Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sydlings Copse

The other day my friend James and I visited my favourite local nature reserve: Sydlings Copse in Oxfordshire. Managed by BBOWT, the reserve is home to a vast range of species, sporting habitats as diverse as woodland, heathland and fen. 

As you enter the reserve you are greeted by an ancient broadleaved forest, carpeted at this time of year in a purple blanket of fragrant bluebells. A Nuthatch sang above us, and we watched for a minute as it flitted about from Oak to Ash. 
The Bluebells at Sydlings Copse
Take a left and you come into an area of limestone grassland. A team of BBOWT volunteers were hard at work here as we walked by, cutting back shrubs and getting rid of invasive weeds to reduce competition for the hundreds of native plant species which have been recorded there. Brimstones, Peacocks and Speckled Woods were among the Butterflies we encountered, basking on the ground in the afternoon sun.
A Speckled Wood Butterfly, basking in the sun.
Then it's back into woodland, and down a few makeshift steps into the valley which runs right the way through the reserve. Sparrowhawks are known to nest here, and well trodden paths through the wild garlic lead to the characteristically 'D' shaped entrance holes of the local Badgers' sett. A stream flows between the age-old trees, and we spotted Fallow and Muntjac tracks along its banks.
We found all sorts of tracks along the banks of this stream, which runs right through the reserve
Across the bridge you come into an area of heathland, which I'm told is a rarity in Oxfordshire. Gorse covers most of this land, attracting legions of Orange-tip Butterflies as well as birds such as Linnets.  We opted to take the wildlife trail through the heathland, which runs alongside a fen that lies at the bottom of the valley.

A Buzzard soared over us as we walked, carried high by the thermals. Meanwhile high-pitched squeaking noises were emanating from the dead bracken around us. At first we thought it might have been coming from a bird's nest, hidden in the undergrowth, but upon closer inspection we realised that we had stumbled into a war zone. Common Shrews are notoriously territorial and the ones around our feet had taken an obvious dislike to each other, erupting into fierce shouting matches and frantically chasing each other through the bracken. 
A section of  the 'Wildlife Trail', at Sydlings Copse nature reserve in Oxfordshire
Further along the path we came across some more interesting animal behaviour. Using a rock as an anvil, a Song Thrush was smashing open snail shells to get to the tasty creature hiding inside. Song Thrushes are the only birds which perform this remarkable act of avian ingenuity, often when the ground is too hard to reach earthworms, as it has been here these past few days. 
A 'Snail anvil'- used by Song Thrushes to smash open Snail shells against
All in all it was a great day out at a fantastic nature reserve. If you have a spare hour or two this Easter weekend, I would strongly urge you to get outside exploring your local patch. 

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