December 2012/January 2013
One day in mid-December a rather scruffy fox spent several hours wandering around the neighbouring garden. The neighbour also told an interesting story of a Yorkshire-based friend of his who, for the last five years has had a Kestrel regularly visit to be hand-fed bits of chicken.
22nd Dec. At least five Redpolls arrived to feed on sunflower hearts and niger seeds.
27th Dec. We spotted our first Brambling (male) of the winter on the lawn feeding on fallout from the sunflower heart feeder. A large mixed flock of Starlings, Redwings and Fieldfares wheeled around over the field behind us before settling in the trees.
29th Dec. We watched a tussle between a Sparrowhawk and a Blackbird in the garden. The Blackbird was pinned down for about thirty seconds while the Sparrowhawk looked around, and then appeared to loosen its grip, allowing the Blackbird to shoot into the hedge. The Sparrowhawk flew off and the Blackbird seemed to have survived.
1st Jan. We enjoyed a walk along Wike Lane in the very welcome winter sunshine and were rewarded with views of a Treecreeper working its way up a tree trunk.
5th Jan. Redpoll numbers have risen to 6 and a cock Pheasant has now become a regular in the garden.
7th Jan. Pete’s garden in Middletown Lane was again visited by a Muntjac.
I don’t have much to report this month as we were fortunate enough to fly out of Birmingham 24 hours before the snow arrived in January then spend the next two-and-a-half weeks enjoying the natural history of Ethiopia in unbroken sunshine. Although Ethiopia does not have the wealth of big game to be found in neighbouring Kenya, the scenery and wildlife were spectacular and the glimpses of everyday life fascinating.
I was away for the RSPB’s regular bird count at the end of January, but Pete reports from Middletown Lane having counted 12 different species in the hour. Also a Moorhen had appeared on the other side of the lane, but didn’t enter his garden for the count. I did spend an hour this morning watching our garden and was very pleased to see, in addition to the more regular garden birds, a Siskin (the first I’ve seen this winter), about 30 Starlings (now only occasional visitors to us), two House Sparrows (also quite unusual) and four Redpoll (which have actually become on of our most consistent garden visitors).
Although the weather isn’t suggesting the proximity of spring, the lengthening days and expanding catkins are telling us that we’re approaching the end of winter. It’s been many weeks since we last felt able to walk across fields or through the woods and, along with the farmers, we really long for a good dry spell.
Our garden bird feeders have been seeing plenty of action over the past month with increasing numbers of Siskins and Redpolls and a Bullfinch joining the regular finches and tits. Pete (Middletown Lane) spotted six Siskins on his feeders and Lorraine (Middletown Lane) has also seen Siskins and Redpolls along with the regulars. Less common sightings by Lorraine were a Blackcap, a Brambling, 2 Bullfinches and a Goldcrest. Lorraine and Roy (opposite the church) have had significant numbers (10+) of pheasant visiting their gardens.
A rather scruffy fox has started to put in regular appearances trotting across the field behind us.
The improvement in the weather in late February and early March allowed us a walk through the woods and across the fields without having to wade through mud. The only things worthy of comment were a Goldcrest in the woods and still plenty of Fieldfares and Redwings in the fields. Also, another sign of spring was the appearance of wild garlic along Wike Lane. I saw my first butterfly of the season yesterday – a Peacock on the pavement in Berkeley High Street. The weather was bitterly cold and the Peacock torpid, so I can but think it had fallen out of its place of hibernation. I tucked it away in a sheltered spot and hope for the best.
Finally, welcome to Mike and Jane, who are the new owners of Capilano. They are lovers of the natural world and I look forward to receiving their first report of a Kingfisher by their pool (we can but hope - one was seen there many years ago!)
Some of the lovely sights and sounds of spring have been appreciated in the past 4 weeks. Butterflies have included Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Orange Tips.
14th April. We saw our first Swallow of the year – in Gloucestershire.
15th April. We heard and saw our first Chiffchaff – in Wike Lane. Roy reported hearing a Cuckoo near Glebe Farm and having seen a weasel in his garden.
19th April. We were amused to see a Muntjac casually crossing through the traffic on Rough Hill Drive around lunch time.
21st April. While watching motorsport at Silverstone we noticed a Hare running alongside the track.
24th April. Nick reported hearing a Cuckoo at 6am in Wike Lane.
27th April. We were delighted by four children, budding naturalists all, who stopped to excitedly describe their sighting of an eagle at The Nook. I must have missed that one!
1st May. During a walk through the local woods and fields we heard the songs of and saw two Whitethroats and Blackcaps. The first bluebells were opening in Coughton Park wood.
6th May. As we drove along Wike Lane out of Coughton a Barn Owl flew over us.
8th May. At last we heard a Cuckoo calling near Glebe Farm and many Blackcaps were heard singing on our walk around the lanes and fields. Heather reported a Heron in her garden in Middletown Lane.
The most interesting item of the month is a report from Stuart in ‘Wayside’, Perrymill Lane of a sighting of a Red Kite from Whitemoor Lane on June 5th. This species is a major success story since I began bird-watching in the 1970’s when the UK population had fallen to around 30 pairs, living in remote parts of mid-Wales. Might we see them locally in the future as frequently as we do Buzzards?
In mid-May we spent a few days in a small village in the Apennines in Tuscany. The only birds of note at this altitude were the large numbers of Swallows and Swifts zooming around and Black Redstarts around the buildings. On a walk in the Arno valley below we came upon an area of woodland that was filled with the song of Nightingales and even our non-birding friend was enchanted! Not so many years ago we would make a point of visiting the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve in Trench Wood near Himbleton in May to listen to Nightingales, but sadly their distribution is now greatly reduced and there are few sites in the country where they can still be heard.
In late May we made our annual pilgrimage to perhaps our favourite bird-watching area in the country - the RSPB Dinas Hill reserve and surrounding hills in mid-Wales. The woodland was full of warblers and both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers. Dippers were busy on the river and we had a wonderful close view of a pair of Goosanders. In the open moorland and valleys we found Stonechats, Winchats, Meadow and Tree Pipits, and Cuckoos were heard frequently.
After the very cold start to spring things have quickly improved and we’ve enjoyed hearing the songs of and seeing Whitethroats and Blackcaps on our local walks. We even heard a snatch of Blackcap song as we drove along the Alvechurch Highway in Redditch.
Finally, a Green Woodpecker has been making itself unpopular next door where it made extensive excavations in a flower border and vegetable plot in its quest for ants.
I’ve now heard of another sighting of a Red Kite over Sambourne, this time from Pete who saw it over the village green on 26th June.
I have little in the way of local sightings to report myself having spent part of the last month in the south of France. However, on our return we took a walk through Coughton Park wood to check the butterfly situation in this glorious weather. We found good numbers of the more common “regulars” such as Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood. With the logging that’s been carried out a lot of the areas of bramble have been cleared away and we feared we might have seen the last of the Silver-washed Fritillaries. Eventually found one reasonably extensive patch and we managed to spot two or three of these beautiful butterflies. Continuing back to the village near Glebe Farm we came across an overgrown area including many thistles and were pleased to see a few Marbled Whites here. It’s the only place locally where I’ve seen this species.
Last month I mentioned hearing Nightingales in Tuscany. In Languedoc, beside the Canal du Midi and the River Aude, we again came across several areas where Nightingales were also in full song. In the vicinity we came across colourful Rollers, Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles plus the spectacle of a low fly-past of four Griffon Vultures. From the garden of our gite we watched a Montagu’s Harrier hunting over the adjacent vineyard and frequently saw spectacular Hoopoes flying past. This is a region rich in wildlife (we even saw a couple of snakes) and the wine’s not half-bad either!!
Up to 17 Swallows perched on power line in Perrymill Lane.
Tawny Owl perched near footpath close to Sambourne Hall Farm.
Sandra reported a family of foxes playing in her garden and a Buzzard devouring a meal in her orchard.
Much Tawny Owl hooting late in the evening.
I noticed a Scarlet Tiger Moth, uncommon in the Midlands, in the forecourt of Feckenham Garage. I was told it had first been spotted in the workshop where it was photographed resting on a tool cabinet! I reported this sighting to Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and have since heard that the species seems to have been having quite a successful summer.
I watched a Comma butterfly laying a single egg on a nettle in our back hedge. I took this as a prompt to leave some wild areas in the garden (any excuse!)
A cacophony of alarm calls from small birds attracted our attention to two Hobbies circling overhead near Coughton Park.
Two Ravens were objecting to the presence of a Buzzard over our garden and chased it away.
We had a close encounter with a Tawny Owl as it skimmed above our car on the Worcester road near Spetchley.
On an evening walk over the fields between Sambourne and Astwood Bank we saw a flock of Linnets and several Yellowhammers. We counted 20 Linnets here a couple of days later.
The section of Wike Lane between the entrance to Sambourne Hall Farm to beyond the village sign was alive with tiny froglets.
I’ve been watching with interest the forestry work taking place in Coughton Park wood and was delighted at the idea of conifers being replaced by broad-leaved woodland.
However, I became concerned when it seemed that the brambles and scrub alongside the bridleway were also being cleared, as these provided home for so many butterflies,
so I decided to contact the owners. I received a most informative and reassuring response from the Head Forester, Stephen Coffey.
They have been consulting with The Butterfly Conservation Trust and comments from the Trust included “2 things - it would be good if this ride remains wide,
30 meters – a 5 metre path & 25 meter scrubby fringe could be colonized by Grizzled and Dingy Skippers.
If the scrubby fringe has a lot of Broad-leaved Sallow Salix caprea this wood could become a prime candidate for colonization of the Purple Emperor.
Also if there were trees like Birch in the fringe which could allow honeysuckle to grow through it would help the White Admiral”.
It is their intention to create an open corridor of about 25m wide along the bridleway and they are committed to improving the biodiversity of the woodland.
The woodland is owned by The Heart of England Forest, a registered charity www.heartofenglandforest.com
The fine weather that we enjoyed through much of August seemed to greatly benefit butterflies and a few people have mentioned having seen good numbers in their gardens. Our buddleias and verbena have attracted many Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, the inevitable Small and Large Whites, a few Commas and just a couple each of Red Admirals and Painted Ladies. Gatekeepers and the occasional Meadow Brown have visited the marjoram. A (probably Common) Blue briefly visited our flowering lawn weeds and a Speckled Wood had a quick look around the garden.
Sightings of note over the past 4 weeks have been:
A large gathering of Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws has appeared in the field behind Perrymill Lane as a swirling cloud and then descends noisily to perch in the trees.
18 young Greenfinches lined up on a power line over Glebe Farm land.
A female Sparrowhawk was seen in pursuit of a small bird along the drive to The Nook.
A fully-grown Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar was in our flower border, presumably having been feeding on the nearby fuchsia and about to pupate in the soil. They are quite dramatic looking creatures that give rise to a beautiful pink and brown adult moth.
While driving across the Cotswolds between Stow-on-the-Wold and Burford we noticed a Red Kite soaring over the fields – possibly expanding the range of the population from the Chilterns. The purpose of the drive was to take a walk from the National Trust’s Buscot Weir site. We heard then saw a Turtle Dove in a tree beside the car park – the first I’ve seen in this country for several years.
A couple of juvenile Bullfinches were spotted partially hidden in trees beside the bridleway entering Coughton Park. Identification caused a problem until we realised that juveniles lack the black crown of the adults.
On an evening walk along the path near Truslove we saw a juvenile Little Owl perched on a hay bale. It flew into nearby trees and was followed by three others. These were probably the birds that Pete reported having heard from his house in Middletown Lane. We’ve seen a family party of Little Owls in this area in previous years.
A Nuthatch is visiting the garden to feed on peanuts and gives the Blue Tits an occasional peck to let them know their place.
Two Chiffchaffs were feeding in a buddleia in our garden in the morning. In the afternoon we walked across the fields to Coughton Court to visit the exhibition of sculptures (excellent!) and were rewarded on the outward journey with 10 Fallow Deer grazing in a harvested field and on the homeward journey by a couple of Small Copper butterflies feeding on thistles.
Late September 2013
(The month of the Heron!)
The subtitle refers to the fact that a Heron (or Herons) has/have been very visible over the past few weeks. First, as we sat in the kitchen having lunch one day I became aware of a movement and saw one standing on the lawn about 7 metres away. It looked enormous when it spread its wings and flew off. Then Chris reported seeing two in his garden in Middletown Lane. Next, one perched on the very top of a conifer next door and another perched on the pergola to the other side of us. Finally, today we watched one flying low over the field behind us performing some spectacular aerobatics to avoid the crows mobbing it. I know they are quite common around here, but are nonetheless impressive.
Other sightings of note have been:
Up to 10 House Sparrows feeding in the garden – now a regular sight. Also two Chiffchaffs were very active in the garden.
Two Little Owls in trees near Sambourne Hall Farm.
As we walked down Coughton Lane in Coughton we saw a young Grass Snake crossing the lane and disappearing into the grass verge.
A Cormorant flew over Coughton Lane and we saw a large number of Swallows feeding overhead as we walked the footpath between Coughton and Sambourne.
Denzil commented on seeing a number of Ravens congregating near Coughton Lane.
This could be a good autumn for fungi. We’ve noticed a lot of mushrooms and shaggy ink-caps growing in grass verges and lawns as we’ve walked around the village. Elsewhere we’ve seen a variety of shapes, sizes and colours – some looking quite tasty! Even with my field guide I wouldn’t have the confidence to identify the edible ones. In France people are enthusiastic gatherers and you can take them to a pharmacy to be identified. What a useful service!
October/early November 2013
Our highlight of the month was spending a few days in south Devon to do some coast path walks.
We hoped we might be lucky enough to spot a Cirl Bunting. These are attractive little birds rather like Yellowhammers,
and are resident in the UK only in the coastal area around Torbay and towards Plymouth. The RSPB website provides advice on
where you might see them and no sooner had we arrived at the area mentioned near Prawle Point than we spotted three. We saw perhaps half a dozen in this stretch of our walk.
Lorraine reports a Grey Wagtail paying a brief visit to her garden in Middletown Lane. Also, after seeing signs of nocturnal mammal visits, a night-vision camera was set up in her garden.
This recorded visits from Foxes and one from a Badger.
Our other sightings of note have been:
23rd Oct. A Kingfisher glimpsed darting over the swollen river near the ford at Coughton.
27th Oct. As we were driving along Perrymill Lane a Sparrowhawk skimmed over the road in front of us then jinked through garden shrubs before disappearing over a fence.
30th Oct. We noticed a small ball of grey and rust-coloured feathers with a tail sticking out of it on our drive. No head was visible, but it was obviously alive as it was breathing.
I gave it a couple of prods with my finger and the head appeared as the ball turned into a Nuthatch which hesitated for a few moments before flying off. Most odd!
We saw our first Fieldfares and Siskins of the autumn between Sambourne and Coughton.
1st Nov. I’ve now set up sunflower seed feeders and have had plenty of regular customers in the form of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, and Nuthatches.
2nd Nov. As we walked along Coughton Fields Lane towards the ford a Weasel ran across the road with prey in its jaws.
Very appropriate for the approach of Christmas, a white Pheasant has appeared locally with sightings reported from Phil in Middletown Lane and
Margaret in Coughton. A male Pheasant in “standard” plumage has become a regular visitor to our garden to feed on the fallout from the bird feeders
and to occasionally look quite ornamental by perching on the patio table.
Numbers of winter thrushes, particularly Fieldfares, have grown enormously over the past month. Each time we have walked around the lanes and across
the fields we have seen large flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings feeding on the ground or perched in the trees.
We noticed a verge in Whitemoor Lane with several quite large fungi. I measured and photographed them and sent details to a knowledgeable acquaintance
for identification. The answer came back “almost certainly Clitocybe geotropa”. My field guide describes this as “edible and good”.
Wikipedia said “although edible, it could be confused with some poisonous species of similar colouration and size”. I left them growing in the verge.
26th Nov. The first Redpolls have now appeared in the garden to join more than 20 Goldfinches battling for a place on the seed feeders.
6th Dec. For the first time we spotted two Little Grebes (Dabchicks) on the River Arrow near the ford at Coughton. I would normally associate the
species with still water, but they seemed happy enough swimming around and diving in a slow-moving part of the river.
7th Dec. The oak trees have been holding on to their leaves despite the recent strong winds. The rich colour, illuminated by early morning sunshine
and a dramatic sky, gave us a spectacular start to the day. This was enhanced by a mini murmuration of Starlings,
caught in the low sun, wheeling over the field behind us.