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NatureWatch

Despite our location on the edge of Oxford, with several major roads running through and around the area we are nevertheless surrounded on most sides by either grassland, woodland or farmland. A surprisingly wide range of wildlife can be spotted not only on walks in the official ‘nature areas’ in our community (see the Playgrounds, Parks and Open Spaces page for details of some of them) but also in many cases without even leaving the comfort of our own homes.

Throughout the year I’ll be operating an occasional Nature Diary telling you what I’ve spotted in my garden (which is about 100 yards to the north of West Way) and on my wanderings. Plus there’s the NatureWatch Photo Gallery showing rarities, oddities and other interesting pictures of the local wildlife. Anyone else can send in their own observations and photographs for inclusion here too – see the Get Involved column for details.

Nature Diary:

  • 28th January 2019
    Apologies for a long break in updates but 2018 somehow disappeared before it had really started. This report is a year on from the last one and on the same topic. Interesting to compare the count this year in the Big Garden Birdwatch compared to last year. The same kind of mix as last time, but this time 37 birds covering a massive 15 species. No house sparrows (which are infrequent visitors nowadays) but we did get a surprise visit from a female sparrowhawk (for only the third time in 30 years) – see photo below.
  • 30th January 2018
    Time to count the birds again in the RSPB’s annual survey of our feathered friends. This time we managed a total of 34 birds from 10 species within the allotted hour. The species in question were (in descending order of numbers) blue tit, chaffinch, starling, great tit, blackbird, collared dove, house sparrow, dunnock, robin and blackcap. Not a bad haul. Over the whole weekend, but not within the hour we did our official count, we also saw long tailed tits, bullfinches, magpies, wood pigeons, a greater spotted woodpecker and a single coal tit so things are pretty active in our garden. We’re particular pleased with our three bullfinches (see photos below) as they have become regular visitors over the past few weeks, whereas previously over the last 28 years we’ve only seen them on two occasions in our garden, and then they only stayed for a few minutes. Hopefully they will become long-term Botley residents now.

bullfinch male 1[3803]    bullfinch female 1[3801]    bullfinch female 2[3802]

  • 14th December 2017
    Apologies for the long radio silence. Nature continues to roam but there isn’t always a lot of time to report it. Now that we’ve hit winter time the birds are all hungrily tucking in to anything put out on bird feeders. One oddity seen in recent days is a leucistic blackbird as shown below – this one has a white collar. Apparently leucism (partially whiteness caused by a lack of pigments) occurs quite often in this species. One other highlight the other day was a flock of over 200 fieldfares flying through Botley. We usually see a few each winter but this was a massive flock!

Blackbird website

  • 5th July 2017
    My thanks to Colin and Sally Hersom for this photo of a common spotted orchid growing in their lawn. I can manage the odd dandelion but I’ve certainly never seen one of these wild flowers growing in my back garden!

Orchid

  • 2nd July 2017
    More butterflies and moths have been spotted over recent times. The Gatekeeper (photo below left) is quite a common visitor over the summer and amongst the orange / brown butterflies is quite easy to identify because of the double pupil in their upper eye spot. They also like sitting still for long periods and so are easier to photograph, unlike a Comma butterfly that drifted through recently without pausing to say ‘cheese’. Onto less common species, the photo below right is of a Poplar Hawk Moth. Appropriately enough this spectacular, large specimen was brought to my attention by a resident of Poplar Road. As there aren’t actually any poplar trees in Poplar Road presumably it got led astray by the false advertising. Actually they like willow trees too so hopefuly it found something to keep it happy. Although generally a night flyer this one was found out in the daytime, but it settled down in one spot and didn’t move again until nightfall. A larger version of this photo can be seen as Photo of the Month during July 2017.

Gatekeeper      Poplar Hawk Moth

  • 4th June 2017
    Apologies for the lack of updates recently but nature has definitely not been hanging around in my absence. We now appear to be in the caterpillar invasion phase of the year, which is very handy for feeding all of those baby birds trying to fly around and bashing into windows, walls and other inanimate objects. Back on the subject of caterpillars, our vegetable patch is currently being decimated by cabbage whites (both varieties) but we have come across some more interesting species as well. My caterpillar of the day (found in our garden) is shown below along with the adult. This is the Vapourer Moth, which is colourful and hairy as a caterpillar, and ends up with hairy legs and bat-like ears as an adult.

vapourer-moth-caterpillar      vapourer moth

  • 1st April 2017
    No this isn’t an April Fool entry, just a spring revival. Definitely spring is in the air as can be seen from the April Photo of the Month on this website, showing tthe blossoming trees along North Hinksey Lane. Along with all of the other blooming flowers the birds are busy in the bushes producing the next generation, and the frogs are doing likewise in our little pond (we’ve had some spawn since mid-March, which is several weeks earlier than last year). Along with bees and butterfles wafting past, and a hedgehog poo which appeared two night’s ago (maybe our little friend below) nature is definitely going into overdrive after yet another mild winter. On that subject, am I the only one to feel a bit cheated when yet another winter goes by without any snow? The seasons aren’t what they used to be ……
  • 31st October 2016
    Although generally a nocturnal animal, hedgehogs can sometimes be spotted during daytime hours, particularly at this time of year when they are piling in the food to bulk up for winter. This little chap / chapess pictured below happily trundled up to one of the bird feeders in our garden this afternoon and munched his / her way through a hefty quantity of mealworms. Mind you that’s still one relatively tiny hedgehog so we’ll keep on putting out the mealworms for some time yet in the hope that we get some return visits to our snack bar.

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  • 19th October 2016
    Jays are shy, woodland birds which generally avoid close contact with human beings. That’s the theory anyway. Can somebody explain to me why two of them were happily bouncing around the small tree on the corner of North Hinksey Lane opposite MacDonalds car park today? That’s right next to West Way (which isn’t exactly quiet) and they remained low down in the tree when I walked past within 2m of where they were sitting. Somebody ought to give them a lesson in how jays shopuld behave. Has anyone else seen these birds hanging around outside MacDonalds? Are they waiting for a portion or two of fries?? Who knows.
  • 12th August 2016
    The summer might be drawing to a close but some of the local wildlife still seems to be feeling remarkably frisky. Whilst watering the garden in the evening I was slightly perturbed to hear what was the distinct sound of heavy breathing. I tracked this sound down very quickly to the area at the bottom of our garden where it is dark and secluded (just the right sort of place for an amorous date). In the evening gloom I could just make out the outline of two hedgehogs indulging in a ‘getting to know you’ session. Apparently in the early stages of hedgehog dating the male snuffles around for hours breathing very heavily – and this is exactly what happened in our garden. Very odd, but slightly less worrying when you know who the heavy breather hiding at the bottom of your garden is!
  • 9th July 2016
    A slightly more common visitor, but always welcome, was an adult hedgehog that appeared snuffling through the undergrowth during the afternoon. We got a good close up view by lying on the ground but he (or she) definitely wasn’t going to make it easy for us by wandering out into the open.
  • 18th June 2016
    A rare visit to our garden for a green woodpecker, which sat around eating ants (a main part of its diet) for about 20 minutes about 5m away from the house. These birds are usually quite shy and not prone to visiting gardens in this area although they have been spotted by us once before (in over 20 years) and also they frequent Wytham Woods and the surrounding area. Nice to see another one anyway and a change from the regularly visiting great spotted woodpeckers. No photo I’m afraid as the camera battery had run out!
  • 8th June 2016
    A couple of days after reporting about a lesser known bumblebee here is a lesser known ladybird, this time found in my own garden. The Cream Spot Ladybird (Calvia quatuordecimguttata) is quite small for a ladybird, has 14 spots (hence the Latin name), which are cream in colour (hence the English name) on a light brown body. It occurs in northern Europe and the USA but is less often seen than the typical red-bodied ladybirds with various numbers of dots.
  • DSC07923 - Copy
  • 6th June 2016
    My thanks to Colin & Sally Hersom for these photos of Tree Bumblebees (Bombus Hypnorum) nesting in their garden. You can see the typical ginger thorax with black spot, and white bottom (another technical term). These bees will nest in all sorts of places including unused bird boxes and holes in walls and trees. Although quite common in Continental Europe they are a relative newcomer to these shores having first arrived in 2001 and gradually expanded their range northwards. Watch out if you see them though as they can be prone to a slightly aggresive protection policy if you get too near to their nests, and are known to sting humans if provoked. Best watched from a safe distance then.
  • Tree bees 2 - Copy           Tree bees 2 - Copy (2)
  • 9th May 2016
    Another hedgehog sighting, andf this time the whole animal rather than just a poo! It started off quite dramatically as one of my neighbours was looking distressed following the discovery of the aforementioned beastie tangled up in plastic netting which surrounds their pond.and suffering rather badly from the blazing sun, it being early afternoon on one of the warmest and sunniest days of the year to date with the location being in full sunlight. Anyway a few minutes later I had disentangled Mr Tiggywinkel (his gender being identified by someone with more expertise than me later in the day) and deposited him in a roomy cardboard box which was placed in te shade. That evening after plenty of water and a snack of cat food he was released by my neighbours and happily strolled off into the undergrowth. A happy end to this tale, but it does highlight the issue of seemingly innocuous hazards that we place in our gardens which can easily prove fatal to much of our wildlife.
  • 3rd May 2016
    Following hot on the heels of my amphibian report, here’s something else to get excited about – poo! Not just any poo though, this photo below shows one of the four that arrived overnight in our garden courtesy of at least one active hedgehog. It isn’t often that we see these visitors and we try not to disturb the sheltered areas of our garden where they tend to sleep but it is good to know that they are up and about. Poo is an excellent way of finding out which beasties are wandering around in the vicinity. You can easily tell hedgehog poo from other animals as they tend to be smallish (up to 5cm long), very dark, and often with a pointy end like this example. Keep your eyes open for these or other animal poos around your garden.

Hedgehog poo [242580]

  • 29th April 2016
    Having been woken from my winter slumbers (call that a winter, bah humbug), by a clarion call from The Sprout here come some updates on wildlife springing back into activity. At this time of the year the birds and the bees become a lot more visible and audible as they start joining in with the song and producing little birds and bees. Also it is a good time to spot amphibians of various types. In our pond over recent weeks we’ve had a host of frogs (see photo below) getting friendly and producing spawn (albeit not a lot this year), and finally in the last week we’ve had the tadpoles hatching. We’ve also seen the appearance of two newts (see other photo), which could be bad news for the tadpoles, as they sometimes end up on the menu. I’d love to add an item about the frog ferry as suggested by The Sprout, but as I have no details about it that depends on someone out there in the wilds of Botley and North Hinksey sending in a report. I’m waiting.

Frogs April 2016 [242579]        Newt April 16 [242581]

  • 10th October 2015
    After a very quiet summer on the nature front things are getting interesting again now that we’re into autumn. Spiders abound with dozens of common garden spiders draping their webs everywhere and snagging plenty of passing humans as well as the odd fly or two. I spotted this arachnid below on my front wall today. About 10cm across his legs but a body only a few millimetres across. Nice spider you might think. Not quite as this is a Harvestman which has eight legs but only two eyes and a fused body.I like them though.

DSC06476 - website

  • 28th April 2015
    Apologies for the three month silence, but nothing too exciting has been happening on the nature front until quite recently. Suddenly spring is well and truly bursting out all over with birds doing what they and bees tend to do (according to the song anyway) and this year’s batch of tadpoles suddenly appearing in our pond. Also we have a deluge of great white butterfly catterpillars, which look like the photo below. With the very mild winter they have obviously survived in vast numbers and are currently munching on all available vegetable matter. Mind you this should be good for the birds as well as they need lots of caterpillars to feed their young. I hope they get on with it though otherwise those nasty caterpillars will soon have devestated quite large chunks of our garden.

great white caterpillar

  • 25th January 2015
    Time for the Garden Birdwatch survey once again! This time round we managed to count 10 species and 19 birds in total. Not our best numbers but about average for an hour of birdwatching out of our kitchen window. Most of the birds were the usual suspects (robin, house sparrow, blackbird etc.) but we did also manage to spot one of the blackcaps mentioned below, plus a female greater spotted woodpecker (one of several mentioned in previous diary entries, and a regular(ish) visitor).
  • 16th January 2015
    Eventually a tiny bit of snow fell last night, and promptly melted before 9am! So we’ll count that as nearly winter then. The first visit of Mr Blackcap occurred today. For non-twitchers we’re talking birds here. Blackcaps are small (sparrow sized) grey/brown birds that appear quite regularly around Botley but mainly in winter, and the male has a distinctive solid black cap. His female counterpart (Mrs Blackcap to you) looks very similar other than having a solid chestnut cap rather than a black one. She’s actually been around for several weeks already pigging away at peanuts and sunflower seeds so he’s got a bit of catching up to do.
  • 19th December 2014
    Yet another bumble bee spotted in the garden. Probably the last one of the year.
  • 18th December 2014
    Winter attempts to roll in with some heavy frosts at times in recent weeks, but then the temperature suddenly shoots up to 15 degrees again! Warm enough for an unwise bumblebee to take flight in our garden today, one week before Christmas! He’ll regret it if he doesn’t get back under cover soon.
  • 14th November 2014
    A not so happy story today involving a hedgehog. Recently we have spotted a young hedgehog sleeping amongst a pile of leaves at the bottom of our garden. Yesterday I found it in broad daylight lying on the lawn with eyes shut and only just breathing. There was no sign of an attack by another animal so it was probably either a lack of food or illness of some type. Not being an expert at playing doctor to a hedgehog I got hold of a neighbour who has had experience on this front having previously nursed an underweight hedgehog through winter in his kitchen. The hedgehog was carted off to his house and settled down in a cosy position with some food and water. Unfortunately this time round it didn’t even survive 24 hours from the time I found it and was subsequently buried in the garden with due ceremony. Often underweight hedgehogs don’t survive the winter, and this one was very small so it wasn’t in a good state anyway, but it is still rather sad that it died.
  • 25th October 2014
    Still on the bug front we discovered the interesting white and partially see through larvae shown below in our garden today. There were about twenty of them underneath a flower pot which had a lot of roots growing through and was sitting in a bit of a puddle. We had no idea what they were but luckily the internet soon provided an answer – rat-tailed maggots. The ‘tail’ in question is actually a breathing tube but they are odd looking beasties. As explained on Wikipedia they are the larval stage of a type pf hoverfly known as the drone fly.

DSC03485 - Copy

  • 30th September 2014
    Not only do we have tiny frogs finaly making their way out of our pond, and spiders in their hundreds in our garden and (unfortunately) our house but the warm weather throughout September seems to have produced a lot of rather late caterpillars hereabouts. Below are two examples of recently spotted beasties – a knot grass moth caterpillar on the left (the adult is quiite boring in comparison) and the huge eyed hawk moth caterpillar on the right (whch has a fairly spectacular adult phase too).

DSC03453      DSC02229

  • 14th August 2014
    Amazingly enough the tadpoles are back! Last reported as missing in action on April 30th and not spotted since then we discovered at least two tadpoles at a similar stage of development happily swimming around in our pond. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if it is the same batch of tadpoles who have been in a state of suspended animation for over three months, or if is a new, and very late batch spawned recently on the quiet. Our pond is actually heavily overshadowed by surrounding plants so anything could have been going on in secret. I do know that sometimes tadpoles can temporarily stop developing if the conditions aren’t right, then pick up later on, even sometimes overwintering in the tadpole state. The reasons behind the (re)appearance of these particular tadpoles will have to remain a mystery, but we’re very glad to see them anyway.
  • 23rd July 2014
    Well I was right about the spiders. I can’t seem to walk anywhere outside at the moment without getting a face full of cobweb. Lots of flying beasties around too including a resurgence of butterflies (with several gatekeepers and a less than common speckled wood spotted in the last few days alongside the usual peacocks and various whites), plus dragonflies, a singe hornet (a rather unwelcome visitor in our house), and my favourite for this week the little pollen-covered bee pictured below. The poor thing crash landed on our open car door in a haze of pollen and looked completely out of it for around ten minutes after which it staggered off rather unsteadily into the distance.

DSC02227 - Copy

  • 10th July 2014
    Spiders today. One of my neighbours pointed out the grass spider shown below which was staggering around through the undergrowth with this large, and rather solid looking egg sac under its belly. A good website for identifying spiders (and other British beasties) is UK Safari.There will certainly be plenty more spiders to see in our houses and gardens before winter draws in again. See how many different types you can identify.

Grass spider with large egg sac

  • 13th June 2014
    Well things have been a little quieter here on the nature front during the past month. After the sad loss of our tadpoles a number of adult frogs have hung around and a few of last year’s crop reappeared. Birds have been the most active beasties recently with the breeding season in full flow. In particuar there have been a lot of highly active magpies and jackdaws around this year, and as  they compete for the same types of food this has lead to some interesting standoffs. Most interesting in recent days has been the appearance of considerable numbers of scarlet tiger moths – I saw half a dozen of them just today. These are day-flying moths with spotted backs (various combinations of black, white, red and yellow, but their most obvious feature is bright scarlet underwings which show vividly when they are in flight. They are all on the wing searching for mates at the moment so keep your eyes peeled.
  • 30th April 2014
    The very last day of Amphibimonth and it looks like an unexpectedly dramatic climax in terms of both live and dead frogs. Firstly the happily growing tadpoles reported on six days ago have disappeared from sight! They could just be hiding in the murky depths but we haven’t spotted them since the 24th so I fear the worst. If they do reappear I will continue to report on their progress occasionally. Keep your fingers crossed.
    Secondly we have drama on the mummified frog front as well. Bob’s burgeoning romance is looking a bit shaky as he discovers his new love canoodling in the grass with an interloper. The photo beow catches the very moment when Bob discovered the smooching couple. As he looms above them with a murderous look in his eye who knows what will happen next … (cue Eastenders theme)

DSC01163

  • 24th April 2014
    The tadpoles are happily migrating round the pond and getting ever bigger but the big news today is that our neighbours have found a girlfriend for Bob. As I’m sure you’ll remember Bob is the mummified frog we found last year who featured in the April 2013 edition of The Sprout and his photo is in the NatureWatch Picture Gallery at the bottom of this page. Well here is his delightful girlfriend pictured below. Looks a bit mouthy but those legs would definitely fit easily into a pair of skinny jeans! I hope that despite both being mummified they will have a happy relationship for many years to come.

Mummified frog no.2

  • 13th April 2014
    Well that didn’t take long! One day after mentioning that nothing much was happening our first batch of tadpoles have burst free of their gloopy spawn blob, beating our neighbours in the process. We’ve still got the second pile of spawn to hatch, but presumably because it is out of the direct sunlight that’s causing it to take a little longer to develop. I also saw a heron fly overhead today but lets hope these little guys can avoid catching his attention in the days to come.
  • 12th April 2014
    After a hectic first week of Amphibimonth things have calmed down considerably over the last week. Firstly all of the adult frogs apart from one (presumably the mother who produced all of our frog spawn) have wandered off to other locations. Also we haven’t spotted our newt recently, although it could just be hiding in the murky depths. On the subject of newts I only discovered recently that they actually fall under the salamanders, a group containing over 600 species including the Giant Chinese Salamander (which can reach up to 1.8m in length, although around 1m is more normal). You can find out much more about newts and other salamanders on Wikipedia. In the meantime we’re keeping our eyes peeled for our first tadpole – there’s  race on between us and our neighbours, who have a similar pile of frog spawn in their pond.
  • 5th April 2014
    Things really are moving round here on the Amphibimonth front. A solitary newt has appeared, just like last year, but this time I finally managed to get a slightly blurry photo of it skulking in the undergrowth (see below). On a slightly different front congratulations to the Friends of Raleigh Park on getting Raleigh Park officially recognised as a Local Wildlife Site by the Wildlife Trust back in February, and apologies for taking so long getting around to mentioning it. I was taking a neighbour’s dog for a walk there only yesterday and it is always a pleasure to stroll around this little haven in our midst.

DSC01082

  • 3rd April 2014
    Amphibimonth is go! Our frogs have really got into the spirit of the thing by laying two huge blobulations (a technical term) of spawn which are now happily bobbing around in the water. So much for the idea that all of our frogs were boys. Below is a photo of the spawn and (presumably) the proud mother.

DSC01081

  • 1st April 2014
    Welcome to the start of amphibimonth! Yes I know it’s April Fool’s Day, but this is serious. All of a sudden our little pond is bursting with amphibious life, and they look very keen to start off some more. Over the weekend we had seven reasonable sized frogs wallowing round in the water, either fighting or attempting other manoeuvres, it’s hard to tell the difference (isn’t it always). The trouble is they don’t seem to be too sure exactly what they are attempting to do. We reckon that they might all be slightly confused males. Does that mean that we’ve got Botley’s very own gay pool bar in our back garden? Anyway, I’ve taken a few shots of these beauties. One is shown below, and I’ve persuaded the Photo Gallery bod to choose another as our Photo of the Month. I hope you like them.

DSC01080

As we go through April I’ll keep you up to date on our amphibious happenings, but I’d love to hear from other people about their own experiences. Keep me up to date on your spawn, tadpoles and so on as they appear and we’ll have a lovely amphibimonth together!

  • 11th March 2014
    And now spring truly has sprung, at least over last weekend anyway. There was a sudden explosion of all types of bugs around in the garden – ants, mosquitoes, bees, wasps and even several butterflies. We spotted at least one brimstone (one of the yellow ones), a peacock and what looked like a small tortioseshell in our garden on Sunday. Of course the weather has now gone a bit colder in the last two days, and they’ve all disappeared again, but it won’t be long before they are all out for good.