NATURE NOTES FOR JANUARY
From best memory, and with assistance from former editor Irene Allaway, I think I’ve now been writing Nature Notes for some 25 years, or, if anyone remembers precisely when he left the village, it was from when Peter Sibley finished his stint as the ‘birdman’! The point is that looking back over many years of saved notes (not all unfortunately) it’s amazing how weather conditions and therefore animal and bird behaviour, follow a very close pattern.
Though we hear of rapid climate change and milder wetter conditions ahead, go back more than a decade and you’ll find that things were much the same, for instance, the Boxing Day walk has not required thermals, ice picks and crampons for 30 years, just wellies, sou’westers and jolly good weatherproofs!
Territory arguments will soon be breaking out amongst our garden birds, especially Robins, but one little job I did during December was to put some nest box hole-reducing plates over boxes that had large or damaged holes. Whilst this was in preparation for the Blue Tit nesting season, it was also so these boisterous little birds could use the boxes during the long cold winter nights in which to roost, otherwise they might not do so if the fear of a larger species taking control of their home existed. Talking of Blue Tits, and Coal for that matter, we suddenly had a literal invasion of each species in the past couple of weeks, all frantically feeding themselves up two or three times a day, so we are getting through the songbird and sunflower hearts at a rate of knots.
A lovely email was received from Mary Lovejoy in Oakfields, Lychpit, and some accompanying pics of a three-legged Roe deer and her fawn, shots that were taken during the early summer. The lady also shared a pic of a Moorhen which found its way into her garden, the property which is about half a mile from water (as the Moorhen flies)! Odd.
John Watson here in Cavalier Road spotted a hedgehog out and about during a sunny November day but two Magpies had also seen it and began some mischief, pecking at it and generally annoying the prickly chap. Unperturbed he scuttled off but it was an unusual occurrence and as John jokingly said afterwards it’s a pity Magpies can’t treat wood pigeons in the same way.
This might perhaps reduce the huge numbers that blight our gardens and rooftops every day, endlessly defecating as they plod on!
Stephen Thair sent some photos in of owl pellets, which for the uninitiated, are little oval shaped balls of fur, teeth and bones regurgitated from the bird’s previous meal of mouse or vole.
If you’re not squeamish these pellets are fascinating objects to break apart and examine and tell us so much about what the bird has hunted for.
Hopefully I’ve not put you off your turkey and trimmings so just time to wish you belated season’s greetings and a very happy New Year.
NATURE NOTES FOR FEBRUARY
The first European (winter) visitors in the shape of Redwings appeared in the area around Christmas and fittingly it was the numerous juicy red berries in our holly tree that attracted them in. Not big numbers but two or three every time I looked so by now the quantity of fruit should have been distinctly reduced but not so as the thrushes seem to have moved on. It would therefore be a treat if in this current chilly snap (9th Jan) that some of their country-folk, i.e. Waxwings, would turn up.
A Facebook message and photo showed a couple of these great looking birds in Eastrop Park yesterday and these guys just love red berries of every kind. Supermarket car parks were often the place Waxwings could be found in really cold spells as such areas usually had small trees planted along the dividing lines of the parking spaces. Lack of TLC to the trees over years means these ‘bird magnets’ are sadly no longer there.
Things seemed mainly quiet over the holidays but thank you to those who did have something to report. Diane Matthews was walking up the path through Daneshill woods on New Year’s day and saw a photo of a Nuthatch and a Tree Creeper on the Daneshill nature reserve information board at the top of the hill. The board depicts a variety of possible sightings to be had in the area but when Diane showed the pic to her husband he noticed that there was an error in regard to these birds. This was that the names had been transposed and clearly this has been so since the boards were erected. I thought about letting the relevant department within the council know but I guess they have many larger fish to fry. However, now we know we are informed, the Tree Creeper isn’t the Nuthatch!
For the first time ever, I received a copy of a lady’s ‘nature blog’, recording her experiences on perambulations around the village and it was great reading. Rachel Mitchell who resides in Pyotts Hill, is clearly a walker, observer and thinker and whilst I cannot replicate all of what she says in this column, I have sent it in to the Basinga Team to ask it to be placed in Basinga Extra so you can share her stories. Thank-you Rachel.
I hope you all received presents that you wanted or were surprised by and I’m pleased to say I was, particularly in the form of a new camera box from my better half. My old faithful camera of 20 years gave up the ghost a year ago so this up-to-date, colour and IR version, was most welcome. I duly installed it in early January, connected it to a big HD TV and within three days, or more specifically, three nights, a Blue Tit had taken up residence in which to roost. I’m quietly confident therefore that he or she will find a partner and use the dwelling for its main purpose come early May.
NATURE NOTES FOR MARCH
Since I wrote February’s notes a variety of weather has hit Southern England – as I write its mild, damp and breezy (10th) yet this time last week I was shovelling 6 inches of snow from my driveway. I then swept my patio steps and scattered a good helping of mixed seed and suet pellets which was met with some enthusiasm from our feathered friends. Sneaky me had also harvested and frozen several hundred pyracantha berries that I’d pruned in October. I added some of these with the other offerings and the Blackbirds wolfed them down. But then there were LOTS of Blackbirds and I’m quite certain that many of them were continental birds, driven here on the cold east winds of 2 weeks ago. They just looked slightly different with darker bills, somehow less animated but possessing a bit of a temper with squabbles breaking out every 10 seconds!
I’m glad I kept these berries as you might recall I’d mentioned last month about there still being lots left on our holly tree but that must have been read by every Redwing in Hampshire because within a week of writing there wasn’t a single fruit left! Berry laden trees offer a splash of colour for us and sustenance for the birds so why not consider planting a shrub this year that will produce such fruit?
With February therefore well on its way, Spring is around the corner and the famous Belle Vue daffodils are shining brightly, and have been since the 10th of January. Snowdrops are in full flower and my ‘Weather App’ suggests a decent week ahead (good, I’m playing golf Wednesday and I have a new crab apple tree to plant!). Of course we shouldn’t forget the adage about March, ‘In like a lion out like a lamb’. We shall see.
Snow can bring animals into our lives that we might not normally see and two of our readers had fox visitors to their gardens. Roger Rummy in Holly Drive looked out to see one just six feet away from his window that fancied a drink from a nearby bucket until realising it was car wash water and very soapy! That stopped him. Mary and David Rice of Byfleet Avenue noted a trail of footprints on their lawn in the morning after the fall and with help from the internet they deduced it was also a fox, although a track by a coyote looked similar. I think in Old Basing it’s safe to assume it was the former!
Hopefully we wont have anymore of the white stuff and that we really are in for an early spring. Birds will begin to pair up to select a nest site so why not give them a hand by leaving suitable materials around the garden such as dried grass or hay, wool strands or hair of the dog? If you need to groom your pooch regularly then save the fur and come April-time, secrete lumps of it tied to a post or pinned to the lawn. Numerous birds, blue tits in particular will use this as a liner and will love you forever.
NATURE NOTES FOR APRIL
So, who spotted the deliberate mistake?? No, it wasn’t ground-hog day, but you did read February’s notes again in March due to an unfortunate editorial faux pas. The real submission was quickly uploaded to Basinga Extra and it may be appearing in this month’s Basinga alongside Aprils notes, depending on space. If not and you missed them then apologies from everyone here. Please click here to see March Nature Notes or browse to the webpage.
I’d been talking about birds and animals in the snow (remember the plastering we had a few weeks back?) but now it’s about the imminent spring and that fabulous warm blast we got from the south in late February. I even cut my back lawn, the earliest I ever have!
The first frog spawn observation came from Stephen Thairs pond on 1st March which was good news because we know that the frog population took a hammering last year when the beast from the east obliterated millions of spawn, tadpoles and adult frogs. Stephen also reported the first Skylarks singing over the Common and had noticed Starlings and Jackdaws collecting nest material
There were butterflies aplenty too, mainly Brimstone, which are always the first to hatch, but there were Red Admirals and a Comma reported too. Phil Males was in the right place (top end of Pyotts Hill) on 23rd February as he witnessed a whole hatch of Brimstones counting 12 in a 200 yd stretch. Phil’s walk to Basingstoke from Lychpit alongside the main line railway 2 days earlier produced a common lizard sighting, the reptile basking on a paving stone in a sunny sheltered spot and it is really early to see such a thing. Sadly, it’s all too a rare sight now around the village too but I have fond memories when I was a lad of looking for lizards and slow-worms is so many places virtually all holiday long but development and change of habitat has made both all too scarce now.
I’ve noticed Blue Tits very actively cleaning out nest boxes of old debris and mites as they begin to select their breeding sites and with 4 or 5 boxes around my garden, and all being investigated, I’m hoping that a couple might get used. A pair of Tits will need to find around 800 insects or grubs per day to sustain their brood so a decent sized territory in which to forage for them is essential.
Belated thanks to Sue and Frank McKenna of Paddockfields for their sightings and photographs last month. Their back garden, backing on to the Loddon, has always been a haven for all sorts of wildlife and the snowy photos were of Egrets, plumped up Pheasants, singing Blackbirds and, over the river, two female Muntjacs.
Finally, it was with sorrow I learned of the passing of Nikki Parker of Paddockfields. A lovely lady and customer of mine, Nicky was always keen to know what was being seen around the village and was rightly proud of the Swallows that nested every summer at the top of her car lean-to. She loved having them, though not their droppings, which she said was a small price to pay for the privilege. She will be greatly missed.
NATURE NOTES FOR MAY
As I write, 9th April, it’s been very dull cool and damp for some days here with the north of the country (for a change) enjoying the spring sunshine. But we are about to holiday in the south and west of the USA where it’s currently sunny and between 26 and 30C so that will be a welcome change and I’m really hoping to see some of the local wildlife when we venture into the Nevada desert regions.
By the time you read this I’ll be back and I promise I’ll bring some good weather back!
Despite only having intermittent warm days the birds are beginning to build in earnest although I would suggest they are a week or two later than usual. Blackbirds and robins usually have two broods so start building/ breeding in late March but that’s been and gone. The Blue tits in my camera box have built a cosy nest but are still just using it as a roost. Give it a week and eggs should start to appear with any luck. Over the road in another box belonging to Pat Brace, there was a nice surprise to find a pair of Wrens dragging dry grasses and other nesting material into it, the site being just 10 feet from his back door. If they follow through with breeding Pat will have great views of comings and goings.
Thanks to Linda Frawley, Richard Lilleker and Katie Wenlock, all from the Lychpit area, for write ups and photos of Red Legged Partridges strolling around their respective gardens and work places. For some reason this species seems to habitually frequent residential areas before breeding and are quite oblivious to man and the dangers within urbanisation. The only reason I can think of is that perhaps they are eating gritty materials that are easily come by on roads and pavements, a substance they need to produce strong egg shells. As this bird lays between 8 and 12 eggs, it therefore needs a lot of roughage. Katie also attached a short video clip of two Egyptian Geese walking their (early) brood of little ones down Bartons Lane in the search of water and safety. As I’ve reported numerous times before, ducks often choose to breed in or close to gardens and often miles from water, but now geese?
The first frog spawn in Phil Males’ pond was later than usual and with far fewer adult frogs in attendance. Phil noted that newts were aplenty and whilst they can feed on spawn, so reducing the amount visible, we think that it was indeed the “Beast from the East” last year that’s caused a huge demise in numbers.
Tony Stoney covers large amounts of the Basing parish with his organised walks so sees a good deal of wildlife. But for the first time he noted a totally white Roe deer that was grazing with 20 others near Basing Woods, near Popley. As this albino doesn’t have any natural enemies, I guess it’ll be okay, whereas smaller pigmented animals and birds have a quite short life expectancy.
NATURE NOTES FOR JUNE
Unbelievable! I trolley off to California and Arizona on holiday for two weeks over Easter and swap UK Bank Holiday weather for theirs! You guys were (apparently) basking in 25C temperatures and we are on Venice Beach, LA with a fleece on. Fortunately, that didn’t last as we eventually saw some sun and mid 20’s too, though sadly I couldn’t bring it back. Since our return its felt right chilly which has meant that NO migrants seem to have arrived in Old Basing, not that I’ve heard anyway, and it’s rather worrying because it is now getting late for breeding and their young wont be strong enough to make their extraordinary journey south come the autumn.
You’d normally expect to see a few Swallows or hear the chattering of House Martins but nothing so far. The TV weather showed the jet stream way below the UK so clearly we remain in a northerly airflow for now and the birds will be locked down in France until that changes.
But as I mentioned Easter here was superb and thanks to Terry McAnish for photos of a male Blackcap, possibly a migrant bird but most likely a resident, taking a drink from a bird bath and of a Orange Tip butterfly. There had been numerous Brimstones and Red Admirals plus the occasional Holly Blue but not many of these delightful little insects. Thanks also to Benjamin Hall who spied a Slow-worm using an area of concrete patio to bask on, an ideal spot in warm sunshine.
It was disappointing on our return to find a completed yet empty Blue Tit nest in the new camera box, the birds seemingly preferring our neighbours older box, or at least, showing interest in it and I think they may be in the process of laying now. Robins and Dunnocks are collecting food in earnest so clearly they have young somewhere close to here and the Kites have been very vocal this week, perhaps to announce the arrival of their own ‘Archie!’
Now, a potentially controversial topic and this is purely my opinion with which you may or may not agree. We live in a semi-rural environment and would mostly accept the ways of the countryside both for traditional and commercial reasons? So interference for no reason other than apparent do-gooding or self-righteous purposes is not welcome in my book. I therefore fumed when I found out that Chris Packham, well known nature lover and conservationist, had threatened to take Natural England to court if they didn’t revoke the General shooting licenses granted to farmers and gamekeepers that allows them to control pest birds such as pigeons, carrion crows and magpies. In the face of an expensive legal bill, Natural England. capitulated and Packham, along with two other ‘likeminds’, succeeded thus rendering it illegal for landowners to protect their crops and livestock, or for companies to have this option to control public health threats posed by defecating pigeons, gulls etc.
As much as I admire his action against people or countries that kill, trap or poison protected birds, I just do not understand the logic of this move. All he’s done is to bring vilification and ridicule upon himself and potentially the BBC for whom he works.
NATURE NOTES FOR JULY
There are few Swallows or House Martins to report so far, although a reasonable number of Swifts have now been seen and heard around the village. Good reports however of fledged young from residents with usual garden nesters of Blackbird, Robin, House Sparrow and Blue Tits all doing very well it seems. Considering the very heavy rain and cool weather we are having right now, that is very good news. Thanks go to Stephen Thair, Tony Stoney, Terry McAnish (plus photographs) and Allison Wells for their information.
In addition, Allison reports Linnets visiting her feeders and the recently declining Greenfinch have been noticeable in Stephen’s patch, and indeed in my own. Perhaps most odd was a Tufted Duck, startled in John Watsons garden in Cavalier Road, and whilst Mallards spending time away from watery areas isn’t unusual, seeing this duck species around here is bizarre. See John’s photo of the duck on Basinga Extra www.basinga.org.uk
Wet and chilly springs are always a concern when young birds fledge so it was reassuring to see an article posted by the World Economic Forum last week about the absolute proof how Britain’s bird lovers were truly making a difference to the previously declining population of popular species over recent decades.
It’s even believed that Great Tits now have developed beaks 0.3mm longer that enable them to reach further into seed feeders. Goldfinches were only regularly seen at 2% of feeding stations in 1972, but now it’s a staggering 87%. Surveys and best estimates now suggest that the general public that put out feed support up to a whopping 196 million birds, which is an astonishing figure.
BBC’s Countryfile was very interesting last night (9th June) as it featured the history and health of Hampshire’s chalk streams. Sadly it didn’t include the Loddon but it was clear that the Itchen for example and some of its tributaries were suffering a little due to pesticide incursions. Although there are of course strict environmental controls for farmers and nearby industrial areas it seems likely that loopholes exist where substances unhelpful to a flourishing habitat are still finding their way into the watercourse. Unless monitoring is increased then perhaps it’s down to local wildlife groups to be vigilant about negative changes to aquatic plants, invertebrates and fish. A small group of Basing residents have started monthly litter clean ups along the local river banks and perhaps this could be developed further to repair damage that’s clearly in evidence along its footpaths and margins? Please contact me if you are interested in learning more and to potentially take part.
Finally, thanks to Jim Andrews for conducting the Millfield Walk back in late May for about a dozen enthusiasts. Helpfully, the weather was kind and the warm weather leading up to the day had encouraged a few migrants to arrive so the gathering were rewarded with singing Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs to name but a few. We also noted several Swifts, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Kestrel, a variety of Tits and in one field, between 50 and 75 Starlings, many with young that noisily flitted through the trees or were using their dagger-like beaks to probe the grassed areas for leatherjackets. Another early morning stroll was planned for 20th June, hopefully it was as successful as the first.
NATURE NOTES (AND COMMON UPDATE) FOR AUGUST
Social media users will know that a bit of a storm brewed last month regarding proposed grass cutting and herbicide spraying across the Common. This was to satisfy a possible livestock owner who wished to graze a large head of cattle, thus bringing in valuable income to the Trustees of the fields. Well after much wringing of hands, heightened emotions and a public meeting, the issues and concerns look to have been mainly resolved but I intend to use a paragraph or so each month of Nature Notes to keep everyone updated. Whilst the grass cutting took place, (although the spraying did not) it caused much consternation that skylarks, if nesting, would have been badly affected by the action. This would have been regrettable of course but in all probability, it would have been a temporary setback for the birds as they breed until August and oddly the grass is now the height they actually prefer. The long term benefit for the common will be that shorter grass may well increase the variety of plants and flowers next year which of course will encourage a wider variety of butterflies and insects. Just under 50 horses will be grazing there by the time you read this too so everyone ‘should’ be happy that the Common is being used for the very purpose it’s there for. Fingers crossed! Thanks to Sheila Grassi, Steve Western, Bridget Holland, Stephen Thair and Phil Males for observations and photos this month. Sheila, who lives on the outskirts of the village in Newnham Lane, does see a variety of wildlife and was blessed by the regular visit of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and son (or daughter) to her feeder. That was fine but husband Don was not so pleased by a couple of Roe deer that skulked in one evening to completely obliterate his French and runner bean crops. The joys of the countryside eh? Now whether it was a native hornet or one of the new invasive Asian species I don’t know but both Sheila and Steve Western found dead ones and that’s just as well because these are frightful looking beasties that one wouldn’t go near if alive. Please look up the Asian type if you find a hornet as these can decimate bee populations and authorities want to know of any that turn up. Talking of pests, the mink that we know dwell along our Loddon have bred. Bridget Holland of Manor Lane, was held in traffic for a short while near the Basing Road bridge when a small, lithe black shape shot across the road. It can only be one of the increasing number of what is the scourge of wildfowl and water voles here and something absolutely MUST be done to control their numbers, or better still, to eradicate them. On a plus Bridget reported hedgehogs visiting her garden and that part of Old Basing holds a healthy population as I know that Mike and Josie Wall in St Mary’s Close often have several each night. We too had the great pleasure of no less than four feeding hungrily in our garden last week about 1030pm, feasting on proper hedgehog food purchased at Conkers! Stephen Thair sent in lovely shots of Painted Lady butterflies and this last two weeks certainly has been great for Lepidoptera with temperatures above average, good sunshine and light winds Conditions also ideal for bats come dusk and we have noticed several zipping around the neighbourhood most nights for the past two to three weeks. Thanks to Phil for photos of Marbled White butterflies and of Roe Deer in the Millfield.
NATURE NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER
This months Nature Notes also incoporates an update on the Common;
It would seem that the dust has well and truly settled regarding the furore about the Common use as I’ve heard no negative (or positive!) feedback since ﬁrst including the subject last month. So, no news is good news in my book and a stroll with the family and pooch on Sunday (4th August) was very pleasantly serene with happy horses and healthy grass re-growing. It was also nice to see that the horses’ owners have opened a Facebook page on ‘their behalf’ so that regular Common users can familiarise themselves on the animals names and a bit of their history.
Thanks to Phil Males for some lovely shots of Southern Hawker dragonﬂies and to Chris Beadle’s photo of an Elephant Hawkmoth, although sadly the creature had expired unnoticed in a corner of a conservatory.
Roger Rummey reported numerous and noisy hedgehogs in his garden and a number of people have commented about the very loud grunting ‘hogs’ make and for the length of time. Well mating only comes around once or twice a year for hedgehogs so they are going to make the most of it aren’t they??
Terry McAnish was surprised just how many birds have been using the feeders in his garden recently and the three photos he sent, which have been forwarded to ‘Basinga Extra’ www.basinga.org.uk showed a GSW, Nuthatch and no fewer than 10 Blue and one Great Tit occupying the food on offer.
We have myriads of House Sparrows which is good news for what is a declining species. Unfortunately for them a male Sparrowhawk has mapped a ﬂight path from the road, over the side gate, through the feeder area and on to the rear gardens of Belle Vue so there is often a ﬂurry of (mostly) escaping birds as he zones in!
Mink have struck again with a vengeance
Sven Godesen’s riverside haven has for years suffered major waterfowl losses because of these voracious hunters but the ante was upped in a major way when they dispatched two broods of Canada Geese, 10 in total, forcing the pairs of adult birds to ﬂee. A week previously his two large white ‘guard geese’ were also killed although he admits this could have been a fox.
We all love bees but when 10,000 settle in ones privet hedge its quite concerning. This event occurred mid-July, a big swarm ﬁlling the air before settling around the queen and quietening right down as dusk approached. We contacted local apiarist Penny Jubin and she came around the following day to take a look and to drop them into a large box next to the hedge. As night fell again and the bees had accepted their temporary new home, she shut them up and took them to one of her hives in Pyotts Hill. All exciting stuff to watch and let’s hope they now produce the goods.
My good lady and I enjoyed a cruise to Norway at the end of July and whilst very beautiful scenery and good weather there was a disappointing amount of wildlife/ birdlife to be seen, which may have been purely to do with the time of year. What there were though were loads of Swallows zipping across the lakes and meadows and Painted Lady butterﬂies which were drawn up on the heatwave we had mid-July. We even had several on the ship so it’s not hard to see why bugs can easily spread to other countries when they are stowaways.
NATURE NOTES FOR OCTOBER
It has been a very quiet month with few reports or photos coming in, perhaps to be expected with people on holidays still and it is the time of year also when birds go into their period of moult and as I’ve said before the odd phenomenon is that they just seem to melt away into the countryside for several weeks until they have their new clothes on. It hasn’t stopped the usual garden visitors with their voracious appetite for sunﬂower hearts and the like from eating some of my customers out of house and home however. Good for business I say!
I played golf at Sherﬁeld Oaks recently which always has a variety of bird life worth seeing but I was not expecting to see a ﬂock of around 300 Goldﬁnches moving between bush lines. A gathering of these lovely ﬁnches is called a charm, as to whether that still applies to such a large number I can’t say but it certainly was delightful to see and to hear.
We’ve had a warmer than usual summer (so say the experts who keep such records) and this has been reﬂected in the number of hedgehog sightings and people observing bats in ﬂight in the evenings. One rarely gets to see these little mammals up close though, so Terry MacAnishs encounter with a Lesser Horseshoe Bat (we think) in mid-August was special. It had taken a shine to a warm wall by Terry’s front door and seemed reluctant to move on but this gave our man a chance to photograph it.
At the village show yesterday (8th) Penny Jubin, our local and skillful bee-keeper told me that the bees she’s recovered from my garden in July have settled in to their new home well but they seem to be in a worse mood now than when she moved them. Just a cursory inspection of their well-being led to her being stung once and threatened several hundred times, so they better had produce the goods to say sorry to her!
I’ve heard second-hand that a resident of Cavalier Road has suggested that the Basingstoke canal near his home should be ﬁlled in due to a mosquito nuisance. Some of the upper reaches of the derelict waterway still holds reasonable amounts of water for much of the year and this encourages birds, bats, frogs, newts, waterfowl and dragonﬂies etc. to live and breed. Whilst I can sympathise with the gentleman a little such a drastic and expensive action could surely never be justiﬁed unless a health risk existed from insect bites, something this country doesn’t suffer from (to my knowledge). My best suggestion would be to plant a number of elderberry yielding bushes between the canal and the gardens. This was always a deterrent against insect bites when we were kids out ﬁshing or birding on summers evenings.
Mossies don’t like up ‘em Mr Mainwaring, they don’t like it up ‘em!
NATURE NOTES FOR NOVEMBER
Spiders! The very word has just struck fear into more than one reader I’ll bet. Be warned this is the time when ‘The Old Basing spider’, more commonly known as the House Spider, will creep back into your cosy centrally heated houses and paralyse the place as it scurries across the carpet. Yes, completely harmless but scary for some for sure. Not so the False Black Widow (pictured right) however, which has multiplied significantly in this county over the past few years, to the extent that over 150 people have reported being bitten over the past four years. This statistic doesn’t necessarily apply to a jump in numbers in this parish but if you’re not sure of the beastie you find then treat with a little caution.
By coincidence John Watson who lives just down the road from me emailed about the huge number of tiny spiders working their socks off around his car door mirrors. Literally every day it’s become a process to clean off the webs before going anywhere. I concurred that we had noticed that there did seem to be many being strung from every branch, fence or doorway. Annoyingly too, around our alarms and security cameras which then sent notification alerts to our phones! They are just Garden Spiders but which become very active in late summer.
Back in the spring there was a worryingly slow start to the influx of Swifts, Swallows and Martins but we found out this was mainly due to very bad weather across France and Spain which slowed their progress. When they got here they wasted no time in setting up home to breed and by all accounts it seems as if it’s been a very good year. Judith Patterson and other residents of Paddockfields noted most Swift and Martin boxes being occupied, even as I write (end of September) there are still young heads poking out of the fabricated Martin boxes, gaining strength as they ready themselves for their daunting flights to Africa.
The stunning 10 days we had at the end of September bought out all the birds, bats, butterflies and bees. It was a glorious end to the summer and many people remarked how great it was to see shrubs such as Buddleia flowers brimming with Bumble bees and Red Admirals. Alison Wells in Belle Vue was delighted to see the return of a pair of Nuthatches to her feeders and Stephen Thair reported a mass of Blue, Great and Coal tits on his feeders plus Gold and Greenfinches. He also noted six raptors moving south, so very high it was impossible to make out what they were. We’ve speculated migrating Osprey (we know one was observed over the Millfield recently) but think it may have just been a Buzzard family enjoying the thermals.
‘Lord’ Leavey was fishing Willow Pool at Bramley with eldest son Ben last weekend when a Grass Snake took a dip in the lake and ended up in Ben’s swim, heading his way. Ben vacated the area pretty smartly until he was sure that it wasn’t an Adder. No worry mate, Adders aren’t keen on wet habitat but Grass Snakes are very much at home and this one would have been much more interested in finding a tasty frog rather than spoiling your fishing.
NATURE NOTES FOR DECEMBER
I may be aiming this ﬁnal report of the year for December but its early November as I write and I’ve just been admiring the brilliant array of colours that adorn the countryside at the moment. The very chilly night a week ago has had its terminal effect on the millions of leaves on every tree thus producing a myriad of yellows, golds, reds and browns. Trouble is that all these leaves will soon be on the ground and that’s not only a mess but can be treacherous to walk on, so as they say, be careful out there.
Worse is the fact that many trees are in some danger and did you know that it’s estimated that 42% of ‘conker’ trees across Europe could face extinction from the moth larvae that burrows its way through the leaf of many each summer? Conker games might not be quite as popular as they used to be but it would be tragic if this British tradition came to an end in this way.
With falling leaves comes falling fruit and I snapped a Red Admiral (picture) on a lovely warm sunny afternoon last month, one of ﬁve or six butterﬂies that ﬂitted and settled on over ripe windfall apples.
I hardly need to tell you that it’s getting colder now and the bird feeders have been a hive of activity. Allison Wells in Belle Vue Road emailed me to say she has literally dozens of Goldﬁnches, Long Tailed and Blue Tits scrabbling over every morsel being offered. In addition early winter visits from Bramblings have occurred too so that’s a great garden spot for her. So if you want to get birds like this in your garden you need to get the right kind of food into your feeders and I would be happy to supply or advise.
My thanks to Chris White who sent me several good notes in September which I couldn’t include in October. However something else worth reporting came along a couple of weeks back and he is sure he spotted a Peregrine Falcon when he was driving near the Black Dam. This is certainly feasible as there are plenty of waterfowl there which an alpha raptor like a Peregrine would travel miles to get. A Sparrowhawk has also recently been trying to lower the Wood Pigeon population in Chris’s Pelham Close garden leaving a huge pile of grey feathers behind. Another regular ‘spotter’ Stephen Thair in Park Lane also witnessed a Collared Dove coming to a sticky end at the talons of a female Sparrowhawk last month. And he thinks that the Skylarks he saw and heard singing towards Lasham either thought it was spring again or were just happy with the warm sunny conditions that day.
As this is the last feature of 2019 may I wish all my readers and customers a Very Happy Christmas but there will be a ﬂavour of Bird Drop Ins at St Mary’s Christmas Tree festival on 7-8th so hopefully I may see you there.