Wednesday, 30 December 2009

2009 - Blogroll review

Since I started this blog in April this year, I've become more interested in what other bloggers have to say and thought I'd take the opportunity to list some of blog posts have caught my attention:

#5 Street Art on 'Oxford Daily Photo':
As the title says, this is a photo taken daily of Oxford and its always good to see pictures that aren't typical of Oxford, like this fantastic picture of the a large mural in Temple Road, I especially like the power drill:

#4:  Birds in the back garden on 'Gullivers Travels':
I am always envious of the pictures Martin takes and aim and often fail to reach his standard.  I particularly like this post, especially the pheasant, which I thought was plastic when I first saw it.

#3 Periitricha Cillate on 'Life on an Oxfordshire Lawn'
The sheer amount of work Henry Walloon puts into his extraordinary blog is incredible and the level of research would not go amiss in  an academic paper.
This post shows what life can be found in a puddle in a back garden in England - simply incredible:

#2 Vole after my bag in 'About a Brook'
Kate's blog discussing the ups and downs of water voles in Shropshire is the inspiration behind this blog and for the two years or so I've been reading it I have enjoyed many interesting posts.  But my favourite post is a wonderful story of a water vole trying to escape with her bag - an utter joy and I'm most envious

Kate's blog would have been number one, until I read this post:

#1 Vietnam bears on 'Terry Whittaker photo blog':
Terry Whittaker is freelance photographer and I first encountered his blog when searching for water vole blogs on Google during a wet lunch time (Terry's blog is 103, I'm now number 2 and Kate is number 1) and was first drawn to his blog with wonderful photos of water voles taken during a photography course he runs.
But it's this post - which could have been a magazine article - on bear bile which has stuck in my mind.

What could have been an emotive post is balanced and certainly changed my mind on bear bile - what I thought was quack medicine, actually contains Ursodeoxycholic acid which is used for treating gallstones.  

In reflection, there have been a myriad of posts that have entertained, interested and educated me and I'd like to thank all blog posters that posted on my blog or who I have stumbled across.
As I start to follow more blogs, like Dr Jeremy Biggs pond blog:
and Bretton Birders bird blog: 
I will encounter more fascinating posts in 2010

Monday, 28 December 2009

2009 - A review

As the year draws to an end it seems there is an endless list of reviews of the year - best songs; most popular films and even the most annoying people of the year and as it's a cold time in Oxfordshire.  As there is the possibility of more snow I thought I'd have a large cup of tea and reflect on the past 12 months (well 8 actually) of writing of this blog and list the top 5 highlights:

#5: Woodpecker
I really like this picture I took back in April when I first started this blog. I saw it swoop over and it started banging it's territorial noise.

The original post:

#4: Water shrew
There maybe Water shrews along the river Ock or tributaries - in fact there are almost certainly are. But I saw this water shrew on Radley Brook in North Abingdon, a small stream that runs behind the Barton Fields nature reserve and eventually joins the river Thames via the Abbey Stream - where I first saw my first water vole.
I was lucky enough to be entertained by it for about two weeks over the summer and eventually managed to get a good picture:

It was hard to get a good photograph as it's hectic lifestyle - continuously searching for food meant it disappeared from sight whenever I got my camera ready. But I was rewarded with a few pictures including the one above

#3 Badger:
Maybe it should have been number one, especially as it took three months of late nights and dark evenings before I eventually got a picture:

Although I have been out a few times since, mainly for a walk rather than to specifically look for badgers, I haven't seen any.

#2 Water voles:
The reason this blog exists is because of the water voles that live in about a 100m stretch from new cut mill  along the Ock meadow and inspired by the excellent 'About a brook' blog to document them and about 25% of my blog posts are on water voles.  So I've several posts to choose from, but my favourite is the film taken along the ditch running through the meadow:

The wobble after 20 seconds is actually caused by me laughing as it runs up to eat.  I've chosen this as it's the first evidence I have of water voles living elsewhere in the vicinity and inspired by it, I have discovered feeding signs elsewhere in the meadow.

The original post is at:

And several other water vole posts:

#1 Bumblebees:
If I'm patient and lucky I will probably see more water voles and badgers in 2010, but a sight I may never see again is 'Early Bumblebees' mating.  The Bumblebeee Conservation Trust says "One of the mysterious about bumblees is why they are rarely seen mating...photographs are quite unusual".  In fact, when I contacted the BCT they identified the bee and asked me if they could use the picture in their newsletters.

As I review this post I'm disappointed and sad that I didn't spend longer studying what was happening d taking a better picture - instead I rushed in and searched the internet trying to work out what was happening and I'm unlikely to get another opportunity to study it again.

The original, somewhat confused, post is:

In reflection...
Although I've always been interested in nature, since starting this blog I've not only become more interested in what can be found in and around this small and insignificant (except when it floods) tributary of the England's second longest river but I've also started to become more involved with the research.

I'd also like to thank everyone who has passed comments on my blog and It will be interesting to see what comes along in 2010.....

Friday, 18 December 2009


I've been using a new piece of software to stitch together a series of photos to produce one big panorama and a walk to work on Friday provided an ideal opportunity to try it out...
The Ock valley walk, produced from three landscape pictures, the first snow of the winter on the footpath between the upper and lower ock:

The Thames, viewed from St. Helens Wharf, produced from four potrait pictures, with burford bridge to the left:

The view south from Abingdon weir - towards burford and Abingdon bridges (not pictured), produced from four landscape photographs.

And the view of the Abbey stream from the footbridge next to the weir.  

If the weather is good and time is kind, I may try and get some pictures from the Ock meadow at the weekend and maybe I could get a good picture of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford - something I always struggle with.
The software is ArcSoft Panorama, a trial version is available from:

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Collective names....

There are many collective names for birds - a host of sparrows; a murmuration of starling and my favourite - a charm of goldfinches:

Apparently, it is the 14th centaury writer Juliana Bernes who is credited with most of these:

She coined the term 'a siege of herons', but I've only seen solitary ones - like this one (x40 zoom) on longmead lake:

And there is no collective name for my favourite small bird - the long tailed tit.  These endearing little birds in their chirping their  flocks can raise a smile on the most melancholic day - even if they are rather frustrating to photograph - perhaps it should be 'a chirruping of long tailed tits?'

Now the trees have shed their leaves, the flocks of woodpigeons are also more evident, maybe this should be 'a sulk of woodpigeons'? 

Sunday, 6 December 2009


Friday's frost was a good opportunity to use the compact settings on my compact camera (and then to crop them using photoshop):

Ice crystals have formed on the hand rail on the bridge along the ock valley walk:

Frozen moss on the bridge spanning the abbey stream

And frozen lichen on the same bridge


Friday, 4 December 2009


What are the first signs of winter - The start of December? Christmas decorations? The dark mornings? Or the now traditional breaking of the thermocouple on our boiler?

Certainly frosts have started to appear and provided a rather picturesque walk to work this morning.  Ladygrove meadow had a white cover:

The trees on the Ock valley walk are finally devoid of leaves (nearly):

And the Barton Fields nature reserve is, as always, an ideal opportunity for a photograph:

Monday, 16 November 2009

A quiet day on the Ock

No buzzards or kites overhead, no plopping water voles or quacking mallards - not even an ubiquitous moorhen, just a somewhat melancholic day.


Sunday, 8 November 2009


I have suspected badgers in the vicinity of south Abingdon for nearly two years. There have been particular clues - footprints, paths through fields and under fences could only be made by badgers

After many nights and evenings of staking possible locations over several months, I have at last managed at last to capture one on film.  Possibly the recent weather has made it easier for it to find its favourite foods of slugs, snails and worms.

The Collins Complete British Wildlife Guide describes badgers as “common but unobtrusive and largely nocturnal”, despite this, this is only the third badger I've ever seen.

The subject of  Bovine Tuberculosis is controversial, but is mainly arable farming, so these are unlikely to cause any harm. 

I have notified the Oxfordshire Badger group, but if there are other groups who would be interested please let me know.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Rat-tailed Maggots

A few months ago we decided to build a wildlife pond in our back garden and already wildlife has started to move in. From the goldfinches and sparrows who drink and bathe in it, to the almost microscopic mites that swim around.  
However, I have recently noticed an abundance of a new species....

Having posted the pictures on the Wild About Britain Forum, they have been identified as Rat-tailed Maggots, the larvae stage of the Hoverfly (Eristalis tenax), also known as Drone-fly.
A quick search of the internet reveals some fascinating facts about the creature:
The part that looks like a tail is actually a breathing tube acting as a type of snorkel, although it does seem to be used for manoeuvring.  Apparently they can reproduce 'paedogenetically', where the larvae themselves produce more offspring without having to become adults - which may explain the sudden abundance of them in the pond.
They also prefer  oxygen-deprived water, with a high organic content (or 'foul' as English Nature would describe it), this may suggest the pond is not in good health...

When this larvae stage has completed it will pupate out of the water and then turn into one of these splendid insects: 

Picture by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos and is reproduced under the GNU Free Documentation License

Wild About Britain Forum:
North Carolina State University:  

Thursday, 29 October 2009


Autumn nights can find the ock meadow in a shroud of mist and the lights from the nearby Tesco can give it an almost eerie feeling.


Sunday, 25 October 2009

Feed the birds day

Today is the RSPB feed the birds day:  Unfortunately, no-one seems to have told the birds this..

Usually we get a good collection of goldfinches, sparrows and chaffinches, robins and blackbirds - but today it has been quiet.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Saturday morning stroll

A damp morning in Abingdon, but despite autumn becoming colder and wetter there is still plenty of wildlife out there, especially birds, even if they're becoming harder to photograph

A quick glimpse of a buzzard 

Another bird pray, not sure what type - maybe a sparrowhawk

A pheasant crossing a field

A moorhen, although common along this stretch of the Ock, they are quite difficult to get a picture of, usually because they spook quite easily.

And a young swan

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day 2009 - Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day, an event where bloggers around the world write on the same subject - and this year's is climate change:

I wasn't going to write anything, but have felt inspired by Martin's blog to write something similar:

This is what the Ock Meadow currently looks like:

And this is what it looked like in July 2007:

According to the Environment Agency, this was a once in a 250 year event, so we have a while to wait for the next one
- unless the predictions are correct the weather system is going to become more changeable and wetter (
Whether climate change is happening and if it is how much of it is man made or just the natural affect of coming out of an Ice Age time will tell. But whatever happens the river and the flood plain need to protected from the ever present effect of development.

If you're a sceptic or a believer, the book, Six Degrees by
Mark Lynas is an interesting read, where he has used the scientific papers in the Bodleian Library to make predictions on what may happen if the climate does get warmer.

Other local blogs on the subject:

Backstreeter discusses reducing car usage by using bikes (and the problems associated with it)

Emma discusses the affect on farming and gardening:

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Misty Mornings

On Tuesday, the river Thames and the surrounding area were very picturesque with mist rising from the water, making for a very pleasant walk to work.
The river viewed from the Abbey Meadows:

The view north from the weir:

And glistening spiders webs on the Barton Fields nature reserve

I'm sure as autumn continues there will be other opportunities for more photographs

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Not quite sure what possessed me to go for a walk to the Ock meadow in the early hours, but it was probably a combination of too much beer, wine and coffee at a reception at work - resulting in an inability to sleep.
Still, the meadow was covered in an eerie picturesque mist - something this picture totally fails to capture.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Water voles 2009

As the weather starts to take a turn for the worse and the days become shorter, it seems a good opportunity to review my water vole sightings for a year. Although water voles don't hibernate they do spend most of the winter in their burrows, so the chance of future sightings this year are unlikely.

I've used Google maps to record the sightings – yellow markings are obvious feeding signs and blue ones of actual sightings

These have been converted to Ordnance Survey grid references using a combination of Google Earth and various web sites and passed to the local wildlife trust who do annual water vole surveys.

The river Ock & Ock Meadow
The map shows a strong colony along the river Ock, from New Cut Mill at the bottom to a clump of trees further up. In fact water voles were so common along there during the spring and summer I stopped recording the sightings.

View Water Voles in the River Ock - Abingdon, 2009 in a larger map

Where possible, I have studied either side of this colony, but have seen no signs of water vole activity – probably because the trees are preventing suitable habitat from forming, but this may form a natural barrier, along with the weirs up and down stream for any predators.

I have also seen one water vole in the drainage ditch running through the meadow, and it's recorded on film on this post.

Since I took this film, I have not seen any water voles along this area.

Further along the ditch, there are definite signs of water vole feeding, as discussed in this post:

However, I spent many hours along this stretch and never did have any sightings. But it is far enough from the river to be considered a separate colony

I have seen feeding signs along the stream that runs to the north of the meadow, but the undergrowth presented problems in finding more signs of feeding or sightings.

North Abingdon

Two surprise water vole sightings:

View Water Voles in the River Ock - Abingdon, 2009 in a larger map

One along Radley Brook, where I saw my first ever water vole but had concluded the colony was no longer present. So I was very happy to be proved wrong, I have also recorded the feeding signs I saw there at the same time:

And one outside the leisure centre, where we were gathering for a evening of Himalayan Balsam clearing. This is probably linked to a known colony in the nearby Abbey Fishponds nature reserve

It's probably not accurate to describe Abingdon as a 'water vole hotspot', but there does seem to be a variety of colonies in the area and we are fortunate to share our town with this endearing - if declining creature.
DIY, work and injuries aside, I hope to spend some of 2010 exploring the other streams and ditches in the area. Probably in spring and early summer, as one thing I learnt this year is the rapid growth along the banks can make water vole spotting very hard.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Views from the clumps

It's good to put away the paint brushes, the spades and the masonry drill and make use of the good autumn weather to go for a good walk. And where better than Wittenham clumps – two hills that dominate the local landscape and are managed by the Northmoor Trust.
This is Round Hill viewed from Castle Hill

And the opposing view of Castle Hill, an Iron Age fort - viewed from Round Hill.

The clumps are a haven for wildlife, including this Kestrel - trying to reduce the local field vole population

Apparently, 75% of Oxfordshire consists of areas of outstanding natural beauty and the clumps are probably the best place to see it, including the river Thames to the north of Round Hill

And the Berkshire downs to the south of Castle Hill - they can be viewed behind Brightwell Barrow (thanks Birdman):

Although, I suspect Didcot power station is probably part of the other 25%...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Ichneumon wasp

This rather splendid Ichneumon wasp (Pimpla sp) was on our new patio doors

The oviposter is used to lay an egg onto a grub, which is then consumed when the egg hatches. Which may explan it's scientific name 'persuasive burglar'

As always, ID thanks to wild about britain forum - response in a record 60 seconds.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


When I started this blog, I set out to photograph three animals:

1. A water vole - As seen in most of the posts on this blog
2. A kingfisher - something I have failed to do this year, all pictures have been utterly miserable.
3. A muntjac deer - And at last I got a picture
Unfortunately, due to a combination of poor light and even poorer photography skills, the picture is rather poor. But as it's only the fifth one I've seen in Abingdon in three years I thought I would stick it on the blog.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

More shrew

I'm not sure if it is the same water shrew (but it is in the same area and I understand they are territorial), but today provided another opportunity to watch it.
This time I took a short film, which shows how fast they can move

Friday, 4 September 2009

Water shrew

I've been watching this water shrew swimming in Radley Brook during my lunch breaks for the past week and today was fortunate to get a decent picture.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Orgyia antiqua

This rather splendid caterpillar was found on our washing.

With another one munching on the nearby Hibiscus

Once again identified by those on the brilliant Wild About Britain forum, this is a Vapourer (Orgyia antigua) moth.
A brief bit of research on the UKMoths, reveals a fascinating life, the males looking like a typical moth, with a 3cm wingspan, however, the female is wingless and looks nothing like a typical moth:

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Return to the river

Having spent what seems like ages suffering from a torn knee ligament and a weekend (and two days of holiday) decorating the bathroom it's nice to return to the river to see what's changed:

The Ock meadow and surrounding area have been cut (this was actually done in June), so the caterpillars shown in a previous post probably didn't have chance to pupate:

The Himalayan Balasm has started to produce seeds and is ready to wreck havoc further down stream.
A rather beaten up and bedraggled Painted Lady butterfly:

And of course the obligatory - if somewhat out of focus - water vole: