Local Wildlife

January

Nightime Songsters

Robins have been singing this winter at night - people often mistake them for nightingales. Male robins hold their territories in winter and sing in low light conditions, like dawn and dusk and at night where there are street lights.  Nightingales come to the UK to breed during our summer, they are found in dense cover and are very difficult to see. Male nightingales arrive a week or two ahead of the females and sing at night to attract them as they arrive. Nightingales also sing to defend their territory from other males, so the wonderful nightingale song is only heard for about 6 weeks during April and May. Robins, not nightingales, are the mystery night-time songsters.  Sadly, we won't hear nightingales near Charlbury, these UK distribution maps  illustrate their dramatic decline of 89% since the 1960s. In January, nightingales are over 3,000 miles away from the UK on the west coast of Africa south of the Sahara.

VIDEO: BBC Nature - Declining Nightingale  Includes a recording of the first live BBC outside broadcast in 1927 of the celloist Beatrice Harrison accompanying a nightingale. Researchers have been able to follow a single bird for its entire migration to Africa and back and found that it flew along the west coast of Africa rather than crossing the Sahara directly.

Garden Birdwatch

During January 2013, Louise recorded these birds in her garden at Hill Close, Charlbury: 8 Blue Tits, 2 Robins, 8 Blackbirds, 5 Starlings, 2 Dunnock, 22 Chaffinch, 2 Great Tits, 7 Greenfinch, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Wren, 1 Mistle Thrush, 2 Magpies, 2 Jackdaws, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 6 Long-Tailed Tits, 3 Blackcaps, 4 Woodpigeons, 3 Goldfinch, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Goldcrest, 2 Redwing, 4 Fieldfare and 1 Sparrowhawk.  The numbers are the maximum she saw at any one time - some visited every day, some only occasionally. Louise regularly records birds in her garden for the BTO Garden Birdwatch.

For 35 years, the RSPB have been asking the public to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch   over a weekend near the end of January - they ask you to record the maximum number of each species you see landing in your garden at the same time during the course of an hour. The results of the 2013 survey  show that songbird numbers are down, possibly because the cold and rain in the summer of 2012 caused great difficulties for them trying to breed. But, there was an increase in fieldfares, siskins and jays probably because the harsh winter weather in early 2013 was driving them in to find food and shelter in our gardens.

AUDIO: Know Your Garden Birdsong - the easiest way to learn the 13 most common birds in your garden

Fieldfares

50 Fieldfares feeding on apples 2012Louise usually stores apples to feed to the birds throughout the winter, this photo from 2012 shows about 50 Fieldfares on her lawn - these winter visitors love fruit and come into gardens during the snow. The poor apple harvest this autumn meant there were no apples to feed the birds - consequently, Louise only saw 4 Fieldfares eating berries this January.

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February

Blue Tits

Blue Tits have started singing their lovely mating song, typically they start building their nests on Valentines Day which is the start of the BTO's National Nest Box Week . The Public are being urged to take part following the "worst breeding season on record" for many species in 2012.

PHOTOS: BBC Nature - Nest Box SOS

Cuckoo Migration

Cuckoos from Britain being tracked using GPS are in the Belgian Congo now moving north from the dense rainforest into the more open savanna feeding up before the long migration back here to arrive towards the end of April. Watch the progress of these cuckoos on their long migration back here.

RADIO: Saving Species 12 February 2013 (13:00 mins) 

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March

Brimstone Butterflies

10/03/15 - Gorgeous spring day - saw several Brimstones flying - just the type of weather for them to emerge from hibernation amongst ivy leaves and roughly the same date as previous years.

12/07/14 - First newly emerged adult brimstone seen at Blenheim Farm - eggs would have been laid in May.

07/03/14 - Lovely sunshine after our wettest winter on record and the brimstones were flying again - just the same time as last year!

05/03/13 - Lovely sunshine and saw 3 brimstone butterflies  flitting around in the garden today, they are difficult to photograph. These will have been hibernating overwinter very well camouflaged amongst the leaves of ivy, holly or bramble and will now be looking for nectar in flowers, such as primroses and later on dandelion, cowslip, bugle and bluebell, they have a particularly long proboscis so can even reach the nectar in teasels. The males are the first to be seen looking for a mate, and the females will lay their eggs on buckthorn twigs so the caterpillars will be able to eat the leaves when they emerge. Buckthorn has been planted at Blenheim Farm and at Nine Acres to help these butterflies breed.

VIDEO: BBC Nature - Time for change  Timelapse footage of a brimstone caterpillar metamorphosing into a chrysalis

Migrating Warblers

Listen out for the first Chiffchaff which are the first warblers to return to the UK to breed, they overwinter in northern Africa so their journey is shorter than Willow Warblers which overwinter south of the Sahara. Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers look virtually identical but their songs are totally different, the Willow Warbler sings with a lovely falling cadence. They both build nests close to the ground so are very vulnerable to attack by dogs and by predation from stoats, weasels, and cats.

VIDEO: BBC Nature - Ground nesting Willow Warblers feeding their young 50 times an hour

Small Farmland Birds

Throughout the winter and into late spring, local volunteers feed small farmland birds at various sites along the Ditchley Road, in the Quarry, and also on the Ditchley Estate. This is part of the Wychwood Bird Aid Project to help Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows , Linnets and Corn Buntings which have all been in severe decline since the 1970s when farming practices changed. These birds feed on whatever seeds they can find in the wild overwinter but the spring is the most dangerous time because, until new plants set seed, there's not many seeds around, and to make matters worse, the competition from Pheasants and Woodpigeons increases in February when pheasants stop being fed on the game estates  - and these are large birds with big appetites. Traditionally the numbers of pheasants reared and shot were in balance, but since the 1970s there has been a steady increase in the number of pheasants reared compared with those shot and this ties in directly with the plumeting numbers of farmland seedeating birds.

While Environmental Stewardship attempts to provide supplementary winter seed strips for farmland birds, they unfortunately end up providing lots of high density seeds easily eaten by pheasants and pigeons and by February they have already been stripped bare. Unless there is a suitable supply of low density small seeds available right through until late spring, the small farmland birds will still die before the next breeding season, their demise will just be later rather than sooner. Weedy fields and uncut road verges can provide a vital supply of of small low density seed that favours these small birds - a source too easily removed by tidying up before the winter. Dr Alan Larkman: The decline of the Tree Sparrow

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April

Mining Bees

Mining BeesDuring the dry spring of 2011, Mining Bees  were seen flying in and out of tiny holes in the front lawn of a house in Crawborough. Although there were lots of bees all nesting in the same location, they are technically solitary bees because they don't have a queen and each female lays an egg in her own long deep burrow. Mining bees are quite dark and with silvery fur and are NOT aggressive - though the film does show two or three bees having a fight. In 2013, the bees first emerged again on the warm afternoon of Friday 19th April. In 2015, the bees were seen flying on 9th April during the warm week just after Easter.

Bee-flies

This Large Bee-fly  (Bombylius major) was found on The Green in 2014 in close proximity to Mining Bees emerging from a front lawn. They have a dark front edge to their wings and a long, slender proboscis for reaching into flowers to find nectar to eat. Adults fly close to the ground searching for the nests of solitary bees, wasps and beetles, when they find one, they hover near the nest entrance and jerk their abdomen forward to throw an egg into the surface of the soil, but, before throwing the egg they make it heavier by coating it in soil. They lay multiple eggs this way and the hatched larvae then eat the bee, wasp or beetle larvae.

Bee Fly copyright Helen Holwill   Bee Fly copyright Helen Holwill

Cuckoos  Arriving

03/05/14 - Heard my first cuckoo at 5am at the railway bridge just beyond Fawler.

30/04/13 - Heard my first cuckoo this morning, the first for several years. Generally, the numbers of migratory birds coming back to the UK are dropping, researchers are tracking birds to find out where they go and what problems they encounter. Find out which routes the cuckoo takes.

RADIO: Tweet of the Day - David Attenborough presents the Cuckoo(2 mins)

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May

Dawn Chorus

International Dawn Chorus Day is celebrated the first Sunday morning in May. Wake up and open your window to hear the dawn chorus - or get up and take a lovely early morning walk. Listen as each new bird joins in the chorus. The book Birdwatching with your Eyes Closed  by Simon Barnes tells you easy ways to remember each bird and the podcast also gives you the sounds to help you learn 66 birds in just 26 minutes.

09/03/15 - Why we should learn birdsong alongside French and German What better way to reconnect ourselves with the natural world than learning to recognise birds’ songs? Then we’d grow up knowing how important it is.

Swifts

Swifts  arrive after swallows  and house martins  but are the first to leave, they are here for just three short months to breed. It is wonderful to hear the screaming sounds in May heralding their return and then during August you realise you haven't heard them for a while, the skies are quiet and they've gone! On May morning in Oxford swifts are often seen flying around the tower of the Natural History Museum having just arrived but in 2014 they didn't arrive until the 5th May - swifts have been studied here for about 40 years and there are webcams available while they are breeding. Generally, numbers of swifts have declined probably because of loss of nesting sites as houses are renovated and holes blocked up. Swift Conservation is encouraging architects and householders to provide new nest sites and several houses in Charlbury have had special nest holes constructed in their gables by a local builder.

RADIO: Tweet of the Day - David Attenborough presents the song and story of the Swift(2 mins)

Newts

When pond dipping at Blenheim Farm Reserve on 13 May 2012, we found lots of adult and baby newts. Some were Smooth Newts  but most were Palmate Newts  which are usually found in sandy locations (the agricultural field to the south of the pond happens to be the sandiest field on DitchleyEstate). In April 2014 we found a pregnant female palmate newt and lots of baby newts still with orange gills which hadn't reached adulthood in 2013 and had remained as efts overwinter. Amphibian Identification Guide

Pregnant female with two efts  Female palmate newt with eft

May Bugs

Flying May Bugs are flying Cockchafer beetles and they are on the wing on warm evenings between May and July. They are attracted to lit windows and make a loud clattering sound when they collide with things. The size and noise often worries people but they are harmless to humans.

Froghoppers

Young froghopper nymphs create the frothy clumps known as cuckoospit because they appear in May at the same time the cuckoo is heard. Sadly, cuckoos are rarely heard around Charlbury now, but the cuckoospit is still very much in evidence on soft plant stems.

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June

Scarlet Tiger Moths

Scarlet Tiger Moth on Borage

Mating Scarlet Tiger Moths camouflaged on a stone wallThese mating Scarlet Tiger Moths were seen well camouflaged on a stone wall near Sheep Street on 5 June 2011.

 

 

Glow-worms

Glow wormGlow-worms have been seen on the grass verges at Little Lees alongside the old field hedge for very many years during a few weeks in June & July. New houses were built during 2012/3, and although the hedgerow and grass verge were retained with the hope that the glow-worms would survive the construction period, none were seen during 2014. Fortunately, glow-worms are also breeding in the green open space in Sturt Close and have been seen in nearby gardens.

Glow worm in the darkGlow-worms are beetles, not worms, and only the female glows - she is about 1" long and her tail glows to attract flying males. She curls her tail upwards and swishes it from side to side so she can be seen from above. After successfully mating she switches off her light, lays her eggs and then she dies. The eggs hatch and the larvae live for 1-2 summers eating snails - they suck them dry! The larvae turn into adult beetles, they don't eat and only live to find a mate - they survive about 14 days.

VIDEOS: BBC Nature - Common Glow-worm

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July

Rutting Roe Deer

Roe are the only native deer in the area. You might hear them in July during their rutting season - that's earlier than other deer - but the female delays development of the fertilised eggs until mid-winter and the young are born in the spring.

VIDEO: BBC Nature - Rear of the deer  Definitive guide to the backsides of Fallow, Sika, Red and Roe deer.

Muntjac Deer

Muntjac were introduced to Woburn Park from China about a hundred years ago. They have escaped into the wild, spread widely and are very common around Charlbury. They don't have a fixed breeding season and can breed all year round, they are about the size of a pig and are known as the barking deer because of the noise they make.

VIDEO: BBC Nature - Muntjac deer

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August

Swallows

Swallows feeding their second brood mid-August 2011 at Fawler. The nest is made of mud high up on a beam in an outbuilding  - the door is left open. Swallows overwinter in Africa and return to breed in the same place each summer.

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September

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October

Rutting Fallow and Sika Deer

Formosan Sika deerWithin Cornbury Park, there are two herds of deer: Formosan Sika deer (slightly smaller than our native Red deer) and Fallow deer (3ft to the shoulder, they are smaller than Sika) which range in colour from white through melanistic to the almost charcoal black menal and have palmated antlers. Both species have cream spots in summer. In Charlbury we can hear the strange sounds of the males during the rut. Fallow deer were originally introduced by the Romans from Asia Minor for hunting; they live under cover of dense woodland and come out into the open to graze.

VIDEO: BBC Nature - Bellowing Fallow Deer

VIDEO: BBC Nature - Sounds of Sika

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November

Tawny Owls

Tawny Owls are very vocal at night from November to February while they are defending their nesting territories - they breed very early in the year - and can be heard all over Charlbury. Tawny Owls spend the day well camouflaged up against tree trunks, look out for pellets below a tree - this will give away a favourite roosting place.

Waxwing

Dead waxwingThis Waxwing was found dead in a garden in Church Street on 29 November 2010. Some years there is a huge irruption of Waxwings to the UK from Northern Europe because of lack of food where they normally live - they overwinter on berries like rowan and hawthorn. The name comes from the bright red tips to the shafts of a few wing feathers which are the colour of sealing wax.

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December

Woodcock

This dead Woodcock was found at Blenheim Farm Reserve in December 2009. Woodcock are nocturnal, they have a very stout long bill for probing the ground for worms and cryptic plumage for spending the day perfectly camouflaged in the undergrowth. Their big black eyes near the top of their head help them see in the dark when they fly at dusk to fields to feed. They fly very fast and unfortunately this one hit the low voltage electricity cable that goes across the reserve. Although Woodcock are resident in the UK, many thousands come over from Scandinavia & Western Russia during the winter to escape frozen ground which prevents them feeding. In spring the males carry out a characteristic roding display flight and make a strange croaking call to attract a mate - the tips of their tails are a bright white which the female on the ground then flashes to the male flying overhead.

White feathers on tail

In 2013, BTO are looking for 1,000 volunteers to help with a Woodcock Survey  throughout the UK. They are trying to find out whether they have declined further since their last survey in 2002 which showed a 74% decline since the 1970s.
RADIO:  Saving Species 12 February 2013 (0:45sec and 23:00 mins)

RADIO: Living World 19 February 2012 - Miranda Krestovnikoff pays a nocturnal visit to the Hampshire countryside for a close encounter with the Woodcock - one of our most mysterious birds.

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