Thursday, 23 March 2017

Oxfordshire: State of Nature 2017 launched

This week has seen the launch at Blenheim Palace of a landmark publication that captures the current state of the county's nature.

Inspired by the national State of Nature, this report has been two years in development and includes a marvellous compendium of facts, figures and case studies, contributed by numerous individuals and organisations. 

The report's overall findings are that sadly the overall trend is towards loss and decline in nature, especially for farmland and woodland wildlife, but it also gives clear direction on the way forward needed to reverse this trend and highlights the action required across many sectors. 

Essential reading for anyone with an interest and concern for nature in Oxfordshire, it is also beautifully produced and includes images taken by many local photographers.

Led by Wild Oxfordshire, the report is available in two formats on the Wild Oxfordshire website - a Highlights report and Full report.  Do look at both.  The Full report in particular is a great source of information about who is doing what, and where.  The Oxford Mail has given it some great coverage.

If you don't have time to start reading the reports today please do have a look at this four minute film.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Queensland 2016 No. 3: Mt Hypipamee

Mount Hypipamee is one of the best and most accessible places to connect with many of the special birds and marsupials in the Atherton Tablelands.  It is part of the extensive Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.  We made two visits - the first was early morning and the second was an evening spotlighting trip led by Alan Gillanders.

Driving up in the early morning we hit several belts of fog and I wondered if we were in for a damp and dreary start.  Fortunately, as we drove up into the rainforest the fog disappeared and soon we were parked up next to a large grassy clearing in the forest.  Following directions from Alan, we carefully made our way into the rainforest and located a particular spot that was well hidden in the lush vegetation - the display ground of the Golden Bowerbird - one of the endemic birds of the Atherton Tablelands. 

We waited for about 15 minutes, then suddenly the male bowerbird appeared and immediately started tending his bower.  A stunning looking bird, his bright yellow and olive plumage glowed within the muted greenery of the rainforest.  He was soon carefully arranging clumps of grey lichen around the bower.  In low light conditions within the depths of the rainforest, photography was challenging, but I managed to capture a few record shots. 

Golden Bowerbird
We had this stunning sight to ourselves for about ten minutes, then a group of photographers appeared - slightly off course and heading straight for the bower!  I managed to avert the risk of damage to the bower and redirected them to our vantage point.  We decided to leave them too it and retreated back towards the road, then, fortuitously, the bowerbird perched on a branch just above us for a short while and enjoyed a final view of this wonderful bird.
Golden Bowerbird
We then spent time exploring the trails that lead further into the rainforest, past waterfalls and onwards to a very deep crater lake.
Crater viewpoint

Golden Whistler
We returned in the evening to join a spotlighting tour led by Alan Gillanders.  This is a great way to see many of the nocturnal marsupials and learn about their behaviour and ecology - highly recommended.  We visited two different habitats - rainforest and the drier eucalypt forest.  I was especially thrilled to see my first ever Tree Kangaroo, but the sheer variety and beauty of these endearing marsupials was really amazing to see.
Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo
Squirrel Glider
Yellow-bellied Glider
Lumuroid Ringtail Possum
Coppery Brushtail Pussum

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Banbury and the Cherwell Valley: Waxwings and Pintails

Saturday was another great day to be out and about, especially after the early morning cloud cleared through and blue skies prevailed.
After some enjoyable local birding in the morning, I decided to call in to Osterley Grove in Banbury on my way home, to see if a small flock of Waxwings I located on Friday afternoon were still present.  Turning into the cul-de-sac, the flock were immediately in my view - crowded together on a TV aerial (ten birds in total, two more than yesterday).  I parked-up and was able to spend a good amount of time watching the birds as they fed on the white berries of an ornamental Sorbus (a type of Rowan).  They also spent time on the roof and drinking from the gutter!
Knowing many birds have been colour-ringed this winter in the Aberdeen area (in fact I'd just read an article about their movement on the Birdguides webzine), I checked though the flock and sure enough one individual showed a brightly-coloured combination of rings.
Local people were really interested in the birds and tolerant of the trickle of birders passing through.
drinking from the gutter
the colour-ringed Waxwing was not one of those that posed so well for the camera!
Later in the afternoon I took a walk along the Oxford Canal south of Aynho Wharf where plenty of birds had been attracted to the floodwaters in this beautiful part of the Cherwell Valley.  Two flocks of Lapwing, totalling 1000 birds, was very impressive but the undoubted highlight was two small groups of Pintail, one of my favourite ducks, increadibly elegant and beautiful - and really quite scarce in our area.  So to see them locally, and in such a lovely setting, was a real thrill.
Cherwell Valley looking north from Aynho Wharf
Cherwell Valley in flood
these extensive foodwaters are a magnet for wildfowl
Pintails - two drakes and a duck - "phonescoped" in failing light!


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Banbury: Urban Collared Doves

A pair of enterprising Collared Doves have taken to nesting on top of traffic lights in the centre of Banbury, somewhat appropriately, opposite the Three Pigeons Inn!  Presumably, incubation and chick-rearing benefits from the warmth of the light bulbs below.
I noticed them nesting in the same place last year but never got around to photographing them, so when I spotted them using the same traffic light last week I decided to make the effort this year.  It is also pretty amazing that they can successfully raise young in the middle of winter. 
I managed a short visit this morning before the rain set in today, and captured some nice images and video clips of an adult brooding the chick, then the chick alone in the nest. These birds are extremely tolerant of people using the pedestrian crossing below them.
I've also seen this behaviour in Adderbury, and checking on-line, there are quite a few other records of this happening across the country.
On the drive home afterwards, I also encountered a nice mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plover feeding on sheep pasture (not a common sight around here), also very good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares.  A Red Kite drifted overhead and Tree Sparrows chattered in the hedgerow trees.
Collared Dove chick in the nest - already quite a good size and not too far off fledging

Adult feeding the chick
the nest is right next to this Inn

Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Common Gulls near Upper Wardington
more of the lapwings - the flock numbered over 200 birds
Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Sheep