Sambourne Village

Mid-December 2011 to mid-January 2012

Towards the end of the year there seemed to be a profusion of game birds around (avoiding the guns?) – Pete reported a large flock of Red-legged Partridges while Roy and Dee had around fifty pheasants in their garden.
13th December. A male Bullfinch was on our feeder of sunflower hearts.
15th December. Many Fieldfares and Redwings were in the trees at the Coughton end of Wike Lane. We had very good views when they landed to drink from water in potholes in the road.
18th December. We saw a Barn Owl flying along the hedgerow as we drove along the Evesham Bypass.
20th December. I noticed a Redpoll feeding on niger seeds in our neighbour’s garden.
21st December. Two Redpolls were on our niger seed feeder.
2nd January. A Tawny Owl and a Little Owl were heard calling early in the morning from home.
5th January. A Green Woodpecker paid repeated visits to the garden to feed on windfall cooking apples on the lawn.
6th January. A flock of 11 Mallards circled the field behind us in loose formation for several minutes, then eventually flew away.
8th January. Many Rooks appeared to be occupying rookeries alongside the A46 towards Ashchurch. Perhaps the mild winter so far has prompted them to start early.
9th January. We watched a mixed flock of a dozen or so Siskins and Redpolls in trees beside the footpath to Coughton, near Sambourne Hall Farm.

Mid-January 2012 to Mid-February 2012

Owls seem to have been keeping up their profile this month, with Justin seeing a Barn Owl in Wike Lane, Sarah hearing Tawny and Little Owls around the farm and we’ve heard plenty of Tawny hooting either side of Perrymill Lane. Capilano had a surprise visitor when a Tawny Owl came in down the chimney!
The wintry weather has greatly increased our garden bird population. Peak numbers that we’ve seen in the garden have been 16 Redpolls, 24 Fieldfares, 3 Redwings, 12 Blackbirds and a single Mistle Thrush. When harvesting our apples in the autumn we hoard even the small ones, then throw them on the lawn in the hard weather. This is what has attracted the thrush family.
Other interesting sightings this month have been:
17th January. The highlight of the month was the sight of 2, and possibly 4 juvenile Crossbills in Coughton Park wood.
25th January. A flock of more than 50 Redpolls were feeding in birch trees in Wike Lane.
27th January. An adult male and an adult female Crossbill were observed near to where the juveniles were seen. More about this next month!
3rd February. Around 10 skylarks were feeding in a cultivated field near Glebe Farm.
8th February. All the birds suddenly vanished from the garden to be replaced by a female Sparrowhawk that sat on the hedge for a few minutes.

Mid-February 2012 to Mid-March 2012

We’ve just returned home from a visit to Central Chile where we were baked, chilled and drenched to varying degrees. However, we were treated to the sights of soaring Condors in the spectacular Andes, Albatrosses, Penguins, Shearwaters and Petrels on the ocean and a host of forest birds that we’re only just being able to pronounce!

Last month I mentioned having had a couple of sightings of Crossbills in Coughton Park woods. Having not seen them there before, I reported the sightings to the Warwickshire County Bird Recorder and his response was interesting.

The status of Crossbills in Warwickshire is of a scarce irregular irruptive migrant, which in some years arrive in fair numbers usually beginning in June-July, but in others almost absent. Breeding was confirmed for the first time in the county in 2010, which was long overdue as Warwickshire was probably the last county in Great Britain without a breeding record. They are very early breeding birds often beginning to nest in January, with the young fledging in April-May, hence the post-breeding dispersal in June. He suggested the birds we saw were left over from a moderate influx last summer, so fingers crossed if they stay they may breed. Although I’m pleased to see the planting of broad-leaved trees in the wood, I hope some stands of conifers remain as potential homes for Crossbills.

Mid-March 2012 to Mid-April 2012

I expect most people around here have enjoyed a visit to their garden by one or more Great Spotted Woodpeckers. However, there is a dark side to these birds as we have just experienced. Our neighbour mentioned having heard a rapping sound and seen a woodpecker attacking the nest box in our front garden. I investigated and found the entry hole much enlarged. Inside the box were two dead nestlings and one egg, the woodpecker presumably having consumed the rest. The parent Great Tits had understandably abandoned the nest. The nest box now has a metal protecting plate on the front, but too late for that brood.

16th April. We visited Upton Warren nature reserve for the first time in a while. We were welcomed at the entrance by singing Blackcaps and from the lovely new hide we saw 8 Avocets and 5 Little Ringed Plovers. 16th April. A Hare was near the path back from Coughton to Sambourne. 17th April. A Fox was close to the same path. 20th April. Saw Swallows over the garden for the first time this year. 23rd April. A Grey Wagtail was beside the ford at Coughton. 28th April. Received a report of a Cuckoo calling off Whitemore Lane. 3rd May. A male and a female Bullfinch have become regular visitors to the garden. Denzil (from Coughton) mentioned having seen an unusual fungus nearby. My field guide suggests it was a Morel. 8th May. A Cuckoo calling could be clearly heard from our garden in the morning. During an evening walk along the path from Coughton we saw 3 Hares, a Little Owl, a Yellowhammer, a Green Woodpecker, Swallows, a Pipistrelle Bat and heard more Cuckoo calls.

There seem to be to have been a lot of Cowslips around this spring. Some roadside embankments have been covered and we’ve seen clusters elsewhere. I wonder if there has been a programme of seeding.

Mid-May 2012 to Mid-June 2012

Our highlight of the month has been a return to mid-Wales for three days of visiting the RSPB reserves and walking in the lovely hills and valleys just north of Llandovery. The first bird we saw on arrival in the area was a beautiful male redstart and we clocked up about 50 species including Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Goosander, Dippers, Whinchats and a number of species associated with the oak woods – many in common with those seen on BBC’s “Springwatch” from Ynys Hir. Closer to home, local walks have been limited by the poor weather of late, but the pleasant spell in late May turned up some interesting sightings.

24th May. Having had the Warwickshire County Bird Recorder suggest that the recently cleared parts of Coughton Park woods could attract Nightjars, we took a late evening walk along the bridleway. We didn’t see or hear Nightjars, but as the light faded we had a close encounter with a Tawny Owl.

31st May. We have seen Hares on several of our walks of late, and this evening we saw 4 on our return across the fields from Coughton.

5th June. There has been a successful brood of Great Tits locally as three juveniles were perched to be fed in our back hedge.

12th June. After enjoying the sight of a male Bullfinch on the nyger seed feeder this morning we were particularly pleased to see a parent Tree Sparrow feeding a juvenile in the garden for much of the afternoon. I’ve only once before seen this species in this area, and its numbers have plummeted by almost 95% in recent years, so it’s particularly pleasing to think they have bred locally. They can easily be mistaken for a House Sparrow, but can be distinguished by a red-brown cap, a clear white collar and a black “beauty spot” on each cheek.

Mid-June 2012 to Mid-July 2012

My observations for this month have been dominated by 2½ weeks in the south of France. The sunshine and temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s meant that the meadows and hedgerows were alive with butterflies, most notably Fritillaries, Swallowtails, Cleopatras and Clouded Yellows.

There were other treats from the insect world including a large mantis that I rescued from our swimming pool, and huge stag beetles that flew around our garden in the evening.

Although it wasn’t the best time of year for birds, we did have a flock of brightly coloured Bee-eaters flying over our gite, the garden had constantly singing Blackcaps and visits from Cirl Buntings, and on trips to the Camargue and nearby mountains we identified more than 70 species. Highlights included Flamingos, various Herons, Short-toed Eagles, Black and Red Kites, Harriers, Rollers and Alpine Swifts. We also enjoyed hearing the purr of Turtle Doves – a sound I heard in Perrymill Lane nearly 30 years ago, but which is sadly quite rare in England these days.

I heard a request on TV this morning for people to report butterfly sightings to try to assess the impact of the poor summer weather. I have not seen one butterfly since returning home – in stark contrast to Provence. Let’s hope that there’s still time for some real summer weather here!

Mid-July 2012 to Mid-August 2012

The spells of warmer weather this month have at last brought out some butterflies. The garden buddleias have been visited by small numbers of the more common species and we’ve have seen reasonable numbers on woodland walks.

14th July. An adult Tree Sparrow spent a few minutes feeding in the garden. I had heard that Buzzards had nested near Wike Lane and Tracy and Paul pointed this out to us. A juvenile appeared to be in residence whilst an adult perched nearby.

20th July. An evening walk along Wike Lane was enhanced by the fragrance of meadowsweet growing in the verge. On the field walk back from Coughton a blue haze on the ground was caused by patches of harebells.

27th July. On a walk through Coughton Park woods on this sunny day we found good numbers of butterflies including 8 Silver-washed Fritillaries and a sprinkling of Ringlets, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Speckled Woods and Commas.

28th July. On a field walk back from Coughton, in addition to the more regular Yellowhammers and Brown Hare, we spotted a Linnet.

2nd August. Pete reported having had a visit from Mutjac Deer in his garden in Middletown Lane. This could be viewed as delightful or disastrous depending on whether it decided to indulge in some “PYO” in the vegetable patch or flower beds!

8th August. A juvenile Willow Warbler spent some time in the garden with a young Robin doing its best to chase it away.

9th August. A Chiffchaff visited the garden and appeared to receive similar attention from the young Robin. David has just mentioned having been amused by the antics in his garden of a squirrel and a Carrion Crow taking it in turns to chase one another. A territorial dispute or just having fun?

Mid-August 2012 to Mid-September 2012

Apart from a welcome increase in the number of butterflies visiting our garden in the warmer spells in August I have no local sightings to report having spent the last couple of weeks in the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil.

We began our trip on the dry plateau to the north-west of the state capitol, Cuiaba, and then worked our way back to our ultimate destination of the Pantanal – a vast wetland area. In a recent television programme Chris Packham described the Pantanal as having the greatest concentration of wildlife on the planet and it is a World Heritage Site. The numbers and varieties of species of birds were amazing with storks, herons, egrets and ibises everywhere. Brightly coloured parrots, parakeets, macaws and toucans were frequently seen, often around the lodges, and vultures, hawks, kites and eagles abounded. Every stretch of water held many large Cayman, and Capybara (the largest rodent in the world) were a regular sight. On two river trips we came across parties of Giant Otters that were surprisingly vocal, particularly when the boatman threw them some fish! Howler and Capuchin Monkeys and Marmosets were seen (and heard!) from time to time and other mammals spotted included Coati and a Giant Anteater. Perhaps our most exciting moments were when we saw an adult and a juvenile Harpy Eagle. This rare eagle is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas. Our one disappointment was missing by a few minutes a view of a Jaguar visiting the river bank to drink. This was a most amazing experience, but also something of a challenge as daytime highs sometimes exceeded 41 degrees Celsius.

As I finish writing this I hear a Tawny Owl calling from behind the house to remind me of the sights and sounds to be enjoyed around Sambourne this autumn.

Mid-September 2012 to Mid-October 2012

For anyone who hasn’t listened to them I feel moved to mention David Attenborough’s “Life Stories”. These were broadcast on radio 4 as 10 minute programmes, but have been issued as audio CD sets (available from Amazon or I heard a few when they were broadcast and was captivated by these tales of the natural world. I have just finished listening to the first volume, which has 20 stories on 3 CDs. Each one is a joy to listen to, amusing and informative, and there can be no better accompaniment to your morning coffee or afternoon tea than one or two of these tales.

As far as local sightings go, we have managed some Coughton Park woodland walks and have seen plenty of butterflies – mostly Red Admirals and Speckled Woods. Also a mixed flock of Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits together with a Goldcrest and Treecreeper entertained us for a while.

A flock of Swallows was still around Perrymill Lane on 2nd October and more were seen on the 10th on a visit to the Upton Warren nature reserve. Highlights on that visit were 2 Green Sandpipers, 10 Snipe and large numbers of Teal and Shoveler ducks.

Other sightings reported to me have been another visit by a Muntjac to Pete’s garden in Middletown Lane, 15 butterflies (Red Admirals, Tortoiseshells, Gatekeepers and a Blue) feeding on fallen apples in the garden next to us, and Denzil having seen a (sadly) dead 3 foot long Grass Snake in Coughton.

Mid-October 2012 to Mid-November 2012

The most interesting event of the month was reported by a Coughton resident who had received an early morning knock on the door from a parent who had been delivering their child to the nearby nursery. The parent pointed out a young badger that was walking in circles in the resident’s driveway. This continued for some time and eventually the RSPCA was contacted. Some two hours after the parent’s knock the RSPCA arrived and collected the badger. It’s not known what caused this odd behaviour, but perhaps the animal had been struck by a vehicle and been stunned and disorientated.

18th Oct. On a morning walk along Wike Lane we watched two Roe Deer grazing in the field and a Muntjac crossed the road close by.

19th Oct. I put out sunflower seeds for the first time this autumn and within a short time the first Coal Tits and Nuthatches we’ve seen in the garden for months were feeding on them. How does word get around so fast? Perhaps by tweets on Twitter?

On our morning walk we saw two Kestrels perched on telephone lines near the village green.

27th Oct. On a walk near Cookhill we had our first sighting of winter thrushes this autumn – 2 Redwings. Since then we’ve also seen Fieldfares in the field behind us.

3rd Nov. On a weekend visit to West Sussex we took a walk around Pagham Harbour nature reserve. Many Teal and Wigeon and some Brent Geese were present, but perhaps the highlight was the sight and distinctive call of several Curlew and Redshank.

10th Nov. Just as I’d finished these notes a female Sparrowhawk swept into the garden and perched on the hedge. We’ve noticed feathers around the garden, so presumably she’s been capitalising on the extra garden birds coming to the feeders.