Village Wildlife Diary for March 2020

Snakes-head Fritillary
Dark-edged Bee-fly

One minute I am told that NCC is shutting all the parks in the county, and 24hrs later I hear the PM say ‘Parks will remain open…’. I can assure you that Mill Park Reserve and Cotton End Park will remain open. Please include these parks as you take your daily exercise, and perhaps re-connect with our countryside and what’s left of the wildlife there. When this is over there will definitely need to be a new normal.

30th March, a beautiful Snakes-head Fritillary flowers at Cotton End Park.

26th March, Mike and Beth see an early Holly Blue Butterfly off Lakeside, and Diana sends me a photo’ of King Alfred’s Cakes.

25th March, I venture down the footpath past Evans’ Pond and see 1 Mute Swan on the water. I hear a slight whistling and look up to see 4 more Swans going over. They circle round and 1 of them leaves the group and lands next to the Swan on the pond. Within minutes they are going through a courtship display, each bird copying the moves of the other, until they face each other and their necks and head form a ‘love heart’. CEP has 1 Greenfinch, 2 Chaffinch, 4 Linnet and a ‘yaffling’ Green Wood’.

King Alfred’s Cakes
Mute Swans

24th March, many villagers are enjoying the spring sunshine and report the following Butterflies. Mike 2 male Brimstone, Norman a Peacock, Diana 2 Red Admiral, and I see a Comma. Nicole sends me a photo’ of a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee, and Sue, a Dark-edged Bee-fly. The first of the incoming summer migrant birds appear with a Chiffchaff in song at Stenhouse Close, and a Blackcap at Armley Close. A degree or two of warmth wakes up the Bats, and during the evening Jennifer and David report one or two small, probably Pipistrelle Bats, from Foxhill Road and Ashmore respectively. Sara manages to see, and amazingly get a ‘phone photo’ of a Stoat, and Angela reports a Hare.

23rd March, Sunny, working off Bakers Lane and two Little Owls start calling at each other. The sun brings out a male Brimstone, within another spotted off The Banks. P.M. sees me on a dog-walk leading to Evans’ Ponds. I see a small bird a few inches from the surface of the water, in the pallid Reed stumps. It ignores me and straight away I know it’s not a standard Chiffchaff. It has contrasting pale underparts and grey upperparts, a slight green tone to the wing edges, a thin buff eye-stripe, pale burnt sienna ear coverts and sharp, black bill and legs. It lacks the olive and warmer tones of our Chiffchaffs, one of which it singing behind me in the hedge. I watch both birds, for a while confirming the differences, willing the new bird to call but it stays silent. It looks very much like the Siberian Chiffchaff I have been seeing over the last few springs.

22nd march, David’s super eyesight spots 2 raptors very high over CEP. Both very Peregrine like.

20th March, clear and cold. Tom and I see a Stoat cross the road, late afternoon.

Blue Tit

19th March, back to light rain and dullness, but before work I go for a quick wonder along Lodge Lane. A Jay, Green Woodpecker, 40 Fieldfare, 3 Yellowhammer, 2 Chaffinch, and a Goldcrest are noted. CEP has 8 Redwing and many singing, Dunnock, Robin, Wren and Blackbird. Bridge House Farm Lake has a pretty pair of Gadwall.

16th March, sunny! A Skylark is singing way off, but the song washes over the village with the breeze. I’m working at Stenhouse Close and a Chiffchaff briefly sings. That’s the first summer migrant, and about on time. Back at Armley unloading the van and a Siskin goes over, calling. Mike and Nicole send me a photo’ of a Buff-tailed Bumblebee.

15th March, rain, wind, fog or low cloud, anyway Adam and I get a soaking whilst trans-planting trees at CEP, but the fog has grounded north-bond migrants in the form of 20 Meadow Pipits that feed amongst the rough grass and sheep dung in the meadow.

13th March, Alan sees a perched Barn Owl and Grey Wagtail at The Wharf, Sue has a Treecreeper in her garden, and I hear a Marsh Tit on Harbidges Lane.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee

11th March, a few queen Bumblebees and 3 Small Tortoiseshells are seen. The Mute Swans are still at Oak Tree Farm Lake. A Swallow and a Sand Martin come in off the sea in Dorset.

8th March, Sue sees a Blackcap in her garden on Lakeside. Adam, a Barn Owl at the A5, and Angela, another on the A428 junction. CEP has 3 Snipe, a Reed Bunting, Kestrel, Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, 8 Fieldfare, and singing Blue Tit. A Seven-spotted Ladybird is noted, and a Small Tortoiseshell is caught in a web.

5th March, some late invoicing in the office and I hear the now uncommon ‘wheezing’ song of a Greenfinch. I nip out and see it at the top if a Birch tree at the end of Holyoake.

1st March, St David’s day is fine and sunny. The ornamental Cherry trees throughout the village are already dropping petals, but the Daffs, Celandines, and Aconites are loving the sun. A Robin is building a nest in my garden, there are Great Tit’s prospecting in one of the nest boxes, and Blue Tit’s in another. Jackdaw and Buzzard are both displaying in the sky, and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker is drumming away on a dead branch somewhere.

Village Wildlife Diary for February 2020

Swing low
Steve’s Frog

29th February, Our man at Mill Park Reserve, Dean, reports Kingfisher from earlier in the month and that 3 Mute Swans have been in residence at Evans’ ponds for about 3 weeks. David leaves a message, as have others to report a Badger along Station Road. This animal has been about for a few weeks. Previous daylight records for Badgers have coincided with housing development within the village. It was once a forest then a field, and now it’s tarmac and concrete. Badgers have been living in the UK for about 400,000 years, and have adapted to a fair bit of change, though to add to displacement, and to please a very small minority, us tax payers are spending millions each year, trapping and shooting them.

28th February, as a child, like every other child back then, I spent many a happy hour in the countryside around the village, exploring, playing, cycling, climbing, and fishing, and birdwatching. There were always birds, many species and constantly present to a point where during my teenage years of methodical note-taking I would not bother to mention House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch or Starling, and a few others, as they were just too common. We took their presence for granted, as had our predecessors, there was never any question. I grow up, I work, I travel, I raise a family, and my time is always taken, but now I want to get back to basics, to rediscover that burning spark of early interest. What I find now is not what I left. It looks the same but is lacking the sight and sound of those once-too-common-to-mention birds. I walk for miles but the countryside of today is empty, silent and sad. The tens of millions of countryside birds, of dozens of species that have disappeared from Britain in my lifetime, haunt me every time I open the garden gate. But it started with the insects. Nobody noticed or cared about the apocalyptic decline in insects. It’s the same for Amphibians, and next will be reptiles, and then the mammals. I tell you now….we are on that list.

Early spawn
Large Yellow Underwing Moth

27th February, a long, grey and yellow, pattered caterpillar is making its way up the garden path. I stop Pixie our Jack Russell from having it as a lunchtime treat and rescue it. I give myself the pleasure of looking it up in a book (!). Large Yellow Underwing. At night a soft, short, regular hoot is coming from our now resident Little Owl out back, and constitutes its song, replacing the usually heard startled yelping calls. Alan is still seeing the Goosanders down on the Canal. Storm Jorge is upon us, that’s one storm per weekend this month, although I’m not sure what happened to Ellen.

26th February, a sprinkling of snow is gone before the morning rush. I sit in the queue of traffic at the lights on Station Road. I look up and watch as a Raven goes over, and momentarily wish I was that bird. Alan sees a Barn Owl hunting in daylight (1700hrs) at The Wharf. Owls are known to hunt in the daytime, being forced to do so if there are too many nights that are wet and windy and unsuitable for hunting.

23rd February, a break in the weather is timed perfectly with a rather late Wassailing event at Cotton End Park. Our Community Orchard manager, CEP committee chair, and organizer Daniel Tabor, along with a dozen brave souls attend. After a blast from the Trumpet we set off and creating a din with pots, tins, buckets, etc, attempt to cast out the bad spirits, and to wake up the fruit trees. Daniel as the master of ceremony and ‘Green Man’ is sporting a rather fetching green cape that turned out to be one half of his dining room curtains. (That’s what I call commitment). The ‘mother’ tree (probably our best Apple in the lower orchard) is blessed with Cider and we all sing the Wassailing song. (I know you’ll want to look that up) Anyway the fun doesn’t stop there, and Diana walks to the pond and alerts me to no less than 12 clumps of Frogspawn. We find 2 more in the dew pond and a pair of Frogs playing piggy-back, and also see a Bumble bee. Such fun in the sun.

Stakes and Binders
A chain

22nd February. I succumb and mow the lawn. Easier to poo pick, is my excuse.

21st February, it is grey and windy but actually not raining, and Billy and I at last get a chance to lay a chain of hedge at the Park. Donna’s sheep gather around and crunch on the Hawthorn and Elder twigs, as the boughs fall. It’s hard work and after a couple of hours of being buffeted we retreat to the truck for a flask of tea and a sandwich. There’s something deeply satisfying about working the hedge and even more so with my younger son alongside me. Daniel reports a flock of 40 Fieldfare heading NE.

19th February, Richard reports Reed Bunting, 20+ Linnets, Redwings, Fieldfares and singing Skylark from his walk along the Brington Road. I hear a singing Coal Tit and Goldcrest from near the Surgery.

Coal Tit

16th February, Storm Dennis is upon us, and at the bottom of The Banks a bit of flooding isn’t stopping the cars. I have a walk over to the arable field and see the culvert over-grown and blocked thus pushing the water up onto the surface where it then flows overland through to the far end of the Co-op field below the church. There are 2 Meadow Pipits, 1 Pied Wagtail, 25 House Sparrows, and numerous Jackdaws. Somewhere a Skylark is in full song. Cath reports 2 Barn Owls together off the Brington Road. Alan reports 2 male and 1 female Goosander on the Canal, and there seems to be a bit of courtship display.

14th February, a reasonable frost and a perfect half-moon hangs over the village. CEP has 3 Snipe, 1 prospecting male Reed Bunting, 30 Redwing, and singing Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch and Song Thrush. Alan sees a lone Swan go over The Wharf towards the village.

12th February, next door mow their lawn! And a Bumble Bee is reported.

10th February, in a garage I find a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly still tucked up in hibernation, but inches away a Herald Moth is awake and quivering its wings, warming those muscles prior to flight.

Do not disturb

9th February, Storm Ciara hits, 24hours of strong winds, and the pylon insulators, that normally hang vertically are being held at fair angle by the force. A line of dots coming at me against the wind turn into Gulls. They tack the air and with seemingly little effort make forward progress into the wind. There are hundreds of them trailing back as far as I can see and all following the same invisible path through the onslaught, like parts of an endless ribbon. I check the park for fallen debris and looking up see a Song Thrush gripping onto a swaying Ash twig, belting out a song of defiance.

4th February, a white-ish shape in a field off Foxhill Road looks to be an immature Mute Swan. It didn’t look quite right but I do not have time to check whether it is injured. There are power lines nearby, which are on the list of things swans collide with.

1st February, a couple of reports of Butterflies on the wing. The grass is growing, and there always seems to be a Kite in the air.

Village Wildlife Diary for January 2020

Male Bullfinch
Female Bullfinch

30th January, Alan says the Goosanders and the Tufted Duck are still on the Canal, and he is regularly feeding a reassuringly nocturnal hedgehog. Terry and Sue report a butterfly on the wing, and I see a Small Tortoiseshell fly by and straight into a web next to an upstairs window. The sun is on it as it flaps furiously trying to break free but no. Do I knock on the said house door and say can I go upstairs and open your window to rescue a butterfly?

26th January, There are 60+ Goldfinches in a roosting flock near the Infant School, and a similar number of Starlings over Watson Road. Both areas have few tall ‘leylandi’ for them to roost in. There is a complaint about the lack of garden birds by few villagers on social media, also comments on the excessive numbers of Jackdaws. Primroses and Daffodils are in flower, and Great Tit and Blue Tit are heard singing. Red Kites seem daily.

Tufted Duck
Goosander Pair

20th January, Blackbird has joined the early morning singers. There are 50 Gulls roosting, feeding (and presumably fertilizing) the Rugby pitches off Station Road. David sees Blackcap in his garden on Ashmore.

19th January, I walk for about half a mile but apart from Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Magpie and Black-headed Gulls only see 4 Chaffinch and 1 Yellowhammer. Twenty years ago at on the same walk at this time of year, in these conditions, I would have easily had ‘tens’ of each of the latter two.

18th January, I can hear a commotion in the Poplar plantation behind the house and find 4 Great-spotted Woodpeckers in some sort of courtship display. They are engrossed in chasing each other, and calling loudly, show explosions of red, white and black each time they move. After a few minutes they pair off and I watch a male ‘dance’ in front of the female, quickly spinning his body from left to right, then they move off for more chasing and calling.

Robin Singing

16th January, There are singing Song Thrush, Dunnock, Wren and Robin out the back of the house. Brian rescues juvenile Great-crested Newts from the drains along Berryfield.

15th January, I am working on Pytchley Drive, look up, and am surprised to see a Merlin crossing the sky. It has a distinctive flight pattern, also size and jizz, and is in view for several seconds in good light. There several Snowdrops, and Aconites in flower. And to add to the sense of a lack of winter I see a squashed Hedgehog at Murcott.

dot the i

10th January, Richard reports Bullfinch, Redwing and Fieldfare from the Brington Road. Norman sees a Peacock Butterfly off East Street, and Alan sees a pair of Goosander on the canal at The Wharf. The County Bird Recorder tells me these winter visiting ducks are in low numbers this winter and normally prefer larger reservoirs. It is unusual for them to use the canal. We are driving home along the Foxhill Road and see a huge bright light through the back of the Poplar plantation. I stop the van and we realize it is the rising Moon. It is massive and dominates the Eastern horizon. An hour or so later I get some crude images, and through the ‘scope notice a darken area which my friend Steve suggests is the partial prenumbral eclipse.

7th January, Muntjac at The Wharf, also the noisy Ring-necked (aka Rose-ringed) Parakeet is still about. It is mild – there are midges.

4th January, 1 Snipe, 1 Jack Snipe, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Red Kite, 30 Redwings, at CEP. I am gifted a brace of hung French Partridge, and pluck, and gut them during my lunch break. Later I spatchcock them with carrots, leeks, cauliflower, roast potatoes and red currant jelly.

3rd January, at Murcott Lake there are 60+ Black-headed and 2 Common Gulls bathing. There are 14 Teal and 7 Gadwall as well as Moorhen and Mallard. I see 2 Tree Sparrows over Parkfield plus a Grey Wagtail. Alan reports a male Tufted Duck with the mallards, on the canal at The Wharf.

1st January, Trevor reports a bird which matches the Description of a Ruddy Shelduck, in with the flock of Canada Geese at Foxhill. The Shelduck (really an Asian bird – maybe an escapee from a wildfowl collection) has been resident at Hollowell Reservoir for quite a while and may be stretching its wings. Gina and Jimmy report Wigeon flying over Brington Road during the night. Wigeon are a wintering duck with a rather distinctive whistling call. Good record, thanks.

December 2019 late record – Cath sees Tree Sparrows, a hunting Owl and Raven at the end of Watson Road/Wright Road.