Monday, 30 April 2018

Souldern Wharf: a field of Marsh Marigolds

The floods that covered much of the Middle Cherwell Valley well into April have receded back to leave a small pool and well filled ditches.  One field at Souldern Wharf sits particularly wet and has really come to life - with a glorious expanse of Marsh Marigold.

not too many birds around, but included this Stonechat and a pair of Shelduck
A few other recent highlights:
Great-crested Grebes "weed dancing" at Boddington Reservoir
One of two Arctic Terns that graced Boddington Reservoir for a while on Saturday afternoon
Male Sparrowhawk in Upper Wardington
House Martin enjoying slightly sheltered conditions at Boddington Reservoir
Swallow, Boddington Reservoir
Long-tailed Tit nest at Boddington Reservoir, great job!
Close encounter with a Roebuck

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Spring warmth

Just a quick post of some images of Spring from the local area.  Nice to see the House Martins back from Africa and able to go straight into a nest that has survived from last season.
House Martin, Wroxton
Anemone blanda, not native but looks stunning when naturalised as at Thenford Churchyard
Male Blackbird singing in back garden this evening
Cherwell Valley floods last weekend, but now largely gone - much to the disappointment of about 15 pairs of Coots that had started nesting there!

Cherwell Valley near Clifton
River Cherwell - note how the winter floods have broken down the fringing reeds used by Reed Warblers. It will be a while before the fresh reed growth is suitable for nest building.
Mute Swan reflections, Wroxton College
Marsh Tit at Linkey Down, last Saturday - produced a lovely burst of song.
Cherwell Valley floods receding, Souldern Wharf

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Banburyshire: floods, murk, sun and some fabulous birds

Since my last blog post we've had and interesting period for birding in the Banbury area, with floods, persistent drizzle and cool weather that has not felt very spring-like.  A feeling compounded by the persistence of some winter visitors in our area, but now relieved by the arrival of our first waves of summer migrants and today, at long last, some glorious sunshine!.
Barn Owls are always a delight to watch and they seem to have been more active during daylight recently.  I was treated to an excellent prolonged view of this bird as it hunted around the grassy perimeter of Balscote Quarry nature reserve a couple of weeks back.
Barn Owl, Balscote Quarry nature reserve
Meanwhile, in the back garden, a flurry of excitement as Bramblings continued to visit the feeders, two different male birds and a female.  The males gradually mastered balancing in the perches, the female picked it up straight away. They have been around the garden since the blast of cold weather in early March, and were still around last week, but now appear to have departed back towards Scandinavia.
Male Brambling with two Tree Sparrows
Female Brambling with male Chaffinh
A very fleeting treat (for probably less than an hour) was the visit of a male and female Redpoll to the niger seed feeder - which is closer to the back windows than the other feeders - resulting in some fabulous views and better close-up photos, albeit through the double glazing.  The male was particularly stunning with his beautiful pink plumage
Male and female Redpoll
Male Redpoll
Male Redpoll
The floods that came though the Cherwell Valley a couple of weeks ago were pretty impressive and filled the valley for some days, especially around Clifton and Souldern Wharf where the land sits quite low beside the river.  The landscape was transformed into a beautiful wetland, and a few remaining Wigeon and Teal made the most of the opportunity before heading off to northern breeding grounds.  
Souldern Wharf
Brown Hare, near Thenford
This past week has been very murky and drizzly, not very pleasant to be out and about in, but it has actually been great for birding, especially at Grimsbury Reservoir, where we have been treated to not just one but two real star birds: a drake Common Scoter and a stunning Black-necked Grebe in majestic breeding plumage.  Both birds are pretty rare in our area; they were discovered by John Friendship-Taylor and enjoyed by many local birders, especially the grebe, which stayed a full two days.  A great example of what you can find on a local patch if you keep looking.
Drake Common Scoter
Black-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
The Black-necked Grebe was very interesting to watch on the first day, because it closely associated with a drake Tufted Duck, swimming very close behind it all the time, usually with its head tucked into it's breast feathers. The two seemed inseparable at first but the Tufted Duck seemed to get more irritated by the grebe later in the day and we saw them squabble, followed by a temporary parting!

Also of interest this spring is the continued presence of the Hawfinches that arrived in large numbers at the back end of the autumn.  In the past week or so they have still been present in their favoured sites locally, including Compton Verny and Thenford Church; I also found a flock of six again at Wroxton Abbey last Sunday.  It will be really interesting to see if they return to the continent soon or stay on locally to breed.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Banburyshire: freeze and thaw

Male Brambling, back garden
The past week has seen one of the coldest spells of winter weather for a long time.  Snow arrived on Thursday and Friday when Storm Emma came up against the bitterly cold air mass of arctic origin.  The strong easterly winds created some spectacular swirling snow drifts on the leeward side of hedgerows.
6 foot snow drift on Fox Hill above Upper Wardington
Swirling snow drift, cream coloured due to the particles of soil which got swept up from the fields and mixed into the snow
A huge drift nearly blocked this kissing gate
Many birds found refuge from the freeze in our back garden, the highlight being a stunning apricot-plumaged male Brambling, as well as a less conspicuous female, and a Stock Dove (common around the edge of the village, but rarely seen in the garden).  A Song Thrush made numerous attempts to feed with the other birds but was always quickly chased off by the blackbirds.  A single Redwing made a brief visit before it too was chased off.  It was also interesting to watch a woodpigeon drinking at the edge of the pond, pushing deep into the snow to find a source of water.
the female Brambling mastered the sunflower seed feeder
The male Brambling stayed on the ground, feeding here with female Chaffinches and a House Sparrow
Stock Dove
Woodpigeon drinking from edge of the pond
Somehow the Woodpigeon found water and gulped it down
Tree Sparrows joined the House Sparrows for a while
The Song Thrush that got continually chased off!
Dunnock next to Rosemary bush
Today there was a remarkably rapid thaw as temperatures rose well above freezing, but still some of our local lanes were impassable for 2WD cars.
minor road from Wardington to Chacombe
 This male Blackbird took advantage of the thaw and chose a local pothole a wash
By the afternoon, spring seemed to have returned: Skylarks were singing and Brown Hares were chasing each other around the fields on the edge of Wardington.