• 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?
    Stacks Image 1380
    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.
    Stacks Image 1377
    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.
    Stacks Image 1383
    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'.
    Stacks Image 1386
    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