Wildlife sightings in Sambourne
The most astonishing news this month came from Peter who lives in Coughton and frequently cycles the lanes between Coughton, Sambourne and Studley. On October 23rd around 6:15 am he was cycling along Wike Lane from Coughton near the start of the woods and was amazed to see an Otter loping along the road towards him. He was in no doubt about what it was because he had such a good view of it. Some years ago, one was killed on the road at Haydon Way and they have been seen nearby on the River Arrow, but it’s difficult to imagine quite what it was doing this far from water.
The change to the chillier days of autumn has resulted in an increase in small birds visiting the garden feeders. Coal Tits and Nuthatches have been among the regulars.
21st Oct. I noticed the large flock of gulls referred to in last month’s notes. There were at least 100 birds – all Black-headed Gulls as far as I could see.
20th Oct. Chris informed me that in the previous week he had a close encounter with a Polecat in his garden. He was able to get a very good look at it before it sauntered away – apparently unperturbed by Chris’s presence.
29th Oct. I received a lovely email from Rachel with an update on the wildlife activity in and around her Oak Tree Lane garden. The family have continued to enjoy the presence of Hedgehogs, Tawny Owls, Pipistrelle Bats and all the regular garden birds.
4th Oct. Natasha took her young son Harrison for a walk to the bottom of Perrymill Lane where they spotted two Grey Wagtails enjoying the surface water following the recent heavy rain. Harrison was equally interested in testing his wellies by jumping in a large puddle. The wellies performed well, but the rest of him was soaked to the skin!
6th Nov. Elizabeth had the pleasure of close view of a Goldcrest below a window in her Sambourne Lane home. The golden stripe on its crown that gives the species its name was clearly visible.
A Mistle Thrush was an unusual visitor to our garden, joining a Blackbird eating pyracantha berries. For the first time this autumn I spotted a mixed flock of Fieldfares and Redwings in the field to the rear of our garden. I’m not a lover of the colder weather, but these birds brighten a gloomy day.
We spent the first two weeks of October in France, occupying a farmhouse about 15 miles east of Bordeaux. The wildlife highlight was a visit to Le Teich nature reserve on the Bay of Arcachon where we found good numbers of shorebirds and exotic-looking Spoonbills.
The flower border by the front door of our home provided another treat in the form of a population of Convolvulus Hawk-moth caterpillars feeding (perhaps not surprisingly) on convolvulus growing in the border. These spectacular creatures (up to about 10 centimetres long) pupate underground then emerge as beautiful moths to feed on nectar from flowers such as nicotiana by hovering in front of them like hummingbirds.
15th Sept. Still plenty of butterflies in the garden, but the Painted Ladies are looking faded and ragged. Pristine Red Admirals are feeding on the buddleia and verbena. Chris reported that he’s again seen a Weasel in his Middletown Lane garden.
18th Sept. As we walked in the grounds of Hanbury Hall we noticed a large flock of House Martins overhead. I haven’t seen many of this species this year. A Chiffchaff was calling in nearby woodland.
19th Sept. Sue heard a Chiffchaff calling in Perrymill Lane. Unfortunately, my high frequency hearing is nowhere near as good as hers and it wasn’t loud enough for me to hear. Although Chiffchaffs are largely summer visitors, the RSPB estimates that up to 1000 birds overwinter in the UK.
20th Sept. We watched a Kestrel hovering near the footpath to Coughton.
21st Sept. Our walk to the surgery in Astwood Bank to receive our flu jabs was brightened by the site of a Small Copper butterfly feeding on a flower in the Sambourne Lane verge. Later, on this warm, sunny evening, a dozen or more Swallows were zooming around over our garden at little more than head height.
22nd Sept. Early in the day a Chiffchaff was hunting for insects in our apple tree. Later, after rain had passed, more than 20 Swallows were overhead. A Kestrel and 8 Fallow Deer were seen from the footpath to Coughton.
23rd Sept. During an early afternoon walk we saw a Red Kite flying over Sambourne Hall Farm.
28th Sept. We noticed a perfect Red Admiral feeding on ivy flowers. Although ivy can be rather invasive, its flowers are an important source of nectar for insects at a time of year when such food sources are scarce.
Our neighbour Ann mentioned having seen upwards of 60 gulls in a field behind us. It was difficult to tell from her photograph, but I think they were Herring Gulls rather than the Lesser Black-backed Gulls that I’ve also seen around here. The number of them wintering inland has increased in recent years, and some are known to breed on roof tops in Birmingham.
1st Oct. I’ve received an email from Pete who has just returned home to Middletown Lane from a holiday in the Algarve. He enjoyed views of two special bird species – Hoopoes and Azure-winged Magpies. They are worth the trip in their own right – never mind the sunshine, sandy beaches, beautiful scenery, wine and culinary delights!
If anyone would like to see the location of all the footpaths in our parish, a link to a detailed map has now been provided in the parish council website.
12th Aug. This month got off to a great start with an influx of Painted Lady butterflies. The buddleia and verbena flowers were the main attraction, but most of the flowering plants in the garden were being visited. Bees were also plentiful, particularly on ice plants which were barely in flower.
13th Aug. Chris mentioned having a volery of Long-tailed Tits in his Middletown Lane garden. (Did you know “volery” is a collective noun for a flock of birds? No? Neither did I!) He also noticed lots of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars. These are yellow and black banded caterpillars that feed on groundsel and ragwort – abundant when I was boy, but I rarely see them these days.
15th Aug. A sizeable number of Swallows were zooming around over and behind our garden in pursuit of insects. I do like to watch their aerobatics.
17th Aug. We spotted two Kestrels flying over the village green early in the afternoon.
18th Aug. Although they wouldn’t stay still for an accurate count, I’m sure that the number of Painted Ladies in the garden at one time had now risen to more than thirty. They were joined by a couple of Commas and a few Small Tortoiseshells.
21st Aug. It was good to see that the patches of harebells growing beside the footpath to Coughton are expanding. Patches of flowering heather are brightening up Coughton Park wood and attracting Small Copper and Gatekeeper butterflies.
25th Aug. We were surprised to see a Pipistrelle bat flying over the garden at 3pm. The last time we saw one flying over during the day it was taken by a Sparrowhawk.
31st Aug. The Painted Ladies in the garden are starting to look faded, but a perfect Red Admiral appeared.
4th Sept. At different points on a walk along Wike Lane and through Coughton Park wood we noted two Hares and three Fallow Deer.
7th Sept. As we walked a footpath home from Studley we saw a Fox running across the field.
8th Sept. A Brimstone and a Comma, both in pristine condition joined the selection of butterflies in the garden.
Rachel, Rob and family have been busy spotting wildlife. On a visit to Snowshill Manor they spotted a Hummingbird Hawk-moth - a fascinating insect to watch as it hovers in front of a flower with its long proboscis extracting nectar from the flower. They also have two resident Hedgehogs in the garden, sometimes joined by a third. “Assertive” behaviour has been recorded by their wildlife camera.
Finally, for Dave and Jackie. I think your black and white butterflies will have been Marbled Whites. Take a look on Google.
Last month I had no space to mention a visit to Worcs Wildlife Trust’s Upton Warren reserve on July 5th. We were pleased to see many adult and young Avocets there – the logbook in the hide showed that 40 young had been counted. We also saw 7 Curlew, a couple of Little-ringed Plover and a Green Sandpiper.
My wildlife spotting this month has largely been of butterflies. The spells of hot and sunny weather have brought them out in good numbers and we even had a Marbled White visit begonias in our garden. Species noted over the past month in the garden and surrounding countryside were Peacock, Comma, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Large and Small Skipper, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Large and Small White, Silver-washed Fritillary, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Marbled White.
Away from wildlife, did anyone manage to see the partial lunar eclipse on July 16th? I looked at about 9.30pm but there was enough thin cloud cover to prevent a clear view. It was just possible to see the reddish colouration of the moon. I tried a last look before heading for bed and was rewarded with a brief hole in the clouds through which the moon could be clearly seen with the part in the earth’s shadow showing red and quite spectacular.
Other items of note this month:
15th July. Phil saw two red kites flying past his Middletown Lane garden.
16th July. Tawny Owl calls were audible from home just before midnight.
20th July. On a walk along Wike Lane and through the woods we saw three hares and both Fallow and Roe deer. I spotted a female Blackcap in the woods.
2nd August. Our garden has many ant nests around the lawn, and we watched a Green Woodpecker taking advantage of this ready supply of food. The cackling call of these birds has been audible all around the village of late.
5th August. A male and a female Roe Deer were feeding close to the bridleway through Coughton Park wood. They seemed to be aware of us but unconcerned until we got within just a few metres of them when they eventually bounded off. We heard several Nuthatches calling while we were on this walk.
6th August. As we drove home from Flyford Flavell in darkness we had two sightings of Hedgehogs scuttling along the roadside – on of them near the centre of the village. With Hedgehog numbers having fallen so dramatically in recent years, it’s slightly encouraging whenever one sees them around. I really must get around to making that Hedgehog house to give one a home for the winter.
13th June. We suspect the Wren’s nest that I mentioned last month has been predated by a Magpie. We heard the alarm call of a Wren and saw a Magpie flying away from the vicinity of the nest with something fluffy in it’s bill. We’ve seen no Wren activity since.
15th June. I found a distinctive caterpillar feeding on an azalea. I subsequently identified it as the larva of the Copper Underwing moth – I’ve not seen one before, but the internet informs me that it’s fairly common in southern Britain.
16th June. As I drove out of the village along Middletown Lane a male Roe Deer appeared in front of me and trotted ahead for perhaps 100 metres before veering off through a gap in the hedgerow.
A Common Spotted Orchid has appeared in our neighbour’s lawn. The one that has flowered in our lawn for the previous three years was absent this year.
We watched a female Blackcap picking insects off plants in our border.
18th June. On a walk along Wike Lane and past Coughton Lodge Farm we saw a flock of Linnets and some House Martins, which seem to have been scarce around here.
19th June. We saw Swifts for the first time in our area this year – four of them flying around houses in Toms Town Lane, Studley.
20th June. A Barn Owl was flying near Sambourne Hall Farm at 4:30pm. Fallow Deer, Roe Deer, a Garden Warbler and Whitethroats were also seen during this walk.
23rd June. On a walk along the footpath behind “Botany Bay” nursery towards Cookhill we noticed three Common Spotted Orchids in flower, and several butterflies including our first Ringlet of the year and a Large Skipper.
24th June. A Red Kite was circling over our garden. One was seen again from our lounge window next morning.
27th June. A Red Admiral and several Painted Ladies were feeding at flowers in our garden.
6th June. Chris spotted a Wolf Spider carrying a large egg sac in his Middletown Lane garden.
7th June. On this sunny afternoon we walked footpaths along the Ridgeway and through Coughton Park wood. Near “Botany Bay there is a lovely area of flower meadow with Common Knapweed in flower. This attracted many butterflies including at least 10 Marbled Whites, Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Large Skippers. There were also a couple of 6-Spot Burnet Moths and we’d also seen a Cinnibar Moth earlier in the walk. In the woodland there were more Marbled Whites and several Silver-washed Fritillaries.
What a lovely area we live in!
Perhaps the most noteworthy item this month was an encounter with a small party of people on the bridleway through Coughton Park Wood. They were volunteers working with Heart of England Forest charity studying the ecology of the woods. Their work helps to guide the way the wood is managed, and involves surveying all aspects of the natural history of the woods. I will endeavour to maintain contact with the team as I’m sure their work will be of great interest to us all.
These have been a memorable few weeks for the almost continuous call of a Cuckoo around the village. Our favourite memory is of one calling not far from the village green as we sat in the Green Dragon garden enjoying a lunchtime drink.
We’ve been very pleased to have a few sightings of Hares in various places around the village, and Ann also saw one off Wike Lane, where she also noticed a couple of Lapwings performing their display flight.
Our neighbours have been aware of a Sparrowhawk feeding well in their garden – at least two Wood Pigeons and one Magpie having been consumed.
The Clarke family have been enjoying the wildlife in and around their garden. They’ve had Tawny Owls, three Hedgehogs and a number of bats.
At least two Tawny Owls have fledged from the Capilano nest box.
19th May. We saw 6 Fallow Deer outside Coughton Park Wood.
24th May. Carrying a phone loaded with the Collins bird field guide paid dividends on a woodland walk. We could hear bird song that we thought was a Garden Warbler. The guide includes bird song and playing this confirmed our identification.
25th May. As we sat quietly enjoying a cup of tea on our patio we notices a Wren slip unobtrusively into a pyracantha bush. We’ve seen them several times since carrying food, so they clearly have a nest there.
30th. I now know why the sunflower seeds are disappearing so quickly. A Carrion Crow has realised that, although it can’t manage to feed directly from the feeder, if it hangs on to the feeding station and flaps its wings to shake the feeder, the seed showers down. It then vacuums up the seed from the grass below.
1st June. By the path to Coughton we noticed a Small Heath butterfly near an area of Birds-foot trefoil that’s now in flower. On the 10th we saw two in the same place.
3rd June. A good day for birds today. A male Bullfinch visited our black sunflower seeds, a Red Kite was hunting over the fields around Glebe Farm and Skylarks were singing over the fields near Sambourne Warren.
6th June. A pristine Painted Lady butterfly was visiting a variety of flowers in our garden.
Having spent two weeks of the last month in South Africa I was expecting to have to major on the delights of Cape Sugarbirds and the rare Taita Falcon, or close encounters with Lions, Hyenas and Elephants in Kruger National Park. However, my notebook is bulging with local items so I’ll stay with those.
5th April. Pete J noticed his first Swallows over Hillers garden centre.
15th April. Pete had a Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard and a Tawny Owl visit his garden.
21st April. From his home Pete heard a Cuckoo calling from 6am onwards.
21st April. On a walk to and from Coughton we heard and saw Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Whitethroat. Also a Kestrel appeared to be feeding young in a nest. Many butterflies were seen including Orange Tip, Speckled Wood, Holly Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone.
22nd April. We heard a Cuckoo calling for the first time and a number of other people have mentioned hearing one around the village.
23rd April. Nick mentioned hearing a Cuckoo for several days from his Perrymill Lane garden, and also having seen two Pied Wagtails harassing a dog!
23rd April. We walked through Rough Hill Wood for the first time for many years and were impressed by its tranquillity and a profusion of wild flowers including wood anemones, violets, primroses and bluebells.
25th April. We could hear Blackcaps singing from the trees beside Tesco’s car park.
30th April. We saw our first Swifts flying over the Goblin Combe nature reserve in North Somerset.
26th April. Elizabeth and Graham reported having seen a Red Kite over Weethley and also mentioned that Tawny Owls are nesting in a nest box in Capilano’s garden. Owner Mike confirmed that there were two chicks in residence.
29th April. On a walk through Coughton Woods we heard and saw Willow Warblers. Many Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were also singing. A Tawny Owl hooted at 2pm.
5th May. Pete saw a Small Copper butterfly in his Middletown Lane garden.
9th/10th May. We visited a favourite part of mid-Wales to enjoy the scenery and the visiting Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and Warblers. A highlight was watching a calling male Cuckoo being harassed by three Tree Pipits.
11th May. On an evening footpath walk to Coughton we were pleased to identify two Lesser Whitethroats darting around some bushes. They kept disappearing into one dense patch which could well have been their nest site. We couldn’t recall having previously seen this species around here.
Just after completing last month’s jotting, I received news of a most interesting sighting. Paul, from Sambourne Lane, reported (via mum Ann) that he was fairly sure that, as he was driving along Whitemoor Lane at 6 am, he had seen a Polecat trotting along the lane. I’m aware that in recent years their range has spread considerably from their former stronghold in Wales. I’ve just done an internet search and found a July 2018 report from someone who saw one in Kings Coughton. Since this is only a couple of miles away I’d like to think that this confirms Paul’s sighting.
Felicity has mentioned on a number of occasions the pleasure of seeing a Bullfinch in her garden. Most recently she was sad to report that she’d found it in the garden in poor condition and taken it in for protection, but it unfortunately didn’t survive the night.
More and more people have been reporting pheasants in their gardens including 9 from Chris in Middletown Lane and 3 from Margaret in Sambourne Park. She has also seen a Buzzard flying from an oak tree down to the ground, and has been entertained by Blue and Great Tits enjoying swinging on a chain in front of a mirror in the garden. John has observed a Moorhen in his Perrymill Lane garden.
Some lovely signs of spring have included hearing the calls and seeing Chiffchaffs all around the village since March 19th. Many butterflies have appeared in the spells of fine weather, including Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Commas and a very early male Orange Tip on March 30th. On April 1st Shirley noticed the first Cowslips beside the Evesham Bypass. Violets, wild garlic and celandines are evident on the verges. Blue tits are busy in nest boxes in our neighbour’s garden and I think Nuthatches are nesting in a hole in their oak tree.
A few other items of interest:
March 27th. From the footpath to Coughton we saw a flock of 12 Meadow Pipits and heard a Tawny Owl hoot loudly at 3pm. We had heard it in the same place a few days earlier at 10 am. Several skylarks were also in fine voice.
March 28th. On a visit to Upton Warren we found Avocets are arriving and we counted 9. There were 3 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Oystercatchers and a variety of the more common duck species.
March 31st. Pete J saw a Red Kite over Cookhill.
This morning I noticed a Great Spotted Woodpecker apparently asleep while clinging on to the trunk of our apple tree. It eventually roused itself and proceeded to breakfast on the peanut feeder.
A number of people have commented to me on how bold Buzzards are becoming in and around the village. The best example of this has been illustrated by Amanda’s photograph of one perched on top of the war memorial on the village green.
The exceptional spell of warm weather in February brought out the first butterflies – we saw Small Tortoiseshells and Brimstones. There have also been real signs of spring with wild garlic showing, pussy willow turning yellow and daffodils and primroses in abundance. Last week we noticed blackthorn in flower 50 miles south of here.
Other items of note:
19th Feb. Two Siskins, one male and one female, were feeding on sunflower hearts in the garden. Siskins are now a daily occurrence on either sunflower or nyger seeds.
As we walked the footpath to Coughton we were delighted to see two male Stonechats in the hedgerow near Sambourne Hall Farm. Also on this walk we saw a Kestrel, good numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings and a couple each of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Buzzards.
20th Feb. Walking the same path at dusk we heard a Little Owl calling and saw a Yellowhammer. A number of Song Thrushes were singing from the nearby hedgerows and woodland.
Justin reported having seen a Little Egret in the field opposite his Sambourne Lane House on February 11th. We’ve seen them at Upton Warren, but never so close to home.
22nd Feb. My attention was attracted by loud buzzing from a tree in our neighbour’s garden. It was in full blossom in the warm sunshine and alive with bees.
25th Feb. A first for us was a drake and a duck Mallard in our garden. They waddled around the lawn then hopped into a border before eventually flying off.
23rd Feb. Roy has seen frogspawn in his Whitemoor Lane garden. We were pleased to see that the “Toad Crossing” warning signs have again been installed in Wike Lane. I hope we still have a good population of Toads as I gather numbers are declining through disease and habitat loss.
1st March. Adam described where he’s seen Snipe in fields close to Sambourne Lane. He also mentioned having seen Jack Snipe back in the winter. I’m impressed, as Jack Snipe are very difficult birds to see.
10th March. We still regularly have pheasants in the garden – three females today.
12th Jan. On a walk along Middletown Lane back into Sambourne we stopped to watch a couple of Long-tailed tits, just a metre or so away from us and quite unconcerned about our presence. Enchanting!
20th Jan. We walked to the ford by Coughton Court and, as is our normal practice, we stopped on the footbridge to look through binoculars up and down the River Arrow for anything of interest. On this occasion we were rewarded with a prolonged view of a Kingfisher perched on a branch above the river. As we walked back into the village Ann, from next door to the Green Dragon, told us that she’d witnessed a Buzzard catching a pigeon or dove in her garden.
22nd Jan. Our neighbour, Ann, informed us that she’d seen a Barn Owl fly over as she drove along Whitemoor Lane from Alcester Heath. This is good news as we haven’t seen one in the area this winter.
23rd Jan. I noticed a male Lesser Redpoll on our nyger seed feeder.
24th Jan. We watched a pair of Nuthatches checking out a hole in the oak tree at the front of our neighbours’ garden.
25th Jan. I conducted our “Big Garden Birdwatch” and was rather disappointed by the results. Nothing out of the ordinary showed up and even some of the regular species were absent. I know it’s not a competition, but I do derive extra satisfaction from the exercise if I see a good number of species and individuals.
30th Jan. A gentleman from the Spernal end of Bromsgrove Road phoned to say he’d seen a pair of Ravens feeding on his mossy lawn. I’ve commented before on the fact that in years gone by we would have to travel as far as the Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales to find Ravens, so it’s remarkable that they are now regulars in our area.
3rd Feb. Roy photographed a Buzzard perched in the tree in front of the church room.
6th Feb. I think Chris in Middletown Lane can claim the record for most Robins in the garden at one time. He saw five when the most I’ve seen was three.
9th Feb. Two Siskins were feeding on sunflower hearts – the first we’ve seen in our garden this winter.
10th A walk along Wike Lane was rewarded with the sight of a large mixed flock of Siskins, Lesser Redpolls, Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits feeding in a larch tree. A Brown Hare ran across a field towards us, had second thoughts and ran off in the opposite direction. This was the first Hare we’ve seen for many months.
Catkins in the hedgerows and the first daffodils showing around the village are telling us that spring is not too far away!
Undoubtedly the subject of the most interesting nature news over the past month was to be found just 3 or 4 miles from Sambourne, on Arrow Valley Lake in Redditch. A few days before Christmas we stopped for a few words with another village resident who takes an interest in local wildlife and she mentioned having heard that a Black-throated Diver had been spotted in Arrow Valley.
It had previously been seen on Bittell reservoir south of Birmingham. These smart, large waterbirds spend summer on Scottish Highland lochs and generally spend winter around the coast, but occasionally on inland reservoirs. We decided to visit Arrow Valley on Christmas Eve and were well rewarded with wonderful close views of this juvenile bird. We even saw it surface from a dive holding a large fish which disappeared in one gulp. We returned a few days ago to try to get a photograph. The bird was still present, but poor light meant less than prefect results. Also seen were a female Goldeneye, Shoveler and Tufted Ducks.
If you’d like to see YouTube video of the Diver, try the link.
Other items of interest:
Jan 6th. Sue was surprised to see the sulphur-yellow breast of a Grey Wagtail as it fluttered at our bedroom window. Since they’re normally found close to water I don’t know why it was there, but it seemed to be attracted by its own reflection.
10th Jan. I noticed a flock of Chaffinches on our lawn beneath the sunflower seed feeders and had a look at them through binoculars to make sure there were no Bramblings present. There were not, but there was a pair of Lesser Redpolls – the male looking particularly attractive with his bright pink breast and red crown. This species is easily overlooked with the naked eye, appearing to be small, nondescript brown birds. Binoculars make all the difference.
We watched a Sparrowhawk on top of our garden hedge pursuing a Robin just a few inches below. As the Robin hopped through the hedge trying to get away, the Sparrowhawk followed each movement. I know Sparrowhawks have to eat, but I decided to save the Robin and went into the garden. I had to get quite close before the Sparrowhawk decided to give up and fly off.
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
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!