Despite black skies and torrential rain all evening (not to mention diabolical traffic), sixteen hardy souls turned up for the Society walk at Olney on 14 June, more in hope than expectation. However, our faith was justified as the weather improved, with just one brief, heavy shower to refresh us. We were rewarded with a splendid walk and some good finds. As Martin Kincaid gave a brief introduction to the walk at the car park, a Goldcrest was in good voice overhead.
We began by walking along Church Road where we stopped to admire Biting Stonecrop (and we did bite) and several other species growing on the church walls. Then into the water meadows. On last year’s walk, we managed to produce quite a list of birds and happily we saw many of them again. Olney Mill has become known amongst bird-watchers in recent years as a site for nesting Goosander – a species which typically breeds in the Scottish borders! Despite Martin’s warning that we were probably too late to see the young, almost immediately, the adult female appeared with no less than nine well grown ducklings! All enjoyed splendid views of this delightful family. At first, they swam away from us quite briskly but we were able to catch up with them several times over the course of the walk and they seemed less nervous. To successfully brood such a large family, she must be a super-mum! Unfortunately, the local Kingfisher family kept a low profile.
The recent heavy rainfall meant that the meadows had a very different feel to them from our last visit, with several shallow channels submerged and also some temporary ponds adding wildlife interest. This did mean one or two detours to the planned route but no one seemed to mind. Other birds seen along the Ouse were Little Egret, Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Swallow, House Martin, a pair of Common Terns and Canada and feral Barnacle Geese. Martin picked out the distant song of a Yellowhammer and as we continued to walk the song got ever closer and eventually Linda Murphy spotted the handsome bird singing on a fence post, just across the river from us. We all took a moment to enjoy the song – sadly a much rarer sound than it once was. Skylark was also heard by a few and a Kestrel raced past.
Although the cool weather meant insects were less evident than last year, we managed to see four species of damselfly – Red eyed, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and the always welcome Banded Demoiselle, including one unfortunate specimen whose wings seemed not to have set properly. Julian Lambley busied himself with finding insects for Martin and Steve Brady to identify. Particularly nice was a small China-mark moth. This was tentatively identified as Nyphula stagnata and has since been confirmed. We also saw several specimens of the small beetle Gastrophysa viridula identified by Steve and on a large nettle patch found the larvae of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies together with more damselflies. Julian also found a beautiful green Sawfly Rhogogaster spp.
With the river in spate, it was not easy to find some of the marginal plants found last time but we did note Greater Yellow-cress, Water forget-me-not and Skullcap among others. Roy decided against battling through the stinging nettles to look for Greater Dodder! Before heading back across the fields we paused to take in the dusk chorus with Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Wren and Song Thrush among the star performers.
A walk back along the ancient stone path brought us a final view of the goosander family as they settled down to roost on a gravel bank. We arrived back at the Museum car park just in time to see a large flock of swifts appear for their dusk flight. All in all, a very enjoyable Society walk and not the damp squib we were expecting.
A full list of birds recorded is given below:
Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose (feral), Goosander, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Kestrel, Black Headed Gull, Common Tern, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Swift, Green Woodpecker, Swallow, House Martin, Skylark, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Wren, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Yellowhammer.
Trip report by Martin Kincaid