Wednesday 1 May 2013

Exotic in Oxfordshire 1st May 2013

Well the first of May dawned sunny and bright and it stayed that way for the rest of the day.What a difference a bright sunny day makes to the way one feels. Even though the wind was still from a northerly quarter it was warm enough for some brave souls to expose those winter white legs. I did not get quite that far but wandering around Iffley Meadows I certainly felt the warmth of the sun  and was bold enough to remove my fleece. My reason for a visit to Iffley was to view the Snake's Head Fritillaries, growing in profusion across the meadows and nodding gently in the wind. Apparently this is the third best year for them since records began. A count that was featured on BBC Look South yesterday resulted in no less than 67,000 being counted. Absolutely phenomenal for this much endangered plant and long may they thrive under the care and protection of BBOWT. 

Even butterflies put in an appearance on this sunny day with a Peacock somewhat sluggishly warming itself on the track into the reserve and Orange Tips hurrying fussily along the hedgerows as if intent on some unknown but vital business. I love the entrance to the reserve, walking off the busy road into a detached, tranquil and watery world of green, still and murky backwaters and seemingly abandoned Longboats with the rushing waters of the weir almost drowning out the sound of the passing cars from nearby.

Entrance track to the Reserve crossing the river

The Weir

Iffley Meadows. Fritillaries in the foreground
The Snake's Head Fritillaries stood in ranks in the grass, mutely beautiful, the lovely mottled purple flowers in abundance and the all white version less so. 

I stood and looked over this spectacle, savouring this brief period of flowering fruition which all too soon will be over and the meadow will return to it's normal mundane appearance until next year. Despite the publicity of yesterday I was all alone in my reverie and after an hour turned to leave and made my way back to the car. It was no great effort to see them, it took no long drive or rush and it was just a nice gentle afternoon in the sunshine which was in harmony with and complimented the gentle and delicately nodding flowers in the meadow. 

By now it was mid afternoon so with Farmoor nearby I found myself wandering up the track from the car park and strolling towards the grassy bank between the works and Farmoor One reservoir. I was in contemplative mood after my audience with the fritillaries and the sun shone bright and dazzlingly off the blue, sky reflecting waters of the reservoirs as the yachts scudded about. 

I did not expect to see much if anything and just thought I would sit on the low wall by the reservoir and look at the male Yellow Wagtails, a true favourite of mine. Farmoor is possibly the best place in Oxfordshire to see them in any numbers in Spring. Some years are good but sadly each year there seem to be less and less but this year has been exceptionally good. They are such striking creatures in their breeding yellow, impossibly bright but their olive green backs help them to subdue the garishness of their bright yellow underparts as they catch insects in the grass. Just as with the fritillaries their innocent and to them unknowing beauty seem to embody all the cheerfulness and optimism of early Spring. They look almost as if they have caught the sun's rays in their plumage and their loud, and cheery contact calls seem totally appropriate to the sense and time of year. 

I scanned the bank and there were indeed some Yellow Wagtails in the grass, about four or five, including a female. The females always arrive later than the males. I sat and watched them and it soon became apparent there were quite a few more Yellow Wagtails around than I had at first seen. As I counted and re counted, the number of wagtails ever increasing, I noticed a single wagtail catching insects on the perimeter path, off to my left. I looked at it in my bins and to my joy it was a male Channel Wagtail, the quaintly named hybrid between our Yellow Wagtail and the Blue Headed Wagtail from across the Channel. Hybrid it may be but it is a creature of great beauty and certainly much appreciated by me.The pale dove grey head and bold white eye stripe was a perfect counterpoint to the rich yellow of it's underparts. I watched it feeding with it's companions for quite some time just enjoying it's beautiful plumage, long legged elegance and appealing behaviour. 

Female Yellow Wagtail possibly Channel Wagtail

All the time  I was watching it other Yellow Wagtails were joining the group until there were no less than twenty two chasing hatching flies in the grass.The number of females amongst the flock had also increased to around six and amongst them was one I thought could be a female Channel Wagtail although it is very difficult to be sure. To me they appear fractionally larger than 'our' Yellow Wagtail and seem to be, as I have mentioned, longer in the leg and consequently more elegant. Every so often the whole flock would take alarm at some perceived threat and rise up with much calling to fly around and eventually settle back in the grass.The section of the reservoir I and the wagtails was frequenting, although near the yacht club was totally undisturbed and for an hour I communed with the wagtails and when I finally left them the sun not only shone on me from above but seemed to reach inside and impart an inner glow as well.

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