Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Raiders of the Lost Hearts

A few weeks ago I bought a new bird feeding station, to replace my rusty, old, broken one. It's good. It's much sturdier than my last one, and comes with moisture caps to stop bird poo seeping into the pole and running down my hand every time I take it out of the ground. But for the first time in my six years of feeding the local garden birds, my feeders have started being raided by a mystery bandit.
My feeding station, as it looks before a raid
It all started about a week ago, when I found my peanut feeder on the floor. At first I thought it might have been the wind, but a trail of peanuts leading from the bottom of the feeding station to the feeder's final resting place in the middle of the garden suggested that it had been knocked off and dragged across the ground by an animal.

A squirrel seemed the obvious suspect, and after knocking off my peanut, fat ball and sunflower heart feeders and devouring their contents consistently over the next few days, I decided to set up my trail camera to capture its amazing acrobatic abilities in action. However, what it recorded only deepened the mystery further.
My feeding station, after a raid
 I positioned the camera not far from the feeder at about 11 PM last night. When I got up at 5.30 AM this morning to have a look, the peanut and fat ball feeders were both on the floor again. The mystery bandit must have filled his stomach this time, because after gobbling down all four fat balls it could only manage to eat about half of the peanuts I put out. 
The fat balls were completely consumed
A pile of feathers also lay on the ground, as if a bird (most likely a dove) had been killed there. These definitely weren't there the night before, and whether or not they have anything to do with the animal raiding my feeders I don't know, but they have certainly added more confusion to what was otherwise a seemingly straightforward matter.  
This pile of feathers was found close to the feeding station. A clue to the identity of the culprit? Maybe.
But here's the most interesting part. When I looked at what the camera had recorded, thinking that I'd finally caught the thief red-handed, I found nothing. File 42 shows me adjusting the camera last night. File 43 shows me collecting the camera this morning.  Whatever it was that raided my feeders last night, it must have done so so quickly that it didn't even trigger the camera's motion sensor.  

So what could it be? The animal only seems to strike at night , it must be extremely agile to scale my feeding station and lift off the feeders, and it does this so quickly that it doesn't trip the motion sensor which makes my trail cam start recording. A Squirrel? A Rat? A Ghost?

The scene of the crime!
One thing's for sure though- it's costing me a fortune in bird seed!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sydlings Copse

The other day my friend James and I visited my favourite local nature reserve: Sydlings Copse in Oxfordshire. Managed by BBOWT, the reserve is home to a vast range of species, sporting habitats as diverse as woodland, heathland and fen. 

As you enter the reserve you are greeted by an ancient broadleaved forest, carpeted at this time of year in a purple blanket of fragrant bluebells. A Nuthatch sang above us, and we watched for a minute as it flitted about from Oak to Ash. 
The Bluebells at Sydlings Copse
Take a left and you come into an area of limestone grassland. A team of BBOWT volunteers were hard at work here as we walked by, cutting back shrubs and getting rid of invasive weeds to reduce competition for the hundreds of native plant species which have been recorded there. Brimstones, Peacocks and Speckled Woods were among the Butterflies we encountered, basking on the ground in the afternoon sun.
A Speckled Wood Butterfly, basking in the sun.
Then it's back into woodland, and down a few makeshift steps into the valley which runs right the way through the reserve. Sparrowhawks are known to nest here, and well trodden paths through the wild garlic lead to the characteristically 'D' shaped entrance holes of the local Badgers' sett. A stream flows between the age-old trees, and we spotted Fallow and Muntjac tracks along its banks.
We found all sorts of tracks along the banks of this stream, which runs right through the reserve
Across the bridge you come into an area of heathland, which I'm told is a rarity in Oxfordshire. Gorse covers most of this land, attracting legions of Orange-tip Butterflies as well as birds such as Linnets.  We opted to take the wildlife trail through the heathland, which runs alongside a fen that lies at the bottom of the valley.

A Buzzard soared over us as we walked, carried high by the thermals. Meanwhile high-pitched squeaking noises were emanating from the dead bracken around us. At first we thought it might have been coming from a bird's nest, hidden in the undergrowth, but upon closer inspection we realised that we had stumbled into a war zone. Common Shrews are notoriously territorial and the ones around our feet had taken an obvious dislike to each other, erupting into fierce shouting matches and frantically chasing each other through the bracken. 
A section of  the 'Wildlife Trail', at Sydlings Copse nature reserve in Oxfordshire
Further along the path we came across some more interesting animal behaviour. Using a rock as an anvil, a Song Thrush was smashing open snail shells to get to the tasty creature hiding inside. Song Thrushes are the only birds which perform this remarkable act of avian ingenuity, often when the ground is too hard to reach earthworms, as it has been here these past few days. 
A 'Snail anvil'- used by Song Thrushes to smash open Snail shells against
All in all it was a great day out at a fantastic nature reserve. If you have a spare hour or two this Easter weekend, I would strongly urge you to get outside exploring your local patch. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Birdsong and Bluebells

This morning I took advantage of the good weather, and went for a walk in my local woods. Whilst it was nice to hear an array of birds singing all around me, and catch the occasional glimpse of a Muntjac darting through the trees, it's the plants which are really starting to steal the show as Spring tightens its grip.

The trees are getting green again- a welcome relief from the dull, bare branches that have haunted our fields and forests since Autumn. Bluebells are starting to blossom as well. There aren't many that have done so here yet, but those that have are already attracting a range of insects to their beautiful blue-violet petals. Wood Sorrel, Lesser Celandine, Primrose, Dog-Violet, Stitchwort, Cowslip and Speedwell are among the other plants I came across on my amble through the woods earlier.  

Insects are already visiting newly blossomed bluebells

I've had some 'hare-raising' encounters over the past month, with testosterone levels in the male bucks going through the roof. Thankfully the Hares have stopped paying much attention to me and started paying a lot more attention to each other, allowing me to get some decent shots of them charging across the airfield and bashing each other on the head in very short scrapes. Unfortunately I still haven't seen any prolonged bouts of boxing yet, but I might still get the chance as their mad behaviour continues over the next couple of weeks. 

When I get some time, I'll put together a short video of my local Hares and post it on this blog for you to see.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Badger Sett Update

Just a quick blog this week, to give you an update on the local Badger sett. I still haven't found any evidence of  the Foxes moving back into their old den yet, so this year I guess it's just not meant to be. The Badgers on the other hand have been very active, and as you can see in the video below, they're always happy to put on a show for the camera:

That pesky Badger at the end there ruined all my footage for the rest of the night! Next time I'll have to strap my trail cam down!