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Weekly round ups

Weekly round ups

6th-12th December 2021

This weekend we joined up with Wiltshire Mammal Group to undertake a Harvest mouse survey on the byway from the B4192 up to Sugar Hill. The sun shone and it felt almost warm as we divided tussocks and parted grassy clumps along the edge of the track searching for the tennis-ball shaped and beautifully woven treasures of harvest mice summer nests. They are typically around 30cm above the ground, woven firmly among vertical stems with an obvious entrance hole. Adult females build several nests in a season from fresh green grass ensuring they are well camouflaged. However, by autumn (when they are no longer in use) they are easier to spot as the vegetation around them dies back. In winter, harvest mice retreat to the ground level.
Due to changes in farming practice and habitat loss it is thought that harvest mice populations are in decline, however the Mammal Society’s 2018 ‘Review of the population and conservation status of British mammals’ highlighted that very little is known about our populations (They are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN). The Mammal Society divide the country into 2km by 2km grid squares and record presence of harvest mice nests within these squares. Within Aldbourne parish their map show a couple of sightings from 20-40 years ago. However, that all changed this year starting with a survey training day at Ramsbury Brewery run by Gareth Harris (Wiltshire mammal group) at the end of October. Encouraged by the success of that event we set out to fill in the many gaps in the grid in our local area. I’ll just say dog walks have taken a bit longer recently as we’ve stopped to poke around in long grass and at the base of hedgerows! The thrill of finding a nest is amazing and often leads to one thinking I’ll just have a look in the next grass clump….and the next.
We’re excited to report that we have found harvest mice nests in every square in the parish this autumn (apart from a couple which only dip into the parish). It’s great to know they are living right across our local area but of course this doesn’t tell us about population sizes or dynamics.
We have collected over 20 harvest mouse nests so if you would like to come and see one in the flesh then let us know, we would also be happy to go out looking with anyone who wanted to check out their local arable margins for nests.  When things return to normal we hope to take these nests into the school so that the children can have the opportunity to touch and hold them.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a harvest mouse nest while out and about please log the sighting on the Mammal Society’s brilliant Mammal Mapper App which is free and designed to record mammal sightings in the UK which are then used for scientific research and conservation.
Otherwise out and about in the parish Stonechats are still conspicuous and Corn Buntings are also grouping up.  Barn Owls are also being seen so keep a close eye out when driving at night as seeing a Barn Owl is always a special encounter.
As always please let us know any sightings or updates about the amazing wildlife we have around Aldbourne.

29th November-5th December 2021

The Four Barrows track is a year-round favourite amongst many in the village, and beyond, but now is a great time to venture up the hill to enjoy the downland. 
 
Starting at Grasshills take the time to look for the Firecrest which was still frequently showing well and was very confiding on the Four Barrows bird walk this week.  Look for a small bird in the yew or ivy along the right side of the path from the first horse field to the small copse with the swing.  It is often present a head height, has a high squeaky call and is constantly moving.  It looks like a Goldcrest but has a bright shoulder patch and bold eyestripe, the Firecrest is much easier to see in this spot that Goldcrests, for ID help see this previous post.
Once you get towards the top of the hill you are very likely to see Redwings, these winter thrushes are slightly smaller than a Blackbird and have a bold cream eyestripe, they have a slightly weak flight pattern and make a high ‘seep’ call as they fly.
As you travel along the top you will see lots of Fieldfares, these large winter thrushes have pale grey rumps as they fly away from you with a loud ‘chuck-chuck’ call.
 
As you approach the barrows themselves you might well start to hear the loud murmurings of the huge Starling flock in the fields around the stone pyramid.  Stop to enjoy their sound and to watch the flock fly around in incredible formation.
 
Between the stone pyramid and Whitcombe Copse, and often around the barrows look out for a very reliable and approachable pair of stonechats.  They will flit on the fence and cow parsley stems, the male with a bold black head and white neck ring, the female with subtle but equally beautiful colours.  As you walk past the barrows look for a small brown bird flying up from the ground with white outer tail feathers and a high ssseeeep, sseeeep, ssseeep call – a Meadow Pipit.
 
Along the way look out for Corn Buntings, Skylarks and Linnets – all of which will sing when the sun is out – and the brightly-headed Yellowhammers on top of the bushes.
 
Elsewhere in the village there are still a few hedgehogs about to make their way into hibernation and a Barn Owl was seen just past Woodsend on the Ogbourne road while sadly a different Barn Owl was found dead on the B4192 on Thursday.
 
As always please let us know any sightings or updates about the amazing wildlife we have around Aldbourne.

22-28th November 2021

After a period of quiet bird feeders the cold weather has brought birds back to our gardens.  As well as the usual tits, finches, robins, dunnocks and blackbirds, we have had 2 nuthatches, jackdaws and a jay on the fatballs and even a treecreeper visit the garden.  Keep a close eye out for bramblings as they are likely to visit gardens in this weather – they resemble a chaffinch but have an apricot colour and a pure white rump.
Jays have been extremely abundant both in the village and through the surrounding countryside so enjoy these beautiful crows.
Over the last few weeks there has been a magnificent flock of 2000+ starlings, this can be seen around and either side of Four Barrows.  It is rare to see and hear such a big flock of starlings nowadays but you will not be disappointed if you happen across them!
 
The firecrest is still showing well at the bottom of the Four Barrows track.  Do get in touch if we can help you to see this cracking bird.
 
Our winter thrushes, redwings and fieldfares, are gorging themselves on the berries in the hedgerows – listen for the high seeee call of redwings and the chuck-chuck-chuck of fieldfares which can be heard throughout the parish including over the village.
 
As always please let us know any sightings or updates about the amazing wildlife we have around Aldbourne.