The Old Moor circuit has been the place to see interesting birds during this Autumn. Reports have reached me (thanks to the reporters!) of…
A kestrel hunting and consuming a shrew
A single egret returning
A kingfisher (three sightings over a couple of weeks)
While I was walking near East Hendred recently a herd of wild deer numbering well over a dozen crossed my path; I have never seen so many together other than in a formal Deer Park.
I was delighted to discover that the swallows nesting in my garden shed had four nestlings surprisingly late in the summer.
Less delightful has been a rash of bags containing dog faeces left along Blackberry Lane (the extension of School Lane). If the person responsible lives in the village and sees this, perhaps he or she might be shamed in to using the bins (the nearest one is just around the corner in Pembroke Lane).
This armour-plated alien invader is eating its way through wildlife in our waterways. The American Signal Crayfish is a massive threat to native species in rivers, lakes and ponds. It is a 150ml long killing machine and has already annihilated the smaller native White Claw crayfish from most of the waterways in the south of England. A voracious predator it will eat almost anything it finds including plants, invertebrates, snails, small fish and fish eggs. It is also a cannibal that makes a meal of its own young. The Signal also digs burrows up to three feet long in river banks where each year it lays more than 250 eggs at a time. At a time of increased flooding risk, the numbers and size of the burrows is increasingly causing river banks to collapse. Introduced in the 1970s and bred on farms for the restaurant trade a handful of escapers have now grown to an aquatic army numbering millions.
Signal Crayfish facts
1. The female breeds from the age of about two when it is 40mm long.
2. She breeds once a year and averages 275 eggs.
3. The eggs are fertilised by the male in October/November.
4. They are carried by the female folded within her tail until May when the young are released - if they can escape her jaws.
5. The Signal is bigger and more aggressive than our native crayfish.
6. They are less fussy in what they eat and more successful and rapidly colonise new areas.
7. The Signal carries a fungus which is fatal to native crayfish.
8. They can live up to 12 years.
If you manage to catch one, it is illegal to put it back. If you are going to go after these freshwater beastie’s in numbers, then you must obtain a license from the Environment Agency.
To cook, drop into salted boiling water for 5 minute for small ones, up to 10 minutes for big fellas. Cool quickly. There is meat in the tail and the big claws, don't bother with anything else. Best cold in a salad with mayo, don't use any strong flavoured sauce or dressing or you will kill the flavour. You will need about 15 crays per person.
Editors Note. It is advisable to purge (clean) Crayfish before eating them.
Purging helps rid the crayfish of impurities in their intestinal tract, not only to clean them to remove items such as mud and grass, to make them more palatable, but also to help ensure any toxins are removed. There are various sites on the web which explain the process.
Since mid-June there have been some developments concerning our bird-life:
The good news is that some mixed flocks of hirundine (swallows and house martins) have been seen around the village, although not in large numbers.
On the other hand we are pretty sure that the swallows in our shed have not bred this year. A recent article in a paper suggested that the lack of young families may have been due to the wet and cold weather of this Spring.
The picture of the trio of little egrets has caused much comment; it is important to clarify that it was published by courtesy of Sarah Keogh.
An unexpected bonus of a recent day trip to Bath was the sight of a family of peregrine falcon half way up the steeple of the Roman Catholic church by the river Avon. The Hawk and Owl Trust have 24-hour webcams at this site, and also on Norwich Cathedral. The youngsters are now flying, but you may be lucky to see them if you google ‘Bath Peregrine Falcon Project’ or the Trust’s site.
The decline in numbers of common birds continues, and is very worrying. The first report of Swallows in the area was on 10 May near Brook Farm. They were not reported in the High Street until 19 May, more than a month later than usual. At least swallows are nesting in my garden shed again.
The high spot of the last year was probably the fleeting appearance of no less than three little Egrets together along Pembroke Lane.
Among the families visiting my patio have been Blue Tits and Sparrows, but also alas a large one of Starlings, who seem to bully the smaller birds and eat enormous amounts of seed. I wonder why so many couples visit but do not bring their fledglings in to the garden – Blackbirds and Goldfinches for example.
Birds of prey all have similar plumage, and other features have to be used for identification. The forked tail and sheer size are sure signs of a Red Kite, for example; these magnificent birds are to be seen over the fields every day, but again have not actually bred in the old village. Ginny Seary and I have recently spotted a small predator in the field next to Mill Lane which is puzzling us; could it be a Merlin or a Hobby?
Ginny’s dog-walks towards the A34 have revealed fox cubs, deer and even a badger on one occasion.
Unfortunately, hardly anyone from the village (or the Heights) has accepted my invitation, repeated every year, to contact me about his/her sightings. So this article is all too short again.