Our Wild Flower initiatives launched by Graham Soame last year, and again this year, are establishing themselves and have burst into flower.
It’s not a 'given' that Wild Flower planting succeeds first time. However, very successful patches have come through along the road verges in Station Road, Chapel Road and at Margery Cross. Several others in private gardens are doing well too. These including flowers at Wayside Cottages, Acre Cottage, Windrush Cottage and Shuttles Cottage.
Following on from this success, a more thorough seeding of verges will be organised in September aimed at producing a show next year.
If anyone would like to plant a Wild Flower strip or garden on their road verge or in their garden, please contact Graham. We would also like to see more ponds being brought back to life and if anyone is keen to build or to renovate one, please let Graham know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictures: Wild flowers in Station Road and at Margery Cross.
Martin Spurrier (14.08.2020)
Yesterday (16th August) we had rare visitor to our garden, hovering among the white phlox. Was it a baby Superman, a tiny bird, or what?
Mr. Google tells me that this amazing little imposter was a Macroglossum stellatarum, a hummingbird hawk-moth, who is a summer migrant from Southern Europe. They are abundant all around the Mediterranean countries and across Central Asia to Japan but comes here only in the summer. That's because it cannot survive our winters, but maybe that is changing as the UK gets warmer.
Above: Our family pictures on my old iPhone. Its wings flap so fast they are a blur.
This beautiful moth is about an inch (25mm) long and has a wing span of 2 inches (50mm). It looks more like a tiny hummingbird than any moth I have ever seen. You can see a short video here.
To hover, it flaps its wings at 80 times a second and you can actually hear them 'humming' while it collects pollen with its long 'proboscis', a nose / tongue-like protrusion that is as long as its body.
The hummingbird hawk-moth prefers to fly in bright sunlight, but it will also take to wing in dull weather, at dusk or dawn, and sometimes even at night. I recorded our sighting with the Butterfly Conservation website and it is now shown on their sighting map.
Martin Spurrier (16.08.2020)
As a child I questioned the existence of four-leaf clovers (other than Alfa Romeo’s Quadrifoglio brand that was used to bring their racing drivers good luck). I thought that it was yet another deception created by adults. So, I went hunting…
My usual Nature Notes expert, Mr. Google, advised me that four-leafers are a rare genetic mutation and that our chances of finding one is about 1 in 10,000. That’s better than the Post Code Lottery, I thought, so set off up Bond’s Lane in search of one of nature’s nicest mutants.
After ten minutes or so, I couldn’t believe it. There it was, a real live quadrifoglio, so I struck before I lost it and took the picture on the right immortalising this discovery. Later that week, I thought I’d sneak up on the clovers again to see if I could find three more, one for each grandchild. Within 15 minutes, I found them, all four-leafers!
Panic! What to do now before they got away?
I quickly pressed them in a book between white paper for a few days and then popped them in nice cheap frames from B&Q. Hey presto, lovely little presents for the children. Happy mutant hunting!
Quadrifoglio Hunting Tips
10,000 clovers take up about the area of an office desk, so:
PS: The Guinness Book of Records notes that the most number leaves on a clover was 56. This was found in Japan in 2009!
The writer is no expert on nature - not like Mr. Google, anyway. So, your additions, corrections opinions and/or suggestions are most welcome. Nature Notes is a miscellany of this and that, but it does try to answer some of the questions we’ve always wondered about… and some that we haven’t.
Martin Spurrier (14.08.2020)
The last few months have actually been quite positive on the village Hedgehog front. We thought we only had a few visiting the feeding station in the garden, which was a decline on previous years. However, we decided to test this by marking the regular visitors with a small dot of brightly coloured nail varnish and we soon realised these and others were coming most nights for a nutritious supplementary snack.
‘Hettie’ as named by John and Liz, made regular appearances in the early afternoons, she had a bit of a wonky gait and it seemed to be a female gathering nesting material. She went for her daily walks over the bridge and along the stream wall, much to the horror of the anxious Ashwells, not the steadiest hedgehog on her feet but she managed it, even though we couldn’t fathom why she had decided on this particular route.
Food and water was dutifully left out and much appreciated by Hettie. With it being June and July we can only hope she was a sow preparing to raise a family of hoglets. They tend to have 4 -6 youngsters per litter but sadly not all survive. They leave the nest with mum after 3 - 4 weeks to join her foraging for food and returning to the nest for her milk. After around 10 days of hunting with her, they go it alone - they are solitary creatures and live their life without encountering their siblings.
So, donning thick gloves and with some trepidation we painted small dots on two hedgehogs, hereafter referred to as 'Yellow Spot' and 'White Spot' for obvious reasons.
Yellow Spot was a regular visitor to the feeding station, a medium-sized, darker hedgehog, unflustered by a strange woman wandering down the garden at odd times with a small torch. On occasion Yellow Spot got there early but I was able to creep in and refill the empty feeding station bowls it was staring at with such disgust. No sign of it for the last month, but I am optimistic and hoping to see an extended family at the feeding station at some point; we can but hope.
White Spot is still a regular visitor to the garden, a force to be reckoned with. It is bigger, lighter in colour and much more snorty, snuffly and basically a bit of a grumpy character. White Spot doesn’t like to share feeding stations with other visitors and for this reason I have decided to leave multiple food stations dotted about the garden to allow the quieter and meeker personalities a look in. A successful move, the milder mannered hedgehogs hear White Spot coming (not difficult, it is quite vocal, grunting as it comes) so they either hide or swiftly move to another location.
As a general rule we seem to get around three adult hedgehogs visiting the garden just before darkness. There are at least five in total including White and Yellow Spot plus three hoglets, independent of adults and eating from the food piles. The adults do not seem to challenge the little hoglets, even grumpy old White Spot, which is nice to see.
One medium-sized, dark hedgehog always goes through the chicken netting. Although not ideal, to accommodate this the netting is never switched on at night time. I always check the electric fence every morning to make sure none have encountered problems and got stuck, we rescued one a few years ago that had become entangled.
So, it is looking positive on the village hedgehog front - great news - but these mammals are having a tricky time in our modern world. They are in a fragile state and are very much an endangered species. The food we offer at garden feeding stations is only a complimentary and nutritious snack. This is not their main diet, but to help them when they need to ‘bulk up’ a bit. This is so important in times of drought, cold weather, breeding season (May / June) and in preparation for hibernation (October / November) or later if it is a mild winter. Hedgehogs are well and truly a gardener’s friend and devour many of what we would consider to be garden pests such as slugs, caterpillars and beetles.
Don’t think that if you feed them they will stop eating the grubs, they enjoy the food we provide but their main diet is what they forage for. I leave food and water out all year round, hedgehogs wake up numerous times over the winter and need to find food to keep them going through hibernation. I leave it in a sheltered spot to protect it from the elements.
If you would like to leave food out for them they enjoy meaty cat and dog kibble, (nothing fish flavoured) especially dry food formulated for kittens. They enjoy the wet pouch dog and cat food and always a bowl of fresh water. I have a mixture of various types of kibble in a tub, they seem to enjoy it anyway. There is of course 'hedgehog food' available from pet stores, which is lovely but it is quite expensive.
Ally Urquhart (17.08.2020)
The above images © Tim Lawson
Photo of Waxwings in Aston village taken by Barry Hudson;
note that the red-wax patches are just visible on the wings, but this is unusual.
I was walking through the village on Christmas Eve delivering some late Christmas cards when I set eyes on a bird that I had never seen before in my life. Since I have been interested in birds since the age of about five and have travelled around many parts of the world working as a professional ornithologist, or simply looking at birds for pleasure, this was quite a momentous occasion. And a home-grown one too.
The bird in question was a Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus - see the photo. It is starling-sized with a sort of beigey-brown plumage but what is striking is its punk-rocker style crest which it raises when the mood takes it. It gets its name from the waxy red patches on the tips of its inner flight feathers but in the field one does not see these easily and it just looks as though the wings have nicely scalloped black and white edges. The bird I saw was in the hedge along Chapel Road on the right going towards Witney. And it was doing what waxwings habitually do in winter, which is eating berries.
I had been hoping to see a waxwing this winter because the birding networks were full of reports of them around Oxfordshire, but somehow they were always being reported from somewhere other than where I was. The weather at that time with about a foot of snow was not exactly conducive to driving around looking for waxwings. I had asked various friends to call me if they saw one but that had not produced any leads except to places I was not sure I could get to in the snow.
It turns out that this winter, according to the Oxford Ornithological Society, has proved to be a bumper year for waxwings with a 'spectacular invasion of this species'. They invade from Scandinavia and Russia when the berry crop fails in those areas, moving into Britain from the East. It happens only every few years and in the books it mentions another large-scale invasion in 1965/6. This winter (2010/11) there were one or two records in Oxford in November, but they really moved in big-time in December with 'a peak around the third week when multiple flocks were discovered on a daily basis'. It was roughly estimated that there may have been 700 to 800 birds in Oxfordshire. Reading those details in the OOS Bulletin, made my one bird in Chapel Road seem like small beer, but for me it was still exciting to see just one having never seen it before.
As I write this on 3rd February, waxwings are still around in Oxfordshire and several small flocks have been seen today around Abingdon. In winter waxwings love berries, so if you have some rowan berry crops in your garden, some rose hips or some crab apples, look out for that sandy coloured bird with a puffy crest and black and white markings on its wings. They often occur in small flocks of ten or less. The number of birds tends gradually to tail off during January to March with a few stragglers around until April or May. They nest in pine trees by preference, in northern Scandinavia laying their eggs in mid-June, quite late in the year by British standards. It may be many years before they invade Oxfordshire on the scale they did this year.