Sambourne Village

Mid-November 2017 to mid-December 2017

My only records of local activity this month relate to winter migrant birds in mid-November. A large flock of Fieldfares were feeding in the field behind us and our neighbours’ large and much-berried holly tree was full of Redwings doing their best to make sure that no berries would be available for Christmas decoration!

For most of the month we’ve been on a wildlife-oriented tour of New Zealand. We were a party of six with a UK leader and a local guide. Our tour took in more than a dozen different parts of the country from a small island north of Auckland on North Island to Stewart Island off the southern tip of South Island. The scenery and wildlife were spectacular and we were blessed with good weather for the entire trip. New Zealand doesn’t have a particularly large bird list, but the majority of those birds are found only in New Zealand. Many species have been introduced by man, so it comes as something of a surprise to see Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Starlings and Goldfinches as some of the most common species. Because so much was new to us it’s difficult to pick out highlights, but I suppose they should include close encounters with four Sperm Whales on one boat trip into the south Pacific, views of Royal Albatrosses (3 metre wingspan), Giant Petrels and numerous other seabirds skimming the waves on other pelagic trips, and being entertained by the antics of mischievous Keas - mountain parrots found only on South Island. These birds are highly intelligent and unafraid of humans, so can sometimes be found around tourist car parks. We watched one that seemed to be dedicated to the task of dismantling the wiring of an external light on a van and another attempting to remove the rubber surround of a windscreen. Probably the best know family of birds of New Zealand are the Kiwis. They are generally nocturnal and shy birds, so quite difficult to see. There are five species and we managed to see two of them. For the first we had to stand around for more than 3 hours at a roadside in a forest while a ranger, knowledgeable in the ways of these rare birds, attempted to pinpoint the location of one and predict where it might show itself. Eventually it emerged from the undergrowth, scuttled across the road and bumped into the leg of one of our party (they have poor eyesight) before disappearing into the forest. The second one we found for ourselves on Stewart Island after our guide learnt that one was regularly seen near the church on the edge of town.

Mid-October to mid-November 2017

12th Oct. For a change of local scenery we took a short drive to walk the footpath beside Weethley Wood. We were rewarded with a prolonged view of two Red Kites hunting over an adjacent field and, at times, landing on the ground quite near to us.
15th Oct. During the Coughton cemetery maintenance weekend a Hedgehog was discovered under leaf litter by Dennis.
27th Oct. This sunny day brought the butterflies out and we saw two Red Admirals, a Tortoiseshell and a Small Copper feeding on a white-flowered shrub in Sambourne Park (St Josephs).
3rd Nov. A morning visit to the Upton Warren nature reserve seemed at first unlikely to yield much of interest. The water level at The Flashes was low and it appeared that some sort of dredging work was on-going. We finally tried the hide at the north end of The Flashes and almost immediately were treated to the sight of a Water Rail climbing the bank in front of us, before disappearing into the undergrowth. It’s always a treat to see these secretive but attractive birds. We subsequently moved on to The Moors part of the reserve where we found more species including some Little Egrets, Curlew, Reed Buntings and a variety of ducks (Pochard, Teal, Shoveler).
8th Nov. We saw our first winter thrushes of the season – two Redwings flying over as we walked to Coughton.
9th Nov. There’s now been a significant influx of winter thrushes. We saw a large flock of Fieldfares and Redwings feeding in a field beside Sambourne Lane near “The Booking Office” in Coughton.

As a general comment, we’ve noticed a great drop in the number of small birds visiting our garden. Sunflower seed feeders which I normally have to refill every day or two are still half full after a couple of weeks. We recently came home to find patches of Wood Pigeon feathers on the lawn, presumably resulting from the activities of a Sparrowhawk. We quite often see one in or over the garden and can’t help wondering if that’s what is keeping the birds away.

Finally, some time ago I mentioned a book about bees - “A Sting in the Tail” by Dave Goulson. I’ve recently read another by the same author, “A Buzz in the Meadow”, which I can also recommend. The book is entertaining and informative, although it gives real cause for concern about the impact that man’s activities are having on the insect life so vital to ecosystems.

Mid-September to mid-October 2017

On recent walks, and in our garden, we’ve been noticing quite few Red Admiral butterflies. I happened to listen to “The Living World” on Radio 4 last Sunday morning and it was all about the Red Admiral. At a time when most of Britain’s butterfly species are in trouble, this butterfly is an amazing success story with numbers having increased by about 350% since the 1970’s. My 1982 copy of “A Practical Guide to the Butterflies of Worcestershire” describes it as an uncommon migrant, but, whilst some migrate south for the winter, many now overwinter here and the program presenter has seen them flying on New Year’s Day. Red Admirals do not hibernate as other overwintering butterflies such as the Peacock do, and will emerge on sunny days right through the winter. Apparently, the species can be found in all four forms (egg, larva, chrysalis and adult) right through the winter.

Items of interest over the past month: 18th Sept. Eight Buzzards were circling over Perrymill Lane.
20th Sept. Sue noticed a young Grass Snake crossing Sambourne Lane near Sambourne Park. I missed it, but I’m pleased to know that they’re around.
21st Sept. We noticed a large number of Swallows near Saintbury and also saw several in Yorkshire on October 4th.
2nd Oct. Chris reported having seen a rabbit scale his three-foot high “rabbit-proof” fence.
5th Oct. We saw a flock of Meadow Pipits in a ploughed field by the footpath to Coughton. We’ve only occasionally seen this species in our area.
6th Oct. From the same footpath we watched a male Stonechat seeking its insect prey, again a species we’ve rarely seen around here.
8th Oct. Lots of Ladybirds were on the back wall of our house, presumably looking for suitable locations to hibernate.
10th Oct. During a conversation with a fellow walker we learnt that in the recent past a dead Barn Owl had been seen in one of the local lanes. Might this have been the bird that had entertained many of us over the fields this year? We haven’t seen it for some weeks.

Mid-August to mid-September 2017

To meet this month’s editorial deadline I am preparing these notes from the south of France. The only item I have from home comes from our neighbours having maintenance carried out on an oak tree in their garden. The tree surgeons had to leave one patch of small branches as they had noticed a nest complete with nestlings. Through binoculars I could see two downy Woodpigeon chicks, sitting in the nest apparently unfazed by their sudden exposure.

Our drive south to Provence was not without incident - the sky turned black as we drove south of Paris and the heavens opened causing all traffic to stop, the force of the rain on the windscreen and the spray from the road surface making visibility just about zero. The drumming of enormous hailstones on the roof made us fear for the state of the car!

We knew that late summer would not be the ideal time to visit from the natural world point of view, but circumstances had dictated our timing. However, we’ve not been disappointed. On our first walks out from the gite into the surrounding hills our impression was that, apart from an abundance of butterflies and grasshoppers, there was a dearth of wildlife. However, a Short-toed Eagle soon soared above us and was soon followed by two Alpine Swifts. The most frequently seen bird species has been Spotted Flycatcher.

The spell of very hot weather that we arrive to broke with a powerful storm last Thursday morning. Just as the rain was starting we were attracted by the call of Bee-eaters and were then treated to the sight of more than forty of these beautiful birds lined up on power cables just outside our bedroom window and performing their aerobatic display as they sought their prey overhead. A small flock of Golden Orioles was visible in treetops beyond the Bee-eaters. Other bird species of note have been Rollers, Crested Tits, Firecrests, Citril Finches, Serins and confiding Black and Common Redstarts.

Surprise sightings have been a small snake (I think a harmless Ladder Snake) on the swimming pool cover and a 3 centimetre-long black scorpion behind my laptop computer that I’d left in a corner on the floor. We had been told that they were around, but hadn’t anticipated encountering one indoors. We’ve been carefully checking our shoes ever since!

Mid-July 2017 to mid-August 2017

A few days ago, on one of the rare sunny afternoons this August, we took a walk along the bridleway through Coughton Park wood in the hope of seeing some butterflies. There were some of the species regular for this time of year (Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Brimstone), though nothing unusual. However, we also saw grasshoppers, dragonflies, gorse, heather and honeysuckle in flower. This all served to remind us of the lovely nature reserve we have on our doorstep. Over recent times we’ve seen Fallow, Roe and Muntjac Deer, Hares, Stoats and Weasels and, in their appropriate seasons, birds ranging from warblers to Crossbills and flowers from Bluebells to Wood Sorrel. With the on-going management of the woodland, including removing some of the conifers and replacing them with broad-leaved trees, we can but hope that this treasure will only continue to improve.

Owls have continued to indicate a presence in our area. Suzanne and Gary have been woken from their slumbers in the small hours in their Oak Tree Lane home by what I would assume from the description were Tawny Owls. They could be the same ones that have been nesting by Rachel’s home nearby. We spent some time watching a Little Owl perched in a tree near Sambourne Hall Farm, and Sue is confident she could hear the rasping call of a young Barn Owl from a nearby derelict barn. A first for us in the area was a young Redstart. They are more generally associated with woodland, so it was a surprise and a pleasure to see this attractive bird.

Another Hedgehog sighting was by Willis whose dog brought one into his Sambourne Lane garden.

And just squeezing in to this month’s jottings were observations when I was collecting the newspaper this morning around 06:30. As I passed the last house in Middletown Lane on my drive to Rutters (I know – I should have been walking or cycling, but at 06:30?) a Roe Deer was standing in the road ahead, then casually disappeared through a gap in the hedge. As I walked to the shop I noticed a Sparrowhawk swoop by and land in the middle of the crossroads by the Jubilee. It looked around for a few moments then flew off to perch on a roof by the Jubilee car park, still looking for breakfast!

Mid-June 2017 to mid-July 2017

We finally lost touch with spring when we heard Cuckoo calls for the last time in mid-Wales on June 15th. The summer weather has prompted us to look out for butterflies in the garden and on our walks and so far we have counted 13 species. These include more Marbled Whites than we have seen in this area in previous years, and the highlight was a Clouded Yellow in Willis’s field. This is a fairly uncommon migrant from continental Europe. We’ve also been looking out for dragonflies and have identified a Common Hawker, Banded Demoiselles and Large Red Damselflies – all common species, but nice to see.

Rachel had a long list of interesting sightings from her Oak Tree Lane garden to report. She has caught images of a Hedgehog in a camera trap, has had a close encounter with a resident Tawny Owl, has Swallows nesting in her porch rendering that a “no-go” area, has seen up to 18 Pipistrelle Bats around the eaves and has had a Heron inspecting the garden water tray. She also spotted a Horn-tailed or Wood Wasp – an insect I hadn’t heard of, but a quick look on the internet informed me that this is a family of insects having a long spike protruding from the rear of the abdomen and which is not a sting but an egg-laying organ (ovipositor). Her final observation was of larvae of the Mullein Moth. These are rather striking black, white and yellow caterpillars, but we’ve had buddleias completely stripped of leaves by them so they’re not welcome in our garden!

Barn Owl sightings have continued with it overflying Pete’s Middletown Lane garden on a couple of occasions and we watched it hunting near Sambourne Hall Farm one evening.

We witnessed an interesting encounter one evening as we walked along the footpath beside the drive to Coughton Lodge Farm. A Red-legged Partridge was running up the drive when a Buzzard appeared from the trees and dived on the Partridge. For a few moments there was quite a kerfuffle and a lot of squawking before the Partridge escaped and flew off at high speed. A lucky bird!

Finally, Chris has mentioned seeing and hearing Skylarks behind his Middletown Lane home and Adam mentioned there being six pairs of them in one of his fields. It’s good to know we still have these charismatic birds in the area.

Mid-May 2017 to mid-June 2017

When I wrote last month’s notes it seemed that spring had just begun, but now it feels that it’s just about at an end. Cuckoo calling, perhaps one of the most characteristic sounds of spring, has been reported by a number of people this month, and for three weeks we heard one almost daily, but the last time was June 4th. Swifts tend to be later arriving than other summer visitors and we had our first sighting on May 22nd, about six weeks after the first Swallow. A number of birds have successfully raised broods nearby as we’ve seen fledgling Goldfinches and Blue Tits visiting the garden feeders. A few days ago we paid a long overdue visit to the Feckenham Wylde Moor nature reserve. It was rather wet underfoot and some of the trail quite overgrown, but our reward was many wild flowers including Ragged Robin and Common Spotted Orchid, good views of several Little Grebes (Dabchicks), two Reed Buntings and dragonflies including Broad-bodied Chasers and Common Blue Damselflies.

We’ve been pleased to have more good views of Hares in the nearby fields, but our most interesting experience this month occurred yesterday morning. I was summoned from my leisurely shower to witness a drama unfolding in our back garden. A male Sparrowhawk had caught a Greenfinch and was plucking it a short distance from our dining-room window. It had only just started its meal when a Magpie spotted it and tried to take a share. Initially the Sparrowhawk shielded its prey by spreading its wings over it, but the Magpie persisted so the Sparrowhawk adopted a more threatening pose then lunged at the Magpie, which jumped back, but still didn’t give up. It darted back and managed to grab a morsel before the Sparrowhawk again lunged. Eventually the Sparrowhawk seemed to accept that it wasn’t going to be able to finish its meal peacefully, so flew off clutching the remains in a talon. It was great to see this spectacular bird at close quarters, but perhaps not in the best of circumstances!

Finally, Glenys and Arthur have been fortunate enough to see Bullfinches and a Hedgehog in their Perrymill Lane garden.

Mid-April 2017 to mid-May 2017

Hardly a day goes by when don’t come across a reference to climate change, and a sighting by Pete in his Middletown Lane conservatory on April 22nd was presumably a result of this, or the mild winter/spring. He took a photograph of a moth which my reference book suggested to me was a Small Magpie Moth. However, my book and more up-to-date information on the Internet suggested the species is on the wing during June and July. I checked with the County moth recorder who confirmed that a few species have appeared very early.

Happily there seems to be a growing band of local nature-spotters. One Coughton resident mentioned having seen two Little Egrets near the lake behind Coughton Court a few weeks ago and he had also seen a Red Kite overhead last year. A former Coughton resident recently spotted a Red Kite over Morrisons in Redditch. I heard third-hand that two Cuckoos were heard calling on the Wylde Moor nature reserve in Feckenham. The same person mentioned that Peregrines have nested in the top of the tower of Leamington Town Hall and a web cam has been set up. Two chicks hatched on April 28th and, since they take about 42 days to fledge, they might still be there to be seen by the time you receive your “Link”.

I began these notes on April 30th and am completing them on May 12th having in the meantime been on a trip to the Czech Republic to enjoy the wildlife there. Whilst there is much overlap with our own species, there are many we don’t see including several more species of woodpeckers and warblers. We were treated to almost constant Cuckoo calls and had several views of the birds. It was delightful to watch the Red Squirrels scampering around.

Back in Sambourne, Pete tells me he heard a Cuckoo from his Middletown Lane home on May 6th – the first mention I’ve heard in the village.

Mid-March 2017 to mid-April 2017

Churchyards can be havens for wildlife and Phil B experienced some fine examples as he took part in the recent Coughton cemetery clear-up. He saw two Stoats chasing rabbits, then uncovered two young Grass Snakes in the undergrowth. Other sightings mentioned to me by villagers were a Weasel scampering around in Chris’s Middletown Lane garden and Janet and Roger have seen a Red Kite on more than one occasion flying over their Wike Lane home.

Some of our highlights in the past month were:
11th March. Wonderful views of a Barn Owl hunting over local fields and a male and Female Reed Bunting in an adjacent hedgerow.
14th March. A male Great Spotted Woodpecker rested for more than one-and-a-half hours on the rim of our garden bird bath in the sunshine. Later in the day we noticed a Little Owl peering out of a hole in an oak tree near the village green.
25th March. Our garden nyger seed feeder has attracted no “customers” this winter and I was aware the seed was stale. I threw out the old and bought new and within hours 4 Lesser Redpolls were feeding there – the first we’ve seen in our garden this year. Lesson learnt – birds don’t like stale food any more than I do!
27th March. On a walk across the fields to Coughton we saw 3 Hares, the Barn Owl, a Reed Bunting, a Yellowhammer and a flock of about 20 Meadow Pipits.
6th April. After a brief shopping visit to Webbs Garden Centre we spent some time in the adjacent Upton Warren nature reserve. Once again Avocets are very much in evidence with someone having counted 39. Other birds of particular interest were Little Ringed Plovers, a Cettis Warbler and, just as we were about to give up on one hide as there was nothing to be seen, a Water Rail appeared and spent a couple of minutes wandering through the reeds right in front of us. A very attractive bird.

In the past few weeks we have seen 7 species of butterfly and a good number of spring migrant birds including Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps (both singing and calling loudly) and on 8th April we saw our first Swallow. We have also seen and heard a number of Skylarks on our walks around the village.

Early February 2017 to mid-March 2017

Spring is certainly getting into its stride now, with Wild Garlic and Cuckoo Pint now very apparent in the verges and pussy willow brightening up the hedgerows. The month got off to a good start for us with the first appearance of a Siskin in our garden this winter. A few days later we saw a flock of more than 50 Redpolls feeding in a silver birch in Wike Lane, but still none have ventured into our garden this year.

The highlight of the past month for us was on February 17th when we spent about 20 minutes watching a Barn Owl hunting over the paddock behind Sambourne Hall Farm and then the recently planted ground between the buildings and the brook. Finally we saw it perched in the window of the disused barn beside the footpath, where it adopted the pose so often associated with the species. Apparently it has been seen regularly since late December, but we haven’t seen it since. Pete has managed to spot the owl through his telescope set up in his Middletown Lane home.

On March 3rd we noticed what looked like a swirling flock of birds forming a “mini murmuration” over the field behind us. They landed in the stand of large oak trees, and through binoculars we could see that the flock was a mix of Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings. The mixed flock soon took off and repeated their coordinated flight before landing to feed in the field.

Finally, we were recently loaned a book entitled “A Sting in The Tale” by Dave Goulson. This is an entertaining and fascinating book on bumblebees. The author is a university lecture who has been enthralled by the natural world from a young age and for many years has been deeply involved with the study and conservation of bumblebees. Most species of bumblebee are really struggling to survive in the modern world and this book will certainly make you bee-conscious. You will learn a lot, not just about bumblebees, and some of the facts are quite bleak, but the style of writing is not depressing and on occasions has the reader laughing out loud. You don’t have to be an entomologist to enjoy the book, so I really recommend it – do it for the bees!

Early January 2017 to early February 2017

I was pleased to hear for the first time from Rachel who reported having watched around ten Lesser Redpolls feeding in a silver birch in her Oak Tree Lane garden. We’ve recently see flocks of more than twenty of these attractive little finches feeding in the silver birches in Wike Lane, but while they’ve visited feeders in our garden in recent years, this year they’ve been absent, perhaps having taken exception to landscaping work and re-positioning of feeders. Rachel also mentioned a pair of Tawny Owls nesting in a leylandii tree in her garden and having enjoyed the summer evening sight of owlets sitting on the fence. Let’s hope for more such reports later in the year!

On February 1st we were walking the footpath from Coughton Lane towards Coughton Lodge Farm and noticed a Cormorant fly overhead and land in a tree. Next day we noticed two Cormorants perched in the same tree and two days later a third had joined them. I’d be interested to know where they feed as there must be a supply of fish somewhere close by. Perhaps they visit the River Arrow or the pool beside Wike Lane, although I’m not sure why they would be roosting where we saw them.

As we walked past Coughton Park wood on January 28th five deer emerged from the trees, crossed the road and ran into the field opposite. Seeing a bright white rear end and unspotted grey-brown body we decided they must have been Sika rather than Fallow. Having now studied pictures of both species on the internet and having learnt that Fallow Deer are generally not spotted in winter we can’t decide what we saw. We still think Sika, but the answer is to be more observant next time and look for black in the tail and around the white patch.

Our Big Garden Birdwatch didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary, but we did manage thirteen species. As a sign that spring is just around the corner some very obvious catkins are now appearing in the hazel trees

Early December 2016 to early January 2017

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.