The next village heading northeast from Kingham is Churchill, a mere mile and a half away. Like all the villages around here it is now just another much coveted Cotswold village, that is if you are a rich banker, celebrity or just have lots of money. I do not qualify on any of those counts but was lucky enough to move into our house in Kingham over twenty years ago before prices went sky high. When the time comes which will be soon now, I will take the money and run as Kingham is no longer what it was.
To reach a main road from our home, I have to drive along rural roads in whichever direction I am headed and if heading for Oxford or the RSPB Otmoor Reserve I usually pass through Churchill. This is not a hardship as I often see a variety of wildlife from the car such as Tawny and Barn Owls, many species of smaller birds, even a Canary once, also deer, badgers and foxes, all depending on the time of day or night when I pass along the roads that wind their way through the pleasant rural surroundings hereabouts.
Today was such a day. A brilliant but unforecast sun illuminated a very cold morning which found me heading out of Churchill, on my way to Essex, up a long road with wide grass verges bounded by traditional hedgerows and a variety of small trees interspersed along the hedgeline. Some of these were crab apple trees and many of the apples had fallen from the trees to form softening and partially rotting golden heaps under the trees and at the base of the hedge.
With the temperature at 9.30am hovering just below freezing and the ground consequently frozen solid and still white with frost, a number of birds were making the best of it by feeding on the apples or areas under the hedge that were frost free.
|The crab apple trees are on the right looking down the road to Churchill|
Common birds such as Blackbirds were hard at work on the apples whilst Robins, Chaffinches and Dunnocks were all feeding at the base of the hedge but by far the most numerous species scoffing the apples were some fifty Fieldfares, that most wary and sociable of thrushes that visit us in winter from Scandinavia and points further east of there.
They were clustered together feeding on the restricted areas where the apples had fallen. They look fierce and characteristically, behave as if living up to their appearance, bickering with each other and the occasional Blackbird, emitting a continuous chackering chuckle of notes and occasionally a querulous, higher pitched note, sounding very much like a door with stiff hinges. The slightest hint of danger has them standing erect with head raised and purple brown wings drooped akimbo below their bodies, ready for instant flight. As big as a Mistle Thrush they have to be the most beautiful of thrushes that are found in the British Isles, with a pleasing patterning of black and brown spots and chevrons running in lines down their white underbodies, the white replaced by a yellowish buff background around their throats and on their breasts and topped off with a pale grey head. Their distinctive upperparts are plumbeous brown with pale grey rumps and a black tail, this often being the most usual view one gets of them as, alarmed, they flee to the very tops of surrounding trees and perch all facing in the same direction, silhouetted against the sky.
They were obviously uneasy feeding in this area alongside the hedge where their view was restricted. These are birds of wide spaces, open fields, and moorland where the sightline runs for great distances. That is their preferred habitat as their name would imply but hard weather forces them to abandon their normal routine and seek food wherever they can find it. Fallen apples are a favourite and they will return time and again to such a source in hard weather, regardless of their fear.
As with the Common Buzzard of yesterday I used the car as a hide and managed to get reasonably close to them, parking by the roadside although most flew, mildly alarmed at my arrival, over the hedge to the other side leaving a few bolder ones on my side, but they too were always uneasy about the presence of the car as if sensing that the car hid something or someone that constituted danger. Regularly they would take fright and rise up with their companions on the other side of the hedge in a chackering starburst to perch high in a tree but soon would descend in individual, powerful and swooping flight back to the apples. I did my best to get some images of them but the blades of long grass always seemed to be between them and me.
After thirty minutes watching them a female Sparrowhawk in a swerving, alternating flight, hurtled at rocket speed along the hedgerow and the Fieldfares fled for their lives in all directions. It would be a long time, too long, if ever, until they returned so I headed off up the road musing on my pleasant interlude in rural northwest Oxfordshire. Maybe birding here is not so bad after all.