Wednesday, 24 February 2016

A farewell to Cuddesdon

I have left Cuddesdon and it feels appropriate to say goodbye with some sort of summing up of my experiences of trying to find birds around the village. 
There were some fabulous sunrises:

And some fabulous sunsets:

My most satisfying finds: 

The blog title says it all: Birdless Cuddesdon, I did not find a lot. Some of this is due to my skill levels and some due to poor coverage. My ambition was to try to find a county rarity. Phil Barnett once told me that this make take 10 years. I only gave it 8! A Shrike seemed most likely, but it was not to be (though a Great Grey Shrike at nearby Chiselhampton was a near-miss). I recorded 108 species of bird around Cuddesdon between mid-2008 and early 2016, plus two escaped species (Harris Hawk and Snow Goose). I am sure I missed much, as always, greater coverage produces more. Here, in no particular order, are some of the bird finds that I enjoyed the most. On the whole these are Cuddesdon rarities. Apart from the Redstart they represent the only record of that species or subspecies:

A stonking (probable Greenland) Wheatear in early April:

A trilling fly-over Waxwing:

Is there a better start to an early April morning than finding a male Redstart?

A magnificent Merlin:

A reeling Grasshopper Warbler:

Green Sandpiper, my best wader:

But, by coincidence (for I believe that any other explanation would seem to invoke rather a lot) my two most statistically and emotionally interesting finds both occurred on my first local patch visits after the births of my children. On 25th March 2010, 11 days after the birth of our first daughter I stepped into the fields and was staggered to find myself looking at a male Ring Ouzel, perched in a local hedgerow. I never saw another in 8 years of trying:

But lightening can strike twice. Two years later, on 21st January 2012, a mere 7 days after the birth of our second daughter, I recalled that Ring Ouzel and wondered if I would be lucky again. 12 minutes later I am watching Oxfordshire's first ever (and to date only) Whitethroat recorded in winter, a remarkable record for a bird that should be in Senegal at that time of year:

Rural weather:

I was "fortunate" to live in Cuddesdon through some of the coldest winters in recent memory. There was a night when the temperature dropped to -17° and I can still the penetrating cold of cycling to work at -12°. For the first three winters there was snow each year:

What I won't miss:

1. The sound of gunshots and bird scarers. Often the first sound I heard on awakening would be the sound of gunfire:

2. Low flying aircraft:

3. Rapeseed, the harsh colour and penetrating smell and taste of early summer. Yuck:

4. The chemical desert of the modern English countryside. Living out here has permanently changed the way that I see "the countryside". Rolling fields of wheat and rapeseed are not beautiful. Their production soaks the land in chemicals removing much insect and therefore bird and mammal life. Even in the 8 years I lived in Cuddesdon there was an observable reduction in the amount of hedgerows and mature trees. 

Mammals and amphibians: some survive! 

Local conservation:

There wasn't much. But this gave me a lot of pleasure:

3 Hobby chicks in a purpose built nest platform.

The Birds:

And finally here are some nice Cuddesdon bird pictures to remind me that, for all the challenges of modern agricultural practice, some birds do cling on in Cuddesdon... for the moment. 

I wish the 2 or 3 pairs of locally breeding Corn Buntings good luck and hope they cling on. I hope the Hobbys continue to nest on their platform, they were always a joy to see. 

The future:

I now live in Headington, Oxford. Back in the city. Ironically we now spend much less time in the car and more time cycling and walking. But where would my new local patch be? A city park didn't quite feel right and neither did somewhere that I would have to drive to. This morning, following a hint from Richard Ebbs, I discovered the Lye Valley Nature Reserve, just a few minutes walk from our house:

Who would have thought that there was ancient fen, fed by the water that passes through the limestone valley sides, in central Headington? The high alkaline content of the water (8.6pH!) has allowed a remarkable range of unique plants to survive here for thousands of years. The site is a SSSI and I met Dr. Judy Webb, a botanist and prime mover on the reserve, who has helped catalogue over 300 species of plant in the small valley and Tony, the butterfly expert, on site this morning. Apparently they need someone to help record the birdlife on the reserve, which (surprise, surprise) is threatened by a nearby housing development. The Lye Valley is small, but unique and ancient. It also appears to have my name written all over it. I feel a new blog coming on. 


  1. Good luck Tom, spare a thought now and then for myself across on the other hill at Garsington. Like you I continue to notice the deterioration of everything around me, each year feeling more and more desperate. Remember to keep an eye out for that Lesser Spot.though!.


    1. Thank you for your thoughts Steve, at least you have annual Spotted Flycatchers in Garsington! All the best for the future and yes, LSW is very much on my radar, cheers, Tom

  2. Hi Tom, Welcome to Headington. Lye Valley is just next door to us. I have seen around 30 species (I am not very good at it!). I can share my list with you if helpful.

    1. Hi Luke and thank you for your welcome! Any bird records from the Lye Valley would be useful, best by email

  3. Hi Tom, it's great to see you settle in to a new patch so quickly! I wonder how long it will take you to get over 108 species! I greatly admire the Friends of Lye Valley and all the hard work they do. I'm sure they'll be happy to have you on board. Richard Ebbs.