Wednesday, 29 January 2014

New homes for birds

It has been a busy few weeks since I put up a blog with a lot of office based work towards a new strategy for the project. But I have managed to get out for some practical work. On this joint operation with Witney Town Council staff and the Wychwood Barn Owl group we put up a barn owl box in the Windrush cemetery on Oxford Hill, Witney. The pole was supplied by SSE and  installed by  Witney Town Council.
Pat, Ian and Arthur install and monitor barn owl boxes all over the area. They said this would be a good site with the fields around the cemetery providing good habitat for owls. Other boxes nearby may well supply young owls looking for their own nesting sites in years to come.
Thanks to John and his team there was some skillful work manoeuvering a very heavy and awkward load  then digging the post hole with a rotary attachment on the mini digger.                                                                                                                                                                                      All it needs now is for local owls to move in before the jackdaws find it.
Boxes for the smaller birds like blue tits were also put up in the hedges around the site.

Water Voles in the Windrush Valley

BBOWT Water Vole Project Officer Julia Lofthouse enchanted us with her pictures of these delightful furry animals and told us details about their life cycles and habitats that I am sure I had never heard before.  The water vole in the UK is the same species as in Europe but there they are entirely land based and it is only the british vole that has taken to the water for some reason. Which partly explains why they are not very good swimmers.

Water vole carrying young

BBOWT volunteers survey for water voles in the summer looking for their characteristic latrines and the piles of plants that they cut and store ready for eating later. They also make very distinctive burrows in the banks of streams and ditches and you can sometimes see the holes on the surface of the land as well as the paths they make.

Numbers have crashed across the country but they seem to be doing reasonably well along the Windrush and across at Chimney Meadows at the moment. Two main reasons would seem to account for the catastrohic decline; firstly the extensive changes in habitat along rivers and streams and secondly, the presence of american mink which are great predators of water voles. The female mink is small enough to pursue the voles into their burrows which is their usual defence strategy. Where good riverside habitat can be maintained and the mink kept to minimum levels the populations of water voles can pick up rapidly. They mature very quickly and they may have up to five litters a year. No wonder their life span may be as short as seven months, although some have been recorded living up to three years.

Abingdon and Witney College students at Rushy Common

The students from Abingdon and Witney College have done a great job coppicing some of the willows in the shelter belt that have grown really fast.

Jack carrying a log to the rapidly growing habitat pile that makes a good seat for William, Dan and Phillip as well.


Battling mud and very wet tree trunks that grip the saw blades like a vice. Who said, 'Where's the chain saw?'

That's going to be a good notch, now we're getting the hang of it.

 Good teamwork Tommy, Jack, Dan, Phillip and William.
Now it's time for  relaxation for Stacey and Eileen. Phew it's tough watching those boys work out there.