Saturday, 14 January 2017

Caulcott: Cattle Egrets

Last weekend's BOS "short day count" produced a major bonus with the discovery of the first Cattle Egrets - a group of three birds - so far recorded in our area.  These birds have been attracted to an excellent feeding area - a field full of free-range pigs. It is very rewarding when you find something really unusual on your local patch and a was delighted for the finders as they survey the birds in this particular area regularly, adding a lot to our knowledge of local bird distributions. 
two of the three Cattle Egrets - the first to be recorded in Banburyshire
This morning I managed to catch up with them myself, and enjoyed watching the egrets feeding in very close proximity to the pigs, especially when the pigs were actively feeding in the mud and straw.  The egrets were able find some rich pickings including plenty of worms. 

These birds are part of a significant influx into the UK, the last time this happened (in 2008), a pair stayed on the breed successfully in Somerset, perhaps the same will happen this year?  Directions to see the birds, plus many nice pics and clips are to be found on the Oxon Birding Blog
This story also demonstrates the link between our food and local wildlife, and shows how supporting  local producers can help promote a more diverse farmed landscape in our area.
the piglets were delightful too!

The other ornithological event locally is the presence of a male Blue Rock Thrush in a suburb of Stow on the Wold.  Found over the Christmas period, it is a great rarity in the UK and has attracted huge numbers of admirers as well as much debate over it's origin.  I made the trip over to Stow after watching the egrets, and got some lovely views of the thrush as it sat preening in a favoured bush.
Male Blue Rock Thrush, Stow on the Wold

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Banbury: Waxwings

A quick lunchtime trip up to Longelandes Way in Banbury was rewarded by some nice views of eleven Waxwings (13 were seen in the same area yesterday) trilling away in an ornamental tree half way down Portway.  They briefly descended onto a much smaller ornamental rowan.  I managed a few quick pics before they flew off.  There are quite a few berry-bearing trees and shrubs in the area, so hopefully they will stick around for a few days.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Queensland 2016 No.1 : Atherton Tablelands

The first instalment of "highlights" from a tour around the Cairns area last August.  My nephew's wedding in Noosa, north of Brisbane, presented the ideal opportunity to spend some time exploring north Queensland, and area I'd not visited on two previous visits to Australia.

With a week available, the itinerary was honed-down to three areas: Yungaburra and Mount Molloy in the Atherton Tablelands (inland from Cairns), and the Daintree area north of Cairns.  I also had three specific targets - Platypus, Southern Cassowary and Victoria's Riflebird (a bird-of-paradise).

Rather than write in detail about where to go and stay, I hope the images will give a flavour of what you can see in a week or so in this excellent area.  Top of my list of "wildlife to see" was definitely the Platypus. I was blown away by the wonderful views I had to two individuals right up close at Peterson Creek, a well known Platypus-spotting reserve of the outskirts of Yungaburra.  Their presence was first given away by a trail of bubbles breaking the surface..... then that amazing face appeared! They couldn't have been more confiding.
Platypus in the creek
Getting closer
now almost too close for my 400mm lens
This all happened just hours after Mark and I had touched down at Cairns Airport, picked up a hire car and driven up the long, winding road to the Atherton Tablelands.  After checking into a motel and grabbing some lunch, I thought I might as well check out the reserve as it was just a few hundred metres along the road, and was very pleasantly surprised to find the Platypus almost immediately (they are more active at dawn and dusk). 

The Atherton Tablelands sit at about 1000m elevation, and much of what was once extensive rainforest has made way for farmed countryside with cattle and crops, but the rolling landscape still dotted with patches of surviving rainforest and surrounded by relatively unspoilt forest-clad mountains.  There is a rich variety of wildlife here, including several endemic birds and marsupials, and some impressive trees, volcanic cater lakes and wetlands.
Saw-shelled Turtle, Peterson Creek
Spectacled Monarch - commonly encountered in the rainforest

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Middleton Lakes: Little Egret roost count breaks record

Little Egrets bred successfully at Middleton Lakes RSPB nature reserve this year - the first confirmed breeding record, fledging three young.  They nest among Grey Herons in woodland next to the visitor's car park.  In recent winters the local population of Little Egrets has formed a communal roost, with small parties of up to four birds trickling into the trees at dusk (over a period of about 30 mins).  It is fun to watch and count to birds coming into roost.  Yesterday evening, after a walk around the reserve, Colin, Steve and I gave ourselves the challenge of counting the roosting birds to see if we could match or possibly exceed the recent record counts of up to 54 birds. Starting just before 4pm, two birds were already in the trees, and soon a few more started to fly in, coming from all directions.  Soon we were into the twenties, then a bit of a lull, before a final rush, and we quickly got to fifty, then fifty two, and finally a party of four took us over the record and up to 56.  This evening the count was matched and it seems likely to be exceeded again soon.
Little Egret, Rutland Water January 2016

Great to see this lovely bird doing so well, taking advantage of the newly created wetland habitats in the Tame Valley and becoming a regular feature of a day's birding.  Great White Egrets are set to follow this trend, with up to four recently in the area, tending to favour Alvecote Pools.

Little Egrets are much scarcer in Banburyshire, the best site is Bicester Wetland BOS nature reserve where there are often one or two, but on Boxing Day we saw two at the top end of Boddington Reservoir, and they can turn up anywhere there is wetland habitat.

The reason we were birding at Middleton Lakes was partly because it made a convenient stop on our way homewards after visiting Beeley in Derbyshire to see the Dusky Thrush that has been a star bird for the past month.  We got really nice prolonged views of the thrush feeding on earthworms in a pasture field on the edge of this very pretty village.  It was too distant to get worthwhile photos, so I've dug out an image of a very smart looking Dusky Thrush I photographed in Kyoto last year, to mark the occasion.
Dusky Thrush, Kyoto, November 2015