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NatureWatch

5th July 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:

  • 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.
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  • 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.

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  • 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)

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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.
  • 24th February 2014
    Still no sign of winter. Lots of flowers already out and the confused birds are definitely getting cosy, including a recent regular visitor in the shape of a female blackcap (which has a brown cap of course) meeting up with a boyfriend (who does have a black cap). I’d just about given up any hope of seeing the usual winter visitors from Scandanavia and the Baltic (no flocks of 100+ fieldfares like last winter) when I managed to spot a single redwing on a walk around Binsey at the weekend. Lots of red kites and buzzard around though, scouring the countryside in amongst the flooded fields. Definitely not a typical winter so far and we’re already nearly into March.
  • 31st January 2014
    Nearly two months on from my last entry and we’re still no closer to proper winter weather with mild, damp and windy conditions remaining the norm. Of course nature continues its onward march regardless so recent sightings include a robin starting to nest in our garden, a wasp (albeit a dead one) on the windowsill, and today a mosquito flying around outside of all things! Things weren’t like this when I were a lad …..
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  • 6th December 2013
    Just spotted another bumblebee in the garden. What do they think they are doing?
  • 1st December 2013
    Is it me or is this autumn a particularly long and protracted affair? Here we are already in December and although some trees have shed their leaves, many, such as the two birch trees at the bottom of our garden, still have a full cover (of yellowed leaves admittedly) and some are still completely green. Just to rub it in we had a visitor in our house yesterday – a large and remarkably active bumblebee! I think that has to be a first for December.
  • 10th November 2013
    A beautiful sunny day (if rather cold) encouraged me to go for a walk in Wytham Woods. Lots of birds around including a lively group of over 20 long tailed tits (see photo below of one that had just launched itself in flght showing the typical roundish fluffball on a lollipop stick outline), some buzzards, one woodpecker and a large flock of very noisy goldfinches. Also looking from the Singing Way across a field towards Botley there was the odd effect shown in the second photo below. The whole field was covered with long, straggly cobwebs and in the direction of the sun these showed up as a shimmering wave effect while other parts of the field just looked like brown earth. Beautiful, but weird!

DSC09752                     DSC09755

  • 25th October 2013
    Not such a cheerful topic today as it relates to a dead pigeon found on our lawn. This bird has been sitting around neighbouring gardens for the last couple of days and was rather obvious because of some nasty looking growths all over one side of its face. The condition was probably avian pox (see this page on the RSPB website for more info) and as they say it can easily become fatal for the infected bird, but can’t affect humans. We’ve seen some blue and great tits with less serious versions of this over the past year and now this pigeon. It does seem to be getting more common but one way to help stop it spreading out of control is to make sure that you regularly clean out any bird feeders that you hang in your garden.
  • 28th August 2013
    More bugs. Over the last month it has been noticeable that there are suddenly a lot of wasps around. One thing about them that is different from usual is their size – most are distinctly smaller than in other years. The same seems to be true of other nearby countries on the continent too. Is it something about the weather this year? I don’t claim to be a wasp expert but if anyone else out there knows a bit more about this please get in contact with the answer.
    Another branch of bugs that have become very visible over the last two or three weeks is our arachnid friends the spiders. We’ve already had two rather large specimens in the house and there seem to be webs all over the place in the garden. It’s a sure sign that summer is coming to an end and autumn is just around the corner.
  • 28th July 2013
    It’s all go round here as we’ve just taken part in this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count’ – more details on their website and this is their useful id guide. Our actual count wasn’t too impressive as it consisted of a single Peacock and loads of whites, but over this weekend we have spotted the three whites on the guide, a Ringlet and a Comma as well as that Peacock. Actually we should have done the count at our neighbour’s butterfly bush as there are always lots of Peacocks, Tortioseshells, Painted Ladies and more hovering around there but we wanted to stick to our own patch. It is noticeable that for the last week or so there have been considerably more butterlies around so get out there counting before they all disappear again!
  • 26th July 2013
    More things dropping out of trees. This time it was a nest, but not a particularly impressive looking one (see pic on left below). About 20cm across it consisted mainly of mud and very thin grass / twigs. When I looked more closely at the tree it had fallen out of (a large birch at the bottom of our garden) I realised that a large twiggy nest I had previously spotted there was still in place, but the bottom had fallen away (see other pic). Over the last few years this site has been used on and off and the nest has grown up to 1m high at times including all sorts of material such as strips of plastic, and disintegrated a bit at other times. I knew that magpies were one of the possible users so I looked up magpie nests on the internet, and lo and behold they have a large domed nest (usually covered over to avoid predation by other crows) with a separate muddy base to lay the eggs in. The nest I had found was simply this base section of what was quite a complcated and more impressive structiure. So there you go, that’s something I didn’t know about before now.

Magpie nest base                Magpie nest outer

  • 16th June 2013:
    Nature is running rampant this weekend. Firstly we discovered a few signs of an overnight visit from the local badger community in our back garden, then our neighbours told us that they had been woken up at around 3am by a noise in their front garden only to discover a small deer nibbling in their window boxes and trampling down their bean plants. This yobbo of the deer world was probably a muntjac but understandably our neighbours weren’t particularly thinking about identifying it properly at that time in the morning. On top of all that activity we also made at least ten sightings of red kites today (although no more than two at any one time) and watched a couple of rather over agressive crows chasing away one of the kites and giving it a good nip on the tail feathers in the process. When it comes down to it kites are big wimps and never seem to put up much of a fight.
  • 18th May 2013:
    Just been on one of the Wytham Wood guided walks, which was a very interesting experience. Walks on other days explored fens or tried to spot badgers but ours was a guided bat walk. It was a first for me so I didn’t really know what to expect. Gathering in the car park at dusk we were given an introductory talk and kitted out with bat detectors – don’t think about buying one of these youself unless you are either very rich or extremely keen to spot bats, the one I was given apparently costs about £2,000! Several of the 16 species occuring in the UK live in Wytham Woods, many of them nesting in the bird boxes once the young blue tits and great tits have fledged and in terms of numbers we’re talking in the thousands, so even though they are spread throughout the woods you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot something unless weather conditions are bad. We hiked downhill from the Chalet towards the River Thames and picked up a Soprano pipistrelle pretty quickly – these are tiny, very fluttery bats weighing the same as a 20p piece and capable of fitting into a matchbox (as we were informed). At the river we detected (but didn’t spot) the odd Noctule flying high overhead and several Daubenton’s bats were picked out in the torch of the guide swooping low over the water. Finally (apparently) a single Barbastelle wandered past as we traversed the fields heading back towards the woods. I didn’t hear or see it personally as unfortunately I was busy trying to shoo away a herd of about 30 over inquisitive bullocks who were approaching rather close to our group! Oh well, that’s one for next time, along with the Common pipistrelle, which lives in Wytham in quite large numbers but was feeling quite shy for our visit.

Bat walk_DSF1948       Bat walk_DSF1966

Thanks to Harry from Harrington Photography for the photos

  • 7th May 2013:
    We’ve just had an amazingly good Bank Holiday weekend weather wise and no doubt lots of you spent a fair chunk of it outside. Today I’m returning to the subject of red kites (see the entry below for 7th March). Robin Cox spotted the red kite shown below left flying over Seacourt Road and having a ‘dog-fight’ with a black bird (probably a crow as those two species are always scrapping and a blackbird is a bit small to take on a red kite). This is no doubt the same red kite that now regularly flies past my house in Poplar Road, but only when I haven’t got my camera handy. Oddly enough though I spent yesterday morning at Didcot Railway Centre entertaining my 7 year old nephew (trains aren’t really my thing) and there are loads of red kites around there, one of which I did manage to photograph (below right). You can clearly see the forked tail on both of these photos which is a sure sign that you’re looking at a red kite.

Red kite Seacourt Road      Red kite Didcot

  • 28th April 2013:
    Spring has now definitely sprung, and alongside all of the hyperactive birds building nests everywhere we’ve had a sudden burst of life appearing in our pond. I should point out that this is a fairly tiny stretch of water, about 2 x 4 foot on average, which we installed 2 years ago. It contains no fish (which tend to eat everything else), but we do get an interesting mix of other small beasties appearing amongst the  plants. Today we were joyfully celebrating the arrival of our very first newt! Yes, Mr and Mrs Naturewatch are pleased to announce the arrival of ‘Bubbles’, so called because of the gaseous missions that seem to follow him / her around. No photo yet as Bubbles is very shy, but I’ll post one as soon as I manage to take one. No garden is too small to squeeze in a pond of some sort so if you haven’t already got one start making plans today for your very own aquatic wildlife reserve.
  • 4th April 2013:
    Several happenings to report from the last week. Firstly a sighting of a fox ambling up Poplar Road the other evening - a rare sight for us although I’m sure that foxes are regularly wandering unspotted throughout the whole of this area. Secondly the results of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch are in (see my 26th / 27th Jan entry below) and can be seen on the RSPB website. Last but not least those fine folks in Wytham Woods are offering a number of free guided walks during April and May, and you don’t even need to have a permit to take part (you need one of those normally to walk in Wytham Woods) but you do need to book in advance.
  • 7th March 2013:
    Red kites are the subject today. After dying out in England then being successfully re-introduced in the Thames Valley they are a relatively common sight nowadays, particularly along the M40. A number of them can be seen around Oxford, most frequently along the northern section of the ring road and near to the Headington / A40 roundabout with the occasional fly past through Botley itself. Easy to identify with a deep v shaped notch in their tails these are the largest birds in our region and it’s a real joy watching them soar, glide and swirl around in flight. There is also a wonderful photo of a red kite on display as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Although it has now closed at the Natural History Museum in London it will be touring to other locations such as Gloucester and Basingstoke so you can still catch it. Well worth the effort!
  • 15th February 2013:
    Quite quiet on the nature front other than the usual hordes of birds goffing down tonnes of sunflower seeds and peanuts at our feeders. Our local wren popped into the open for a few minutes a couple of days ago and a small flock of long-tailed tits passed through quickly this afternoon but otherwise nothing unusual. The main item to report today is that the bugs shown in the Photo Gallery below have been identified! They are large willow aphids A big thank you to my neighbour Erin who works for BBOWT – if I had a brain I would have asked her in the first place. She’s also suggested some useful websites for identifying all sorts of animals that I’ve added to the ‘Get Involved’ column.
  • 26th & 27th January 2013 – RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend:
    Not the most birds we’ve ever seen on one of these counts as the disappearance of the snow meant that a lot of them were wandering elsewhere rather than crowding round our feeders. Last year we managed an impressive 19 species in the 1 hour count but this time over the whole weekend we only spotted the usual house sparrows, dunnocks, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, thrushes, robins, wood pigeons and chaffinches plus one black cap and one of the three great spotted woodpeckers that have become regular visitors over the last year (see photo below). No sign of the redwing or two fieldfares we’ve seen recently, and certainly not the huge flocks of fieldfares (more than 100) that we had flying around at this time last year. So not bad, but did anyone else out there do better?

Male Great Spotted Woopecker at feeder

NatureWatch Photo Gallery:

Badger tail

Badger tail found on the lawn one morning.

    Baby spidersBaby spiders  Mummified frog

Mummified frog found in garden.

Goshawk in the garden

An alert goshawk looking for lunch……

Goshawk pooing

…………having a poo…..

Goshawk snoozing

……and then a good snooze

(for about half an hour).

Leucistic blue tit

Leucistic (semi-albino) blue tit.

Dozing squirrelDozing squirrel (we found a mummified one of these as well when it fell out of a tree in our garden, but no photos unfortunatelyLarge willow aphids

Large willow aphids on curly willow