Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Stanton Harcourt school pond

If you are a regular blog watcher you might remember how grim and unwelcoming the school pond looked earlier this year.
After great work from LWVP volunteer Chris Hughes and Rachel Hemmings the school's Class 2 teaching assistant, not to mention the diggers in the school Eco Club and after school group it is looking much more welcoming.

It is certainly very popular with smooth newts and the children couldn't fail to catch a newt in their nets today, ranging from  newly hatched ones, that look like tiny fish, to adults with orange bellies and a male with a crest down its back and tail.

The pond is also home to frogs hiding out in the rocks and stones in the newly constructed dam across the middle of the pond and a toad was visiting last week. This project has generated a great deal of interest and satisfaction, particularly for the children involved in the work on the pond. Thanks to Rachel and colleagues they have also created a vibrant wildlife garden around the pond with a bug hotel made from pallets, a blue garden, a living willow structure and lots of other wildlife friendly features that were buzzing with bees, hoverflies and a myriad other insects today.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

How now red cows

Right from the beginning it has been the intention to establish some sort of grazing at Rushy Common Nature Reserve and thanks to grazier Andy Colinswood this is now happening. The purpose is to improve the management of Rushy Common in the most effective and natural way posssible.

The cattle, 15 cows and 14 sucklers, arrived on 22nd June and quickly settled in. The impact of this number and the duration of time on site will be carefully monitored to see if these numbers are about right. The herd will be visited regularly by the grazier and a couple of volunteer stock watchers to check on their wellbeing and to make sure that the site remains stockproof. Notices have been put up with the phone number of the grazier in case of any problems observed by members of the public.

The cattle will be on site for the summer and early autumn. They are then housed indoors over the winter. They will eat longer grasses, push their way through scrub and trample the lake and pond edges which will help to increase the range of habitats on the reserve. Trampling by the hooves of cattle can create little pockets of bare earth that enable some of the less vigorous plants to get established.

Beautiful red colouring
Enjoying the long grass

The Red Poll breed was created by crossing Norfolk cattle, kept for excellent beef production with Sussex, which were predominantly kept for their dairy qualities. The Red Poll Cattle Society was formed in 1888 and the colour of the breed was by then established as red, preferably deep red, with white touches only on the tail switch and udder.
With its long traditions of both dairy and beef qualities, the Red Poll is therefore one of the original native dual-purpose breeds. In the first half of the last century it was one of the dominant breeds in English dairy farming, and has maintained the dual-purpose characteristics which now give the Red Poll such a valuable niche role in quality beef production.


Thursday, 4 June 2015

Great chicks spot

Chris found the great spot chicks in the hole in the ash tree.

I found the two lapwing chicks on the island at Standlake Common, Pit 60. But he needs a bigger lens.
Next week I am hoping for gannets galore, puffins, cetaceans and maybe a golden eagle as I sail from Oban to Aberdeen on the tall ship Oosterschelde.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Another brilliant day at Tar Lakes

More than 50 children (I lost count) and their parents and grandparents had a great afternoon at Tar Lakes and Rushy Common. Luckily there was room for all and plenty of snails, beetles and toad tadpoles just waiting to be fished up for inspection. Lilly and Thomas were particularly proud of the pike they caught.

It is a great joy to see young children delighting in the outside world and one Mum said, "Thank you so much you have got us started. We are going to get the kit tomorrow and I have got to make my son some charts to record what we find".
Sky and Esmee's Mum said, "When you have got this muddy you know you have had a great day out".

Jude from BBOWT brought her amazing tabletop river along and it proved to be a great hit with the budding engineers as they continually redesigned the course of the river, making ponds, lakes, dams and wells.


Thanks to Angus for his great enthusiasm for mayflies and all things watery as usual

 and to Clackers for manning the bird hide all afternoon.


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Going to do the lottery

Well I must be in great favour today. Just a short trip down to Standlake Common Nature Reserve to check on a few things, empty the litter bin that sort of thing and all sorts of treasures were there to be found.
On the bird front the common terns are back with little ringed plovers and around a dozen lapwing being so busy that surely they must have a go at nesting this year. The greylag families are out and about and then I couldn't believe my ears and eyes as a calling curlew flew over me and landed on the south shoreline. I expect it was only stopping off for a wash and brush up; it was certainly enjoying the water. I haven't seen one at Standlake before although I know others have. Of course all the warblers were singing away as well.
I stopped off in the meadow to see if any of the hairy violets that we found last week were still around and found not only a few bedraggled violets left but also the first of the green winged orchids.
Green winged orchid

Hairy violets last week

You can just see the green winged orchid in the middle and a rather faded violet in front.
The cowslips are going to be stunning this year as were the snake's head fritillaries at Ducklington on Sunday.


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Ring-necked ducks, garganey, spiders etc

Great views of the four ring-necked ducks at Standlake Pit 60 over the weekend. Once the mist cleared this morning I was amazed to see that they are still there as I had expected them to have moved off before I got a chance to see them. Thanks to everyone for the photos and video on the Oxon Bird Log that show them so well and thanks to Jim for this photo that shows the male and female very clearly.

Photo courtesy of Jim Hutchins
Birders have been coming from all over the place and even Radio Oxford followed up the story.  Phil Mercer came out to the north shore hide to talk to Ian Lewington, Oxon County bird recorder and myself with the added bonus of Joe Harris the warden from Otmoor. Unfortunately for Phil the mist didn't clear until 10 minutes after he had left to make his live report; just about the same time as the kingfisher flew past. Yes Phil we do have kingfishers here!

A pair of lapwing are making the bold attempt at nesting on the island by the Langley's Lane hide but with all the news on Springwatch of the predation by badgers and foxes I can't thnk they will have much hope of successfully fledging any young but who knows? We can only watch and wait, unless anyone wants to join in with a 24 hour guard.

And that's not all on the bird front. Garganey at Rushy Common/Tar Lakes as well!

There are promising signs that the cowslips are ready to to give a great display again this year on the Langley's Lane SSSI. I will be eagerly looking over the next couple of weeks to see if the green hay spreading in 2013 has been successful in expanding their flowering area to the neighbouring fields. It can take two or three years for the seed to germinate in a new area so maybe we will see some results this year.
And then lots of interesting looking spiders' webs around the edge of the field. Any suggestions on the identification will be much appreciated.
Put Sunday 19th April in your diaries for the Ducklington fritillary Sunday from             11.30 a.m. onwards for a fabulous display of the snake's head fritillary. There will be refreshments and entertainments and various displays and I will be there with a display about the Lower Windrush Valley Project so come and say hello. All proceeds from the day go to the church restoration fund.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Winter work at Standlake Common

The Thursday volunteer group has been hard at it at Standlake Common Nature Reserve this winter and got a lot done thanks to the fairly dry weather. We have only missed one week due to flooding.

We have carried on coppicing small bays in the shelter belt which has created a huge amount of firewood and brash some of which has been stashed for habitat piles and to act as a mulch round the stumps of the coppiced trees and some has been burnt.

It is great to see the new buds developing this year as at this time in the last two seasons everything has been under flood water. Regrowth was a bit limited over the last couple of years as the cut stools were covered in water for three months. The hazel and willow has regrown fairly well but the hawthorn has been very slow to get going again and some of the stumps have rotted completely. Hopefully, this year will see some vigorous new growth established.

 Meanwhile Jim and Nigel have been working on the other side of the lake laying the next section of hedge, trying out the southern style this time. This leaves a bushier finish to the hedge which should be good for nesting birds this summer and the style of binding is rather less strenuous.

Despite creating a bit of disturbance with our work the birds don't seem to mind us too much and there have been great views this winter with hundreds of wigeon, teal and lapwing on the grassy shoreline and tufted duck and coot in great numbers on the lake. Goldeneye and goosander have been regular visitors this year but no sign of a bittern since the one sighting in the autumn of 2014. 

A tale of two ponds and two mounds

Rushy Common Nature Reserve is maturing into a fascinating world with a great array of habitats and many species of animals and plants in temporary or full time residence or just turning up from time to time.  Managing the growth of plants and trees is a constant process and this winter with Pascale's (Freshwater Habitats Trust) advice we carried out some clearance work on the two ponds on the far side of the reserve that were becoming over grown with willow Salix spp and reed mace Typha latifolia. Digger Dave is very familiar with this sort of clearance work. He can select out short sections so that there is some change but not major disturbance unless that is what is required, as in this clearance of the edge of one pond. On the other pond he just took out five metre sections leaving the marginal plants for shelter for toads and invertebrates.

Pond before

Pond after: this looks quite severe but the vegetation will soon grow up again and the shallows created will be even better for invertebrates, amphibians and wading birds. Dave also cleared some sections of the ditch especially where brambles were starting to completely cover the water, leaving other sections with the plants in place for dragonflies and damselflies etc in the summer.

Unlike some other gravel pits and nature reserves there are areas of the site that are very high in nutrients causing rapid plant growth and a tendency for nettles to dominate. For several years we have been trying to batter the nettles into submission but this year we are trying a different approach on one of two  mounds of topsoil. One will continue to be mown and sprayed with herbicide but the other has been planted up with berry bearing viburnum shrubs. If successful this will provide a good area for small birds nesting in spring and with berries that will feed birds and small mammals in winter. We might then plant the other mound up in future years. There will still be plenty of areas of nettle for peacock and other butterflies to feed and lay their eggs.

Viburnum planting in the foreground, nettle mound in the background

Great to see coltsfoot  Tussilago farfara about to burst open from a rough and stony patch over a bridge.

Lunching with the Cetti's at the reedbed

The volunteer group have been busy cutting bays into the reedbed to promote regrowth and have a huge stack of reeds to show for it. Sadly they are no use for general thatching and Hill End are not able to take any this year for thatching their iron age style round houses so it all had to be burnt.


Despite us making quite a disturbance one morning we were entertained by a Cetti's warbler  as we sat and ate our lunch. True to form it lurked in the reeds without showing itself but gave us several rounds of its explosive and distinctive call.

Even though everyone is getting really fit with all this practical work we were very glad to have the help of students from Abindgon and Witney College on the final day. They set to with great enthusiasm raking up the reed and even having a go on the scythes. Some of them showed a promising technique but for one it was all too much and he turned into a hamster. Needless to say they all loved the bonfire.

About 350 sq metres of the reedbed were cleared this year and at this rate we should get round the rest of it over the next two years, then start again at the beginning making a seven year cycle. It will be easier next time round as we won't be having to remove the wire and posts of the enclosures that the original reed seedlings were planted into to stop the geese from eating them all. 
The reed buntings are busy setting out their territories and soon the reed and sedge warblers will be joining them for the summer. Thanks to the winter feeding in the feeders by the bird hide the numbers of reed bunting seem to be quite substantial.

Stanton Harcourt School pond

The aim was to turn a rather inaccessible pond into a more child friendly one that doesn't need a heavyweight metal frame to stop children falling in. It seemed a fairly simple plan to fill in the shallower end with gravel to create a bog garden and then there is only half the pond with deeper water to cover. Fortunately Rachel and Chris are made of tough stuff as they cleared some of the mud and leaves from the bottom  and then rigged up a 'wall' across the pond to contain the gravel and their hands and feet went numb from the cold. I had the cushy jobs, as usual, taking photos, collecting blocks from a nearby building site etc.

This well rounded frog decided to evacuate the pond once the gravel started piling in but it didn't have to go far to get some shelter and it went back into the pond before we left.
Rachel has been working hard for several weeks to open up the whole of the pond area, cutting back the hedge, removing a gate and a stile and generally clearing up so that the children can enjoy making much more use of this area.

Many thanks to Smith and Sons Bletchington for the free bag of gravel.

So we managed to reduce the area of deep water and just have to hope that we won't have put off the frogs, toads and newts that were found here last year. A few plants to start things off and the pond area is already starting to look much more welcoming.