Sambourne Village

January 2010

The low temperatures and snow of the past few weeks has been giving the wildlife a tough time, but it has meant that the garden feeders have been very busy and some less regular bird species have been visiting the garden. Fieldfares and redwings have joined the blackbirds feeding on lawns and in hedges and a flock of 8 or more long-tailed tits frequently visit the fat balls and fat block. Inevitably the presence of so many small birds has been attracting the attention of sparrowhawks and we’ve had several sightings of one flashing through the garden in search of a meal. We also had an extended view of a female sparrowhawk perched on top of the hawthorn hedge. Just below the sparrowhawk a blue tit and a robin were sitting in the bush and we wondered if they were oblivious or if they knew they were safe in the heart of the hedge. On recent walks in the snow around the local footpaths we have seen increasingly large flocks of 20 or more yellowhammers.

After watching a buzzard land in an oak tree in our neighbour’s garden and another circling quite low above us we recalled how in the 1970’s, when we began to take a real interest in birds, we had to travel to mid-Wales to have much chance of seeing buzzards. They have been such a success story since than that we spot at least one perched on top of a lamp post every time we travel along the Alvechurch Highway The rabbit community might consider this to be an undesirable state of affairs as rabbits seem to be far less numerous in the field behind us than they were just a few years ago.

Returning briefly to the recent snow, we were amused to see the resident red-legged partridge trotting around the garden dragging behind it quite a large snowball that had built up as its tail trailed through the snow. It didn’t look very comfortable!

February 2010

As usual we joined in with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on 31st January. We counted 20 different species in the garden, but nothing particularly unusual. Most numerous were chaffinches, goldfinches and long-tailed tits, while most noteworthy were three bramblings and two nuthatches. Also present were a couple of stock doves. These have been regular visitors to the garden this winter and rather more attractive and dainty than the omnipresent wood pigeons. The previous week we noticed a male blackcap feeding on a fat block. Although blackcaps are now over-wintering here regularly, this was the first one we’ve seen in the garden this winter. Another first for the winter was the appearance of two siskins feeding on the sunflower seeds on 12th February. On the same day a raven landed in a tree in the field behind us and its size was clearly illustrated by the way it dwarfed a carrion crow and a magpie perched in the same tree. I’ve commented before that ravens have generally been thought of as birds of mountains and other remote areas, but we’ve now seen them here on several occasions, including in the woods off Wyke Lane.

Muntjacs continue to demonstrate their boldness as we recently saw one trotting down Perrymill Lane and into the drive to The Nook.

March 2010

March 4th was a good day for birds of prey – first was a buzzard circling high overhead, then a sparrowhawk appeared and circled quite low over the Lane and finally a kestrel flew over the garden and perched in a tree next door for several minutes. We’ve had several kestrel sightings in the Lane and surrounding fields lately. Prize for the best aerial display of the month goes to another buzzard I saw being harassed by 4 crows over the house. It performed some spectacular inverted flying, tight turns and dives to avoid their attentions. I‘m not sure why buzzards don’t make use of their talons or powerful bill to get rid of their tormentors. They always seem to opt for the non-confrontational approach. I suspect they’re just not prepared to risk sustaining an injury that would impair their ability to find food.

A tree sparrow put in an appearance in the garden on March 6th. This was the first I’ve ever seen in the garden, nor have I seen one locally before. It stayed around for a few minutes and made a half-hearted attempt at visiting the sunflower seed feeder, but seemed to be deterred by the large number of goldfinches and soon departed. For anyone not familiar with a tree sparrow, it is similar to a male house sparrow, but with a rufous-brown cap, a white collar and cheeks and a black spot on the cheek.

I don’t know if it’s in any way associated with the approach of the nesting season, but large flocks of the crow family have been regularly appearing in the trees and field behind us. Sometimes they are mainly carrion crows, sometimes mainly rooks, with a few jackdaws also present.

Herons are regularly seen around the village and one spent some time in the field just outside our garden just behind us. I know they aren’t popular with owners of fish ponds, but I like to see them.

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to clean out any nest boxes – assuming they’re not already occupied!

April/May 2010

These notes are rather limited this month resulting from an enforced absence from home. Our holiday in Bhutan was extended by an additional two weeks in India by courtesy of the volcanic ash cloud. Consequently we missed April in England. However, I have received reports of a cuckoo heard in the village on April 22nd and 28th, a family of greylag geese in a field off Sambourne Lane, a red kite recently spotted near Inkberrow (wouldn’t it be fine if a population became established here as in the Chilterns), and by the start of May a number of swallows were being observed swooping over a garden in Middletown Lane. Also, good numbers of bees have been noted, which bodes well for the crops.

We had a surprise last weekend when a dried leaf was noticed on the floor in the corner of our kitchen. On closer inspection this turned out to be a pipistrelle bat that was barely moving as it was so cold. We have no idea how it came to be there. We took it to the Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre in Beckford. They have been looking after it for the past few days and want us to collect it when it’s fully fit so that it can be released in its home territory.

Our limited observations in the first week of May have included tadpoles in even the smallest of puddles in the bridleway off Wyke Lane, bluebells approaching their peak in the wood, wild garlic coming into flower in Wyke Lane and increasing numbers of butterflies – particularly orange tips, speckled woods and peacocks.

Further to my previous comment about a buzzard being mobbed by crows, my thanks to a caller who advised that buzzards are known to operate in pairs with one luring a crow off its nest for the other to move in and steal the eggs or chicks.

Finally, on a late evening walk past Sambourne Hall Farm on May 12th we were delighted to see a little owl hunting amongst the barns.

May/June 2010

An update on last month’s bat encounter – Beckford Wildlife Centre declared the bat restored to full fitness and a volunteer who lives in Redditch brought it back and released it in its home territory in Perrymill Lane. Much cuckoo calling was heard around the village in late May, including virtually all day long from our garden on the 20th. The highlights of the last few weeks have been some fine views of a barn owl hunting over the fields between Sambourne and Coughton. Apparently significant numbers of them perished in the hard winter.

During a walk on a footpath near Whitemoor Lane it was pleasing to see a skylark fly up then drop back into the crop – hopefully to a nest sight. I can’t remember when I last saw one of this declining species in the area. As in previous years, we found a toad residing under the drain cover outside the kitchen. I hope it’s sensible enough to avoid the hot waste water from the various appliances!

Early June has shown evidence of successful bird breeding. There was a very vocal brood of great spotted woodpeckers in a tree in Wyke Lane, and more recently we have seen family parties of great and blue tits in the garden. Also, we’ve watched a parent male great spotted woodpecker feeding a youngster.

Venturing a little further afield, a visit to the Upton Warren nature reserve gave views of at least 9 adult avocets and several chicks. A couple of days spent in mid-Wales to visit the RSPB reserve of Dinas/Gwenffrwd provided lovely walks and views of oakwood and moorland birds including pied flycatchers, redstarts, cuckoos, whinchats and many others.

Finally, we’ve just been made aware of a less charming side of the natural world. During a walk along local footpaths I noticed a tickle on my hand. On inspection I found a tick struggling to get a grip. I despatched it but heeded the warning and had a good look at myself when I got home. I found a tick on each leg already dug in for a feed. I had been aware that where there are deer or sheep there may be ticks, but I haven’t seen any before. Walkers be warned!

July 2010

Over the past month there seems to have been a constant presence of young birds in the garden. These have included great and blue tits, dunnocks, starlings and great spotted woodpeckers. At one point there was a male woodpecker accompanied by two immatures on the bird table. A sparrowhawk has shown up from time to time – taking advantage of the number of inexperienced youngsters perhaps!

The number of ants’ nests in the garden has resulted in welcome visits by green woodpeckers, always looking very exotic. We’ve taken several walks through the Wyke Lane woods (Coughton Park) on sunny days and since late June have been delighted to see really good numbers of butterflies, including the spectacular silver-washed fritillaries and white admirals together with ringlets, large skippers, speckled woods, meadow browns, gatekeepers, commas, peacocks, small tortoiseshells and a solitary marbled white.

On some late evening walks from the village green on the footpath towards Coughton we’ve been entertained by a family party of up to four little owls. Sometimes they were all in one oak tree, whilst at other times a couple could be seen hunting from power cables.

Last month I mentioned having seen a skylark off Whitemore Lane. We’ve now heard and seen two more from the footpath across the field of wheat between Sambourne and Studley.

One morning recently I met with a County Council Forestry Officer in the recreation ground. He commented on what a beautiful area it is and was very impressed by the amount of bird song. A family of blue tits were busying around near us and many other birds were nearby. He’s quite right – a walk around there is to be recommended. Reports from other villagers have included a young pipistrelle bat that was found on the ground. This was collected by the RSPCA who hoped to be able to rear it to return to the wild. A garden pond in Perrymill Lane is known to contain at least one newt. An albino hedgehog was found in a garden in Perrymill Lane and taken to the Vale Wildlife Rescue Centre, as was a baby blackbird from the same garden.

August/September 2010

The highlight this month was spotted while we were walking along the Monarch’s Way footpath from Astwood Bank towards New End. A Wheatear showed off its peach-coloured plumage when it perched on a nearby fence post. I’ve not seen one in the area before – perhaps it was en route for its winter home in Africa. This footpath is to be recommended for good views towards the Malverns and Clent Hills.

Today (7th Sept) I’ve put out a feeder filled with black sunflower seeds for the first time for many weeks and have been rewarded with a visit by a nuthatch as well as the regular blue and great tits. I’m wondering if the usual numbers of greenfinches and chaffinches will show up. I understand their populations have been greatly reduced by a disease caused by a parasite.

I don’t seem to have heard the hooting of tawny owls in recent months, so it was pleasing to learn that one was spotted perched off Wike Lane recently and this was confirmed the next day by the presence of owl pellets.

September 2010

Conditions over the past few weeks seem to have been just right for fungi. On a walk through the woods off Wike Lane we found many different species of all shapes and colours, including some fine examples of the attractive (and very poisonous) red and white Fly Agaric. We’ve found more species popping up in our garden, including small two-tone purple and yellow ones growing from the root of a fern. I’m afraid I’m not knowledgeable on fungi, so my attempts at identification have been dubious.

As we were driving up Sambourne Lane from Coughton late one evening at the end of September, we were delighted to see a badger trotting up the lane in front of us. We knew they were in the vicinity, so it was a pleasure to see one in life.

A recent visit to the Pembrokeshire coast reminded us of the delights of that beautiful area. I had many sightings of atlantic grey seals and my favourite members of the crow family – choughs. I counted 22 of them feeding in a field on a cliff-top near Fishguard. The combination of scenery and wildlife makes this a very rewarding place to visit.

October/November 2010

Towards the end of October we were seeing the first of the winter visiting birds (fieldfares) around the village. Around this time I filled the bird feeders with sunflower hearts and black sunflower seeds. It took no more than 10 minutes for the first goldfinch to arrive. Numbers of tits, finches and nuthatches have built up rapidly and this has resulted in more frequent sparrowhawk visits to the garden.

There was a rather more unusual sighting for a resident by the village green. A peregrine falcon was seen, and caught on video, devouring a pigeon in the garden. In recent years this same garden has been visited by badgers and polecats, which have also been captured on video. It’s quite amazing just what is going on in the heart of our village!

Early one morning recently I was pleased to hear a tawny owl hooting not far away. It’s a call I seem to have heard much less frequently of late, but it’s good to know that they are still around.

November/December 2010

11th November . Early in the afternoon we were walking along Wyke Lane back towards Sambourne when we noticed a fox emerge from the woods and come trotting along the road towards us. When it noticed us it turned back then cut through the hedgerow and headed off across the fields. A couple of minutes later we heard a hunting horn and the hunt riders and hounds appeared across the fields from the Astwood Bank direction. We could but assume that the fox had heard them coming and decided to vamoose.

14th November. At 7am I heard two tawny owls hooting – one from Perrymill farm and another further away.

16th November. Two bramblings joined the party of birds in the garden feeding on sunflower seeds – the first I’ve seen for this winter migration.

20th November. We spotted three goldcrests feeding in the hedgerow along Wyke Lane. It’s always a pleasure to see these attractive little birds, more normally associated with conifers.

7th December. The hoar frost and blue sky have turned the countryside into the most amazing spectacle, but it’s a tough time for our feathered friends who greatly need our help with food and fresh water.