• Hungry kestrel

    It was 1:03pm, lunchtime in our drive when I saw a drama unfolding from my car.

    A female kestrel had just killed a female blackbird and was having her lunch. Mr. Blackbird was not pleased and was bombarding the kestrel as she tore at the carcass on the ground.

    I stopped and took pictures through the windscreen from a distance, just to catch the moment.

    But both birds had higher priorities than being bothered with me, although the kestrel was constantly looking up at me as it fed. I crept closer and closer until I was, perhaps, ten feet from the beautiful little raptor. Now with my window down... snap!

    Annoyed at my intrusion, the kestrel tried to carry the carcass away, but it was too heavy and reluctantly dropped it. She flew on into the nearest tree to watch over it from a short distance while the blackbird sheltered in the hedge.

    The moment I drove on, I could see the drama, Scene II, in my mirror.

    Kestrels are the amazing, medium-sized birds that hover like living drones over the corn fields and verges before plunging meteor-like onto an unsuspecting vole. Some other birds can hover but none so well or so long as the kestrel. Their numbers declined in the 70s, according to RSPB, probably because of changes in farming and so they are now on the amber list. However, they do adapt well and can be seen in the centre of large cities.

    Kestrels do not build their own nests but, like the 'cuckoo bumble bee' (see the next story below), use old or disused nests of crows and other stick nesters, as well as stone ledges and old buildings. They will also take over nesting boxes and will return year after year. Their territory is at least 1 km.

    Like the barn owl, their principal food is voles. While the female has chicks she will only hunt if food is short but this kestrel’s family will have flown in June or July. In the autumn, they may move to be nearer a more prolific food supply, only to return to their old nest in the spring so, hopefully, she and her family, will be regulars in South Leigh. I noticed from my photograph, that she had been ringed on her right leg.

    For more information, see: the hawk conservancy website and the RSPB kestrel page.

    Martin Spurrier, July 2021

    Kestrel feeding on blackbird
    Feeding kestrel
  • There's a buzz going around the village!

    There was this 4 or 5cm hole in the middle of our lawn and I didn’t know what animal had made it. I still don’t, but I do know who lives there, now.

    As I stood pondering, I saw bumble bees arriving, hovering over the hole, gently landing and crawling into their underground home while others crawled out and set off. They came and went sometimes as often as every ten-seconds.

    As usual, I rushed to consult Google and Wikipedia (and Heather Horner, of course) to learn that some bumble bees do nest underground in places such as abandoned rodent holes (these are called 'cuckoo' bumble bees), but also under sheds and in compost heaps. Of those that nest above ground, some make their homes in thick grass, while others in bird boxes, lofts and in trees.

    Mine are very busy bees, in a casual bumble bee sort of way. I guess they are feeding their young with pollen but they do not make honey because they don’t need food for the winter. Instead, after 28 days, most die while the season’s new queen hibernates before emerging the next year to find her own new nest.

    Can you believe it… there are over 250 species of bumble bees (the genus Bombus) of which 24 species live in Britain? By the way, I still don’t know what made the hole in my lawn.

    Bumblebees rarely sting. This is good news and the chance of being stung can be reduced even more by not provoking them or making them aggressive. It is important to be calm when working with bumblebees.

    If you are interested to know more, there is lots on line.

    Also, by identifying bumble bee species you can help to conserve them. You can do this by adding your bumblebee sightings to the online wildlife recording survey iRecord, or by signing up for BeeWalk, a national monitoring scheme where you walk a short local transect once a month, recording the bumblebees you see along the way. A bumble bee species guide can be found here.

    PS: An interesting but useless piece of info: When a honeybee stings, it dies a gruesome death. As the honeybee tries to pull out the stinger, it ruptures its lower abdomen, leaving the stinger embedded, pulling out instead a good chunk of its guts – a string of digestive material, muscles, glands and a venom sac. Yuk!

    Martin Spurrier, August 2021

    A bumble bee hovers just before landing and entering a hole in the lawn
    A bumble bee hovers just before landing and entering the hole in the lawn.
    Bumblebee conservation trust logo
  • Strawberry supermoon

    Did you see it on 23rd / 24th June?

    This wonderful occurrence was the last of four in 2021. Its name is not, apparently, based on its colour but on the fact that it is seen when strawberries start to ripen. That said, it has several different names in different countries like the blooming moon, egg laying moon and the honeymoon moon, the last because it is at the most popular time for weddings.

    It appears about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than normal. This is because it is a full moon that coincides with being closest to the Earth (the 'perigee') during its elliptical cycle. That’s about 226,000 miles away.

    My picture is not very good, but I took it in Station Road at the football field wall.

    Martin Spurrier, August 2021

    A bumble bee hovers just before landing and entering a hole in the lawn
  • Wildflowers explode

    I don’t know if this year's crop is especially wonderful or if it is just because I am noticing them more because of our village's planting initiative, led by Graham Soame. But here are some pictures of wildflowers growing wild and some ‘sown’ wildflowers.

    Top left, clockwise: Did you know that the ubiquitous daisy gets its name from 'day’s eye' because it opens its petals at daybreak and closes them at night? Graham's garden display – 2 pictures – red and white Campion and Everlasting Betony, the blue ones are Evergreen Bugloss. Heather Horner's hard work on the Station Road verge is magnificent. St. James the Great's churchyard is a splash of colour. Barnard Gate Road's natural blooms. If you'd like to see Graham’s flowers or want to know more about planting wildflowers for next year, please contact him using the details below:

     planning@soame.co.uk
     07932 172873

    Martin Spurrier

  • The Northern Lapwing

    Also known as the 'peewit', 'green plover' or 'pyewipe', it is around too, as this photo shows. It was kindly sent to me by a resident but I have lost the original email. Many apologies. Please can whoever sent it let me know - thank you? This wonderful bird is in decline largely because of farming and its very unwise nesting habit. The peewit lays its eggs on the ground - in a scrape in spring-tilled arable land or in short grass land - no wonder only about 25 percent of chicks make it through the 4-5 weeks growth period before they can fly. Frankly, it‘s amazing any survive.

    Between 1987 and 1998, lapwing numbers dropped by 49 percent and 80 percent since the 1960s. I hope they can think of a better place to nest.

    Martin Spurrier

    Northern Lapwing
  • Little egret - king of the road

    This statuesque ‘little egret’ was back in Barnard Gate Road and behind Station Road in early May working the Limb Brook but, apparently, without a mate. They stand about 55-56 cms tall and have a wingspan of 88-95 cms. Our one also likes to perch precariously high in the oak trees overlooking the stream. The much rarer Great White egret is 94 cms with a wingspan of 155 cms (similar to the more common grey heron). There are only about 4,500 little egrets that winter in the UK. The males and females are almost identical with the male being the slightly larger of the two. The little egret has a black bill and yellow feet whereas the great white egret’s bill is yellowy orange with black feet. Egrets were nearly wiped out in the 1800s for their feathers used in fashion. I haven’t seen him or her for a while but I certainly hope our egret friend comes back.

    Martin Spurrier

    Little egret
    © Jonathan Blake
  • Something completely newt

    My grandson found this little chap under a rotting log near our ditch while searching for bugs for his terrarium. We had to move him slightly lest we squashed him. He is a yellow, or smooth, newt (also called the 'common newt') and this baby is just 15mm. He will grow to 7-11cms and will get much darker. When new born, they are called 'tadpoles', like frogs. Newts are protected.

    These amazing creatures are amphibians, breeding in ponds and spending the rest of the year feeding on invertebrates in woodlands, hedgerows, marshes and grassland, mostly at night.

    Common newt
    Common newt

    Down to Earth

    Talking of terrariums, this is the one we made (not for the newt!). It was unnecessarily expensive and can be made much cheaper. They bring a whole new meaning to, and interest in, 'bugs' to the kids. As long as you / they read up on them so they do not become a pressure cooker or a swimming pool or dry out, they are both interesting and charming.

    Martin Spurrier

    Terrarium
  • Hot and cold running water - the Limb Brook

    Never the twain shall mix, it seems!

    Look at this! The water from the Limb Brook coming from under the bridge in Barnard Gate Road refuses to mix with the water coming from the ditch that runs through from Stanton Harcourt Road near the Old Crossing.

    Who to ask why? Our resident biochemist, Rita Sawrey-Woodwards, of course!

    "That is interesting", she said. "It is to do with the difference in temperature, speed, water density, e.g., of algae, dissolved salts and pollutants of the two streams. The deeper one will be colder, of course. The mixing time also depends on several other variables including stream bottom formations and turbulence". So now we know. Thanks, Rita!

    Meeting waters

    A week later, my grandson - the very same one who features in the newt story above - wanted to go rummaging in the mud at the side of the Limb Brook. As I knew that Rita is always interested in feedback on life in the stream, we pulled up a single small plant with its roots from the water's edge and took it home. There, we found a host of snails, leaches, worms and other living creatures. This is most encouraging as we are down stream from the sewage works, so there is hope. Rita is running the programme to understand pollution in our stream.

    Please contact Rita if you’d like to help: limb-brook@southleigh.info

    Water grubs


    Something's a bit fishy

    Another encouraging sign, is that Graham put a fish trap in the stream at Acre Cottage at the village end of Chapel Road thinking he'd catch a nasty American 'signal' crayfish. Guess what? He caught a little stickleback, 3 or 4 cms long.

    Martin Spurrier

    Stickleback
  • Ratty is definitely here

    Graham Soame continues to see 'Ratty' and his family in the Limb Brook at Acre Cottage. In the evening the Soame family sits and watches them forage. By 'Ratty', I mean water voles as in The Wind in the Willows. Graham sent me a message:

    Yesterday, Janet, myself and Tim Partlett, stood mesmerised watching the return of the water voles. One fat one (male!) leapt into the pond like an Olympic swimmer, while another adult, a bit smaller, was sitting partly hidden under the sedge grasses. So cute. The day before, Janet and I heard a "scrunch" while standing by the brook, and before our eyes, a very long piece of grass started to reduce in height, step by step as a 'creature' ate it from the lower stem – classic vole action! Gets me excited every time. They don't seem to care about humans talking, but don't like sudden movements, so if anybody wants to see them, call in one evening and we can wait, and are usually disappointed but, if we are lucky, you'll see their performances.

    Lucy Stoddart, Bio-diversity Officer with the Berkshire Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) recently visited Graham’s stretch of the Limb Brook. Here are parts of her report:

    I recorded 27 feeding signs (+ 4 inconclusive + 1 old feeding sign), 1 old water vole latrine (these tend to be found more during the spring / summer months when the voles are maintaining territorial boundaries), 1 old dropping, and 6 burrows (+ 1 possible old burrow and 1 inconclusive - likely rat). Most of the water vole activity was focused around where you had seen the voles in front of the house, particularly in the more open areas, with less trees / scrub and where sedge was dominant. I did however find a feeding sign as far east as the fence line just before the pub. I’m sure you are very familiar with what the 45º angle cut feeding signs look like, but I have attached a few photos of the ones I found on your land in case of interest”.

    Martin Spurrier

    Water vole
    Reed eaten by water vole
  • Flooding, Limb Brook Pollution and Water Voles

    Three important environmental initiatives have started, and all hands and eyes are welcome!

    They are Flooding, Water Pollution and the encouragement of Water Voles and other wildlife along the Limb Brook. We shall report on water voles (and Forest Restoration) in due course, but while work on the other two has just started, here is an update and a call for help from anyone who might like to be involved. Much more will follow in the months and years ahead.

    Flooding

    This is a recurring problem in South Leigh and it has multiple causes. These range from inadequate drainage to blocked drains and seriously overgrown and congested streams. While the problem goes far beyond our Parish, it certainly starts in it because so does the Limb Brook. There are steps that we can take locally to help, but first we need to understand the problem.

    Parish Councillor, Lysette Nicholls, has taken this long-term project in hand and, with others, has been researching the Limb Brook and other areas where run off causes problems - most of which end up in the Limb Brook.

    Lysette has been in contact with our County Councillor highlighting the flooding issues and has drafted an in depth email with photos which has been escalated to Oxfordshire County Council to get them to look at issues that are directly under their remit. The areas highlighted include High Cogges, the pipe inlets on Chapel Road near Shuttles Cottage, the pipe inlets by The Mason Arms and where the Limb Brook passes under the road on the Barnard Gate Road through to Station Road.

    Thames Water is also going to be contacted in regards to the brook in Lymbrook Close once further investigations have been completed in regards to pollution.

    Flooding, Limb Brook Pollution

    Like flooding, water pollution is a serious and long-term problem that we believe has increased over the years and must now be assessed and addressed. Again, we must understand it, but what we already know is that it starts in our Parish. Why? Because, like noted above, the Limb Brook starts in our Parish. Also, as above, we need help!

    The pollution in the Limb Brook is there for us all to see. Murky water, thick brownish foam, even a smell. With polluted water, the whole natural cycle suffers - plant life, water-borne life and other animals all of which live, or would like to live, along the banks or in the stream.

    Here, Parish Councillor, Graham Soame, has been making vital early steps and has formed a close alliance with similarly concerned people in Eynsham and the Eynsham Nature Recovery Network.

    The Preliminary Plan

    Before we can do anything to fix the problem, we need to know what the problem is, and then the exact extent of it. In this, our neighbours in Eynsham have been very helpful through giving us some spare water testing kits.

    Initial tests have been done and Lymbrook Close resident, Rita Sawrey-Woodwards, has brought her invaluable knowledge as a bio-chemist to the task to help us understand what the results mean and how to go forward. She has recommended a programme that is this, in brief:

    1. Map the course of the Limb Brook and its source. This has been done.
    2. Identify land use / industrial use / possible sewage sources along the brook.
    3. Start chemical water testing to identify the pollutant(s).
    4. Start regular fauna / flora observation.
    5. The above schedule of activity would be monthly for a year in order to cover the farming and climate cycle and to see 'patterns'. Then:
    6. Collate, quantify, analyse and understand the data.
    7. Understand what levels are acceptable/liaise with local and national bodies.
    8. Approach possible polluters to make changes of practice.

    This process will continue until the pollution itself can be eliminated at which point the re-wilding can be started. As noted, this is a long-term initiative and supporters are most welcome to help build the data and clean up what was in living memory, a natural haven for wild life.

    Martin Spurrier (February 2021)

    Flood outside pub
    You will remember this light-hearted picture from 2019. But flooding is serious.
    Flooding
    Flooding of the Limb Brook at the east of the village. (Photo © Martin Spurrier)
    Brown scum
    Thick brown scum on the Limb Brook along Chapel Road (Photo © J. Ashwell)

    As part of the investigation into the paucity of life in our local stream, the Limb Brook, if you have any memories of any plants or animals that you have seen in and around the Limb Brook in the time you have lived in the village, can you please contact me and tell me about them.

    Many thanks.

    Rita E. Sawrey-Woodwards    limb-brook@southleigh.info

  • Nippy or what?

    Certainly, it was pretty cold in South Leigh in February, this year.

    The annual Bond’s Lane winter lake at the crossways froze solid with 30mm of ice (below, left) and ornamental troughs in the village struggled to keep going (below, right).

    We don’t have a weather station here, but the maximum / minimum thermometer in my sheltered carport read just above -5 C (right).

    The coldest winter on record in the UK, according to dailyinfo.co.uk, was 1962-3, with a mean temperature of -1.0°C. This was also the snowiest winter on record, with 67 days of snow cover.

    The coldest day on record was 27th January 1776 with a midday maximum of -8°C. On this day, Dr. Hornsby, who kept these early recordings, was moved to add a personal note to his meteorological journal: "Wine keg froze in study!" More recently, on 13th January 1982, the mercury failed to rise above -7.1°C. Dogs on ice

    The Met. Office reported that, nationally, January this year was the coldest the UK has seen in 10 years. The average temperature was 2.2C. This made it the coldest January since 2010, when the average was 0.9C. The coldest January on record, according to Sky News, was in 1963, when conditions averaged -1.9C.

    February, this year, got even colder. On 11th the Met. Office reported that the overnight temperature at the weather station at Braemar dropped to -23.0°C, one of three stations in the UK to dip below minus 20.0°C.

    Martin Spurrier, March 2021

    Thermometer
    Dog on ice
    Tiger Spurrier on ice
    Cold trough
    Cold trough
  • Crayfish Alert!

    We see delicious crayfish ravioli and crispy crayfish patties on tempting menus, but the aggressive ‘signal’ crayfish is causing huge damage to our river banks, including the Windrush. They are also destroying our native white-clawed variety.

    I know of one sighting in the Limb Brook, but the variety was not confirmed, so I would ask readers for other reports if you see them. Please note the identifying features, below, and then we can check if we have a problem, as well as dinner.

    Signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) were introduced into the UK by the British Government in the 1970s, intended to be farmed for food, but some escaped (of course!) and they then bread like wild fire across our river network. There, they started eliminating our native variety and destroying our river banks.

    Identification features of signal crayfish include:

    • Red underside to claws
    • There is a prominent white or bluish patch on each claw at the top of the finger joint - the 'signal' patch.
    • Upper surface is a greenish brown
    • Lower surface is an orange / red
    • Smooth ridge running along the middle of the 'rostrum' (its beak / ’nose-like' thing). They can grow up to 18 centimetres in size.

    In contrast, our native white-clawed crayfish is:
    • Brown to olive colour
    • Underside of the claws are usually white, not red, it is smaller growing to a maximum of 12 centimetres.

    Signal crayfish have cause environmental and economic problems. They carry the crayfish plague, which is fatal to the native white-clawed crayfish. They create a network of tunnels that can go up to 2 metres into river banks. These causes collapses and flooding, plus a silt load in the water. They can also reduce fish stocks.

    Please let me know if you see one.

    Martin Spurrier

    Signal crayfish
  • Big news - 'Ratty' is back!

    Water voles spotted in Limb Brook

    Graham Soame has seen water voles in the stream in Chapel Road! This is big news because according to The Wildlife Trusts, the water vole is the much-loved British mammal known as ‘Ratty’ in The Wind in the Willows. Unfortunately, the future of this charming little riverside creature is in peril.

    Water voles are a vital part of the river ecosystem. Their burrowing, feeding and movement help to create conditions for other animals and plants to thrive - a bit like beavers do, but on a much smaller scale. The Wildlife Trusts and many other organizations are working hard to keep water voles in our rivers and streams and to restore them to places where they have been in the past.

    If you see one, please can you tell Graham who is monitoring the situation ( 07932 172873).

    The water vole has chestnut-brown fur, a blunt, rounded nose, small ears, and a furry tail. The similar brown rat is larger, with grey-brown fur, a pointed nose, large ears that protrude from its fur, and a long, scaly tail. A water vole’s vital statistics: are Tail: 9.5-14cm Length: 14-22cm (The Wildlife Trusts)

    PS: The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has just carried out a survey of the water voles in the Limb Brook.  We expect the results to be passed on to the village in the next few weeks.

    Martin Spurrier

    Water vole
    Image © Wikipedia
  • Bumper berries on Bond's Lane

    Apparently, the absence of late frost last winter combined with a mild spring, warm summer and no drought have given us the 2020 bumper harvest that we are still seeing. Limbs full of sloes on Bond’s Lane broke under the burden and hawthorn and Golden Hornet crab apple (I think) were not far behind. The blackberries were a major attraction.

    Do you remember your school-day poetry? Undoubtedly, one of the best-known first lines ever must be, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. John Keats rattled off Ode to Autumn nearly 200 years ago after a country walk to avoid hearing his neighbour’s daughter practising her violin. Here are the first eleven of his thirty-three lines:

    Sloes

    Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

    Spindle
    Rose hips
    Crab apple
    Sloe brandy in the making
    Blackberries

    What a year for berries on our hedgerows! My sloe brandy for next year is looking delicious. It’s not too late to make some, by the way. In fact, the fruit is now perfect as many have split in the brief frost.

    Sloes

    Apparently, the absence of late frost last winter combined with a mild spring, warm summer and no drought have given us the 2020 bumper harvest that we are still seeing. Limbs full of sloes on Bond’s Lane broke under the burden and hawthorn and Golden Hornet crab apple (I think) were not far behind. The blackberries were a major attraction.

    Spindle

    Do you remember your school-day poetry? Undoubtedly, one of the best-known first lines ever must be, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. John Keats rattled off Ode to Autumn nearly 200 years ago after a country walk to avoid hearing his neighbour’s daughter practising her violin. Here are the first eleven of his thirty-three lines:

    Crab apple

    Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

    Crab apple

    There are some good ideas ideas on using sloes on this BBC web page.

  • Wild flowers - A Blooming Success
     

    November 2020 update

    Graham reports that the village has made good progress with wildflower planting in 2020. Several private gardens now have their wildflower areas, and a number of verges have been planted in small areas by hard working village volunteers.

    My Image

    In a move to promote further self setting, we cut the verges - see photo - where it was possible in Chapel Road at Margery Cross where the wildflowers have taken well, and several folk turned out later to rake over the cut grass - thank you.

    Next year they should be even better and we shall see the results of this year’s work to bring more wildflower beauty to the village and with it, we hope, more butterflies, bees, and bugs! In the meantime, we are liaising closely with friends in Eynsham on green matters and are exchanging information and advice.

    Martin Spurrier

    Cutting the verges
    Roadside flowers
    Roadside flowers

    Wild and not so wild, but lovely, nevertheless! (How ever did the sunflowers survive the gales?)

    Sunflower

    Wild and not so wild, but lovely, nevertheless! (How ever did the sunflowers survive the gales?)

  • A bird, a plane? It's a 'Hummingbird Hawk-moth'

    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.

    Hummingbird hawk-moth
    Hummingbird hawk-moth
    Hummingbird hawk-moth
    Hummingbird hawk-moth

    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)

  • Get lucky every day! (Your four-leaf clover hunting tips)

    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.

    Nature Notes logo

    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!

    Four leaf clover

    Quadrifoglio Hunting Tips
    10,000 clovers take up about the area of an office desk, so:

    • Mark with twigs an office-desk sized patch of clover leaves (notice how they face the sun in the morning, by the way).
    • Search a very small area at a time. Thus, take a wire coat hanger and pull it out as shown. This gives you an 8-inch square. (I’m pointing at a four-leafer!).
    • Let your fingers ‘walk’ through the leaves, finger step by finger step, or slowly run backwards, keeping your eyes fixed firmly on the leaves directly under your fingers. Don’t let your eyes race ahead.
    • When you have searched one 8-inch square, mark where you have been with another twig and move the hanger to the next.
    • Beware of the mischievous clovers that deliberately stick together to look like six-leafers. They do this to disappoint you. Just keep preening and do not despair if you don’t succeed first time. However, I did, so good luck!

    Marking an area to search for four leaf clovers

    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)

    Pressed four leaf clover
  • Barney's around!
    Stacks Image 1419
    29 February 2020: This week I was turning into my house at 7:20pm and there was Barney sitting on the footpath post in the dark.

    I stopped, put my window down, turned off the lights and engine and chatted to him for a few minutes. He was 3 metres away as I took pictures with my clapped-out old iPhone [I can confirm his iPhone is ancient - Webmaster], with the flash off.
    I also wanted a picture of him flying so I had to gently shoo him away to do so. Then, I missed the pic!

    Britain's No.2 bird

    Barn owls are the UK's second favourite bird after the robin. They are mystical animals and, because of specialized feathers along the leading edge of their wings, they have near-silent flight. This enables their extraordinary hunting ability. They also don't oil their feathers during preening like other birds as this increases noise in flight. The problem then is that if they fall into water, they can drown. So, if you have a deep water trough or steep-sided pond, leave a piece of wood in it for them to climb on to.

    Barn owls have huge, front-facing eyes like us and so have binocular vision that helps in gauging distance. Most birds have eyes on either side of the head and so are monocular, but have a huge field of vision. A woodcock can see 360 degrees.

    A barn owl's eyes can weigh up to 5% of their body weight (for me that would be 8lbs!). And they don't have eye 'balls' but elongated 'tubes' that don't turn, so they can only look forwards. But they have a deceptively long neck under their feathers and can turn their head through 270 degrees… and almost upside down, like the chap in the picture below. That makes me dizzy!

    Even so, they hunt mostly by sound with their flat face acting as a sound gatherer. Their ears are just next to their eyes and are at different heights, one facing down and the other up so they hear each sound at slightly different times, and twice. That helps them locate their prey in the dark, under grass and even under snow.

    Partners for life

    Barn owls live with their partner for life (about 4 years) and don't hoot or twit twoo (that's the amorous female tawny owl with the 'twit', and the interested chap saying 'hi!' with the 'twoo'). Instead, barn owls make a blood-curdling screech while their owlets hiss like a newly punctured Lilo in a pool. Because of the screech and their ghostly white appearance, barn owls were associated with witches in the past and were hunted… Happily, they are now our No. 2 Top Bird!

    So, please watch out for the barn owl family. When we have a better idea of where they are, we can put up more owl boxes to encourage them to stay. Owls are not territorial so boxes can be as close as 50 feet, but each family will hunt an area about a 1 km radius from their nesting site. In bad times, though, this can go up to a radius of 4 kms or – that's from The Mason Arms, to Cogges Manor Farm, almost North Leigh, Eynsham and Ducklington.

    You can find a lot more
    information on barn owls here on on their nesting habits here.

    Martin Spurrier ~ martinspurrier@hotmail.com

    Click on the images below to enlarge them.
  • Who's that Honking?
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    September is the month of honking over Bond’s Lane it seems – it wasn’t a traffic jam, though, but the arrival of this year’s Canada geese. We’ve been here two autumns now and in early September last year I first encountered several hundred birds grazing on the stubble in the early sun across the field south-east of the church. They were there again this year, but two weeks later, much to the excitement of Tiger, my young Labrador.
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    If you are feeling Attenborough-like, you can walk up quite close to them while they carry on munching because they have strength in numbers. But then Tiger is off like a rocket and the sight of three hundred birds taking flight, each with a six-foot wingspan, is awesome. Poor Tiger, she’s far too slow for these mighty beasts.

    So why are they there? Tiger and I thought, as I dived into Google on my mobile.
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    In the UK since 1665. The RSPB tells us that Canada Geese are by nature migratory but those living in the UK and Ireland tend to be resident, now. However, some wintering Canada Geese from Scandinavia join resident birds in the warmer UK and Ireland in the autumn, so maybe the flock in Bonds Lane were honking in Swedish? Come to think of it, they did sound a bit like the Swedish Chef.

    By the time Tiger had got back to me huffing and puffing, the birds were already in their 'V' formation before flying straight up the Brize Norton flight path and out towards Eynsham, then hard right and back over South Leigh.

    Why do they fly like that?, I thought desperately trying to remember the film 'Fly Away Home'.
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    Into Google again... first, it says, it conserves their energy. (Apologies if I'm teaching Granny to suck goose eggs). Apparently, each bird flies slightly above the one in front, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds then take turns at the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for hours before they must stop for rest. Clever old things these geese who live for 10-25 years and mate for life.

    And it is not a coincidence that the RAFs Red Arrows fly in exactly the same formation and the Tour of France riders do the equivalent on the ground.

    But why do they only honk while they are flying? Google told me that the ones behind honk those in front, not to overtake like on the motorway in Germany, but to encourage the leaders to keep up their speed. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the wind resistance and quickly gets back into line and take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

    Funny that, because I have heard them honk even when they are flying alone. I guess it becomes a habit when you can fly up to 1,500 miles in a single day. That's one way to Athens or Moscow, or to Barcelona and back. That's an awful lot of honks!

    Martin Spurrier