Sambourne Village

December 2018

I’ll start with a few snippets that others have mentioned to me. Sarah was surprised to see eight Buzzards standing in a field by the drive to Sambourne Warren. Although they feed on small mammals and birds when they can, in winter their diet often includes earthworms foraged from muddy ground. Ann has seen a Sparrowhawk waiting on her Yew Tree Cottage bird table and also saw a Hare in a field by Wike Lane back in the summer.

The weather has dissuaded us from doing much walking across the fields, but it’s pleasing to see a good variety of birds in the trees and bushes along Wike Lane. So far in December we’ve seen Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Siskins, Lesser Redpolls, Goldcrests, Ravens, and Bullfinches. Mixed flocks of tits have included Great, Blue, Long-tailed, Coal and Marsh, and today we came across a flock of winter thrushes – mostly Fieldfares but a few Redwings too.

The place name Goa tends to conjure up thoughts of winter sunshine holidays in India or, if you’re old enough to remember, a haven for hippies in the 60’s and 70’s. We decided to leave behind our flared trousers and beads and instead packed binoculars and telescope for a birding visit to Goa last month. It was very rewarding and just a half-hour drive away from the city and beaches took us to paddy fields with a great variety of herons, egrets, ibises, plovers and sandpipers. A couple of hours inland took us into the Western Ghat mountain range for woodpeckers, owls and a host of other species such as colourful orioles, bee-eaters and barbets. Large butterflies abounded and there were mammals including Malabar Giant Squirrels, Indian Bison (Gaur), and Macaque and Langur primates - all enjoyed in temperatures well into the 30’s (Celsius). The hustle and bustle of India never fails to fascinate us, nor the sight of a family of four squeezed onto a motor scooter (not a crash-helmet to be seen) to astonish us.

Don’t forget the Big Garden Birdwatch to take place 26 – 28th January

November 2018

I realised that I was going to struggle to fill a paragraph this month, so a couple of days ago we made a visit to the Upton Warren nature reserve to see if that could help. We stopped for the customary coffee in Webb’s Garden Centre then moved on to “the Flashes” wetland near the sailing lake. This was rather disappointing as maintenance work is taking place, but there was a large flock of Lapwings (someone had recorded in the log a count of 250), about 20 Teal, 3 Moorhens and through my telescope I spotted a Snipe skulking in the reed margin. We then moved on to “the Moors” where we were much more successful. Here we had brief views of 2 Water Rails, many Cormorants and good numbers of ducks including Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Ducks and a Pochard. A Little Egret was visible in the background, but the highlight of our visit was the presence of 3 Whooper Swans – winter visitors from their breeding grounds in Iceland. Their distinguishing feature is a mainly yellow bill as opposed to the red-orange of our resident Mute Swans. We also heard a Cetti’s Warbler singing loudly in the reed bed. A seed feeder beside the hide was attracting a mixed flock of Tits, Greenfinches, a Bullfinch and a Dunnock. An excellent new hide has been erected here with sponsorship from Tesco. It’s great to have such a wetland reserve nearby.

Other observations over the past month have been:

Chris noticed a Four-spotted Orb Weaver Spider in his Middletown Lane garden shed. Apparently the female is able to change its colour in about 3 days to match that of its resting surface.

As well as the omnipresent Buzzards, we see a Kestrel on nearly every walk to and from Coughton. This is especially pleasing as numbers have been in serious decline in recent years.

We realise it’s now many months since we last saw a Hare in our area. We read a newspaper article stating the myxomatosis is thought to have crossed species from rabbits to Hares. It would be sad if that is the problem rather than that we’ve simply not been looking in the right direction.

We continue to lose the occasional garden bird to a Sparrowhawk, and one day noticed one perched on top of a seed feeder giving the impression that it was waiting for breakfast to arrive!

October 2018

A number of villagers have informed me of a good deal of wildlife activity in the village this month. Roy counted eight Buzzards giving an aerial display over his Whitemore Lane home and Pete reported the same number from his Middletown Lane residence. Pete also rescued a bat (species not identified) from his water butt. Janet has become aware of a Tawny Owl using the garden umbrella for a perch by Wike Lane.

Looking over my notes for the month reminds me that a lot has been happening, not least the large number of Jays around, presumably benefitting from the acorn harvest.

Other items of interest:
Bridalway Coughton Park Woods

16th Sep. A flock of perhaps twenty House Martins were feeding over the fields. We were very pleased to spot a Marsh Tit in Wike Lane, not having seen one for several years.

18th Sep. We noticed a Heron departing from our neighbour’s garden and now realise that it’s practically a daily visitor.

1st Oct. I noticed a strikingly coloured caterpillar on Wike Lane that I’d not seen before. It was lime green and yellow with four blond tufts on its back and a red-brown tuft at the rear. I was able to identify it from my field guide as the larva of the Pale Tussock Moth. I was mildly disappointed to find that it’s a common and widely distributed species, but at least I had the satisfaction of knowing what it was.

3rd Oct. During a field walk to Coughton we noticed a couple of large flocks of Starlings and around 30 Linnets near Sambourne Hall Farm.

4th Oct. We heard a Chiffchaff calling in Hidcote Gardens and had heard one from our garden a couple of weeks earlier – a late singing summer visitor.

8th Oct. In Coughton Park wood we stopped to investigate activity in a tree and spotted Coal Tits, Goldcrests and the first Lesser Redpolls seen this autumn. The sunshine brought a Small Copper butterfly to our garden.

9th Oct. On another field walk to Coughton a Muntjac meandered across the path in front of us and a Mistle Thrush was perched in a tree-top.

10th Oct. Whilst walking through Trench Wood and alongside the nearby canal in the glorious sunshine, we noticed a number of butterflies on the wing, including Red Admirals, Brimstones and Speckled Woods.

We have been reminded of the great job made of tree planting in and around Redditch with the displays of autumn colours highlighted in the recent sunshine.

September 2018

I was thinking that I didn’t have much to report this month - then the Barn Owls appeared. A couple of weeks ago, as we were walking back across the fields from Coughton Court in the middle of a warm and sunny afternoon, we spotted two owls in flight. One disappeared, but the other sat in a tree not far away. We watched through binoculars for a while, but I was distracted by a Sparrowhawk that landed just above it and when I looked back the owl had gone. A few days later, as we walked the same path around midday, one of the owls was hunting over the field. It came quite close to us on a couple of occasions and once flew along the path straight towards me, only veering away when it was three or four metres away at head height. A couple of days later one was hunting in the same area around 10 am. I don’t think they can have read the books that say they hunt around dusk and dawn! In the past week or so several other people have mentioned seeing Barn Owls between Sambourne and Coughton.

Other snippets this month have been:

13th Aug. I noticed a Red Underwing moth on our house wall – only the second time I’ve ever seen one of these large, attractive moths.

27th Aug. Chris saw a Weasel in his Middletown Lane garden, and we witnessed a Sparrowhawk catch a meal in our garden.

Speckled Bush Cricket
1st Sept. We found a Speckled Bush Cricket on a geranium by our front porch.

5th Sept. As we walked along the bridleway from Wike Lane into Coughton Park wood we noticed two Fallow Deer grazing in the field. Speckled Wood butterflies were abundant.

6th Sept. We had brief views of a juvenile Stonechat by the path near Sambourne Hall Farm. A nearby patch of Harebells made an attractive display. On a more general note, Green Woodpeckers seem to have been omnipresent for the past few weeks, busily consuming the ants that are everywhere after the dry weather. We’ve seen a Kestrel from time to time around the village and Swallows and House Martins were still in evidence up to a couple of days ago. There seems to be an abundance of berries in the hedgerows which should provide welcome sustenance for visiting winter thrushes.

August 2018

Perhaps the most unusual report this month has come from Chris. The cabbage plants in his Middletown Lane garden have received a severe mauling by white butterfly caterpillars, but he was surprised to find he had an ally in the battle against them in the form of wasps. Firstly he found that the wasps were carrying off the smaller ones for food for the larvae in their nest. The larger caterpillars seemed able to cling on to the leaves tightly enough for the wasps to be unable to detach them. However, when Chris pulled them off to dispose of them himself he found that the wasps were then able to take them away. What teamwork!

The hot, dry weather over the past few weeks has brought many butterflies, including a few Painted Ladies, to our flower borders.

Large Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar
Another migrant from southern Europe was a Hummingbird Hawk Moth that appeared briefly in our garden on August 7th. A couple of weeks earlier I found a Large Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar in the garden - quite spectacular with its distinctive “eye” markings.

More garden visitors in the hot weather were a family of Green Woodpeckers seeking the ants. We had an adult and two young on one occasion, but we were outdone by our neighbours who had a party of four feeding on their lawn.

I don’t like to visit Webb’s garden centre without dropping in on the Upton Warren nature reserve to see what’s around. We did this a few days ago but found the water level in “the Flashes” very low and the only things of real interest were one Curlew and a flock of Lapwings. I read in the log kept in the hide that earlier in the summer up to 50 Avocets were in residence. It’s good to know that they continue to be such a success story.

Finally, in mid-July we were pleased to pick up a telephone message left by Margaret from Sambourne Park, who had been observing birds in and over her garden and reported Buzzard, Green Woodpecker and a Spotted Flycatcher.

July 2018

As the spell of warm weather was getting established the numbers and varieties of butterflies that we saw on our walks increased. On a June 11th walk to Coughton we saw Speckled Wood, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Small Skippers and Small Heaths. A 6-Spot Burnet Moth and several Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies were also noted. We also heard Chiffchaffs and Whitethroat singing. Later the same day, neighbour John mentioned having seen 10 young blackbirds in his garden.

More people mentioned having seen a Red Kite over the village and I was getting the feeling that I was to be the only villager not to have seen one overhead. However, on June 15th I answered a ring on the doorbell and found Richard the postman at the door wanting to point out a Red Kite overhead. That’s a service not normally associated with Royal Mail!

The competitive spirit showed in Sambourne on June 16th – who heard the last Cuckoo calling in Sambourne? Chris heard one from his Middletown Lane home and we heard one from Wyke Lane. The timings weren’t recorded, so it was declared an honourable draw!

On June 21st Ringlet, Marbled White and Large Skipper were added to the list of butterflies and a Comma was in our garden on the 26th.

Now finally, perhaps you would permit me a little self-indulgence as the editor’s deadline requires me to write these notes during our holiday in the south of France. This is not a great time of year for birds in Provence with the breeding season well past, but in our rural location surrounded by Ventoux vineyards we’ve been enchanted by the continuous presence of European Bee-eaters performing their aerobatics overhead as they chase their prey and call with their distinctive trill. They line up on nearby power cables where we’ve been able to admire their extravagant colouring. They’ve sometimes been accompanied by Woodlarks. Black Redstarts flit around the villa’s gardens as Robins would at home, and Serins are the common garden finch. We were pleased to see a Short-toed Eagle gliding overhead as we walked through our local village. The shortage of bird species has been more than made up by the profusion of butterflies, including my first sighting of a Queen of Spain Fritillary and many lovely yellow and orange Cleopatras on the lavender plants in the garden.

June 2018

I feel I could devote this month’s notes solely to the Cuckoo (or Cuckoos) that’s been delivering its evocative call around the village so consistently since April 21st. Many people have commented on the pleasure of having heard it. On May 12th we had close and extensive views of the bird as it called from the top of a dead tree close to Sambourne Hall Farm. Just this morning I could hear one calling nearby while I waited to have some garden equipment security-marked by the police service outside the church room.

One pleasing item came from Paul and Tracy who were treated to a Nightingale singing in woodland in the grounds of the National Trust’s Croome estate. I haven’t heard one singing locally for many years. They also mentioned having seen Red Kites over Weethley, and other people have spotted them in our area.

Two years ago I noticed that a common spotted orchid had appeared in our lawn. Last year it appeared again, but seemed to die off before flowering. However, this year it returned and has now produced a fine flower spike – nice to see, but disrupts my lawn-mowing efforts!

I gather there has been some breeding success for Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Harlequin Ducks at Capilano. Although not a native species to the UK, Harlequins are very attractive birds.

In mid-May we spent a few days in mid-Wales to visit an RSPB reserve and to do some walking in the hills and valleys. We were rewarded with sights of the specialities of the area such as Pied Flycatchers, Wood Warblers, Redstarts, Whinchats, Goosanders and many more. On one walk I had a brief view of a Green Hairstreak butterfly – real little gem.

29th May. A male Bullfinch was in our garden feeding on sunflower seeds. A female soon appeared on the scene and they have been regular visitors ever since.

4th June. Swifts and House Martins were flying overhead in the middle of Sambourne – the first I’ve seen locally.

6th June. We noticed a Tawny Owl roosting in a tree beside a footpath dropping down from Astwood Bank.

May 2018

Oh to be in England now that spring is here – well, not quite Robert Browning’s words, but it’s what he would have written had he been here over the bank holiday weekend. The glorious weather brought out good numbers of butterflies. In our garden and on walks around the village we saw Small Tortoiseshells, Orange Tips, Brimstones, Speckled Woods, Holly Blues and Small Whites. We heard our first Cuckoo this year and one was calling from various locations around the village. In the woodland at Coughton Court the beds of wild garlic were in full flower, as were bluebells. We visited a friend’s 4 acre meadow in Dormston which was covered in cowslips. It seems to be an amazing year for them with so many road verges covered, and we noticed some in our village recreation ground. What a weekend!

Looking back over the past month, a number of items are worthy of mention: 17th April. Two Swallows have adopted a power cable at the top of Perrymill Lane as a convenient perch. A Blackcap was singing from the hedgerow nearby in the lane.

20th April. We noticed our first Orange Tip butterfly in the garden.

21st April. From their Sambourne Lane home Margaret and Howard clearly heard a Cuckoo calling at 7:30 am. This was the first record I’ve received of this much-awaited symbol of spring. We heard a Whitethroat singing then saw the bird in a hedgerow beside the path to Coughton. A common spotted orchid has reappeared in our back lawn after having seemed to have withered away last spring.

26th April. We had a walk from Burford in the Cotswolds and were treated to some close fly-pasts by a Red Kite. We also had a number of sightings on the drive over the Cotswolds to and from Burford. Chris and Phil heard several Tawny Owls calling not far from the village green late in the evening.

6th May. During a walk along footpath to Coughton we watched a Sparrowhawk circling overhead and were pleased to see two Grey Wagtails at the point where Cain Brook passes under the A435 on its way to Coughton Court. They were flying in and out of the two tunnels, perhaps prospecting for a suitable nest site.

April 2018

I’ve just taken a look at the results of the RSPB’s “Big Garden Birdwatch” and it’s interesting to see that the top two “most seen” species (House Sparrows and Starlings) are now both very rare visitors to our garden. I notice that one species that seems to have been on the increase, although still not very common, is the Siskin. On March 10th I topped up the nyger seed feeder and within the hour I was amazed to see 20 Siskins in the garden feeding on nyger seeds and sunflower hearts. I don’t recall seeing that number of any species in the garden before.

Although spring now seems to have arrived in fits and starts, the odd warm and sunny day seems to have had the desired effect. Since March 25th we’ve been seeing Brimstone and Tortoiseshell butterflies in the garden. Blackthorn has been in blossom in the hedgerows and pussy willow has been brightening up the countryside. Wild garlic has shot up in the verges in Wike Lane and patches of violets have appeared. A bed of anemones in our garden has been alive with bees. Migrating Toads have been dicing with death as they crossed Wike Lane. I hope the excellent warning signs to motorists have had some beneficial effect.

On April 5th we heard and saw our first Chiffchaff of the year in Wike Lane and since then have heard them calling daily. On April 8th we heard a Blackcap singing in Wike Lane and we also saw our first Swallow, perched on a telephone wire in Coughton. Two days prior to this we spotted a large flock of Fieldfares and Redwings, presumably preparing to return to their summer homes in Scandinavia and Russia.

I’ve received a few reports from other nature-lovers this month. Roy noticed two Red Kites soaring near Weethley Church; Phil has seen Red-legged Partridges behind his Middletown Lane home and mentioned a Hobby having been seen over Cookhill; Felicity has appreciated for the first time just how beautifully marked a Buzzard is, having viewed one through binoculars.

Finally, a plea to dog-walkers – please do not allow dogs to run through fields of crops during spring and summer months as they are likely to disturb ground-nesting birds and cause them to desert their nests. At present we have a few Skylarks in the fields around us and it would be a great shame to lose their beautiful songs.

March 2018

I think “bird of the month” has to be the Red Kite. Several people have been in touch to report sightings of one over the village green and Middletown Lane and we saw one just a couple of miles south of Alcester. There have been occasional sightings reported to me over recent years and it must be just a matter of time before we have regular visits.

The bird feeders in our garden have continued to receive many visitors over the past month, but the extreme winter weather at the start of March increased numbers much further. I was particularly pleased to see six Siskins on the feeders on the 4th, then on the 7th, while I was in the garden, I realised there were seven of them busily feeding and completely ignoring me. The nearest was only a couple of metres away which served to remind me just what attractive little birds they are with their yellow, green and black pluma

The snow also had the effect of driving less common birds into gardens in search of food and shelter. I received a number of reports of Redwings arriving in numbers. Interestingly there are plenty of them in the fields around us all through the winter, but it’s only really apparent what they are when viewed through binoculars. When they are reasonably close in the garden people realise that they’re seeing a bird with distinctive markings that they don’t recognise. In the context of unusual garden visitors, it seems strange now to mention having had a couple of Starlings visit the feeders. Having previously been so abundant they, together with House Sparrows, are now rarely seen in the garden.

On a walk to Coughton we noticed a flock of about 30 Meadow Pipits in one of the fields. On walks along Wike Lane we’ve seen numbers of Greylag Geese that seemed to have come from the direction of the pool off the lane. Also Canada Geese were noted.

Finally, as another reminder of the coming of spring, on March 6th, when the snow had melted from the verges, we noticed sturdy shoots of wild garlic growing in Wike Lane.

February 2018

Most of this month’s jottings are thanks to Rachel’s observations in her Oak Tree Lane garden. Together with her children she took part in the RSPB’s “Big Garden Birdwatch” and they were rewarded with views of a Bullfinch, Pied Wagtails, a Wren and two Nuthatches among other species. Rachel’s young daughter sketched the birds while they watched – perhaps a future wildlife artist?

There has been drama in her garden with a Buzzard eating a Wood Pigeon under an apple tree and a Sparrowhawk paying several visits. In one, a small bird took refuge in a bush, but the Sparrowhawk persisted in trying to drive its quarry from the bush and finally succeeded after about 20 minutes. The Buzzard is a regular in or near Rachel’s garden and altercations take place with a “tame” Crow.

Tawny Owls are regularly heard calling around dawn and late afternoon, and are sometimes seen on nearby power lines or in the leylandii trees. A welcome sight has been of a Kestrel perched on a power line seen from her garden. Although not rare, Kestrel numbers have greatly reduced in recent years due to habitat loss and disturbance. We’re always pleased to see them hunting over the fields around the village.

Rob and Rachel have now set up a garden camera to record garden visitors. So far just Rabbits have been recorded, but a Hedgehog visited the garden last year, so could be a candidate for recording this year.

Our own Birdwatch this year was quite a success with 16 species spotted. Less common species noted were three Siskins, five Lesser Redpolls, and seven Greenfinches. Greenfinch numbers have declined significantly in recent years and we now rarely see them in the garden, so it was encouraging to see this number.

At the end of January I heard a Little Owl squawking behind our garden and on February 5th I was pleased to see a Brambling in the apple tree – our first this winter. On the same day we were amused by three Robins together on a wall pillar, posturing with puffed out chests. I don’t know if it was territorial or courtship, but they eventually seemed to lose interest and flew away.

January 2018

Have you ever pondered just how an egg is created in a female bird, how the colours of the shell are applied or which end of an egg emerges first – blunt or pointy end? My niece has given me a book entitled “The Most Perfect Thing” by Tim Birkhead. The book details the process from start to finish and a whole lot more, and is quite fascinating. Just one of the wonders of the natural world!

Bird activity in our garden has continued to be rather intermittent this month, but the snow on 11th December did bring some Fieldfares and Redwings into the garden to feed on apples we put out, and every berry disappeared from our pyracanthas.

Margaret reported more than 50 Fieldfares feeding under an apple tree in Sambourne Park.

13th Dec. Phil B saw a Peregrine in the field behind his Middletown Lane home.

25th Dec. A Christmas Day treat for Pete, also in Middletown Lane, was a visit to his garden from a Treecreeper.

5th Jan. A female Bullfinch fed on the sunflower heart feeder in the garden.

Although it’s on our doorstep, I’m sorry to say it’s been more than 30 years since we last visited Redditch’s Ipsley Alders Marsh reserve in Winyates. We spent a couple of hours there this afternoon and were rewarded with views of a reasonable number of bird species including Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, a Sparrowhawk, mixed flocks of tits, but of particular interest, a couple of flocks of Siskins.

6th Jan. I noticed a Blue Tit investigating a nest box in our neighbours’ garden – I hope it met with approval.

10th Jan. A Treecreeper spent some time living up to its name in our apple tree as it sought food in the bark. Two Lesser Redpolls were feeding on the nyger seed – the first time we’ve seen this species this winter. Frances mentioned that Little Egrets have been seen on the River Arrow nature reserve in Alcester.

We still have plenty of winter ahead of us, but it’s good to see catkins developing in the hedgerows, snowdrops appearing in the gardens and daffodil shoots appearing around the village “gateway” signs. Perhaps spring isn’t too far away!