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.

Goldcrest
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
Cowslips

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
Catkins

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.

Village Wildlife Diary for December 2019

Redwing
Hare

30th December, such a cracking, clear day. I walk and with purpose, breathe, and without caring see nothing other than a couched Hare. And there are such vistas, our familiar rolling vastness, a harlequin’s coat of fields and copses. And this enslaved landscape, winter shorn and comatose, sweeping away to a crisp horizon. The proud, winter sun paints gold-leaf filigree onto the crusted Ash trunks, and slayed thorn. It is astounding. It is my homeland.

29th December, I am looking at the drains and culverts for the streams that comes from the North and East and end up below The Leys, Pytchley Drive, and The Banks. It floods across the road and into the fields up to the allotments below St Lawrence’s on a regular basis. I find a submerged tunnel entrance and without over-flowing my wellies, manage to extract a barrow full of debris, releasing the blockage with a satisfying ‘woosh’. Such a volume of water, off East to the Nene and then to the North Sea via The Wash. Only a couple of villages away and a similar sized stream is sending its contents Westwards to the Atlantic via The Avon, Severn and Bristol Channel. We are (the) middle (of) England, neither Midlands Today, nor Look East.

28th December, My wife is greeted by a doorstep dragon in the form of a ‘big black newt’. It stares at her from near the dog’s food bowl but she scoops him up before the hounds arrive. A Great-crested Newt on the move, must tell Brian. I am abed at 2200 and straight away a Tawny Owl is ‘too-woo-ing’ in the Poplar plantation out back. He emits his call every few seconds for a couple of minutes, then ceases as if the job is done. To balance this ‘my’ Little Owl starts his calls at 0200, just loud enough to dig me out of the depths of sleep. 2 Owls in one night is quite rare now, I should be pleased….zzzzzz.

Little Owl
Reed Bunting

27th December, Tom and I plant 2 Oak trees for two ladies from the village who have been bereaved this past year. A Chiffchaff is calling and Robin hops in and inspects our work. David reports 7 Swans flying over.

26th December, the dark late afternoon brings out 2 Hares to the roadside along Foxhill.

25th December, I’m up and at the park way before eight. It’s cold and clear with a light frost. A welcoming Wren gives a bust of song as do 2 Robins. As is regular I see nothing for ten minutes and start to wonder why I didn’t stay in bed. And then a call from the big blue. A short, nasal ‘yehk’, a Brambling (A rare winter visiting finch). Another four calls but I only see it on the fifth as it’s going away high to the North-east. Nice Christmas present! But there’s more, 2 male Reed Buntings appear, then I see a Moorhen and a pair of Mallard, and then to top it all a Little Owl flies off in front of me as I get to the Sheep flock. Goodness me, I was half expecting to see a Partridge in a Pear tree next! The sheep are still laying, and casually look up at me. ‘Did you see that?’ I inquire. No reply. I count them and wish them a merry Christmas. I think of getting home and the impending mayhem of excited dogs and kids around the Christmas tree. God bless us…every one of us.

Blackcap
Brambling

23rd December, Alan has a Raven over the Wharf, and Tom reports 2 geese going over. A Mistle thrush is singing. He knows the solstice has past.

22nd December, the ground at CEP is waterlogged and the paths are becoming a mud-bath. I call off the work-party as we’d probably do more harm than good. I check for litter and because of the lack of foliage, litter from the summer months hurled into the undergrowth now comes to light. Ah the summer…. What fun they must have had. I have a look at the wildlife area and straight away manage to flush a Jack Snipe. The sun catches the golden stripes on its back as it leaps away from my feet and goes down about twenty yards ahead. I then check the hide and just as I carefully raise the viewing flap a Snipe freezes and stares at me from the far edge of the back pond. I stop still and watch as the bird slowly lowers its head until out of view.

14th December, singles of Raven, Red Kite, Buzzard and Kestrel noted today. Also a flock of 6 Cormorant flying in ‘v’ formation. David describes perfectly a male Blackcap from his garden on Market Place. Also seeing a flock of Long-tailed Tits as well. Sue reports Fieldfares on Lodge Lane.

10th December, another 5 a.m. alarm call courtesy of a Little Owl. It’s my fault for always having the window open at night. Late back from a job that evening and as we come up the hill past Vanderplank’s Covert on the Foxhill Road, a ‘flurry’ of moths appear in the headlights. I wouldn’t know where to begin on knowing the species but along about 50 yards of road we saw 20 plus.

Peregrine
Wren

8th December, with all the usual excesses of bad language, mud and sweat, we move what remains of the original Cotton End Park sheep flock, to the park from The Banks. Let the grazing begin! My wife sends me a photo’ of a Wren that has popped into the conservatory. On the way back from Dav’ and a flock of Lapwing, say 30ish are still about Thrupp.

7th December, Keith from Bridge House Farm reports a good number of Teal on the lake at Murcott, and also Woodcock about.

2nd December, at Long Buckby Wharf, Carol sees a Blackcap in her garden. The Bird which is probably a migrant from Eastern Europe stays for twenty minutes.

1st December, cold but sunny at CEP. A good morning has been had digging clay and with a dozen visitors, making pinch pots with Laura from Long Buckby Pottery. We are having a post work-party chat, and the very observant David Stoddart spots a bird going over us and lets me know in time for me to grab the bins’ and see that it’s a Peregrine. Excellent.