Nature Notes for 2018

Nature Notes for January

Well firstly a Very Happy New Year to you all and I hope you had a superb Christmas break.
As you read this we will already be past the shortest day and are on the path to springtime, well almost!

But joking aside, as I write (5th December) there are already signs of the seasons changing earlier than ever in this crazy climate of ours. Daffodil bulbs are showing 4 inches out of the ground, blossom sits slightly frost scorched on some flowering shrubs and polyanthus are blooming alongside a rose bush in a Cavalier Road garden. I heard today also that a RSPB study shows that summer migrants such as Swallows are arriving some 19 days earlier and leaving a week later than they were 30 years ago and whilst this might seem fine, the status quo for available food and nest sites needed for this extended period can be compromised and might spell long-term problems for their requirements.

My better half and I ticked a bucket list item two weekends ago when we jaunted off to Brighton in the hope of seeing a Starling murmuration, and we were not disappointed! On a cold clear and still Sunday evening we sat on the shingle beach among about 500 other watchers near the West Pier awaiting the arrival of the small flocks that congregate to roost in the rusting metalwork of the fire-gutted structure. Safety in numbers is the idea and sure enough about 10,000 birds collected over about 30 minutes and begun swirling and twisting in the air before eventually settling just as darkness fell. This prompted a ripple of appreciative applause from the audience which we thought both amusing yet deserved by the stars of the show. I encourage you to go and see what we did too!

For the first time ever we also walked across some of the Hackwood Estate, a well-overdue adventure and very nice it was too. Entering the Estate at the junction of Dickens Lane and the Alton Road, we headed toward Winslade and then back as unfortunately there is no circular walk. Having said that, one can turn left inside as well and make towards Tunworth but perhaps this would be for a nicer day than the very fresh conditions we endured on the 26th November!

There wasn’t a great deal to see, a large flock of noisy Jackdaws, a close encounter with a Buzzard, two Kites and the captive Fallow Deer herd, that were all very inquisitive about our presence. However, the Estate does boast some very old oak trees and it’s anyone guess what age one might have been but its trunk girth was enormous.

Regular contributor Phil Males has been busy perambulating recently and sent me a good list of observations: The sight of a Kingfisher doing what it does best is always brilliant on a gloomy winter’s day so the little chap diving into the Loddon not far from the Barton’s Mill pub gladdened Phil’s heart. A day or so later in the same spot the ominous sight of an adult Mink offset the joy of the previous day, so clearly despite trapping these deadly predators are still here. Phil then ventured up Pyotts Hill and headed to Park Pale where a couple of Roe Deer scampered away when they spied him. Then finally a low-flying Red Kite showed all of its aerial prowess with the blue sky and weak sunshine illuminating its russet and white primary feathers. Awesome stuff!

Nature Notes for February

The sun is shining today but it is 4C outside and gazing at a bleak garden from this warm chair doesn’t stop thoughts of what it might look like come the summer. However, I find it easy to resist the urge to do ‘those chores’, something I know I shall regret when I’m REALLY busy!  A wisteria needs those wispy bits pruned, a privet needs its woody stems chopped back and the lawn threatens to swallow the path.  What’s this to do with nature I hear you ask? Well, the hedge is sanctuary to dozens of Sparrows, the tiny buds on the wisteria shoots have an appeal to the Blue tits who are finding it interesting and several Pied Wagtails that are running up and down the path pecking at invisible morsels so it wouldn’t be right or proper to disturb any of these would it ??

On Christmas morning the phone rang and expecting a greeting I picked it up.  It was Terry Hawthorne from Rawdons Close (just over the road from me) and yes, it was a greeting but it was also to ask me if I could hear the Song Thrush singing his heart out from a lofty perch in the canal. No I hadn’t but what a great thing to hear on Christmas Day and since then the bird has been singing just about every day to announce his presence.

Thanks to everyone who contacted me during December with various observations. Hilary May-Miller was pleased to see a couple of Grey Wagtails in her garden amongst the Blue and Long Tailed tits, tempted in by suet feeders. Winter does bring this species into more built-up areas and another bird that has made local appearances are Marsh Tits, spied by Terry McAnish, Pat Brace and yours truly.  The one in our garden was very nervous, only alighting on to the feeder for a couple of seconds before retreating to cover to swallow the morsels. It has been back on several occasions now so

I think the company of Coal, Great and Blue Tits is helping its confidence.

David Trevor-Jones sent a very interesting observation whilst walking near Tunworth that had occurred back in November. On the Down was a substantial flock of Lapwings, a bird that for the last decade has been well documented as being on the red list due to fast reducing numbers.  So it was heartening to see this many all in one place but there was more.  Trevor could also see some waders  amongst them but it took a moment before he could identify them as Golden Plovers, an unlikely visitor to these parts for sure.  Not just a few, several hundred and far outnumbering the Lapwings so this was something to be excited about.  Neither of us knows if these lovely birds drop by on winter migration every year but Id be pleased to hear from anyone who does.

Last month I wrote about my Brighton jaunt to see a Starling murmeration and then to my delight I found one right here in Old Basing.  I saw a flock of about a 100 birds over Lingfield Close late one afternoon but several days later as my wife and I were out walking, we saw several similar sized swirling flocks start to merge and head towards Blenheim Road way.   We worked out where they had dropped and tracked them down to Chalk Vale and there, filling a modest sized fir tree, were about a thousand chattering birds!  The noise, which sounded like loud running water, was audible from 100 yds away.  It was quite astonishing!

Nature Notes for March

Now of course I would take every opportunity to advertise the fact that I sell, and have sold for many years, wild bird food delivered to your door.  Having as many feeders around your garden in as many different spots as possible and with a variety of tasty morsels will, eventually, lure in species that you might normally see especially when its chilly like this.  However, occasionally natural food offerings will do the trick too and yesterday and today we had a large flock of Fieldfares visit just to gorge themselves on the large pile of ripening cooking apple windfalls Id left out. After 24 hrs there wasn’t a lot of apple left either so I felt actually more pleased to have helped out in this way than by displaying numerous exotic feeder foods!  This in no way of course diminishes the importance of seeds and nuts as it’s been a busy few weeks with all the usual visitors coming regularly during these cold snaps.   Disappointingly, back in last January when it was the Big Birdwatch Weekend the weather wasn’t too favourable and our sightings weren’t spectacular but our list was ok and I really must send it off.  I hope you took part and perhaps had more success?

One plan was to put out some chicken pieces and regular readers will know why, and that was to attract Red Kites so that a ‘touchdown collect’ would have resulted in a viable tick for us, but alas no such luck.  The unwanted evidence of small furry mammals taking up residence close by has restricted us from putting some food out but I will soon deal with that problem. Ahem!

Great pics again from Terry McAnish of Bullfinches, Long tailed Tits and Goldfinches which together meant a very colourful image.  In what could be described as monochrome contrast, Tony Stoney reported seeing a dozen Long tailed tits (black and white) near the allotment and a Little Egret (pure white) paddling close to the edge of the pond by the village hall plus about 30 Cormorants in tall trees next to the Avon near Downton. Ok, not local but worth ‘black death’ are worth a mention.

Malcolm Leavey saw what he believes to be a Hawfinch briefly on one of his garden feeders and BBC’s Winterwatch recently did say there had been an irruption of them on these shores from Central Europe this winter.  This cracking big finch is a rare find but if you know where there are Hornbeam trees then there you may spy these biscuit coloured beauties.

The famous Belle Vue daffodils were in bloom around January 21st, which was actually quite late compared with other years but they are lasting well with this cold weather.  Some twiggy branches of certain trees are beginning to glow red too as sap beings to rise so we are on the downward slope to spring.  I think. I hope!

Nature Notes for April

Both me and my fellow Gardening correspondent had the temerity to suggest spring was on its way when we wrote our respective pieces last month.  Brrr, so yes you can blame us for the recent icy blast that gripped us and the rest of the country if you like and it’s a relief to see the back of it, for the time being at last and hopefully for 12 months.

So here goes, as I’m a firm believer of the March adage, ‘In like a lion out like a lamb’ then Easter is going to be great and we are all having barbeques!

I’m sure we all felt really sorry for the wildlife, in particular the birds scouring every nook and cranny in the garden.  Many of you sent messages and photos so thanks to all for that.  Nearly all featured Fieldfares, a big multi coloured Northern European thrush that had appeared in numbers stripping any remaining berries or hunting out windfalls under fruit trees. We had up to 8 at any one time over the three worst days as well as a single Mistle Thrush, squabbling between themselves as they scoffed the last holly tree berries.  I’d stored some cookers and eaters in a spare fridge but as they’d gone past their best I crushed them up and placed them under the tree and on the back lawn. Immediately, a bird took up guard on each pile and absolutely would not let any other members of the flock take a morsel.    This was survival of the fittest and strongest in clear focus.

Thanks to Mike Taylor, Steve Leyland, Chris and Trish Banks , Katie Wenlock, Malc Leavey (on behalf of Derek and Jenny Showler) plus Chris and Heather White in Pelham Close for their Fieldfare messages and photos.

Chris also recorded Blackcaps, Long tailed and Great Tits plus Wren, all keen to grab whatever food was available to them.

Another creature rudely awakened by hunger before the recent really cold snap was a Hedgehog in Phil Males garden and he has sent a photo of the ‘pig’ to Basinga Extra. The spiky chap found a load of mealworms that Phil had left out for the birds and it stayed for many minutes clearing them up before finding a sunny sheltered spot to snooze them off.  Hope he found somewhere as good last week too.  Phil also spotted some Lapwings in the Millfield in the snow, confirmed by Anne Francis too, and this once commonly seen farmland bird is now considered a good find.

Two reports of frog spawn sighting Lets hope it has survived the arctic conditions.

My good lady and I spent a day at the Arundel Wetland Centre this week and though we didn’t seen anything we’d not seen before it was great to see, and hear, about a dozen Lapwings feeding happily on one of the many lake islands there.   There were Oyster Catchers, Shelduck, Goldeneye, Tufted and Pochard on view too, just to name a few.  Around the feeders located nearer scrub and wooded areas were Goldcrest, Reed Warbler and Redpoll as well as the ‘usuals’.

 Well worth a visit and a good 3 hr entertainment for about £11 each.

Nature Notes for May

Crumbs, was I ever wrong about March finishing on a spring-like theme.  Another ‘beast from the east’ blew in, albeit a weaker affair than the first one but regardless it’s only this week (9th) that temperatures have felt anything like mild. If only it would stop raining as its impossible to get started on the garden or cut grass and I’m sure the birds are unsure whether to start planning their families or not.   A Blackbird has been collecting and taking away beak-full’s of nesting material and it may well be the same bird that has rebuilt another on a fence ledge behind a pyracanthus.   Robins have taken ownership of a nest box but so far haven’t laid and Blue Tits are inspecting their boxes too.

It’s not all bad though because at this time of year I’m on the look and listen for incoming migrants and Saturday gone (7th) I heard my first Chiffchaff of the year, sounding off over in the Canal area.   Lawrie Spicer then called to say that a Swallow had turned up at Huish Farm the day before but now there were ten!  Brimstone butterflies were on the wing in number on March 31st.

Roving reporter Phil Males sent me an updated ‘Date Table’ to show that March 20th was when the first proper lumps of frog spawn appeared which is the latest since 2010, again which was a snowy spring. Clearly, both air and water temperatures guide the amphibians but of course it got cold again after this date so fingers crossed for success.

Another of my regular contributors, Stephen Thair, sent in comprehensive set of observations on return from holiday, for which I am very grateful. Coming back to ice and snow from a sunny climate is never fun and he reported that frog spawn found in his pond only survived the cold spell because he brought a clump inside and there are now signs of tiny tadpoles taking shape. Alas the parents couldn’t withstand the freezing conditions and Stephen found about 20 dead frogs in the relatively shallow water when the ice went.   Great photos in the garden however of a Siskin tucking into peanuts and a Hen Sparrowhawk tucking into what we think might have been a female Blackcap!

He knew a pair had been overwintering in his garden but there now only seems to be the male left.  Stephen has a motion camera which takes stunning close up images and a few of these can now be seen now in this article, although they require a health warning!

Another successful raptor seen was another Hen Sparrowhawk that claimed a Wood Pigeon in the middle of Blenheim Road.  Nick Hall, from Lingfield Close, commented that the predator was virtually oblivious to passing traffic and people while it went about its macabre business, finally dragging its unfortunate victim to the comparative safety of the roadside.

Finally, I’d given Lapwings a couple of mentions last month and Roy Lane told me he thought he’d seen one whilst driving somewhere.  His description made me smile though because he said he saw what looked like a Newcastle Utd scarf in the sky!  An excellent comparison!

Nature Notes for June

What a difference a couple of weeks make.  Pouring rain and icy winds well into April then Mediterranean temperatures last weekend meant that the gloom lifted and it was a sheer delight to be able to get outside.  Suddenly there were flowers, butterflies, bird song and oodles of white flesh as everything emerged from its winter hibernation!

This late Spring though has slowed the influx of migrants and only one other report of a Swallow this year, that from David Rocke at Lower Mill Farm who had been previously concerned about the no-show of his regular barn nesters.  They turned up about 10 days later than usual thankfully, as did a Cuckoo, heard by Margaret Chewter down by the Huish Lane stream. 

The sights and sounds of our favourite summer birds is becoming rarer and I personally haven’t been aware of any this year. I am very pleased though to report success for a pair of Dunnocks that nested close by, raising 4 chicks that have been fidgeting around the garden since they left their nest Monday last.  These little brown birds always look as if they are wound up by clockwork such is their jerky movement as they search for food morsels in the grass and borders.    No such luck though for the Robins, who once again abandoned their newly hatched young in an open fronted next box located near to the Dunnocks nest.  It could be that the close proximity and greater activity spooked them so that was a sad loss.

Oddest observation this month or perhaps this year was by Oliver Leavey, that being a Rhea seen wandering around a field near RAF Odiham. Four got loose from the Winchester area a decade ago apparently so one assumes this is one of them still living it up on the loose.  Anyway it was catching the attention of a number of motorists so was a bit of a distraction along a winding road.

Jill Eckersley in Cavalier Road, unlike a lot of people, seemed unperturbed when uncovering a Grass Snake enjoying the sun at her pond edge this week (see here). A metre long reptile is entitled to spook most people but Jill calmly got her camera out and snapped the beastie as it moved off. These shots are on Basinga Extra.   A Common or Viparious Lizard which was once a very well distributed creature around the village was spotted by Phil Males, basking near the railway embankment in Swing Swang Lane (see here). In emergencies these lizards shed their tails to escape a predator and the photo from Phil, named Stumpy, described exactly what must have happened to this one at some point.

Finally, every year I get more than one person reporting that ducks have nested or are just hanging around their garden.  Amongst the lucky ones this year was Viv Boyns in Cavalier Road who for two weeks wondered just what the pair of Mallards were up to.   Nothing as it turned out, no nest, no babies so let’s say they just loved her company!  See here. 

Nature Notes for July

It was widely reported that the month of May was the warmest and sunniest since records began and we all certainly noticed that. In previous years there inevitably seemed to be a cold and wet spell between the 20th and 30th of May, resulting in a grave shortage of insect and caterpillars, just when many nesting box broods would be hatching.  The result was that the Blue, Coal and Great Tits particularly suffered poor breeding seasons and barely maintained
their numbers.

This year however there must have been a boom, if the success in our own garden was anything to go by, with two boxes being occupied and successfully fledging broods of Coal and Blue Tits. Before they emerged we had numerous baby birds around the place all gaping for food from overworked parents so our fat-ball and insect-impregnated suet offerings were all gratefully received. In fact all the feeders were emptied within days and were more popular than in the depths of winter! A Great Spotted Woodpecker visited every day and then she turned up with a youngster last week. Sarah Green down the road had two young GSWs in her garden earlier in the month so this species seems to have done well.

The low-flying and food scrap-hunting antics of the local Kites would indicate youngsters are also being fed somewhere locally and Ross Needs in Belle Vue sent me two cracking photos of these majestic birds overhead. These are on Basinga Extra web pages.

Terry McAnish sent a couple of photos in of young Blue Tits, eight in total, just out of their home in his garden, managing to avoid the attentions of Magpies and Jays that would be eager to benefit from the tasty bonanza briefly on offer. Terry also mentioned hearing a Cuckoo on 21st May 21 as did we here on the same day so one assumes it was working his way along the old canal looking for a warbler or pipit nest for his mate to lay her egg in. That is the first one
I’ve heard for many years and there weren’t many reports other than these, Margaret Chewters at Huish and Tony Stoney’s encounter with one near Fordingbridge.

Migrants have been very late in arriving with few Swallows, House Martins or Swifts getting here in May and early June as is the norm. BBC’s Springwatch even commented on this so it seems a national trend which is really worrying. So is it habitat loss, global warming or mass predation by humans or otherwise in Africa, who knows? It was good therefore to get a call from Christine Stuart in Lambs Row who spied about a dozen Swifts whizzing around that area on 18th May with more arriving on the 21st. That was a warm week and it encouraged an influx because that was our first sight of Martins overhead here also.

I’m never happy to find my flower beds polluted by cat poo but the hedgehog droppings found this week were a weirdly pleasing sight. Let me know if you find some too!

Nature Notes for August

I thought Chris Packham was the only person I’d ever heard of waxing lyrically about animal poo of multiple types, the discovery of which clearly pointed to that animal being in the vicinity. So I was somewhat surprised that me, going on about hedgehog droppings last month, produced a whole string of reports from residents suggesting that we do still have lots of hogs around us!

Whether its due to the very hot weather bringing them out earlier in the evening or perhaps the fact that WE are all spending much more time outdoors later in the day to stay cool that it us that have become more aware. Whatever, not in many years has there been so many sightings and nocturnal feeding going on as now by caring Basing-ites. I include Lychpit-ites in that too, namely Reg Wood who lives just off Binfields Road in The Hedgerows who has been feeding a pair most nights with bird fare such as nuts and sunflower seeds. Bits of fatballs and dried mealworms are the order of the day for the several in our garden and their visits have been most evenings around 9.45pm. Water put out seems generally ignored but we persist as it is so very hot and dry one would think dehydration would surely be an issue. Roger Rummey (Holly Drive) is feeding his prickly visitors the traditional fare of cat food which I guess would be moist enough to be a very attractive dinner!

Sadly, one creature perished on Hatch Lane yesterday (8th) and it astonishes me that drivers aren’t able to drive round or across them, especially as 30mph or less should make this a doddle. Or are people choosing to ignore the animals or their speed? Or both?

Colin and Viv Williams in Fairthorne (also hog poo spotters!) commented on the lack of bees and found myself nodding in agreement with their observations that their lavender hedge, usually a hive of activity (sorry for the pun) but was eerily quiet this time round. The same
here, one could expect to count 30-50 bees at any one time, this year perhaps ten? It’s worrying.

Gill Moore took a walk around the Millfield early one morning in late June and it produced an unfamiliar harsh animal sound. Gill learnt later that it was almost certainly a female Muntjac deer that could have recently given birth. This was a new one on me for sure as apparently they repeatedly call out straight after producing their young in an effort to acquire another mate. Amazing.

Roving reporter Stephen Thair reported a Reed Warbler sighting near the Great Barn, always a good find and he may have perhaps heard the very scratchy but varied tune of this drab little bird before actually seeing it. The other excitement (his description) is that the Bank Voles
living in his compost heap had two charming silver coloured babies. However, he was then sorry to have to report bad vole behaviour! Mrs Thair (Margaret) was looking up the garden when she saw a campanula she had planted in front of their pond sway, and then collapse as it
was being felled by one of the little blighters who dragged if off into the undergrowth. Since then several French beans have had their stems severed, so they think they know who the culprit is!

Nature Notes for September

That very hot spell brought back memories of 1976, coincidentally the year I got married, when gardens suffered all over the country due to lack of rain and excess withering sunshine. I wasn’t aware of the UK wildlife’s ability to cope then but certainly am now and one can only imagine the difficulties that most creatures endure.

This summer of course also followed a pretty nasty winter but it may be a year or two yet before we really see if there are any lasting effects. In the bird world, it would seem it’s been an excellent breeding season for Blue and Great Tits with many immature birds emptying the feeders in my garden all day long.

As mentioned last month, Bee numbers are worryingly down whereas wasp numbers seem way up as indeed are Butterflies but perhaps this is just a perception or a localised trend. Nicola Matthews from Hatch Lane called to say that her lavender bushes have tons of bees yet there are few Butterflies so this is odd because, as the Butter flys (did you see what I did there?) she is only several hundred yards away.

Thank you again for various hedgehog snippets and our spiky friends have made a good comeback in 2018. Linda Palmer dropped me a line to say that a pair in her garden appeared to be getting quite frisky with each other so in the hope that the sound of tiny paws might be heard Linda was putting out cat food and water to make the amorous pair feel at home!

Maureen Johnson in Blenheim Road asked where she might acquire more dedicated hedgehog food as her supply was exhausted and she had two hungry sharing her offerings every night and occupying a house in the garden every day. The best moist food is called Spikes but is rarely found in the shops, although Waitrose claim to sell it, so ordering it on line seems one’s best bet.

Margaret Chewter in Basingfield Close spotted three young Song Thrushes recently, so given the time of year it’s a sure indication that the parents must be on their second, possibly third,brood.

Tony Vines who often contacts me about various sightings reported seeing a Mink on the afternoon of 18th July as it crossed the path from the river to the old fish ponds about halfway between the road bridge and the viaduct. These nasty pieces of work have been seen here before and it’s no coincidence that the duck and moorhen broods are scarce again along this part of the Loddon. What’s needed is a concerted effort of trapping perhaps from the Environment Agency but getting action is a whole different matter. To save some of the indigenous wildlife in this vicinity it’s essential that the mink is eradicated as soon as possible.

Colin and Viv Williams, last month’s correspondents about bees, had an odd visitor to their front door a couple of weeks back, a Stoat, nosing around in the porch as if it was quite the normal thing to do. One sight of Colin sent the streamlined mammal zipping off into the undergrowth. Perhaps it had kits to feed and was finding the hot weather unhelpful to fulfil this need?

Nature Notes for October

Web master Kevin Curtis sent me a video clip taken by a works colleague who had been taking an early (or late) walk on the common. The lady captured the image of a Barn Owl quartering the margins down in the dip near Basing House and her emotion came across on the recording. It was a smashing moment as she flmed the silent and ghostly shape gliding effortlessly and beautifully in its search for mice and voles. Brilliant.

Yesterday (9th) was the Village Show and it was very well supported and attended. It also gave me chance to chat with several residents about their recent sightings and I was delighted to hear from one gentleman (whose name I sadly didn’t get) but he had undoubtedly recently seen an Otter. This was on Basing Fens, a wild piece of water meadow between Basing Road and Eastrop, where the chap admitted he had briefly got lost on. The big plus however was witnessing the unmistakable shape and size of what is probably the UK’s favourite mammal, playing in the water. At first I queried if it was a Mink but this gentleman clearly knew what he was seeing as the larger, grey coloured sleek and playful animal differs wildly from the black and wiry creature that zipped across Newnham Lane last week, noted by a passing motorist. Yes, mink down this part of the Loddon now so they’re spreading again.

Another customer of mine and frequent reporter, Mike Wall and his wife Josie of Manor Lane have reported hedgehogs in their canal-bordering garden all summer long but there are now five of the prickly visitors most nights, feasting on bird feeder excess and specialist hedgehog food. Indeed, at this time of year, hedgehogs in the wild are relentlessly foraging for food – conserving as much fat as possible for the cold months ahead when they’ll head off to a suitable location to hibernate. The hedgehog’s staple diet consists of beetles, caterpillars and earthworms and it’s in the winter months that these little critters are increasingly hard to come by, hence the hedgehog’s ability to hibernate through the barren months. If you have found a hedgehog you are concerned about please use gardening gloves to collect it up, bring it indoors and put it in a high sided cardboard box with an old towel or fleece in the bottom for the hedgehog to hide under. Fill a hot water bottle so that when it is wrapped in a towel there is a nice gentle heat coming through and put that in the bottom of the box with the hedgehog, ensuring it has room to get off the bottle and making sure the bottle is kept warm (if allowed to go cold it will do more harm than good). Put the box somewhere quiet. Offer meaty cat or dog food and fresh water then call us as soon as possible on 01584 890 801, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Nature Notes for November

Following the super video and story of the Barn Owl flying on the Common in the last copy, I had also omitted to include Gill Moore’s email of early-morning sightings of two more around Hodds Copse. This is really good news and it could be that the very good summer has helped the breeding population hereabouts.
It has been a fairly quiet month however partly due to holidays I suspect but also August and early September just are months where little seems to happen. Birds are noticeable by their absence, particularly raptors, as they have been in moult and just go missing as if ashamed of their appearance. Kites are only just starting to be seen, and heard, again as are Buzzards, but garden visitors are well down apart from dozens of sparrows that are plundering feeders. Sadly we just lost a mature apple tree which although frequently fruitless, made a brilliant hanger for feeders and cover for the birds so its removal has left our ‘regulars’ confused I’m sure.
We’re getting to the time of year now when we might not see too many hedgehogs about but Shelley Nicholls’ pet pair did get their photos taken by her before they began their preparations to bed down for the winter. Shelley had said that she knew they were regular visitors but had not been able to snap them until now. A few weeks before that Shelley also sent a great image of an albino hen Blackbird whose tail feathers were THE white bit. Earlier in the year the bird had seemingly lost all of her tail but they had now grown back white and it looked remarkable. I hope a hungry Sparrowhawk doesn’t see the bird as an easy illuminated target!
A visit to Bartons Mill and a chat with expert naturalist Jim Andrews always gives me a source of news and Jim didn’t disappoint on this occasion. Trapping small mammals on the Millfield is a regular occurrence of his group that monitor the health of the environment as these largely unseen creatures are a barometer of ground conditions. Jim and co found Pygmy and Water shrews, bank voles, wood mice as well as field mice. Quite soon he was expecting to be able to report Dormice as well as they are known to use the boxes mounted low around the hazel trees bordering the field. So the previous reports of several Owl sightings knits in nicely with the abundant food that these raptors need, along with the likes of Kestrels as well. It bodes well for the future.

Nature Notes for December

Many of you saw and heard a strange green bird around various parts of the village during October and these reports kept coming right up until last week. Among the witnesses were Pete Wooldridge, Allison Wells, Jim Andrews and Mike Saunders plus lots more, recognising the culprit(s) as a pair of Ring Necked Parakeets that had either escaped, or more likely, had migrated down from Richmond Park where they flourish in large flocks. Whilst spectacularly different from UK birds both in sight and sound it might not be a good thing if they hang around here as it would spell trouble for other tree dwelling birds such as Starlings, Woodpeckers and Owls.

However, this sighting did coincide with the escape of a Blue Crowned Conure (a green and blue small parrot) so whilst he (George) has been reported missing, but seen at least once, the parakeets appearance rather threw a spanner in the works as far as tracking and possibly trapping young George, something his distraught lady owner was understandably keen to do. I have no further info as to whether he has been recaptured or not but if not the chances of survival probably lessen with each colder, wet day that passes.

Then, last week reports filtered in of a Harris Hawk that had decided to do a runner from his ‘place of work’ as a pigeon scarer at Houndmills Business Park. ‘Pluto’s owner Max Bell put up a £500 reward for the safe return of his companion and sure enough after five days on the loose, and one sighting of the raptor near Black Dam, he was eventually lured down from Sainsburys depot close to where he had departed from. Apparently Pluto was 5ozs overweight so he had caught and eaten something during his holiday. Bad boy.!

Stephen Thairs regularly reports brought some interesting sightings as usual. A walk in the Mapledurwell area in late October not far from Five Lanes End a roost of 200 or so (best estimate) Starlings were noisily obvious in a group of larch trees. Further around between the village and the motorway footbridge at the Hatch was a flock of about 20 Meadow Pipit, all probably about to migrate somewhere as they weren’t around during the following week when he and Mrs T repeated the walk.

Stephen also emailed me on 30th October to say that 18 Collared Doves had descended into his garden, which he is claiming a local (12 Park Lane) record!

Despite my good lady and I being away in Spain for a couple of weeks during October we kept up with local nature news and heard that there was a mini invasion of Harlequin Ladybirds around the parish. Did you notice these little aphid vacuum cleaners or did they remain inconspicuous amongst the stunning Autumn colours we have enjoyed this season?
Finally, now is the ideal time to inspect, repair or replace those nest boxes around one’s garden. Clean out old nesting material and remove that parasites, and ensure the entrance hole faces east or north when relocating the box. Stock up on good quality bird food before the really cold weather arrives!