cuckoos calling around here this year. Well, I understand that some residents of Sambourne Lane first heard one calling over the Easter weekend. I’ve never heard them quite so early around here.

A pair of blue tits demonstrated their eagerness to get their nesting activities underway when our neighbours acquired a new nest box and left it on their patio just outside the kitchen door, prior to attaching it to a fence. Before the box could be fitted the tits began their nest-building in it while it was still on the ground. The box was hastily attached to a fence post and the tits continued unperturbed.

On a local walk at the end of April I spotted my first Holly Blue butterfly of the spring.

On an evening walk along the footpath near Sambourne Hall Farm on May 9th I noticed a brown hare in the adjacent field – the first I’ve seen in 28 years here. On the same walk I heard my first cuckoo of the year. The next day I saw another hare in the field alongside the bridleway off Wyke Lane. Perhaps I just haven’t been very observant in the past! It would be nice to think there’s a good population of them around here. There was also a willow warbler singing in the vicinity of the bridleway - the first I’ve heard around here for several years.

June 2009

Late May and early June have really served to demonstrate the richness of wildlife in and around Sambourne. One late evening walk to and from Coughton gave us grand views of a barn owl, a little owl, a cuckoo and hares. Subsequent dusk walks have largely repeated the experience, including a barn owlet.

We’ve been exploring the new footpaths on the Glebe Farm land up to The Ridgeway and mid-evening on the 11th June we had another barn owl sighting. The owl appeared to have emerged from a nest-site, which would suggest it was a different bird from the one we’d seen previously. It would be quite something if we have two barn owl territories within a mile of each other.

Daytime walks along the footpath to Coughton have continued to find yellowhammers and on 16th June we spotted linnets - the first time we’ve noticed them in the area. This walk has greatly benefitted from the new gates replacing the rickety stiles – thanks to the Parish Paths Partnership and Ian Merivale of Warwickshire County Council.

Have you noticed the explosion of the aphid population in the last week or two? It’s been pleasing to see a lot of ladybirds and the curious-looking ladybird larvae in the garden just lately. Let’s hope they deal with the aphids without us needing to resort to insecticides.

July 2009

Not much to record this time due to an imminent departure on holiday and less than two weeks have past since my previous effort. However, there have been a few interesting butterfly sightings. On a walk a few days ago I spotted a couple of painted ladies. I first noticed large numbers of them in the last week of May and shortly afterwards read newspaper reports that this has been an exceptional year for very large numbers of this migratory species arriving here from North Africa. Presumably the examples I saw recently are remaining from that influx. Hopefully we’ll see good numbers of this very attractive species again in August when the British-bred generation from the migrants is on the wing.

There have been a few meadow brown butterflies flitting around the garden in the current hot weather (date of writing is 1st July) and I have just been very pleased to see in the garden a small tortoiseshell. This species had such a disastrous year last year - I hope this sighting is a good omen!

There has continued to be plenty of bird activity in the garden with parties of young blue and great tits and great spotted woodpeckers. The warm weather has given rise to thermals which have resulted in fine views of buzzards soaring overhead. On 25th June we heard a cuckoo calling nearby. I don’t recall having heard one so late before.

August 2009

The local buzzards have continued to be very visible from the garden and early in the morning of 24th July two of them perched photogenically in a tree in the field behind us. I hastily assembled my “digiscoping” kit (spotting telescope, digital camera and adaptor to connect the two) and managed to get a reasonable, but not perfect, result. They decided to fly away before I could get properly set up.

Green woodpeckers have been very visible and audible recently – presumably enjoying the plentiful supply of ants around at the moment.

The few sunny days that we’ve enjoyed in early August have brought good numbers of butterflies to the buddleia flowers. So far I’ve noted peacocks, red admirals, painted ladies, commas, gatekeepers, meadow browns, speckled woods and tortoiseshells, which seem to have recovered in numbers after last year’s problems. For the sake of completeness I should mention the overabundance of both small and large whites – bad news for brassica growers.

I was please to see two other insects in the garden – a grasshopper (species not identified) on a buddleia flower and an oak bush cricket on a patio begonia. Neither is rare, but I haven’t noticed them in the garden before.

September 2009

The occasional spells of warm, dry weather has permitted some garden maintenance work to be carried out, including sprucing up our decking. The noise of this obviously upset the residents as two adult frogs emerged from underneath to see what was going on. I wonder what else lives under there.

The fine weather also brought a few dragonflies into the garden. I must treat myself to a field guide as I was unable to recognise them beyond knowing that one was a “darter” (short, stout body) and one was a “hawker” (long, slender body).

Butterflies continue to be plentiful in the garden, although their allegiance has now switched from buddleias to ice plants (sedum). Freshly emerged small tortoiseshells seem to be the most numerous, although there have also been some pristine commas.

The September Parish Council meeting had an unusual attendee in the form of an oak bush cricket and tawny owls were clearly heard to be making their contribution to the proceedings from outside.

Swallows apparently haven’t yet given up on our summer as they were still to be seen zooming around on 7th September.

I notice this is the 12th of my nature jottings, so there must be a good chance that I’ll soon be repeating myself as the annual cycle starts again. To make the notes more interesting, if anybody spots anything of interest please feel free to let me know (892043) and I’ll be happy to include any observations in future episodes.

October 2009

There seems to have been a lot happening with the arrival of autumn. We haven’t seen a jay from the garden for months, but now they can be seen regularly flying between the trees behind us, often carrying an acorn, and are coming to drink from our bird bath.

During a recent walk through Coughton Wood we watched a bold fox trot towards us, getting quite close before turning off into the undergrowth. We also had a close view of three adult fallow deer and one fawn, again seemingly quite undisturbed by our presence. A lady we encountered on the footpath from Coughton spoke of having seen herds of up to 30 deer. A few months back a neighbour spotted a couple of muntjacs trotting down Perrymill Lane and up towards “The Nook”. It would be interesting to know just how many fallow, muntjac and roe deer there are in the area.

Fungi seem to be rather scarce, presumably as a result of the dry September. However, we did see quite a large member of the boletus family growing in the grass verge at the end of Wood Terrace – quite a striking yellow/green/brown colour combination, and a few lawyer’s wigs were to be seen near the crossroads in Perrymill Lane. Tawny owls have been very vocal in recent nights. In an article by Chris Packham he suggests that this can be adults driving away their young so that they’re not competing for food.

For many months our garden was regularly visited by a pair of red-legged partridges that made themselves a bit of a nuisance by scratching in the vegetable patch and pecking on the patio doors. However, a few weeks ago we found the bloody remains of one – presumably having been a substantial meal for a sparrowhawk (or maybe a cat). This hasn’t put the survivor off – it still appears daily.

Our neighbour witnessed an example of the intelligence of the crow family. One of them, thought to be a crow or a rook, has been seen dunking pieces of dry, hard bread in a barrel of water before eating it, presumably to make it more palatable. We moved a cover from the drain outside the kitchen to find a toad in residence. It seemed to be in there from choice as it was able to climb out, but we’re now nervous about pouring hot liquids down the sink.

Every autumn we find the loft becomes home to a lot of hibernating cluster flies. I went into the loft yesterday to stow an empty box and noticed some of the flies and quite a few bat droppings. I soon found the culprit – a long-eared bat, doing it’s best to reduce the fly population. I understand that these are quite common, but I’ve previously only been aware of pipistrelles around the garden.

We’ve continued to make good use of the new network of footpaths around the village and have been pleased to see flocks of yellowhammers regularly flitting along the hedgerows.

November 2009

I’ve been pleased to receive more reports of interesting sightings around the village. A resident of Middletown Lane noticed a snipe in the garden and it spent some time feeding busily on the patio. It stayed long enough for a video recording to be made which was subsequently shown on BBC’s “Autumn Watch”. For anyone not familiar with a snipe, its dominant feature is a very long bill, colouring is rich brown with cream striping and a black and cream striped head – a bird normally associated with wetlands and muddy margins.

The next report was probably of a ring-necked parakeet in the elm outside the church – a bit of a mixed blessing as, whilst being attractive birds, there are concerns about their impact on native fauna and possible damage to fruit crops where colonies have been established in the south-east.

The pleasant weather in October resulted in butterflies being on the wing well into autumn – we saw small tortoiseshells on the 30th.

I filled the bird feeders with black sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts at the start of November and within hours the garden was full of greenfinches and up to 17 goldfinches at one time, a mixture of tits and even a nuthatch. It’s amazing how quickly word gets around! Great spotted woodpeckers are now daily visitors whereas they had been intermittent for some months. There seem to be more coal tits this year than we’ve seen previously.

The wintering redwings and fieldfares have been in evidence in the field behind us since the start of November. A completely white pheasant has also been in the field this week. I assume it’s a male as it has the red wattle around the eye. There have also been a couple of cream hen pheasants.

A neighbour noticed a fox had left its “calling card” in the garden and was interested to see that its diet apparently included damsons that had fallen to the ground.

December 2009

We have a constant battle with the squirrels to prevent them from getting to the bird feeders. The sunflower seed holders on top of poles were successful until the paint weathered to a matt finish and the squirrels could get enough grip to climb them. Then we took to greasing the poles with baby oil, which provides great entertainment as the squirrels frantically scrabble up the pole only to slide back down again. However, this needs re-applying regularly as it soon wears off. The other day I noticed a squirrel sitting on the dish at the top of the pole, happily munching away on the seed and I decided to chase it off. The squirrel had its back to me and took no notice as I opened the patio door and crossed the patio. It was still engrossed as I crossed the lawn and arrived right behind it. The thought of wringing its neck crossed my mind (only joking!), but I reached out and gave its tail a tug instead. The reaction was instantaneous and it catapulted horizontally across the garden and vanished over the hedge having barely touched the ground. I was showered in seed crumbs from the hasty departure! An hour later the squirrel was back on the dish, but now facing the house!

On December 1st I spotted the first brambling of the winter, joining the other finches, tits and now two regular nuthatches on the feeders.

The white pheasant that I mentioned last month has been getting bolder. A lady in Middletown has reported seeing it feeding on bird seed in her garden. Perhaps it will be wise enough to stay around the residential areas and avoid the guns!