Wildlife on Osney

Swift Summer

From a North Street resident:

Pinpoint acute to naked eye
In blue infinity eve May
Lightning flicker wing flash across sky
Heralds short summer stay.

Wonder: they navigate at needle accuracy,
Hard wired within so small a frame,
Seek sunshine solstice ecstasy
On kindred latitude, year and again,

First traverse tropics, then yonder
Deserts forests mountains seas,
Snatch precious seconds of slumber
Steepling tumbling on the breeze,
Awaken at dive’s end radar stronger,
Surf a new ascent with ease.

Yet what star’s declination,
Scribes the compass of travel north?
Along familiar meridian which demarcation
Limits the way forth?

Oh the joy of their arrival and choice to delay
Amongst us, to flock their midge collations
In aerobatic abandon. And so they
Adapt strange human habitation
Tenements terraces – like cliffs about a bay –
Therein construct the nest, a cup of magic fabrication
Spittle fluff and insect mortar spray
Sculpted a hanging basket.
Next incubation:
Tolerate sedentary state
all night, all day,
To raise the newest speedster generation
– Screeching hand brake turns learned in play –
Equipped to fly to mystery winter destination.

Sparrowhawk in action

At the end of August 2020 a resident of Bridge Street extension witnessed a a female sparrowhawk attacking and devouring a wood pigeon in her garden.

You can download the video below (video courtesy of Julia and Tobias).

Sparrowhawk.m4v

Big Butterfly Count

Each year the UK Butterfly Conservation Trust organises a national butterfly count to track what is happening to our butterfly populations. Anyone can contribute, using a free phone app. Seven Osney residents took part in the Big Butterfly Count 2020, which ran from Friday 17 July to Sunday 9 August.

A comma in Wytham Woods

The most commonly observed species in Osney gardens was the small white (cabbage white). Large whites, peacocks, red admirals, commas, gatekeepers and a holly blue were also spotted.

The national survey is backed by Sir David Attenborough and used to assess wildlife losses.

Results from 2020 show a 34% decline on 2019 in the number of butterflies observed, despite a 25% increase in counts submitted. The fall in numbers may be due to the warm spring, which meant that butterflies emerged earlier in the season. But it does also reflect the ‘perilous state of wildlife in the UK.’

Observations are reported through a free app you download to your phone, which comes with a simple identification guide. If you want to join in the next survey you can sign up for a free newsletter from the charity: https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org/ The site also has an intereactive map of the observations.

Reflections on sparrows

From Jude Carroll: For me, ‘nature’ on Osney is a cloud of sparrows. I used to get a variety of birds at the feeder, but now, it’s just sparrows (plus pigeons hoovering up whatever falls).  Since lockdown, I watch them, on and off, all day long.  They line up on the fence, sometimes 15 or 20 at a time, waiting their turn and all facing the same way.  Newcomers to the feeder push off whoever is taking too long, involving lots of chatter and wing action. Back in the summer, clumsy babies took weeks to learn to navigate the feeder and probably, to understand the pecking order.

Yesterday, it was drama: a red kite flew low overhead at the same time as a local cat crept closer (oh, I wish people would put bells on them). There was a scattered whoosh then, 10 minutes later, back they came for a feeding frenzy before decamping again.  I hope it was to another islander who is enjoying them as much as I do.

River birds

More than one resident has reported sightings of a kingfisher on the Osney stream at the back of West Street. And the heron is a regular visitor at the weir and on the main towpath. Photo courtesy of Veronica Strang.

Frogs and toads

Commonly seen in Osney gardens, even where there is no standing water, as in this photo from South Street. Photo by Fiona McFarlane.