Sunday, 16 August 2015

Warwickshire's Cotswold Edge: harebells and spotted flycatchers

North of Banbury, the Cotswold Hills drop down to the Midland Plain along the Edgehill scarp slope.  A just to the west, above the village of Tysoe, the scarp slope is a little gentler with a couple of small valleys and distinctive outlier hills.  Mark and I spent much of today exploring this generally "off the beaten track" area, making the most of calm and fairly sunny weather.

Starting from Shenington, we headed towards Epwell through  pasture land, mixed with arable and free range chickens.  A bank of unimproved grassland was nice to find, and though rather heavily grazed a scattering of harebells had survived to flowering. This is a fairly scarce plant in our area.  It was interesting to see an adjoining field, fenced off from grazing, and packed with field scabious and black knapweed.
grazed vs. ungrazed
In the village of Epwell a tiny field had been sown with annual flowers typical of arable cultivation before the arrival of herbicides.
wild flower mix
cornflower and corn marigold
There were many very nice hedgerows, packed with field maple, elm, blackthorn and wild plum.  In places honeysuckle was also prominent.  It was noticeable that ash predominated as the main hedgerow tree on the top of the slope (i.e. on the hill) while oak dominated down the slope and onto the plain. 
wild plum
typical landscape of pasture and gorse-topped hills
The tiny village of Winderton was the best for birds - one farmhouse had a strong colony of house martins with about a dozen adults flying around.  Near the church at least four spotted flycatchers were perching from branches and aerials - they seemed to be a family group. 

A little further on, a stretch of footpath approaching Compton Wynyates ran alongside some lovely habitat for farmland birds and butterflies - strips of wild bird cover and a corner packed with teasels. Lots of scrubby habitat here too.  One to return to in autumn and winter.

Our main target of the walk was to scale Windmill Hill and enjoy the view across Warwickshire.  The early 18th Century windmill has been restored and looks rather splendid. 
Windmill Hill
We continued though the Tysoes, up Edgehill, then descended though a quiet grassy valley (where a well hidden little owl called from some stunted trees) and thence back to Shennington.  Intestingly, no red kites seen all day, just a few buzzards and kestrels - they are clearly not yet well established here. 

Our 12K ramble had taken about six hours. 

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