Sunday, 30 December 2012

A review of 2012

It's been a while since this blog has been updated, so perhaps it is an ideal opportunity to reflect on what has happened in the past 12 months.
The most defining thing of the year has been the relentless rain (it has been the wettest year since records began in 1910) and it's consequences.
Unlike many rivers in England (including the Thames itself), the Ock itself has not caused any major flooding, but on several occasions the floodplains have been very high:

This is what the river looked like in May:
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And this is what the river looked like yesterday (29th December):
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The consequences of this on the local wildlife is hard gauge, it would certainly have disrupted the water vole breeding season as their burrows would almost certainly be flooded when they were nursing their young.
However, they are adaptable creatures and this one (also in May) seemed to make the most of the opportunity by eating the branches of an overhanging willow tree - which would normally be out of reach:
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Another creature which would have suffered is the kingfishers who also nest in the river banks.
As for the otters, they were are active early in the year, as an unexpected sighting (I don't actively look for otters) of two otters (male and female?) in February:


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It is also difficult to gauge the affect of the subsequent high river would have had on any cubs.  They can spend up to a month in a holt whilst they are nursed by their mother and if it is flooded during this time then the cubs may perish.
Still throughout the year there have been plenty of otter spraints to indicate there is at least one otter present on the river:
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But it is not just the regulars that are of interest, perhaps the highlights of the year are a great white egret flying over the river in September - there is only one breeding pair in the UK, as they are in somerset this is probably a migrant passing over:
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Another highlight (and not featured in this blog before) was a pair of lapwings:
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A common bird and often seen in large flocks in flood meadows such as otmoor.  But in June there were a pair of them and were mobbing a buzzard it is highly probably that they were breeding.
They are ground nesting birds and with all the predators in the area, it is unlikely that they successfully raised their young,  but maybe they and a few others will try again in 2013.

The real highlight of the year was the blog moving from the virtual world to the real world with two successful talks - one for BBOWT Upper Thames in June and another for Abingdon Naturalists Society in September and with two requests for the talk next year, 2013 could be another interesting year....

Sunday, 7 October 2012

University of Oxford Natural History Museum


For the enthusiast of the natural world, there are many reasons to enjoy living near to the city of Oxford – Wytham Woods to the west, Harcourt Arboretum to the south and the Botanic Gardens in the city centre are splendid places to spend a sunny and warm day.
But as the days start to get shorter and the weather starts to get colder a turn, the best place to head is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History:
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Built in 1859, the fantastic neo-gothic building houses the Oxford University’s collection of zoology, entomology and geology and  is the casts of the Tyrannosaurus and Iguanodon that first grasp your attention as you walk through the entrance:
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The exhibits of local geology & palaeontology are fascinating and even the ones local wildlife are interesting, even if it is somewhat sad to see animals that have featured in this blog as stuffed exhibits in a museum (even one as good as this):
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Although it is the entomological exhibits that are probably the most engrossing - especially the displays of living insects, perhaps none more than the honey bees, which can be seen bringing pollen from outside the museum to their specially constructed glass walled hive and then doing their waggle dance to explain the location of nearby flowers.
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It is best  to make the most of the Museum this year, as it closes throughout 2013 for the splendid (but leaking) gothic roof to be repaired (although access to the Pitt Rivers museum remains open):

Monday, 17 September 2012

Great white egret?

One thing I've learnt whilst writing this blog is never to go out and look for something - as you will almost certainly never see it, but there maybe something else to see.
For example, whilst looking for water voles I've seen foxes and whilst looking for foxes I've seen otters and on Sunday I went looking for hares and didn't see any - instead there was something even more interesting and quite unusual.
Flying overhead from the North East in a South Western direction was a very large white bird:
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First impressions were it could be a stork or a crane. But having studied the photographs, it has the bent neck, normally associated with herons:
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Such a bird is not listed in my reference guides, so it took the internet to resolve the identification and the most likely contender is a great white egret (a type of heron).
An unusual bird to see in the UK, the going birding site for Oxfordshire describes it as 'Very Rare' http://www.goingbirding.co.uk/oxon/species.asp 

Great white egrets can reside in the UK over winter, but they are also migratory, so as this one was heading in a southerly direction, it could be migrating to Africa and may not have touched ground in the county.

As always, corrections are welcome.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Views of the Atlantic

Situated on the Cornish coast, Porthleven is a small habour town, it was once home to lots of small fishing boats.  But due to the decline in fishing stocks and the emergence of large fishing boats the fishing fleet is now massively reduced.
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So Porthleven, like a lot of Cornwall, is now reduced to accommodating tourists and holidaymakers like ourselves.
The local fishing industry is not the only victim of the reduction in fish stocks - the herring gull is now more likely to be found inland than on the coast. Those that have stayed make a living by stealing and hassling tourists, such as this one perched outside our cottage:
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Other sea birds to suffer are cormorants and shags, with the former also moving inland and now considered by some to be a pest due to the amount of fish they eating at private fishing lakes.
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A more optimistic sight is the pod of four dolphins which swam past the cottage (a converted net loft on a cliff) every morning.
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They would then swim to the habour entrance, as if they were entertaining the tourists, before swimming on elsewhere.
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It was only when reviewing the photographers that we noticed, one of the Dolphins was a youngster 
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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A month later

Somethings haven't changed in the past month, since the Ock featured in this blog - the wooden footbridge is still closed for health and safety reasons, apparently the bridge is rotten and Vale Council are currently asking for quotes on getting it fixed, hopefully it won't be too long till it is reopened.
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The river is also still high, although not at as high as the earlier in the year. 
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The water vole breeding season is nearly over, but they are still active, although not as obvious as they were earlier in the year. 
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And a grim discovery, a partially eaten moorhen, indicating that maybe otters are still present on the river.
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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Views of the Lea

If not sister rivers, the Ock and the Lea can perhaps be considered distant cousins - they are both quite small, the Ock is 20 miles long, the Lea is about 40 miles and they are both tributaries of the Thames, the Ock joining at Abingdon and the Lea joins at London's East End.
But something remarkable has happened to the Lea which makes it unique - it is  the centre of a £30 million development - the London 2012 Olympic Park:
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And certainly the money has been very well spent, turning an industrial backwater into a spectacular sight.
In some places, the river looks like it is part of a science fiction film, such as the inflatable roof on the water-polo arena
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Or the Orbit, dominating the area and providing a somewhat controversial new London landmark:
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Elsewhere, the river banks and footpaths are resplendent with millions of late flowering meadow flowers:
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As impressive as the flowers are, there are a disappointing number of bumblebees (although  there were a few honey bees) on the flowers, the most popular being the perennial Agastache 'Black Adder' in the 'Great British Garden'.
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After the games end, the Olympic Park will be known as the Queen Elizabeth II park and it will be interesting to see how the acres of meadows and parks are maintained, especially if the stadium becomes used by a Premier League football team - who may not show the reverence that the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Olympics have shown.
It will also be interesting to see whether the development around the River Lea does indeed become the promised legacy or if it becomes an expensive folly, like the 2004 Athens Olympics - where the current wildlife highlights are the frogs in the disused swimming pools:

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Life & Death on the Thames Path

Back in March, the Thames Path was full of mating toads:
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Now, five months later, their eggs have turned to tadpoles and those that have survived have become toadlets - a fully formed toad, but only 1cm long.
In order to avoid predation, they are camouflaged, which does mean walkers have to be careful not tread on them - as they can be very difficult to spot.
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However for those that reach full size, the risks change, but are equally severe - including ending up as a meal for an otter:
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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Return to the Ock

Due to the weather, holidays, but mostly complete apathy, the river and this blog have been neglected for nearly two months.
So it is interesting to return to see what has changed - the most obvious is the wooden footbridge has been for health and safety reasons. 
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Another  obvious change is the growth of the river fauna - the sedges, reeds and nettles making access to the river very limited.
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The plants alongside the river aren't the only ones that are growing, back in May the Ock Meadow was under water, now the barley will soon be ready to be harvested
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With the increase in the river plants and the closure of the footbridge, it can be difficult to see any wildlife.  But the banded demoiselles are out in force, including this female:
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And a pair of swans have also moved in, but do not appear to be trying to establish a nest.
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And where it is possible to gain access to there are evidence of nocturnal activity, including this intriguing five toed footprint - a visiting otter perhaps?
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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Cromford Canal

During a recent jaunt through the peak district, it seemed appropriate to pay a pilgrimage to Cromford Canal, the mecca for water voles - a lot of TV footage of the voles has been filmed on the canal.
Part of the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site, it fell into disrepair (like a lot of canals) in the mid 1900's and  more recently part of it has become a special site of scientific interest:
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Although there were no water vole sightings when we visited, there were other animals of interest - such as little grebes
These are migrant visitors to the Ock, often just staying for a short while, before moving on. The then can be incredibly difficult to photograph, as they spend virtually all their time underwater, only appearing for a fraction of a second to take a gulp of air, before diving back to continue what seems like an endless search for food.
However, the little grebe on Cromford Canal was more obliging, as it had a chick to feed: 
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A fish that is rumoured to live on the Ock and the scourge of water voles and young water fowl is the pike, this was evident as the water is a lot clearer in the canal and was just floating rather ominously next to a family of small coots
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One thing Cromford Canal has which most other water vole hotspots doesn't is a splendid cafe.  Where it is possible to enjoy the local wildlife (especially the ducks) whilst sheltering front the frequent rain showers that occur near the peak district.
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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Return of the Tree Bumblebee

Last year, a newly emerged queen tree bumblebee visited our garden (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.com/2011/07/tree-bumblebees.html).
Either she, or maybe one of sisters, has successfully established a nest and this year, worker tree bumblebees are visiting.
One of their favourite plants is Purple Toadflax, often considered a weed, it is very popular with all types of bees:
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Tree bumblebees are one of the easier species to identify, with a brown thorax, black abdomen which has a white tip, as seen on the scabious, a new addition to the garden:
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Slightly similar are carder bumblebees, which also have a brown thorax, but not the distinct white tip:
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With the tree bumblebee being a new arrival in the country (first recorded in the new forest 10 years ago), a survey has been launched by the Natural History Museum to track their progress across the country:
http://www.opalexplorenature.org/TreeBumblebee
TreeBumblebee

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Jubile Weekend Wildlife

In between the  typical holiday chores, visiting family and attending a very wet bun throwing, the long weekend provided a few opportunities (in between the rain) to get down to the river and enjoy the calm and see what was about:
Three weeks later than last year, the mayfly have finally emerged.
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As the mayfly emerge, so do their predators, including this small red damselfly

Update (29/8/2012): This is not, as described above, a small red damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum), it is a more common large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphal)
Thanks to Ian for the correction.
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Also on this part of the river are the first ducklings of the year. As there are so many of them it could mean there are no mink or otters about, as both have a predilection for small water fowl.
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Another new arrival is a pair of lapwings, like most ground nesting birds these have been hit hard to by changes in the use of agricultural land, so it is great to have them nesting in the nearby fields:
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The recent warmer weather allowed the river flora to start growing, making it increasingly hard to spot water voles
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Although some are more obliging, by climbing up the willow trees to head height:
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