Sunday, 16 September 2018

Boddington Reservoir - Autumnal mist and Small Copper

An added bonus of early morning birding is the opportunities it gives you to see the landscape as it "wakes-up", sometimes with spectacular blankets of mist across the valley bottoms and beautiful light effects as the sunshine starts to break through.  Last week we had one of those special mornings:
There is a good vantage point on a hill between the villages of Chipping Warden and Byfield, in south Northamptonshire.  It is a slightly awkward place to pull off the A361 but it is worth the trouble when the conditions are right. 
Looking west across the low-lying land below Lower Boddington, a "lake " of mist has suddenly appeared, from which large trees protrude, recalling a scene from a rainforest documentary.  In the distance, the Burton Dassett Hills help frame the view. 
At Boddington Reservoir the scene is no less spectacular:
As the sun warms the hedgerow, a Small Copper rests to soak up the sun - a perfect match for the autumnal colours of the brambles.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Boddington Reservoir: Wood Sandpiper and Little Egret

I've been able to visit Boddington Reservoir a few times recently and I'm finding early morning is a great time to visit, before there is too much disturbance.  There are some nice habitats around the edge of the reservoir, including an ancient hay meadow, scrubby grassland and quite extensive willow carr.  The water body itself is large enough to attract wildfowl, gulls and one or two waders, and a few pairs of Great-crested Grebes manage to raise young. Recently, water levels have dropped and some nice muddy edges have appeared - attractive to migrant Common Sandpipers and well as the local Grey Herons and a few Little Egrets (up to four).
On Saturday morning I set off around the reservoir and all seemed fairly quiet until I got near to the far end.  Looking across to the far shoreline I spotted a smallish wader that wasn't quite right for Common Sandpiper - too tall and elegant - I suspected it might be a Wood Sandpiper.  I knew I needed a closer look to be sure, so I worked my way around to the other side and carefully scanned the shore.  My suspicions were confirmed, but the views weren't great, looking into the light.  So I continued around and followed a well worn path down to the shore.  A few paces along the shore and I was well positioned to see the sandpiper, and now I could see it properly - a juvenile Wood Sandpiper with neatly patterned and very fresh-looking wing coverts.  It became nervous when some Mallard's reacted to my presence and almost immediately flew off calling "chiff-if-if", but soon returned and resumed feeding, allowing me to take a few photos.
Wood Sandpiper, juvenile
Little Egret in evening light
Early morning at Boddington Reservoir
Lots of birds are forming into flocks at the moment. Swallows gathered in Upper Wardington village earlier in the week  - up to 80 on the wires - but now seem to have gone.  A similar number of House Martins were gathered at Edgcote on Friday evening - there is a large colony on Edgcote House.
A reasonably large flock of Starlings has gathered in the village for the past week or two, about 160, often gathered on rooftops before periodically swooping down en-mass to feast on the berries of a small Rowan, a feast that won't last too much longer!

Monday, 27 August 2018

Grimsbury Reservoir: juvenile Black Tern

Yesterday a juvenile Black Tern graced Grimsbury Reservoir in the latter part of the afternoon and early evening.  Thanks to the persistence of finder Colin Wilkinson, making his second patch visit of the day, I was able to spend about an hour watching this ever-so graceful bird swooping across the reservoir.  On one occasion it rose up into the air with a cluster of alarmed Sand Martins and House Martins - a Hobby was on the prowl.  It continued feeding away until I left but was gone by this morning.  A male Redstart also showed well, perched on the barbed wire fence along the edge of the cattle grazed field and feeding along a sheltered stretch of hedge.

Black Tern, juvenile
Great-spotted Woodpecker, male, in a dead Scots Pine at the entrance to the reservoir this morning
I've been spending a it more time at Boddington Reservoir recently, and as water levels in this canal-feeder reservoir have dropped, it has become more attractive to Little Egrets (up to 4) and Common Sandpipers (up to six) in particular.  Willow Tits have also been quite vocal and I have seen at least three birds in the vicinity of the boat club HQ.
Little Egret, Boddington Reservoir
Up at Tadmarton Heath BOS nature reserve this morning, it was interesting to see that the wild bird food crop, that had struggled to grow at all over the dry summer, has suddenly started to flourish, and Corn Marigolds have appeared again.  This years crop of Blackberries is also very notable for the size and quantity of the berries!  A few birds were taking advantage of the abundance of food, especially Bullfinches (including just-fledged chicks) and Whitethroats.
Corn Marigold

It has also be great to see quite a few pairs of Little Grebes rearing young on local lakes and pools, including three pairs using the "Borrow Pit" next to the Banbury flood defence.  This photo was taken a couple of weeks back.
Little Grebe adult and young

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Upper Wardington: Butterfly snowstorm

Whilst out for a run on Friday I was stopped in my tracks by a huge gathering of white butterflies along the edge of a field of Oilseed Rape.  Quite a spectacle - there must have been hundreds if not thousands of butterflies dancing around the field margin, together with some considerable numbers across the field itself.  I returned this afternoon armed with camera to investigate further and take some photos.
This turned out to be a good example of how nature can suddenly become abundant, even alongside intensive arable farming.  In this case, the presence of flowers of the cabbage family (presumably sown deliberately) and a liberal scattering of Phacelia (also known as the bee flower) plants had created very attractive conditions for white butterflies to nectar and egg lay, and great opportunities for bees to feed and gather pollen.  Most of the butterflies were Small Whites, but most of the eggs and caterpillars present on the plants were of the Large White.  Some of the caterpillars were being eaten alive by parasitic wasp larvae.  I also spotted a single, well worn, Green-veined White.

Small White
The field margin and associated white butterfly "snowstorm"
Large White eggs
Large White caterpillars - a parasitic wasp has laid its eggs in the caterpillar and they have been eaten alive! 

Phacelia and bee
First thing in the morning a trip down to Bicester Wetland Reserve was very enjoyable, with great views of Greenshank striding across the muddy pools, with beautiful reflections.  Green Sandpipers, Snipe and Water Rails were also showing well.  Later, in the afternoon, Alan Peters found that the Greenshanks had increased to three and Green Sandpipers to 13!

Green Sandpiper

Finally, it was great to catch-up, at long last, with close views of Brown Hairstreak butterflies at Otmoor on Saturday morning.  Especially as I managed to walk past a female sitting right next to the path!
Female Brown Hairstreak
Male Brown Hairstreak looking down from a favoured spot on an Ash leaf.