Nature Notes For 2020

NATURE NOTES FOR JANUARY

It is always odd writing for sometimes a month in advance of a date you might read said article but when it’s a whole New Year now that is weird! I do hope you all had a great Christmas and were perhaps given a camera nest box or feeding station so that you may watch our feathered friends in action. If indeed you now possess either and are wondering about location then any nest box should be positioned so the entrance hole is facing north or east and unless it’s a Robin box, it should be at least six feet, preferably eight feet, off the ground.
Bird food table and feeding stations should be located close to trees, hedges or large shrubs which offer the birds cover in case of an emergency getaway! But if you need any advice with this or foodstuffs please give me a ring.The winter months can offer some superb spotting opportunities if one is prepared to suffer the wet or cold and Stephen Thairs perambulations took him to Tundry Pond near Dogmersfield, so whilst not being ‘quite local’ the Great Egret was a rare sighting. Now breeding on the open spaces of the Somerset Levels this large white heron isn’t that rare in the UK but certainly is much less common than its ‘baby brother’ the Little Egret which have been hereabouts for a decade or more.
As with every New Year, I will keep everything crossed that we might be lucky enough to see some Waxwings that will arrive along the East coast about now, along with thousands of Redwings. The trouble is that these Scandinavian beauties are seeking bright red berries on which to gorge but the pesky Woodpigeons have already taken half of our local cotoneaster and pyracantha fruit!
The winter also brings other hazards on the roads other than ice or snow. Deer start to think about the rut from late October to mid January so collisions with traffic, particularly around dawn and dusk, become more likely than ever. Old Basing’s countryside is quite densely populated with Roe Deer and Muntjacs, which I have seen for myself recently as I have been beating for a local shoot every two weeks. On each occasion we have flushed 10 to 12 deer and whilst they are of course off limits to the guns, the deer don’t know that and its jaw dropping to see them speed off from under one’s feet to hundreds of yards away in seconds, clearing every obstacle that they meet. A fox legged it away in a field near Poors Farm last week and I also spooked a Snipe which shot skywards at a rate of knots and altitude that made it completely safe.

Finally, November’s Nature Notes dealt with the increase in spider activity around the village (yes, I’m sorry I’ve mentioned that word again)! Well, Pete Wooldridge saw my notes and took a few photos of a False Black Widow living happily in his garage. Though these little arachnids aren’t deadly they might concern some so I’ll spare telling you where Pete resides in case of widespread panic in the region of Park Avenue. Doh! Stupid boy Pike.

NATURE NOTES FOR FEBRUARY

Apparently, the days are each getting longer now by a couple of seconds so in the time it took you to read this sentence you used it up! But seriously, as soon as January is through, I personally really start believing its Spring even though the worst weather is probably still to come. Certainly, there are some very clear signs of the next season with numerous bulbs peeping through, buds on numerous trees and in Oliver’s Walk some Snowdrops came into bloom in the garden of Ann and Michael Price on December 30th, a sight to surely gladden the heart.

Though as I write (8th January) there hasn’t been a huge amount of rain in the past fortnight what had fallen previously is still coming off the fields in vast quantities into the ditches and streams. The Loddon and its tributaries therefore have a very healthy flow which helps to flush some of the dead leaves and debris that built up over the dry summer. Regardless, we need to give some places a helping hand so myself and a couple more able (?) bodied people are going to get stuck into the streams around the viaduct area. If anyone would like to assist us, probably for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning then please ring or email me.

The reason this is important is because we are fortunate enough to have chalk streams here with gravel beds but years of neglect and extraction have left many brooks clogged with ‘our’ rubbish, sticks and mud. The impact is no spawning trout or sticklebacks, no likelihood of indigenous crayfish, no freshwater shrimps which all equal poor conditions for kingfishers, moorhens, coots, ducks or voles. Reducing the number of places mink can hide away would also be a step in the right direction.

By the time you read this we will have hopefully started so ramblers amongst you might begin to see some differences.

Lack of fishing in these places also drives Herons into gardens as anyone with a pond will testify so when Phil Males spotted one gazing into his on several occasions before Christmas he said, ‘Good luck mate, there aren’t any fish’. However, Phil is my main ‘frog spawn reporter’ so we think the grey one was perhaps seeking out hibernating amphibians around the nooks and crannies of the pond.

Equally bold, or perhaps lost, was the muntjac that ran beside my car under The Street bridge on Christmas Eve. It tried to duck onto the railway embankment but couldn’t so headed back in a panic toward the church and through the parked traffic, probably ending up in the old cemetery. I know for sure they frequent there as several cyclamen plants on our parents’ graves have been neatly nibbled!

Recent spots include a cheeky little mouse in a peanut feeder in Pete Wooldridge’s garden, Blackcaps in the gardens of Stephen Thair in Park Lane and of our neighbours Martin and Claire here in Cavalier Road.

Jim Andrews sent me a cracking photo yesterday of a Kingfisher perched by the Loddon on an overhanging branch; this photograph is on the cover of this magazine.

NATURE NOTES FOR MARCH

It’s been a very quiet period so quite a short edition of Nature Notes this month.

An intrepid band of seven souls braved the drizzle, chill and mud on 26th January for a couple of hours to make a start on the huge job of cleaning up the stream by the railway line and behind Bexmoor Way. Years of neglect meant that it was full of mud, sticks and overhanging branches, not to mention the ten sacks of rubbish discarded by thoughtless people. The following week a couple of the guys revisited the footpath along Piggy Dam and collected ANOTHER six bags of discards, and this, only a year after their last litter pick!

We have only made a dent but it’s a start and as I alluded to last month it would be wonderful if we can make a real impact before spring arrives when we will need to stop so as not to disturb nature too much. If you fancy helping, please give me a call.

As I write (4th February) the winter so far has remained mild so unless there’s been a big change between now and when you read this hopefully we will have seen the season off. Of course, ‘Beasts from the East’ hit us in March previously and even stayed until early April as I recall one year but fingers crossed for us gardeners and spring lovers that won’t be the case this year. So many plants were damaged, early bird eggs and young lost as well as frog spawn damaged that a repeat would be hard to take. Right now there are many flowers showing and buds appearing plus I’m hearing skylarks starting to sing to attract a mate and watching robins scrapping for their territories!

I hope some of you joined along with the ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ back in late January and had a successful watch. It was a little disappointing here in our garden with just the usual suspects putting in an appearance but it was fairly damp and miserable whereas some frosty weather might have encouraged more little brown job (name used by birdwatchers for any of the large number of species of small brown passerine birds), to have ventured to the feeders. Blackbirds, robins, dunnocks, pigeons and house sparrows made up our collection and I noted on-line a week after the results started to come in that over six million sparrows had been counted so clearly they are recovering from the slump a decade ago.  

We have just invested in two new sparrow colony boxes (three ‘houses’ per box) so hopefully us doing our bit will continue to assist this particular bird’s revival. Although it’s now March as you read this you still just about have time to put up any box and if you need any advice of what to buy and where to locate then please don’t hesitate to contact me.

NATURE NOTES FOR APRIL

Repeating the country saying about March as ‘coming in like a lion and out like a lamb’ may not be true this year as its been relatively calm and dry here anyway compared with the drowning we got in February, and there have clearly been very few frosts. In fact, when the sun has come out its felt quite pleasant, so much so that all the daffs are out, trees are blossoming everywhere and Pat Brace in Cavalier Road put a note through my door while I was away saying that a Brimstone butterfly was seen here on 14th February, Valentines day!
Talking of romance, there’s been a number of birds pairing up now and Allison Wells in Belle Vue emailed to notify me of Greenfinches swapping food with each other, Wrens eyeing up a nest box, as were a pair of Blue Tits plus two Blackbirds were looking to build again right next to where they successfully bred last year.

I’m waiting for the fun to start here too as I watch a pair of Magpies building their big stick structure near the top of a large conifer in my rear garden, which is also the favourite perch of the Red Kites. I can’t wait to see the commotion that’ll surely follow when / if the Magpies have eggs or young as they won’t tolerate raptors near them, and I doubt very much that the Kites will give up their favourite viewing point!
A few willing and (just) able bodies continued with the stream cleaning near the viaduct last month and we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour with all sorts of debris being found and disposed of. The sunlight can now get into places it couldn’t, meaning weed growth might now be encouraged, mud and sticks dragged away to the edges of the stream means the flow can increase which in turn will help flush some of the silt away. If gravel beds can be exposed again then fish and invertebrates that need this to breed upon might return.
You might ask why am I concerned about this? Well, call it a boyhood memory revival if you like. Before Network Rail fenced the stream off and before it was as bad as it now, kids could get into the water and catch sticklebacks, bullheads, frogs and tadpoles from the water and on the embankment and would spend hours in the summer months looking for lizards and slow-worms. The reptiles might well still exist ‘up there’ but to go and search for them now would of course be trespassing and they’re better left alone anyway. But the deteriorating state of the natural spring that held such an abundance of fantastic water creatures is frankly a crime so I’m doing my best, with a lot of help, to try and reverse this. If you agree and want to help, please contact me.

Michael Freer sent me a nice photo of one of a pair of Treecreepers he spied inching around a tree overhanging the Loddon last month. Its quite unusual to get close to these secretive birds and Id have loved to have included the shot of this bird but it just wouldn’t show on the thumbnail print that we can print. Regardless, Michael was well pleased with his sighting. So too Laura Haystaff who noted a slight movement in a tree in her Moor View back garden and could just make out the bright orange headstripe of a Goldcrest seeking out insects amongst the foliage. Being Europe’s smallest bird these guys need to eat a good percentage of their body weight a day to survive but thankfully this mild winter should mean that their numbers will have been maintained and at the end of this year’s breeding season perhaps we will all see more of them.

NATURE NOTES FOR MAY

Despite the weird times we are currently living in, summer arrived like a superhero to the rescue which has allowed us with gardens or those who just like exercise, to at least glean some solace from self isolation.

What it has also done is to give us chance to smell the roses, or more accurately, check out the daffs, tulips, blossom and everything that’s suddenly burst into life. Birdsong has become prolific and loud, thanks to the silence that has fallen the skies above and our major roads to the south and east. We here are fortunate that the Old Basing area doesn’t suffer from much air pollution but even that must have improved too. Clearly many parts of world including where this terrible pandemic originated can now see the sky and smell clean air.

Wildlife has taken advantage of this lull in human activity and there have been videos of wild goats eating everything green in a Welsh town and donkeys and ponies wandering down Beaulieu high street.

Here, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of corvids (not covids!) flying around our roofs and gardens, as they’re now not disturbed by traffic or people. I’m hopeful that we might see the hedgehog revival continue too as it did last year and many of you have reported these prickly favourites in your gardens. With night-time traffic cut by 90% they may just have a better chance of survival on the roads. I’ve put a picture on the Basinga website of one very healthy individual who visits our food offerings every night and it would very exciting if it brings its young to the dish in a few months time.

Butterflies have absolutely loved the gorgeous weather that early April brought and you’ve reported many species including Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Comma and one early Large White. Bee-flys, Bumble and Orange tailed Bees have been active and I was delighted to hear from Phil and Penny Jubin, our local apiarists, that the swarm they collected from our privet hedge late last summer, survived the winter iand one of their hives and are now becoming active. Phil described the 7,500 workers as ‘feisty’ so he’s very welcome to keep them there, hopefully to use their energy solely on pollen gathering!

Tim and Margaret Carr spotted a Kingfisher off of Pyotts Hill bridge and reported the first chiffchaff singing nearby too. This was on 21st March, so very early for this little migrant of the warbler family. Another started to sound off in the canal along Cavalier Road on 1st April (honest!) and hasn’t stopped since so he’s struggling to attract a mate by the sounds of it.

Just today (13th April) though summer definitely arrived at Lower Mill Farm with the arrival of the first Swallow, hopefully the first of several that nest in the barn there owned by David and Tricia Rocke.

Katie Wenlock was the first to report ‘babies’ (11th March) these being in the shape of half dozen Egyptian Geese near her workplace in Bramshill. They’re odd-looking gangly birds but someone loves them!

Stephen Thair was woken by a noisy Tawny Owl very close to his Park Lane house but next day was soothed as a couple of Goldcrests turned up in his big conifer tree, spinning their delightful little songs.

Stephen did also speculate whether more walkers on the common and the slightly early arrival of the livestock has put off the local Skylark population as there’s not been many singing, though Chris White heard three at the same time near Park Avenue/Park Lane junction on 23rd March. However, the lack of recent rain also means the grass growth has been stunted, that’s something I’d never imagine I’d say since the wettest winter on record!

If you managed to read April’s edition of the Basinga, you’ll recall that Magpies were building near the top of a large conifer in my rear garden eyeline, which is also the favourite perch of the Red Kites. I was thinking that war would break out but they seem to be just about tolerating each other for now. I doubt very much this peace will prevail when the eggs hatch though as Kites are partial to a nice tender chick!

NATURE NOTES FOR JUNE

As you will have all realised by now, the May edition of the Basinga was only available online due to the logistics of printing and delivery. Whilst most people could have accessed this there are still many who cannot, which is a shame as I know it is a comforting read.
So, in my May article (written early April) I waxed lyrically of the clean air and comparative silence around the parish and a month on its still the same. Its great for nature and the climate but not perhaps for people’s mental well-being nor the economy; that aside, lets learn from this about how it can actually be when we all slow down.

I’ve received some beautiful photographs of local wildlife, in particular from Jim Andrews and Jamie Hall. Jamie is in fact a professional photographer but has allowed me to submit a portrait of a Starling (left), which is not perhaps the first bird one thinks about as being colourful but the variation in its iridescent plumage that shows up is stunning, or perhaps I should say Start-ling. Jamie also included a montage of Swallow photos, all taken in the Huish area as the birds arrived from their wintering grounds in Africa.
Jim took a number of images from the Millfield, an area that really comes to life this time of year with plants birds and mammals showing themselves to great effect. Purple Orchids, one of several rare flowers to now flourish in this valuable greenspace are showing well and very much worth the effort to seek out. In a month, Jim racked up an outstanding 101 bird species sightings there and also tipped me off that at least one Nightingale had passed through the field, recognisable because of it’s legendary song. Sadly, I missed that but did get to hear the Cetti’s Warbler that is still (at time of writing) in scrub by the Loddon near Tithe Barn. Additionally, a Reed Warbler may have set up home amongst the vegetation on the opposite bank as it as making one heck of a din during my same visit (7th May).

Christine Stuart reported Swifts overhead at Lychpit, Stephen Thair saw three at Park Lane and I can indeed confirm their presence as I heard that familiar summer scream overhead as they zoomed over The Street.

Stephen Thair spied a Lesser Whitethroat taking a quick dip in his garden pond, a species which can often also be seen and heard in the Millfield. A Common Whitethroat was vigorously singing its scratchy babbling tune, in competition with the purer notes of a Garden Warbler near Hods Farm as Mrs Bourne and I took our daily exercise last week (6th May). A photo of the former bird, by kind permission of Jim Andrews, right.
I’m sure you’ve noticed too that warm weather brings out bugs of all shapes and sizes, many of which become part of the essential food chain. One that probably doesn’t is the May Bug or Cockchafer a big brown ugly beast that has startled a number of people this week as they seemingly just fall out of the sky on to a patio. They are harmless, but they just don’t look it!

My bird food regulars have occasionally asked me if I have any hedgehog food and I now have so let me know if you’d like some. My good lady has put a handful of these pellets and some dried mealworms out in a dish every evening and between 9.30 to 11.30pm up to three hogs have found the offerings just about every night. In order for us to see the activity through the patio window, we placed a solar spotlight just so and they really don’t seem to mind being illuminated while they graze.

However, although the traffic hazard to Hedgehogs may have lessened somewhat, many die or get badly injured every year from lawn strimmers, garden netting, forks and spades thrust carelessly into garden waste piles, and steep sided ponds. Please make sure that your garden is as hog friendly as possible, they will reward you by clearing it of pests like slugs.

NATURE NOTES FOR JULY

I do hope that many of you were able to access the on-line version only of the May and June editions of the Basinga as I’d managed to acquire some great photographs and it would be a shame indeed if they had not been viewed by the number of people they deserved. It could be they are still there now though so take a peek.

At the risk of repeating myself, the past three months have been truly special for wildlife and even more important, our ability to see, hear and perhaps touch it. The natural world is still the most precious (free) thing we have in our lives and we must absolutely seize every chance we get to enjoy it. The fabulous weather has encouraged all manner of birds, insects, mammals and plants to show themselves at their very best to us and I know many of you have been enthralled by noisy dawn choruses, hedgehogs grubbing through gardens come nightfall, wild flowers parading in fields or on verges and seeing gardens looking pristine. The warm days and night s have also meant a bumper breeding season for birds such as Blue and Great tits and Id be surprised if any of you haven’t heard the delightful little contact calls in the trees of young families of the said birds.

Please don’t keep any photographs of whatever you might have taken to yourselves, do share them with me so that I can pass on to Basinga Extra. Jim Andrews did exactly that when he was called to the Owens’ family home in Linden Avenue to check on a Cuckoo that had apparently crashed into a window. The bird, a female, did thankfully recover and flew off after a while but not before some unusual photos were taken. Its been a good year for Cuckoos by all accounts and nice to see one close-up even if due to an unfortunate accident.

The quiet roads encouraged my good lady and me to dust off our bikes which enabled us to hear Reed, Garden and Cettis Warblers, Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Skylarks along the lanes, all of which would have been missed in a car. A slow-worm crossed our path in the churchyard as we walked through, the first I’ve seen in years and then lo, one turned up in my own back garden the following day!

Roger Rummey, out for a walk off Pyotts Hill toward the incinerator jumped a bit when a five-foot long grass snake slithered across the track. That’s about as big as they get so one can excuse Roger for his momentary shock.

Christine Stuart (Lambs Row) was thrilled to find an Elephant Hawkmoth in her garden on the 5th June and if you’ve not seen one of these huge beasts, do look them up and it’ll make you want to find one for real. Privet Hawks, similarly beautiful, should be around now so I don’t expect Christine’s call to be the last.

The aforementioned Jim Andrews sent me several great pictures again including this Marsh Fritillary butterfly, which is a rare specimen throughout the UK, but he captured it on the Millfield and has also noted one in Basing woods.

Phil Males is a regular contributor to this page, often about early and copious amounts of frogs and spawn in his garden pond. Not so this year though, no frogs just hundreds of newts, which is probably just as good to see. He also witnessed a mating queen bee, newly emerged and keen to begin her own colony. Unlike many wild creatures where this process is fleeting, Phil said he was impressed by the insects staying power! Oooh.

NATURE NOTES  FOR AUGUST

Despite many of you being still at home and able to enjoy the great outdoors, its been a fairly quiet past couple of weeks for nature updates. The weather has been a little changeable from sweltering sunshine to cool rainy conditions (today, 30th June!) and although most of us prefer the sun, the garden plants and creatures within really needed the water. Our nightly visits from hedgehogs have much appreciated the water dish left alongside the food and you’ve got to wonder where they might have found enough to drink otherwise with bone dry undergrowth offering nothing.

A great story now from Fairthorne Rise and the home of Sheila Barclay. Sheila contacted me last week about a racing pigeon that had taken up residence in her garden and had even strolled into the house on occasions.

I recommended she try and catch the bird, which was obviously tame anyway, and get the rings identity which might reveal the home and owner who could be concerned about his lost ‘baby’. With assistance Sheila managed to do this and to her surprise found that the bird belonged to someone in County Antrim, N. Ireland so had clearly got well lost from its release point in the UK or perhaps from across the channel. To our astonishment, it turns out the pigeon went missing LAST YEAR so the owner must have considered it pre-dated or re-homed somewhere. Anyway, a pick-up by an intermediary was then arranged and by now one hopes bird and owner are reunited.

Keen photographer and correspondent Terry McAnish sent the cute picture of immature robins perched on his garden fence and reported mixed success for a Blue Tit brood in his camera nest box. After 10 chicks hatched 5 perished and weren’t ejected by the parent. Terry could see they were struggling so intervened to get the dead chicks out just in time for the remaining 5 to fledge, seemingly none the worse.

Like many of us this year, Terry also noticed evidence of visiting hedgehogs so installed a garden camera so he could monitor the nocturnal visits. Another prolific mammal seen this summer, certainly along Cavalier Road are have been bats, again down to the lovely warm calm evenings that May and early June brought. There has been a huge number of nuisance flying insects mentioned by residents backing on to the canal, especially where water lays for most of the year so bats and other aerial feeders will be very welcome!

Allison Hawksworth was charmed by the family of Long Tailed Tits that alighted on her garden feeders but was drawn to one individual who was a ‘short tailed’ version. Perhaps not fully developed yet or maybe growth stunted in its nest we don’t know but the peculiarity wasn’t preventing the little’un from keeping up with its siblings.

Phil Males usual has an army of frogs in his substantial garden pond but not so this year. Instead, newts by the bucket-load! We believe that many frogs perished during the early spring freeze-up in 2019 so the population has plummeted but seemingly newts have better mechanisms to deal with such harsh conditions and they have been abundant this year. As well as these Phil has been welcoming two juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers to his feeder and he snapped one here about to tuck into the peanuts.

NATURE NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER

As I write (11th August) it’s a blazing 34ºC hence I decided to start my column rather than fry outside, though it does go against the grain somewhat to be indoors on a ‘nice’ day. Plenty of butterflies are emerging every day alongside many a flying thing but the flowers in the wild and in the garden are certainly not appreciating the heat or strong sunlight and the birds have virtually stopped feeding or singing, As mentioned, butterflies have continued to delight and Patrick Whelon in Pyottts Hill was excited to find a White Admiral in his garden, a species which he confesses to have not seen for many decades and the sight of which took him back to childhood memories. It’s fantastic that a simple creature like that can provoke happy thoughts. It is a quiet time of year generally as the breeding season has all but finished and migration hasn’t really started though one bird that would have fled back to Africa is the Cuckoo. Well, adults at least but this year’s youngsters, born and raised by some unsuspecting Reed Warbler or Meadow Pippit, will have just attained enough size and strength to take on their intrepid journey. It was therefore unusual indeed for one of these to be seen but a juvenile did put in a brief appearance in Allison Hawksworths Belle Vue road garden but sadly didn’t hang around long enough to have its picture taken. Our family of hedgehogs has increased as we now have little hoglets turning up every evening to feed and to drink from shallow containers on the decking. Four has been the maximum at one time and table manners aren’t in order at all with the morning light revealing copious amounts of little black droppings littered everywhere, even in the food dish. One good thing is that the hot sun has made them as hard as bullets so sweeping up is easy! We sat outside one evening last week just a few feet away and had to stifle giggles as a cheeky mouse arrived from nowhere to snaffle one of the food pellets just before the hogs arrived. He obviously knew when to move. You might recall that I’d mentioned my camera nest-box had been hijacked by bees soon after Blue tits had laid several eggs. Well they departed a month ago and what a mess there was left behind. I decided to have a look inside and fortunately the box comes right apart, enabling me to remove the sticky residue of material and ‘whatever it is’ they secreted to bind it all together, even though a thin layer of wood came off with it. It looks a bit tatty now but should be usable to birds (I hope) next year which is more than can be said for the one that was taken over by a wasp swarm at the home of Nick Moss in Burton Gardens (see photo, left). Wasps collect tiny wood shavings to make their nests by scraping fence panels etc and they decided to redecorate Nick’s box with this material. The photo shows the astonishing result! I think they call that a write-off!

Good news from David Rocke at Lower Mill Farm who has a regular family or two of Swallows nest each year in his wonderful old barn. The area also seems to be a collecting point for departure of his birds, others and House Martins, usually totally about 40 or 50 birds each year and that time approaches. Today David counted about 100, all sat on the wires chattering away, presumably asking each other when the other would be setting off and by which route! We often hear Green Woodpeckers and occasionally see them digging their dagger-like beaks into the lawn seeking out ants and leatherjackets but Viv Boynes in Cavalier Road was delighted to be visited by three yafflers, an adult and two young ‘uns (see photo). That’s it guys, keep the family together and local.

NATURE NOTES FOR OCTOBER

Any regular walkers of footpaths locally couldn’t have failed to notice the prolific acorn crop this year and the enormous size of many. It may be that another oddity of 2020 is that this is what’s known as a ‘mast year’, a phenomenon that occurs every 3-5 years for reasons nobody really understands. It doesn’t seem to be caused by particularly hot, cold, wet or dry springs / summers nor does it indicate an impending bad winter. What it does mean however is that acorn loving squirrels and jays for instance will have a bumper crop to stash.

The tree itself also thrives during a mast year but may have lower yields next year, perhaps giving it a chance to recover? I’d noticed that the size of acorns this summer were indeed much larger than normal as had Lorna Guthrie and her son Ollie and it was their super email to me at the end of August asking about this that inspired me to write about it. I must confess that I had to look a bit of it up as I’m not an expert in any regard, but it was certainly interesting.

Lorna lives in The Street and is lucky enough to live in a house that is also attractive to Swifts so eagerly awaits their arrival each year. Whilst there were successful family broods raised the numbers seemed to be down on previous years and as is always the case, their departure is a sad occasion. So, Lorna was puzzled as to why, several weeks later, there were good numbers of these brilliant flying machines sweeping across crops at Rotherwick and yet had already long departed the air corridors of Old Basing.

My only explanation was that perhaps a staggered arrival of birds from the continent between late April and mid-June meant a staggered migration south after breeding. Swifts only have time for one brood before they’re ‘off again’ to Africa, whereas Swallows and House Martins can lay eggs and fledge young two sometimes three times hence they don’t leave until September.

There are still a few interesting insects on the wing, namely a Hummingbird Hawkmoth noted by Stephen Thair in his garden and a pair of amorous Brown Argus butterflies captured by camera by Phil Males on ragwort on the Millfield.

Not everybody is a fan of the Grey Squirrel, but most people are amazed and enchanted by their dexterity. It was noticed by Terry McAnish that quite recently however that there seemed to be a dearth of their numbers locally which I could only put down to the creatures away territory hunting and food stashing. While such natural offerings are in abundance right now, i.e. acorns and berries, there is little point in them taking risks from dogs, cats (and humans) by hanging around urban settings.

My good lady and I recently took a trip to the wetlands of Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, somewhere on my tick list now fulfilled. It was very enjoyable as long as one likes ducks, geese (photogenic Greylag, picture) and swans, but there were some waders and Lapwings (in good numbers I’m pleased to say) to be had as well. Another trip however is pencilled-in for April/May next year when the migrants arrive as I can imagine that the surrounding scrub and reedbeds there would support literally hundreds of these LJB’s (little brown jobs) and these would be really worthwhile travelling for, as would the potential sighting of breeding Kingfishers. It was all a bit too peaceful in that regard there yesterday as pretty much ‘all of the above’ have stopped singing or have already nipped back to their wintering lands. We did hear a Chiffchaff and a Cetti’s Warbler calling. Which was nice!

NATURE NOTES FOR NOVEMBER

I’ve frequently mentioned that part of the joy of angling is that one sees so much nature when you’re sat quietly by a lake or river. That includes the shy, the pretty and the scary, depending on your point of view, so having half a dozen grass snakes swimming your way in quick succession might not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing days fishing! I was at Billhook lake near Roke yesterday (15th September) when the slippery chaps came off a little island situated on the lake and headed towards the margins. The bailiff had previously told me that there were always a few in the vicinity and that the mass showing yesterday was that he believed there was something attractive to them food wise in the lily-pad patches. It was a novelty for sure and more than I’ve ever seen in one place before, so I made sure I took a bit of video and some pictures (see photo above).

From drought-like conditions in August and September with the usual threats of water shortages abounding, we hit the autumn equinox and suddenly began a subaqueous existence! Over four inches of rain must have fallen last weekend (3rd/4th October) as a garden vessel which I know had been empty, was now full to the brim. I had to take a couple of bucketsful of water from my small pond to prevent the fish invading my decking and the large pots containing hostas weighed a ton so in the greenhouse they went. However, this regular autumn deluge results in perfect conditions for flushing out leaves and dead matter from the rivers and will help deoxygenated ponds and lakes to recover, as well as filling the aquafers on which we depend.

Many people see frogs in their gardens, so this weather suits them brilliantly. Michael Haynes saw my article two issues ago about the demise of the frog population due to the harsh winter two years ago. His pond has fish, and they eat the spawn that appears each year, so he moved several clumps to a neighbours ‘fishless’ pond back in the lockdown. Most hatched with the result there are now hundreds of one-inch long frogs all over Cavalier Road gardens. It’s especially good news if you’re a heron or a grass snake but frogs will eat slugs so they’re useful to have around for gardeners too.

We usually refer to heavy rain as ‘nice weather for ducks’ and there are always Mallards whizzing around the Belle Vue area, presumably birds from the village end of the canal which usually has water in it. However graceful and fluid they look in flight is all undone with their movement on the ground, or should I say their demeanour. Terry McAnish took a picture (see photo, left) of this one sat on his roof and it just doesn’t look right.

Now is the right time to put up or take down nest boxes. Siting a box correctly is all important and if the one you’ve removed to clean has no material in it, perhaps not for the first year, then consider a new site if at all possible. If it was already north or east facing, then it could be a matter of its height (too high or low) or that the birds are not using it because of its exposure to potential predators or human interaction. Tit boxes need to be between six and eight feet off the ground ideally but as you’ve probably seen in media coverage, they’ll nest in the weirdest of places if it takes their fancy. Apertures in traffic lights, external wall-mounted ash trays, drainpipes and vehicles have all been rendered temporarily out of order whilst eggs hatch and young fledge.

NATURE NOTES FOR DECEMBER

So, as I write we are just entering another lock-down period and I hope as you are reading this, we are just coming back out of it! The year 2020 is certainly one that will live long in the memory mostly for the wrong reasons but let us hope that 2021 doesn’t top it. On the upside all of us have been able to appreciate the natural world about us much more and I’ve found myself noticing so many more small things than I normally would have done.

As the weather has changed in the past few weeks, conditions became ideal for fungi of all descriptions, so I snapped a couple of these weird products of nature as did Stephen Thair. The huge brown clump were apparently just Common Inkcap which thrive where dead wood is buried and that made sense as an apple tree had been felled in that spot two years previously and the stump ground down as far as was possible. What the alien looking ‘thing’ that came up on my front lawn was I don’t know but it was fascinating to look at. Stephens perambulations led him to several Funnel fungi which appear to be the Trooper variety (there are numerous in the family) and allegedly edible but I’m not bold enough to try anything other than a 100% mushroom!

Like many local bird watchers, I’ve been wondering when bright green Ring-Necked Parakeets might colonise areas in the locality and whilst one doesn’t signify it’s happening it does mean their ‘scouts’ are about. I have David Trevor-Jones who lives in The Street to thank for his email in October that he’d seen and heard one whilst at the Riley Lane allotments. Like many birds its call is a contact note that tries to locate others of its species that might be nearby and that it seeks reassurance of not being alone. You’ll be familiar that the Red Kites do this as do small groups of diminutive Long Tailed Tits. Anyway, David said this bird was clearly on its own but it’s a bit concerning that they might come in numbers as they can displace other tree dwelling birds such as Woodpeckers and Nuthatches.

Winter visitors have begun to appear locally, and Jim Andrews sent me a couple of smashing shots of a Brambling on the Millfield (right). In addition, several Redwings have been apparent, and a Ring Ouzel has also put in some brief appearances but has so far eluded Jim’s lens.

As many of you know, Redwings, Mistle Thrushes and Waxwings arrive from Scandinavia in number during harsh weather there but also UK native species are joined by their continental cousins as well because we are generally a few degrees warmer in these isles from November til February. Blackbird and Goldcrest numbers here can be swelled by several hundred thousand in some years and I just read that the latter has been seen in copious quantities along the north east coastline. They will spread westward I’m sure but you’ll more likely hear rather than see these tiny olive and golden jewels that will generally stay high in cover such as conifer branches. Listen out for high pitch reeling sounds from above and you might just see tiny movement ‘up there’.

Nothing stops a building project quicker than finding Great Crested Newts or Bats near or in your property. But a resident of Riverside Gardens had the latter to thank for a few hours of concern when a glazing company, there replacing windows, found two Pipistrelles (we think) hiding in the cavity. Having gained access via a tiny slit in the frame there was no way they could be left or they would have been sealed in so my advice, thanks to contact with local expert David Byett, was to place the creatures in a box indoors with some loose material and a little water, but at dusk (if not raining) take the box outside and lift the lid. The creatures would apparently have more than one roost and could happily relocate so that was good news indeed for all parties.

Finally, I hope you all have a Christmas that is not too far removed from those you normally enjoy. Perhaps spend a little more time outdoors enjoying the air and the wildlife, that’s assuming both the weather and the Government allow?

Last Updated on January 19, 2021

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