Sambourne Village

Mid December 2020 to mid January 2021

Our involvement with the natural world has inevitably continued to be limited to the lanes around Sambourne and Coughton, and our own garden. However, there is still great pleasure to be obtained from observing the more “everyday” species.

22nd Dec. Several Yellowhammers occupied trees by a barn in Coughton Lane.

31st dec. A mixed flock of more than 100 corvids (Jackdaws, Crows and Rooks) were feeding in a field beside the footpath to Coughton. We stopped to watch a Dunnock in the hedgerow. Easily dismissed as “little brown jobs” they are most attractive birds when viewed in good light that shows off the contrasting grey and brown plumage.

2nd Jan. For the first time this winter I noticed two Siskins visiting our sunflower heart feeder. They soon departed and were replaced by a party of Long-tailed Tits.

5th Jan. We had another Yellowhammer sighting in Coughton Lane.

9th Jan. A Song Thrush flew from a tree in Sambourne Lane and a Great Tit was calling clearly in Wike Lane.
Chris described the technique of a Blackbird in his Middletown Lane garden using a fatball as a pendulum, taking a peck each time the fatball swung towards it.

13th Jan. A flock of about 10 Starlings were feeding in the field behind our garden. To my mind this is worthy of comment because Starlings are no longer a common sight for us.

15th Jan. A sad occasion caused us to head south to Somerset on an essential journey. The journey was slightly brightened in both directions by the sight of a Red Kite flying overhead near Beckford.

17th Jan. A few Meadow Pipits and Yellowhammers were visible in the trees by the barn in Coughton Lane.

18th Jan. After a period of intermittent visits to the garden by a Great Spotted Woodpecker, today we had a male and a female feeding on the sunflower hearts and peanuts, and having a peck at the bark of our old apple tree.

19th Jan. We had a good view of a Mistle Thrush and a Song Thrush close together in a tree in Wike Lane. This gave a great opportunity to compare the size and the markings of the two species.

Although the time for the Big Garden Birdwatch will have passed by the time you read this, I hope anyone interested will have taken part. What better way to spend the enforced time at home than taking an hour to see what visits your garden?

Mid November 2020 to mid-December 2020

The wet weather over the past few weeks has meant that we’ve continued to keep to the surfaced lanes. Walks have now taken us beyond the ford at Coughton and along Coughton Lane as far as the B4090. This has reminded us just how pleasant is the view over the open countryside towards and beyond Alcester from the top of the rise out of Coughton.

15th Nov. Our garden received two visits from a Sparrowhawk, neither of which ended in a meal for the bird.

18th Nov. Our early Christmas present to ourselves arrived – a moth trap, which I hope will enable me report on a different set of visitors to our garden next year.

19th Nov. We spotted a Little Egret near a Heron in a field off Sambourne Lane near Sambourne Park. This is the first one we’ve seen near the centre of the village.

21st Nov. Graham and Elizabeth have been enjoying seeing this Little Egret together with at least three Herons for the past week.

22nd Nov. A cormorant flew overhead by the ford at Coughton. In Wike Lane a couple of Fieldfares were perfectly illuminated by the low winter sun reminding us of just what attractive birds they are.

25th Nov. Two Pied Wagtails visited our garden. They’ve now become quite regulars.

26th Nov. The well-berried holly tree in our neighbour’s garden is proving to be a great attraction to the local population of Redwings.

5th Dec. Redwings are still feeding on the holly berries next door. I put out a niger seed feeder for the first time for many months. Last time it took some time for the birds to show any interest, but two Goldfinches arrived to feed within hours.

Embryonic catkins are now visible to remind us that spring comes after winter. Buds are also becoming more noticeable in some trees and bushes.

12th Nov. We noticed a small flock of Meadow Pipits near a barn in Coughton Lane. A yellowhammer was perched in a nearby tree. As we walked back along Wike Lane the pheasant shoot was beginning. A short distance ahead of us a startled Muntjac appeared from the woodland and ran across the road but found that there was no gap in the fence. In a panic it whirled around, shot back across the road and disappeared into the woods. On our return home we noticed snowdrops in flower in the garden two houses from us.

15th Dec. In a field beside Coughton Lane we noticed a flock of at least fifty Redwings and a few Fieldfares feeding.

18th Dec. A lady who lives in Coughton Lane mentioned having occasional visits to her garden from a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. These are now rare birds, so this is good news.

Mid October 2020 to Mid November 2020

This month began with reasonable weather keeping the field and woodland paths walkable. The recent rainfall has rendered footpaths very muddy, so walks have been confined to the lanes.

15th Oct. A stag fallow Deer with a splendid head of antlers seemed to study us on the bridleway in Coughton Park woods before sauntering off among the trees, followed by a younger stag.

Off the Monarch’s Way footpath, we spotted two foxes, one of which gave us a protracted view as it seemed to be relaxing in a sunny spot in the undergrowth.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker visited the peanut feeder in our garden. This was the first time we’ve seen one here for many months.

18th Oct. From his Middletown Lane garden Chris heard Tawny Owl calls.

19th Oct. In the field to the Sambourne side of Coughton cemetery we counted five Herons, presumably hunting for invertebrates. I have found a variety of collective nouns for Herons, including a “sedge” and a “siege”.

4th Nov. Walks have been curtailed due to an achilles tendon problem, so recent sightings have been limited to what visits the garden. The overnight frost has brought more birds into the garden including a Great Spotted Woodpecker to the peanuts and a couple of Blackbirds stripping berries from the pyracanthas.

7th Nov. A Heron spent a short time in our garden near to the kitchen window. It then moved on to the neighbour’s garden before flying off. They really do look large when close. Peter was surprised to see a Hedgehog with a mouthful of leaves in his Coughton garden, presumably preparing sleeping quarters for hibernation. His neighbour has occasionally been presented with a gift of a Hedgehog by his sheepdog.

8th Nov. For the first time this autumn I saw visiting winter thrushes, mostly Redwings with a few Fieldfares, feeding in the field behind our garden.

10th Nov. At dusk on this mild afternoon I noticed a small bat, presumably a Pipistrelle, flying circuits over our garden.

To clearly show that Foxes visit the centre of the village, Roy has captured an image of one leaving his garden close to the Green Dragon around 7pm.

11th Nov. For the first time that we can recall we had the pleasure of a visit to the garden by a Grey Wagtail. It landed on the patio wall, briefly visited the bird bath then flew off. I have a soft spot for this species as it was one that stimulated our interest in birds many years ago when we lived in Harborne. A brook ran behind our garden and resulted in some less-common birds in the garden, including these wagtails with their sulphur yellow bellies.

Mid September 2020 to Mid October 2020

14th Sept. The onomatopoeic calls of Chiffchaffs were still being heard in Coughton Park woods and near Sambourne Park today. I noticed an interesting looking fungus in the woods which the “Seek” app on the phone identified as Amanita rubescens. My field guide describes it as “indigestible when raw, but harmless and good when cooked”. We were not tempted!

17th Sept. Today delivered our treat of the month. As we walked along the Monarch’s Way footpath beyond Botany Bay nursery, we noticed a flock of 12+ birds which we recognised as Meadow Pipits. They landed on a fence and we realised that there was a different species amongst them. Looking through binoculars we could see that it was a Wheatear. Another different species was noticed close to this and we identified it as a Whinchat. These are both summer visitors to this country and we have normally seen them in mountain and moorland habitats, so I assume they were on their way from their summer haunts back to Africa for the winter. Both are very attractive birds.

20th Sept. The arrival of a Sparrowhawk in our garden instantly cleared the area of the small birds that had been busily feeding.

21st Sept. A doe Fallow Deer crossed our path in the woods.

22nd Sept. Chris spotted a Weasel in his Middletown Lane garden – not the first time.

27th Sept. During an early morning walk through the woods we had good views of a couple of Goldcrests and a mixed flock of tits. Several Chiffchaffs could be heard calling.

1st Oct. A Red Kite flew over us on our woodland walk.

6th Oct. A Heron was standing in a field off Sambourne Lane in Coughton.

11th Oct. A lady resident of Coughton Lane in Coughton told us of seeing three Stonechats in her garden, of a Muntjac that is regularly found in her garden shed, and of seeing nineteen Herons standing in a circle in a nearby field.

13th Oct. Overnight a couple of Lawyer’s Wig fungi appeared in our gravel drive. These are good to eat but didn’t suit our menu for the day!

14th Oct. Adam commented on seeing flocks of small brown birds in a clover field and around cattle. From his description these are almost certainly Meadow Pipits. Today we noticed numbers of Ladybirds on the house walls presumably seeking suitable hibernation sites.

Mid August 2020 to Mid September 2020

Anyone who read last month’s jottings might be surprised to see this as I said it would be my last, but some kind words said to me prompted a rethink, so I’ll keep going for a while!

16th Aug. We were very pleased to see a Hare in the field beside Coughton Park woods – we hadn’t seen one for many months.

17th Aug. Chris reported having a party of 15 Long-tailed Tits in his Middletown Lane garden.

18th Aug. A Song Thrush was singing and visible in Wike Lane. I don’t seem to have given them much of a mention in the past, but it is a pleasure to hear them when most birds have stopped singing.

20th Aug. Last month I mentioned the unexpected gift of Painted Lady caterpillars. Today we released the four successfully hatched adult butterflies onto buddleia and verbena flowers in the garden. One stayed in the garden for a couple of days before setting off on its migration to Africa (I presume!).

23rd Aug. I’m used to seeing Crows and Jackdaws mobbing Buzzards, but today I noticed Swallows harassing a Kestrel.

26th Aug. A Roe Deer was in the field adjacent to Coughton Park woods.

27th Aug. A Fox emerged from the woodland beside Wike Lane.

1st Sept. It was interesting to see a team of volunteers from Heart of England Forest carrying out some coppicing work and producing a “natural” fence at the entrance to woods. It’s great to see the woods being actively managed for nature.

2nd Sept. We spent many minutes watching two Goldcrests feeding in conifers in the woodland. We used to see them frequently there but hadn’t for a long time.

3rd Sept. A cool, wet day resulted in an explosion of the regular bird species visiting the garden feeders. Many Swallows were swirling over the garden and the field behind us.

4th Sept As we walked along Sambourne Lane I noticed a long black beetle on the pavement. As I stopped to look closely it adopted a “threatening” pose, raising its rear rather like a scorpion. I thought I knew what it was and the “Seek” app on the phone confirmed it as a Devil’s Coach Horse beetle. They are apparently capable of delivering a painful nip and can squirt an evil-smelling liquid. Apart from that they’re lovely!

5th Sept. A Roe Deer buck was visible in the crop adjacent to the woodland.

8th Sept. A Small Copper butterfly was feeding on verbena flowers in our garden.

9th Sept. I spotted a juvenile Grass Snake in Wike Lane. Unfortunately it seemed to have suffered an injury to its body, but was still active, so I moved it onto the grass verge and hoped for the best.

12th Sept. Martin reported having seen a mother doe and fawn (species not specified) in the woodland.

13th Sept. We spotted a flat Slowworm in Wike Lane. We only ever seem to see them as roadkill, but I suppose it’s a good sign that they are around.

Mid July 2020 to Mid August 2020

The spells of hot sunny weather have continued to keep butterflies active, but the birds have gone quiet as most breeding has come to an end.

16th July. A bramble patch in a sunny spot was attracting good numbers of butterflies including many Peacocks, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns, with a couple of Silver-washed Fritillaries. We stopped to exchange a few words with volunteers from the Heart of England Forest. They were clearing birch scrub to make way for more brambles which should increase butterfly numbers in future. It is good to see this woodland being managed for the benefit of the flora and fauna.

My brother brought to my attention a phone “app” for identifying items in the natural world. It is called Seek by iNaturalist. Basically you point the phone’s camera at the item and it tells you what the species is. I’ve tried it on a few wild flowers and a beetle and it seemed to work well.

17th July. I did the “Big Butterfly Count” in our garden and found Peacocks, Tortoiseshells, Small White, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and a Comma.

21st July. Another Red Kite spotted flying over Middletown Lane – this time reported by Chris.

29th July. After dark I tried to spot Comet Neowise, supposedly visible near the Great Bear constellation, but was unsuccessful. However, using my birdwatching telescope, I did have an excellent view of Saturn and Jupiter close together with Jupiter’s four moons clearly visible in a line.

31st July. An unexpected gift was delivered by Richard the postman. Friends of ours, knowing our interest in nature, had decided that we should have a kit for raising five Painted Lady butterflies. It consisted of a tub containing five tiny caterpillars with a complete food source and a mesh cylinder for the butterflies to emerge into, We now have four chrysalides (one of the caterpillars was DOA) and await the emergence of the butterflies in a couple of weeks. Very educational for children (young and old!)

7th Aug. A Red Kite was circling above our house.

9th Aug. A Common Blue butterfly was visiting flowers in our garden.

11th Aug. We were very pleased to spot a Marsh Tit in the hedgerow at the edge of the woodland in Wike Lane. This is a rare sighting for us.

12th Aug. A male Bullfinch brightened our garden when it briefly perched on a verbena stem.

Mid June 2020 to Mid July 2020

These past four weeks have been greatly enhanced by the emergence of several species of butterfly to attract our attention and go some way towards making up for the gradual reduction in bird song.

14th June. As we walked a section of the Monarch’s Way footpath to the south of Botany Bay nursery a Fox crossed the meadow and headed for cover.

15th June. We noticed three Skylarks together as we walked the footpath to Astwood Bank. On the Monarch’s Way we saw our first Small Skipper butterfly and later, in Coughton Park woods, spotted a White Admiral and a Silver-washed Fritillary.

16th June. Chris reported a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly on his Middletown Lane garden pond.

19th June. We spotted our first Ringlet butterfly in the woodland.

20th June. A Ringlet and a Red Admiral visited flowers in our garden.

21st June. Pete has had a Tawny Owl on his Middletown Lane garden fence each night for the past three weeks.

22nd June. Marbled White butterflies have appeared in the meadow beside the Monarch’s Way and are particularly attracted to Knapweed flowers.

23rd Jun. The meadow now holds large numbers of Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites. The bramble flowers in the woodland were attracting Ringlets, Silver-washed Fritillaries, a Comma, a Red Admiral, and a Small Skipper. At least I think it was a Small Skipper, but the Biodiversity Manager from The Heart of England Forest informed me that she had seen an Essex Skipper and I don’t think I can tell the difference! We also spotted a male Banded Demoiselle damselfly. As we walked back up Sambourne Lane away from the Green Dragon, we saw a Red Kite swoop into the paddock beside “Thatchbrook” then emerge to circle low overhead, gradually drifting across the village green and towards Coughton.

25th June. I stopped to photograph a couple of Burnet Moths feeding on Knapweed by the Monarch’s Way. It was only when I viewed the photographs at home on the computer that I realised they were two different species – a Five-spot Burnet and a Six-spot Burnet.

26th June. We saw an Azure Damselfly on the Monarch’s Way and a Holly Blue butterfly soon after. Fritillaries and Marbled Whites were in the woodland.

28th June. A couple of Linnets were perched on cables by the path to Astwood Bank.

30th June. I found the remains of a deceased Large Emerald moth in Wike Lane.

10th July. Phil noticed a Red Kite over Middletown Lane.

11th July. More butterfly species are now visiting our garden including Small Tortoiseshells, a Peacock, and a Gatekeeper. In a previous edition of “Nature Jottings” I mentioned that a pair of Great Tits had chosen a traffic cone in Janet’s Wike Lane garden as a nest site. Access was through the small hole in the top. There having been a lot of people activity near the cone, Janet decided to check on their well-being. She gently raised the edge of the cone and five young birds shot out in a simultaneous fledging. Three weeks later young Great Tits are still around the garden so it would seem the story had a happy ending.

Mid May 2020 to Mid June 2020

Over the past few years, while we’ve been pottering in the garden, we’ve occasionally heard a strange call emanating from a number of different directions. We’ve always assumed it was a bird because of the changes of location but couldn’t imagine what it was. The best way I could have described it was a slightly musical “bong” repeated up to five times with the sort of frequency of a crow calling. We recently heard it several times, but still couldn’t see anything. I looked at all the field guides to see if any mentioned corvids making odd noises and came across one reference to Ravens making some curious sounds. I heard it again several times which drove me in to try Google. One of the results took me to a “Youtube” video of a Raven calling. The first calls this bird makes are amusing, but not what we’ve heard. Towards the end there’s a very different call and “Bingo!” it’s the call we’ve been hearing. Mystery solved! Interestingly this was filmed in Canada.

15th May. We had a lovely view of a fine-looking stag Roe Deer in Coughton Park wood. Blackbirds were gathering worms from some freshly spread compost in our garden, to take to their young.

16th May. On a morning walk through the wood we had good views of a Mistle Thrush then heard a Tawny Owl calling loudly. A Song Thrush visited our garden – sadly, a rare event these days.

17th May. On a morning walk along Wike Lane we heard a Cuckoo calling for about 15 minutes. We also had two good views of the bird. Janet showed us where Great Tits are raising a brood inside a traffic cone on the ground – accessing the nest through the small hole in the top. A Red Kite flew over our house. Chris spotted a Cinnabar Moth in his Middletown Lane garden. Our neighbour Ann saw a Hedgehog on her drive.

20th May. An unusual experience today was having a dead young rabbit fall to the ground beside us as we walked past Green Dragon Cottage. It was dropped by a Buzzard that had flown from the garden.

24th May. On our morning walk we spotted a Drinker Moth caterpillar on the woodland bridleway. The adult moth is a real beauty. About 20 Starlings were feeding on our lawn – rare visitors to our garden these days. Tawny Owl calls continued for some time off Perrymill Lane late in the evening.

25th May. A Muntjac Deer appeared to be watching us watching butterflies on the woodland bridleway.

27th May. The arrival of a Heron cleared Graham and Elizabeth’s Sambourne Lane garden of Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves.

28th May. Young Goldfinches and Blue Tits were being fed by adults in our garden.

31st May. The woodland is changing with warblers becoming less vocal and foxgloves, honeysuckle and bramble flowers taking over from the bluebells.

2nd June. We had a brief view of a Redstart in the woods. We saw our first House Martins this year as they prospected for nest sites under the eaves of The Old Post Office.

4th June. In the woods we watched a Garden Warbler perched on a nearby branch as it spent several minutes preening.

8th June. Near Glebe Farm we stopped to watch a Skylark performing its song flight and noticed four Swifts high above.

9th June. A female Roe Deer grazed in a field beside the woods. There was mayhem in Graham and Elizabeth’s garden where a Sparrowhawk was seeking a meal and a White Crab Spider caught a Peacock butterfly.

Mid April 2020 to Mid May 2020

I can think of nothing that is such an important symbol of springtime to everyone and acts as such a landmark in the year other than the call of a Cuckoo. On April 15th Heather was the first person to report having heard one. She was soon followed by Peter, Nick, Julie, Tracy and Paul. Today Sandra told me she heard one calling on April 16th and, soon after, she saw one on the telephone line in front of her Sambourne Lane house. We didn’t manage to hear one until May 2nd, but have several times heard the call since then.

The recent spells of warm, calm weather have brought out more butterfly species and seems to have stimulated even more bird song.

16th April. We noticed a lot of bee-like insects with furry bodies and long proboscis feeding on flowers in our garden. These have subsequently been identified as Bee-flies.

17th April. Wild garlic in flower in Wike Lane and Bluebells in the wood are now a picture.

22nd April. We found small, dark droppings in the garden which we suspected of being from a Hedgehog. A few days later our neighbour Ann saw one in our drive around 9:30pm to confirm our suspicions.




23rd April. Julie reported having heard a Cuckoo from the bottom of Perrymill Lane and suspects that a Treecreeper is nesting in our neighbour’s oak tree.



Garden Warbler

30th April. In Wike Lane near the village green we heard the song then saw a Whitethroat. Since then we’ve heard and seen them almost daily along with Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and, less frequently, Garden Warblers.

3rd May. A Nuthatch was hunting for insects in the wall around our patio. Phil B. saw foxes and a Barn Owl off Middletown Lane.

4th May. I saw a Holly Blue butterfly in our garden. A couple of days later we noticed another settled on pyracantha flowers.

9th May. As we walked along the bridleway through the woods off Wike Lane a Red Kite soared overhead. A Willow Warbler added its voice to the chorus of bird song. Speckled Wood butterflies are now commonly seen on this walk.

12th May. A flock of Swallows was actively feeding over a field beside Wike Lane.

Mid March 2020 to Mid April 2020

While our lives have changed beyond all recognition during these extraordinary times, the rest of the natural world has continued as normal. Our horizons have been limited by restrictions in movement, but there has been much to see and hear locally with the move into springtime.

12th March. As we walked along Middletown Lane, we could hear a Skylark singing above an adjacent field.

14th March. Phil reported having seen 5 Roe Deer off Middletown Lane.

15th March. Our neighbour Ann saw a Barn Owl in flight and a Little Owl in the road at Hangings Well this evening.

17th March. On an afternoon walk along Wike Lane we stopped to listen to the song of our first Chiffchaff of the spring, then watched a Treecreeper working its way up a tree trunk. A Fox crossed the lane a little ahead of us and disappeared in the woods.

18th March. Phil noticed two Red-legged Partridges in his Middletown Lane garden.

19th March. As we returned home from Hillers Farm Shop we saw a Red Kite overhead at Cookhill. Several Greenfinches visited our garden feeders.

21st March. A Comma butterfly was visiting flowers in our garden. Many bees were visiting a patch of anemones.

22nd March. A Heron was looking for food in the field behind us.

23rd March. We spotted our first Brimstone butterfly in the centre of the village.

24th March. Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were in the garden today.

25th March. A cock Pheasant was peering through the patio doors into the kitchen.

26th March. There was almost continuous singing of Chiffchaffs the length of Wike Lane to Coughton.

4th April. Matt and Lizzie saw a Little Egret in a meadow behind Coughton Court.

7th April. Several Goldfinches were ignoring the seed feeders and exploring the patio walling and the vegetable garden instead. Our neighbour Ann noticed “absolutely loads” of Peacock butterflies in the field behind us.

8th April. We heard a Whitethroat singing near the village green. The first Orange Tip butterfly was feeding on aubretia in our garden. Subsequently they have become regular visitors.

10th April. We heard our first Willow Warbler singing in Wike Lane/Sambourne Lane. Friends reported a Red Kite flying over Pebworth. Phil saw four Red-legged Partridges in his Middletown Lane field, and heard Skylarks singing.

11th April. We’ve noticed Blackbirds gathering food in our back lawn. We now know that they have young in a nest in our neighbour’s hedge.

15th April. Heather from Middletown Lane heard a Cuckoo call this morning – the first report that I’ve received.

16th April. Our early morning walk to Astwood Bank and back across the fields paid dividends. We paused to listen to a Skylark singing and noticed a different bird on the ground. This proved to be a male Wheatear, which proceeded to give us great views. This is a summer visitor more generally associated with moorland and cliff-tops, so presumably it had stopped off to refuel on its way to its breeding territory. We then saw our first couple of Swallows this spring and watched a Skylark performing its song flight.

Mid February 2020 to early March 2020

The frequent and heavy rain this month have made the field footpaths so muddy that we’ve limited our walks to the lanes. However, wildlife continues to be active in the garden and hedgerows and the following sightings were recorded.

14th Feb. My attention was attracted by feathers floating down from an oak tree in our neighbours’ garden. When viewed through binoculars the source seemed to be a Carrion Crow plucking and eating a Wood Pigeon in the tree.

21st Feb. We had a prolonged view of a Sparrowhawk sitting on our garden fence and were able to appreciate its lovely markings. Later, on a walk along Wike Lane, we saw a large mixed flock of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls feeding in the beech and larch trees.

26th Feb. A Little Owl could be heard calling across the field behind our house. Today I learned that the first Avocets of the year have arrived at Upton Warren.

29th Feb. As we drove just south of the Bidford Gliding Club we were please to see two kestrels hovering.

1st March. Phil was please to report sightings from his early morning run along Middletown Lane. These included long-tailed Tits, Buzzards and deer.

2nd March. We noticed a large flock of Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings in Wike Lane. A Little Owl was again calling close to the house.

2nd March. Peter reported several sightings in and around his Middletown Lane garden including a Bullfinch, Muntjacs, Tawny Owls and a Fox.

3rd March. I was surprised to see a pair of Mallards waddling past the end of our rear garden – an indication of the amount of surface water around.

7th March. In a rare spell of pleasant weather, we took a 9:30am walk along Wike Lane and were entertained by bird song delivered by Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Robins, Blackbirds and Great Tits. Wild garlic was growing well in the verges. On a drive to Hampshire we saw more Red Kites than we’ve ever seen before on this journey, the first ones noted soon after Stow on the Wold with more in Oxfordshire. I’m used to seeing large numbers where the M40 crosses the Chilterns, but they seem to be spreading their range.

9th March. A flock of 100+ Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings was moving between the grass and the trees, performing a “mini murmuration” in the field behind us. Chris noticed a similar number of winter thrushes near his Middletown Lane home. It’s around this time that these species that migrated here for the winter are leaving for their summer breeding grounds in continental Europe and Scandinavia. We now look forward to our summer visitors. We would expect to hear the first Chiffchaffs before the end of March. Who will be first to report a Cuckoo this year?

Early January 2020 to Mid February 2020

It’s pleasing to report that at the start of the month a Barn Owl was spotted by Phil as it hunted along the hedgerow in Middletown Lane.

The Clarke family have continued to keep a watch on the wildlife in their Oak Tree Lane garden and have enjoyed very vocal Tawny Owls and a good number of species for the annual bird count. They’ve also been keeping their resident Hedgehog happy with a nightly feed and have seen a deer in the field behind.

For the first time for many years we missed doing the bird count as we were away in Ecuador. This also means that my only local sightings of note have been a Fox in Jill Lane late last Saturday and a Frog hopping across Middletown Lane early the next morning. Ecuador, however, provided something of a wildlife extravaganza. Our trip was organised by a company that we’ve travelled with many times before, specialising in birdwatching holidays for small groups. They are Bird Holidays, comprising a small team of highly experienced naturalists, based in Leeds. They take ethical travel responsibilities very seriously and back in 2006 they created a nature reserve in Ecuador. They funded the purchase and reforesting of 85 acres of cow pasture to extend an existing nature reserve. Using calculations established in the Kyoto Agreement the reforesting offsets the carbon emissions of the flights for the members of their trips, so we could enjoy our holiday with a clear conscience.

The trip began with a flight to the capital, Quito, which is at an altitude of 2850 metres. We spent two nights nearby and from there visited higher in Andes, up to around 4000 metres, to find some specific species. On one day we saw 25 Andean Condors while enjoying the mountain scenery including snow-capped volcanoes. We also had good views of three Spectacled Bears and saw 19 species of hummingbird. We then began to drop in altitude and spent three nights each in two different lodges in the “cloud forest” region, selected for their particular habitats. A Tapir visiting a salt lick below the restaurant veranda was an unexpected treat. We abandoned one morning forest visit due to persistent rain but were rewarded by an unexpected sight in the grounds of our lodge – an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock – a truly unusual and spectacular bird. Our final five days were spent in the Amazon Basin at Napo Wildlife Centre Lodge. Here the local community of the Anangu tribe has committed to conserving the environment and every local person is a stakeholder in the lodge and its environs. People who would otherwise have been clearing forest for crops and cattle are instead dedicated to preservation of the forest and wildlife. On our canoe trips along the Amazon tributaries we were treated to an abundance of wildlife including a 5 metre Cayman, an even larger Anaconda (sleeping!), Giant Otters, and several species of primate – not to mention the birds!

Mid December 2019 to Early January 2020

We saw the first signs that winter will be coming to an end before too long when we noticed quite prominent catkins in the hedgerow beside the Evesham Bypass a few days ago. Also, snowdrops and primroses are flowering in gardens around the village and shoots of spring bulbs are appearing.

The only report I received this month was of a Woodcock having been seen close to Coughton Woods – presumably flushed by shooters as they are normally crepuscular.

Our own observations have included:

13th Dec. On a walk along Wike Lane we noticed good numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings in the trees, but we were captivated by the antics of a Raven. We frequently see and hear one perched on a pylon, but this one was in the field and appeared to be jumping up and down in a sort of bouncing action. I can only imagine it was in some way trying to reveal something to eat, but it seemed a strange way to set about it.

21st & 22nd Dec. On both days it was a treat to see a Bullfinch – the first in Sambourne Lane and the second in Wike Lane.

22nd Dec. Two Muntjacs were at the top of Perrymill Lane and disappeared into the paddock opposite “Four Ways”.

19th & 26th Dec. A Red Kite was spotted flying overhead near Hillers Farm Shop and from the Evesham bypass near the town.

7th Jan. It’s many years since we last visited the Slimbridge Wetlands Centre on the Severn estuary in Gloucestershire, so we decided to pay a visit. After a fortifying coffee and teacake in the on-site restaurant we set off through the grounds. We really wanted to walk out to the hides overlooking the pools and meadows where the wild birds congregate, but the walk through the pens of captive birds gives an excellent opportunity to see the ducks, geese and swans close up, some to be found in the UK and others from around the world. It’s amusing to see how friendly many are, thinking that you’re one of the kind visitors who has invested in a bag of seed (we weren’t!). From the first hide we visited, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits with their impressively long bills were visible. From the next hide we viewed a very large flotilla of ducks, mostly Wigeon, but with a few Pintails and Teal mixed in. Some groups of wading birds, specifically Golden Plover and Dunlin were also present. From our last couple of stops, at the farthest hides, we could see a few Bewick’s Swans, wintering here after breeding in Siberia, and 100+ Curlew. There were also several Redshanks and a couple of Ruff. I often struggle to identify waders, but I could manage these. There’s something for everyone at Slimbridge and with the drive taking little more than an hour, there’s every reason to give it a try. Binoculars (and ideally a telescope) are essential for the hides and are available for hire.

Black-tailed Godwit

Golden Plover