Monday 21 January 2013

Winter wonderland 20th January 2013

Living in the Cotswolds guarantees if there is snow around we will get a good measure of it. Roughly four hundred feet above sea level and living in a village such as Kingham virtually ensures we will be marooned by snow and ice covered roads as Oxford County Council either cannot be bothered or do not have the money to grit and salt the minor roads leading to our village.

No I do not live here. A rich banker does-some of the time!
I guess they assume we are all rich bankers (there are quite a few in Kingham) and all have four by fours or our very own JCB handy in the garage. Sadly not in my case nor a lot of others who live here. Last year was hopeless as all roads out of the village were virtually impassable to normal cars due to the ice and impacted snow. It is the same this year.

Minor road turned into ice rink courtesy of  Oxford County Council
Never mind we cope the best we can. So on Saturday it was a case of taking the village bus on what can only be called 'an interesting' journey into Chipping Norton and stocking up with fat balls, seed and peanuts to fill up the feeders, in order to keep our feathered friends from death's door. As usual Starlings and Blackbirds appeared from nowhere as did Woodpigeons and Jackdaws and the food supply diminished rapidly. However smaller birds held their own and Chaffinches, Robins, Dunnocks and House Sparrows also got a look in. A Brambling, seen only by my wife, paid a brief visit but soon departed. A flock of Long tailed Tits joined the Great and Blue Tits on the peanuts and fat balls, as did a Nuthatch. They scattered as a Great Spotted Woodpecker swooped down onto the feeders whilst a lone Redwing skulked under the evergreen hedge, finding food where the snow had not penetrated. The remaining few cotoneaster berries in the garden, untouched by the local Blackbirds soon disappeared as a small group of Fieldfares, losing all innate fear due to their hunger, swiftly removed what berries remained and then moved on. 

On Sunday I left the car (now temporarily a white Audi) where it was in the drive and decided to foot it to Foxholes BBOWT Nature Reserve, a walk of about a couple of miles. This was no hardship as the roads were virtually traffic free and I could wander down the middle of them, the countryside silent and still under its covering of snow, birding as I went. Inevitably there was not that much around as the heavy snow had blanketed virtually everything. However a stop by some Alders produced a nice little flock of Goldfinches with one Lesser Redpoll amongst them, all busily feeding on the catkins. Is it me or has it been a really good year for Redpolls? They seem to be everywhere this winter. I carried on up the icy road to Foxhole Farm which is at the beginning of the long, single track road to Foxholes and here there was a fifty strong flock of Chaffinches which included a few Yellowhammers and Greenfinches. A pair of Bullfinches, piping plaintively, flew ahead of me along the hedgeline, the male's pink underparts glowing with reflected light from the snow and their white rumps  flashed briefly as they flew, before disappearing into the dark depths of the hedgerow. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were foraging in the waterlogged ditches below the hedge and a lone Fieldfare watched me from a small tree by the road, chackering to itself but not flying off as I passed. 

At the entrance to Foxholes, regularly repeated, harsh, corvid cries alerted me to the approach of a Raven. Through a gap in the trees I saw it arrive, huge, and pitch into the top of a mature conifer. Ever wary, calling constantly and looking around, it eventually fell silent. 

My main reason for visiting Foxholes was to try and find a Woodcock. Similar weather conditions last year eventually produced no less than fourteen so I was optimistic of success.

Entrance track to Foxholes BBOWT
There is one particular spot on the reserve they always seem to favour and making my way there I trudged back and fore through the thick snow, clinging brambles and bracken trying to flush Scolopax rusticola but with no success. Then, as is often the way of things, just as I was about to give up, one suddenly  flew up, dark and bulky, silently disappearing, low, through the snow covered wood. A brief view of just seconds but it was enough to give a sense of achievment. I carried on with spirit and resolve revived and eventually flushed another from some brambles below a Holly. It whirred away, bill held downwards, through the tree trunks into the depths of the wood. 
 A Muntjac completely hidden under some snow covered brambles gave me a start as it shot out from literally under my feet and then stopped to regard me, before slipping away through the snowy vegetation to become invisible once more. A couple of Pheasants rocketed upwards, their wings beating a tattoo on the twigs of the trees as they ascended skywards in their haste to get away and a lone Jay, in that distinctive hesitant flight, swooped out from the wood and away across the icing white fields. Then all was still and that was the sum of it. It started to snow-again. Two Woodcock was a just reward for my efforts but with the snowy conditions due to remain for at least a week the numbers may build up as they did last year. I do hope so.

The view from our bedroom one morning

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