Wildlife sightings in Sambourne
The highlight of the month is a Kingfisher noticed by Phil by one of the brooks running through Sambourne. It’s lovely to find these stunning birds in our midst. Some years ago Ray Waring mentioned having them visit the pond in Capilano when he lived there. Phil also spotted three foxes in the field behind his Middletown Lane home.
Whenever we walk up Sambourne Lane to Astwood Bank we cast a look over the fields opposite the cricket ground. They are now regularly full of Fieldfares and Redwings and we recently counted seven Buzzards on the ground there – up from the five I mentioned last month.
It seems the shooting around the village has caused more Pheasants to seek shelter in our gardens. Roy sent me a photograph of two males perched on his Whitemoor Lane fence and eying-up his bird feeders. We now have regular visits from a cock Pheasant who feeds on fallout from our bird feeders. We have two feeding stations positioned several metres apart and it’s most amusing to see him sprint from one to the other when he notices morsels drop to the ground.
Although we’ve seen none in our garden so far this winter, we have seen a flock of Redpolls feeding in alder trees along Wike Lane, together with a mixed flock of Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits. We’re also still regularly seeing small flocks of Goldcrests in trees and bushes around the village. My hearing is no longer capable of picking up their high-pitched calls, but Sue hears them easily and points them out.
Our local sightings are rather meagre this month as we spent a couple of weeks’ bird-watching in Cuba. It was an interesting time to be there as Fidel Castro died the day after we arrived. However, the birds were unfazed by this historic event, so we were able to enjoy a wide variety of birdlife from almost unbelievably bright American Flamingos to the smallest bird in the world – the tiny Bee Hummingbird. Cuba is a large island and has a number of species found only in Cuba. Using the knowledge and skill of local guides we were able to see a good number of these including the colourful Cuban Trogon and Cuban Tody, and the confiding Cuban Peewees that entertained us with their aerobatic fly-catching displays on a number of occasions.
As we slipped towards winter at home we noticed our first visiting Fieldfares in trees in Wike Lane on November 20th. On December 7th we saw five Buzzards standing in a field beside the Astwood Bank end of Sambourne Lane. Presumably they were feeding on invertebrates in the soil.
Sightings reported by other people have been a Treecreeper spotted by Natasha in her neighbour’s garden from her Perrymill Lane home and two visiting Pheasants in her own garden. Phil, from or in his Middletown Lane garden, has observed families of Long-tailed Tits, four Buzzards and a Snipe, which is a great bird to see in the area as it’s yet another species that’s declining in number.
It’s a little early for this reminder, but don’t forget to put a note in your diaries for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on the weekend 28th-30th January 2017.
I’ll start this month with insects.
One sunny day last week we noticed significant numbers of Ladybirds climbing the outside wall of the house and they seemed to be in large numbers elsewhere around the garden. Chris had noticed the same in his Middletown Lane home and sent me a website link on the subject. The article comments on the Ladybirds seeking suitable locations to hibernate at this time of year, and they sometimes do so in large clusters. It also suggested that they could well be Harlequin Ladybirds – an invasive species from Asia. The article bizarrely recommends against eating them, but I confess that it hadn’t occurred to me to do so.
A rather more interesting insect encounter was last week as we were helping with an olive harvest in Tuscany. I noticed a movement amongst some leaves and discovered a Mantis. It was bright green, about three inches long and was rather like a small extra-terrestrial being. When I picked it up it turned its head towards me and through bulging eyes appeared to inspect me with some curiosity. Exquisite!
One morning at the end of October we were driving north along the A441 towards Cookhill when a stag with a fine set of antlers appeared in the road ahead. It hesitated for a few moments before leaping the hedge into the adjacent field where a hind was grazing. Our first thoughts were that it was a Fallow Deer, but the antlers were branched rather than broad and flattened. This suggests that it was a Sika Deer rather than Fallow. We’ve never knowingly seen one before, so it’s something to look out for in future.
Our garden bird feeders have been re-instated after the conclusion of some landscaping work and we’ve been pleased to see the return of the regular species. Unfortunately a Sparrowhawk has also been pleased to see their return as evidenced by two patches of Goldfinch feathers appearing under the apple tree!
We’ve had two surprises recently.
The first occurred as we were driving along Wike Lane towards Sambourne around midday on October 6th. As we approached the wooded section we noticed what looked like a small dog walking slowly along the roadside. We soon realised that it was a Muntjac. I slowed down to avoid startling it, but it seemed to take no notice of us. I continued slowly until we were beside it and stopped. It also stopped and looked at us then moved closer to about two foot from the car. I got the impression that if I opened the rear door it would have hopped in. It soon lost interest and wandered back to the verge, so I drove slowly away, hoping that its boldness wouldn’t put it at risk from vehicles. This emphasised the need to always drive cautiously along Wike Lane.
The second surprise occurred as Sue was weeding in our back garden. The removal of a weed left a small hole in the soil and out of this appeared a small head. I carefully removed the surrounding soil to reveal a Smooth (Common) Newt. As the name implies they are common, but we haven’t noticed one in our garden before. It had presumably begun its hibernation, so I rehoused it in a hollow under a bird bath – hopefully rather safer than in a flower border.
We had our last sighting of Swallows on September 16th and I guess that we’ll not see them again until next spring. However, one bird species we’ve seen more of recently has been Goldcrests. We happened upon a flock of at least six feeding in trees on Sambourne Lane by the entrance to Sambourne Park and another small flock by a footpath just off the Ridgeway.
I understand from Butterfly Conservation that there has been a significant decline in even common species of butterflies this year. This is consistent with a poor showing on our buddleias, with just the occasional Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown and Peacock. The cause of the decline is unclear. We have seen a Comma and a couple each of Red Admirals and Speckled Woods enjoying the autumn sunshine in the past few days.
Although we seem to have had something of an extension to summer, there have been clear signs of the approach of autumn.
About the 10th of August Janet saw around 70 Swallows on a line by her Wike Lane house. A week later, at home, we watched a large flock of House Martins swooping overhead and on the 25th of August Chris noticed 40 Swallows on a line by his Middletown Lane house. Presumably these gatherings were all part of preparing for the long flight south as we’ve seen none on recent walks in the area.
Some items from our nature-watching diary are:
15th Aug. We saw 3 Hares in a freshly harvested field by the path to Coughton. I recently read that the Hare population has fallen in number from many millions to about 750,000 in recent years. This is due in part to habitat pressures, but also from the fact that an estimated 300,000 are shot by hunters each year.
28th Aug. A large conifer tree next door suddenly seemed to become an attraction for a lot of small birds all at once. There were Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits and at least two each of Goldcrest and Chiffchaff. Since then, across the road from us, Tracy has also spotted a Chiffchaff in her garden.
11th Sept. Two Fallow Deer, one of them a male with fine antlers, crossed the field in front of us by the footpath to Coughton. Our Deer sightings seem to alternate between Fallow and Roe.
12th Sept. At dusk on this balmy evening many bats were flying over the garden and a Little Owl and a male Tawny Owl were calling close by. A magical moment. This reminds me, Pete has enjoyed the sound of Owls around his Middletown Lane home, but was not so impressed when regularly woken by them around 3 am!
Robins rarely feature in these notes, so here’s an interesting fact. We’re used to them being a regular sight in our gardens, often being quite confiding, but on the continent their behaviour is quite different. I read in the RSPB magazine that there they are woodland birds and rarely seen. When I read this I realised that I could not recall ever having seen one on the other side of the channel.
We start this month with another dragonfly. Next-door neighbour Ann noticed a large and colourful insect cruising around her garden and it eventually landed in a holly bush. It stayed long enough for some photographs to be taken to help identify it. It turned out to be a Southern Hawker, described as “a very common, inquisitive garden visitor”. Common it might be, but it was certainly spectacular, with its size and bright green, blue, yellow and brown colours.
Although there have been spells of warm to hot summer weather we haven’t noticed an abundance of butterflies. The only species that stands out is the Marbled White. In recent years we’ve noticed the occasional individual, but this year we saw four along the paths towards Astwood Bank. A Painted Lady showed up in the garden at the beginning of August.
With regard to birds, a number of people have mentioned both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers visiting their gardens and over the past week or so we’ve been hearing a lot of Little Owl calling from the hedgerow across the field behind us. We’ve regularly seen Linnets and an occasional Skylark as we’ve walked the local footpaths, but perhaps the most interesting sighting was of a Hobby being mobbed by a few Swallows between the Village Green and Sambourne Hall Farm. Herons are seen regularly around the village, and Julie and John had one in their Perrymill Lane garden for two hours recently. Pete mentioned having identified a Stock Dove in his Middletown Lane garden. It’s easy to dismiss such garden visitors as Wood Pigeons, but it’s worth looking out for one that’s rather smaller and daintier, lacks the prominent white patches, but has shimmering green patches on the neck. Altogether quite an attractive bird.
Views of Hares have been less regular over the past couple of months, but on a recent evening walk we saw one sitting up on the footpath ahead of us and the evening sunshine highlighted its rich golden brown colour
My newly-acquired field guide to dragonflies has already proved useful in identifying an attractive damsel fly which we spotted near Cain brook on a walk to Coughton. It was readily identified as a Beautiful Demoiselle, which sounds rather exotic, but is described as widespread and found near streams and rivers.
Another unexpected sighting was as I was mowing our lawn a couple of weeks ago. Amongst the weeds and moss that mostly make up the lawn I noticed what looked like the leaves of an orchid. I’ve been carefully mowing around it and sure enough a flower spike has appeared and it is indeed a Common Spotted Orchid. As the name implies it is a common plant, but not in our garden!
Much has been happening this month as spring has got into its stride, but reports of Cuckoo calls have been sparse. Our local historian John has heard a call on a couple of occasions and Nick has once, but I haven’t heard one locally myself. However, we took a few days walking in mid-Wales and heard almost continuous Cuckoo calling as well as the warblers and flycatchers that had returned to spend the summer in the oak woods. We also had a fine close view of a male Cuckoo in a display flight.Other items of interest are:
May 20th. On a short visit to the Upton Warren nature reserve we saw that the Avocets continue to be a great success story with a count of up to 34. We also saw our first Swifts of the year.
May 31st. Continuous baby bird calling was coming from a nest-hole in a tree in Wike Lane. The head of a young Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared, looking for its next meal.
Blackcaps and Whitethroats were also providing a choral accompaniment to the walk along the lane.
June 3rd. From his Middletown Lane garden Chris had the pleasure of hearing the song of a Skylark. Finally, Red Kites have been seen not too far away – by Elizabeth and Graham near Evesham and by us over Spetchley and in the Cotswolds.
Despite the generally poor weather through April, springtime has been much in evidence.
Cowslips have been profuse beside the Evesham bypass and there are patches of them in Whitemore Lane.
Flowering wild garlic has turned verges in Wike Lane white and we’ve regularly heard Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing from the hedgerow there.
Other items of note were:
21st April. A spectacular carpet of bluebells was to be seen in Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Tiddesley Wood. There were also wood anemones, violets and wood sorrel in bloom.
26th April. On a morning walk to Coughton we saw a Stonechat perched on the fence as it looked out for insects. At the same time a Hare was visible in the field behind.
30th April. Another morning walk to Coughton gave a sighting of the first Orange Tip butterfly of the season as well as Brimstones and Tortoiseshells. Birds noted were a Linnet, a Whitethroat and a Yellowhammer.
4th May. Same path, but this time a Fox and more Swallows were seen.
6th May. On a walk through the woods off Wike Lane we saw four Fallow Deer and noticed some tadpoles still surviving in a flooded wheel rut.
8th May. Pete was delighted to have heard a Cuckoo behind his house in Middletown Lane. This is the only definite local one I’ve heard of so far this year. Dave and his dog Archie inadvertently discovered the nesting site of Grey Wagtails off Wike Lane. This probably involves the two adults we’d previously seen along Cain Brook.
9th May. A dozen or more Swallows and House Martins were hunting insects above a field of rape off Wike Lane. Early evening we briefly saw a Hobby circling above Perrymill Lane.
As a footnote, the rain of the last couple of days will have been welcomed by Elizabeth and Graham, who have been unable to use their outside tap since Robins took over the enclosing box for their nest site.
The past four weeks have brought the arrival of spring, but with occasional glances back to winter. Summer visiting birds started to arrive while winter visitors were still apparent. Bluebells and violets are coming into flower.
17th March. We noticed frogspawn in pools in Coughton Park woods.
18th March. We watched a Robin on our patio wall with neck outstretched and swaying from side to side in a comical display to impress a potential mate.
21st March. Redwings and Fieldfares were still present in the fields behind us.
22nd March. Chris noticed a pair of Mallard on his Middletown Lane garden pond.
23rd March. We saw two Grey Wagtails where Cain Brook passes under the road at Coughton.
25th March. Some pleasant sunshine resulted in a couple of butterfly sightings in the garden – a Peacock and a Brimstone. A Goldcrest was hopping around in our hedge, unconcerned about the gardening activity just a few feet away.
30th March. Natasha spotted a male Blackcap in her Perrymill Lane garden and we had a visit from a male Bullfinch.
31st March. We spotted our first Swallow of the year as we arrived at Hillers farm shop. When we returned home we were surprised to see two male and two female Bramblings in the garden, presumably now on their return journey to Scandinavia. At the same time we noticed a Chiffchaff feeding around the pot plants on our patio.
2nd April. Justin mentioned having seen a Hare in Coughton Park woods.
6th April. Phil spotted a Muntjac and a Quail in his Middletown Lane field. Quail are an “Amber List” species, normally difficult to see and you’re more likely to hear their “wet-my-lips” call.
8th April. We thought one of Sarah’s sheep was in difficulty, but as we watched she gave birth to her lamb. We never cease to be amazed just how quickly they get mobile. While this was going on a Little Owl was calling from the hedgerow opposite.
Further to last month’s comments about Otters, I’ve been reliably informed that they’ve been present on the River Arrow and its tributary the Alne for the past twenty years, although not too frequently seen.
I’ve received details of sightings from others this month including Pete’s Kestrel, Buzzard and Roe Deer, and Phil B’s Sparrowhawk and Muntjac in his garden.
Perhaps the most interesting sighting was from Sandra who had a Firecrest pointed out to her in Earslwood. Although their range is spreading, they are more likely to be seen in the south of England and are far from common in the Midlands. They are lovely little birds, very similar to the more common Goldcrest, but with a distinct white stripe above the eye.
The most amazing report this month was from John and Maureen who returned to their home in Coughton to find a large hole in a bedroom window. On entering the bedroom they were startled by a pheasant which “exploded” from its resting place on the bed and exited the room through the hole it had made on entry, leaving behind blood stained bed covers. It’s possible to get a bit too close to nature!
Our own records for the month have been rather more mundane, although we’ve been pleased to see one or two Kestrels each time we’ve walked to Coughton and back. The variable weather has continued to bring some surprises, with a Tortoiseshell butterfly sunning itself on our garage wall on January 28th, the hawthorn hedge by the phone box in Sambourne Lane well in leaf on February 4th, and today we noticed that the ha-ha dug out in front of Coughton to mitigate flooding was well filled with water and had a couple of Mallard swimming on it. The very windy but quite mild weather last weekend didn’t do great things for the “Great Garden Birdwatch” so we saw nothing out of the ordinary in our garden, but did manage to get up to sixteen different species to report to the RSPB.
The most interesting news for this month relates to Otters. I understand that there is a population residing in the River Arrow by Coughton Court. Unfortunately in mid-December one was killed by a vehicle on Haden Way. I often cast an eye along the river hoping to glimpse a Kingfisher, but an Otter would be quite something!
Last month I speculated on whether Redpolls would soon appear in the garden. On January 3rd I noticed one feeding on the sunflower hearts. I’ve not seen one since, but the forecast colder weather could well bring about a re-appearance.
The number of Goldfinches coming to the sunflower hearts has increased greatly and they now empty the feeder in a day, while Great, Blue and Coal Tits do the same for the black sunflower seeds. The occasional Nuthatch seems content with either. Phil has reported seeing up to eight Pheasants at a time in his Middletown Lane garden, perhaps seeking a safe haven while the shooting has been going on.
Kate commented on frequently seeing a Heron in a field at the Coughton end of Wike Lane. On a 4th of January walk along the lane we watched two Herons appearing to stand to attention in the field, and we were also able to enjoy being serenaded by a Song Thrush at the same time. Which reminds me – on a walk along Wike Lane we will nearly always hear a Song Thrush singing, which is gratifying given that the species has suffered a serious decline in numbers in recent years.
Finally, we’re now all quite used to seeing Buzzards flying over the village or perched on telegraph poles. However, Sharon was very surprised by just how large they are when she had a close encounter with one feeding on the ground. To remind you they can be 56cm (22”) tall with a 130cm (51”) wingspan.