Saturday, 27 December 2014

More on willow tits

My Christmas Eve sighting of a willow tit at Grimsbury Woodland nature reserve has inspired me to do a bit more research on their current and recent status in our area, and their conservation priority nationally.  
willow tit, Grimsbury Woodland NR, 24th Dec. 2014
First of all, this species' national population has declined steeply since the mid 1970s.  BTO Breeding Bird Survey data show a 83% decline in population between 1995 and 2012  The latest BTO Atlas shows a big contraction in range too, with the British population becoming increasingly restricted to the Midlands and immediately adjoining areas.  In England it has pretty much gone from the south and is disappearing from east and west.  

There are thought to be around 3400 pairs of willow tits in the UK.  They have now become so scarce that the Rare Breeding Birds Panel collates records alongside long-standing rare breeders like black-necked grebes, hawfinches and hobbies.  It is quite possible there are now fewer pairs of willow tits breeding in the BOS area than hobbies.

In our area, the decline has also be marked with wisespread disappearance from the southern half of the BOS recording area.  From the 1960s to 1990s the willow tit was described as fairly numerous and very widespread.  By the time "Birds of the Heart of England" was published in 2013, the willow tit's status had changed to scarce resident and notes that a few strongholds left north of Banbury. These include the wet scrubby woodlands around the canal feeder reservoirs at Wormleighton and Boddington, as well as the water supply reservoir at Grimsbury.  It does feel that our area is currently in the "battle zone" for this bird, as it disappears from southern counties, but holds its ground in the Midlands.

Personally, I have recorded them occasionally from farmland hedgerows and copses in the Wardington and Cropredy area over the past twelve years, including a single bird visiting our garden feeders for a few days in the early noughties.  I've also seen them on my Breeding Bird Survey site near Moreton Pinkney a couple of times in the past decade.  But they certainly seem to be harder to find now than in the recent past. 

In contrast, the very closely related marsh tit is still fairly numerous and likely to be encountered in any decent path of more mature woodland in our area.  Both species are currently being recorded at Glyn Davies Wood BOS nature reserve, though marsh are certainly more common there than willow.

If you need a refresher on how to separate the two species have a look here or for even more detail here.  The call of the willow tit is a very good field ID feature when heard well. 
Marsh Tit, near Upper Wardington, Dec 2010
What might help us hang on to our willow tits?  There has been quite a lot of research into the causes of decline, and a clear indication that continued provision of young, scrubby, wet woodland is what they really need.  Deer grazing and lack of management can tip the balance and make a woodland less suitable habitat for them.  They don't need big patches of woodland - overgrown hedgerows linking wet woodlands would be ideal.  Some of our disused railway lines have been good for them in the past and could be a focus for future management for this species.

From this, my conclusion is that willow tit has to be in the top five birds of conservation priority in Banburyshire.  And there is certainly a case for the top spot.  It is also a bird that the BOS and others such as the Canal and Rivers Trust, Thames Water and many landowners can do much to help.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Grimsbury Woodland: willow tit & chiffchaff amongst big flock of passerines

Happy Christmas to all my heartofenglandnatureblog readers.  Thanks for your company over the past few months; my blog stats show over 5,000 page views so far; that's really encouraging.  Looking forward to a full year of blogging in 2015!

Christmas Eve has been a lovely sunny day and I managed to catch an hour or so at Grimsbury Reservoir and the adjoining woodland.  The reservoir was fairly quiet for birds - 117 Canada geese were crowded together in a tight flock, four wintering great-crested grebes were still present and a single herring gull was loafing around with a lesser black-backed gull (actually quite a good sighting here!).
Canada geese
Walking just beyond the reservoir and entering the woodland nature reserve, I could hear the chattering of a flock of tits and other small birds.  As I started watching the flock through my binoculars, I was surprised that the first bird to come into view was a chiffchaff.  This warbler is a scarce winter visitor in our area, and it's presence indicated that the likelihood of there being quite a few different birds in this flock. So it proved.

The woodland along the river is dotted with alder trees; their ripening cones attracting a flock of goldfinches.  Below them on the woodland floor, a small flock of chaffinches were feeding amongst the leaves.  Treecreepers, at least three of them, were busy feeding on the tree trunks, using their very delicate bills to probe for hidden insects.
Scot's pine are well established here too, and are very attractive to goldcrests, coal tits and long-tailed tits and it is possible to get really good views of them here, with a bit of patience.
long-tailed tit

The highlight for me was at last (I have tried a few times!) finding a willow tit feeding amongst the flock, working it's way along pine branches, searching for food, constantly active.  Not too easy to photograph so just "record shots" below, but these show some of the features that distinguish them from the very similar marsh tit.  These include the diffuse edge black "bib" (unlike the very neat bib of the marsh).  The diagnostic pale wing panel was also very noticeable at times (but not well captured in the photos here).
willow tit feeding on alder tree

willow tit feeding on Scot's pine

Willow tits are declining rapidly in the UK and have become very localised in our area.  They like patches of damp woodland with willow, birch and alder.  Grimsbury woodland nature reserve is currently one of the few places left in Oxfordshire where you have a chance of seeing them.

I could have stayed watching and photographing this flock of birds for much longer but there was Christmas shopping still to do.....

Thats all for now until after Christmas.  Best wishes,  Mike

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Tadmarton Heath: winter birds and roe deer

Saturday 13 Dec - wonderful, crisp, cold, but sunny day.  Thrushes busy feeding from early on: blackbirds around the village, redwings and fieldfares in the hedgerows.  Low angled raking sunshine across Tadmarton Heath nature reserve, casting a warm glow on the landscape.
Tadmarton Heath
Well stocked bird feeders attract a constant stream of birds, especially blue, great and marsh tits.  A sparrowhawk and kestrel share the same treetop perch, an unusual sight to see these two side by side. The sparrowhawk looks much the smaller, likely an immature male, maybe from this year's nest in the wood.  Soon the sparrowhawk sweeps down from the perch and towards the feeders....

crab apples
The "heath" itself is pretty quiet apart from one or two dunnocks and a song thrush.  A very smart fox surveys their domain from near the top.  The valley below is alive with fieldfares, chaffinches, a few yellowhammers and a slightly shy roe deer.  Crab apples scattered on the ground are well nibbled.

Sunday 14 Dec - with friends at Brandon Marsh today.  This wildlife trust reserve near Coventy has a good variety of wet habitats, with lots of alders and willows, reedbeds, pools and damp grassland.
Brandon Marsh - view from the latest new hide
It also has good cafe looking out over well stocked bird (and squirrel) feeders.  Nothing out of the ordinary today, but good views of a decent sized flock of lesser redpolls, some pink-flushed males
standing out from the crowd.  A bittern has been seen recently but remains elusive.  A flock of lapwings take flight from the main pool and for once the camera autofocus delivers first time!
part of the lapwing flock

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Bicester Wetland Reserve: new swift tower installed

This evening I made another visit to Boddington Reservoir to watch the gull roost.  You need to be there about 3.15 to 4pm at the moment.  There are still large numbers of gulls but almost all black-headed (3000 ish) and common (500), just a few few lesser black-backs, three herring and a single greater-black-backed - the latter is fairly scarce in our area so nice to see. 

This is the newly-installed swift tower at the Bicester Wetland Reserve. 

Details of the project from Chris Mason:

It contains 20 nest boxes and has a solar-operated system for playing swift attraction calls. 
Swift numbers are going down and loss of nest sites is partly responsible. Caring for traditional nest sites is an obvious response, but creating new nest places is important too. Apart from incorporating nest boxes and bricks in new buildings and putting up nest boxes, swift towers have been        successful in a several places. 

This particular model was designed and built in Northern Ireland and at least 30 of them have been put up in different parts of the United Kingdom. As far as I know this is the first in Oxfordshire. We are grateful to the HDH Wills Trust and the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2) for funding for the project. 

Swifts still breed nearby in Bicester town and regularly feed around the sewage works so we hope that one day the reserve will have a new breeding bird to add to its list; but be patient!      

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bicester wetland reserve: brim full of ducks

A busy weekend visiting local sites, starting Saturday morning with a two hour survey for the Banbury  Ornithological Society's Winter Random Square survey.  The square selected for me happened to be right on the edge of Banbury itself, a housing estate called Bretch Hill, and adjoining farmland.  It is an area earmarked for more housing in our Local Plan, and some bird survey info might be useful in helping protect habitats from too much damage.  In this particular area the best wildlife habitats seem to be small woodlands, hedgerows and some long established grassland.

It was very interesting to compare the birds of the urban habitat with the more rural.  In the housing area there were lots of sparrows and starlings, good to see, but not too much else.

Venturing away from the houses along a muddy path through a strip of woodland next to a grassy meadow, I was surrounded by the calls of bullfinches and then a sighting - a flock of five arranged like Christmas decorations on a small ash tree. 

Walking on a bit further, a big flock of redwings - about two hundred - were feeding on hawthorn berries in tall hedgerows surrounding horse paddocks.  Further on still, a flat expanse of oilseed rape fields were enlivened by chirpy calls from a flock of forty skylarks and a single meadow pipit.

It is a bit sad to see the disconnect between the urban area and the countryside - footpaths that should encourage people to explore their local patch are hidden from view or fenced off.  Hopefully this situation can be changed when the new housing areas are built here in coming years.

In the afternoon a chance to explore the Upper Cherwell Valley north of Banbury was too good to turn down.  Highlights were big numbers of cormorants roosting in alder trees and a flock of Canada geese numbering about 180.
 Little grebes were ferreting around in the weedy river margins, searching for small fish and invertebrates.  Barn owls and a single short-eared owl have been seen here in the past week, but no sign of them this afternoon up until sunset.  A pair of ravens "croaked" loudly as they flew overhead in tandem, no doubt surveying part of their territory.

Interestingly, the gull roost at Grimsbury was a complete no show, literally just a handful of black-headed gulls.

The highlight of my weekend was a visit to Bicester Wetland Reserve, managed by the BOS.  I was met by voluntary warden Alan Peters, who very kindly agreed to induct me as a key holder for the site (this being a secure Thames Water treatment works).
Bicester Wetland Reserve
The wetland was full of duck, especially teal, but also wigeon, shoveler and gadwall.  Also a few snipe, two little egrets and a green sandpiper.
little egret
 Ringing was in progress and four chiffchaffs had been caught in the mist nets - a surprisingly large number.  Alan explained to me how each year he is able to improve the wetland, creating new areas of shallow pools, funded by small grants from Thames Water.
a few cattle graze the wetlands at this time of year
Though small, this must be the best wetland for wintering ducks in Banburyshire at the moment?
flight of shoveler
My final stop was at Ardley Quarry and specifically the vast new incinerator plant with it's striking rainbow glazing.  It is easily spotted from the M40 just south of junction 10.
rainbow reflections
There is new lake beside the building, recently constructed with hard stone shorelines that has been attracting gulls, though not on this particular occasion.  I did see a couple of green sandpipers and a spectacular flocking of  several thousand starlings before their departure at about 3.30pm, heading in the direction of Otmoor, where the reedbed roost numbers several tens of thousands.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Upper Wardington: Polecat

Yesterday I discovered a "road-kill" polecat slumped up against the kerb near the middle of the village.  Polecats are more often seen dead than alive - I've only ever seen one alive, but several like this, killed by a car.
polecat, deceased
Polecats have done well in recent decades, spreading back across their former English range from western outposts - a resurgence they share with the buzzard and raven.

Other members of the Mustelid mammal family found in our area - stoat, weasel, otter, mink and badger - are also vulnerable to being hit by vehicles during their nocturnal ramblings.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Boddingtoin Reservoir: search for Caspian Gull in the gull roost

The weekend's lengthy dose rain finally cleared away on Sunday afternoon, encouraging me to get out to Boddington again to see what the gull roost had to offer.  Arriving about quarter to four, the sun cast a strong yellow orange glow across the autumnal landscape, illuminating the gathering of gulls already assembled in the middle of the reservoir.  A quick scan through the flock revealed the vast majority to be black-headed gulls, but also good numbers of common gulls plus a few lesser black-backed and a couple of adult herring gulls.  These birds will have been out and about foraging across our landscape during the day, returning to the safety of the reservoir overnight before leaving very early in the morning.  It feels like quite a social gathering too - probably an interesting mix of gull "dialects" from across Europe!

I continue watching and counting for about forty minutes as waves of gulls arrive to roost, some departing as well, possibly heading for Draycote Water where there is likely to be a larger roost.  The black-headed gulls are hard to count, I estimate something like 4000.  Common gulls number over 250.

I'm hoping to find a Caspian gull, and eastern relative of the Herring, more elegant, with a slimmer but longer bill and distinctively pale head in winter.  One has been seen here recently but they are still pretty scarce locally, and very likely under-recorded.  A white-headed "herring-gull" type bird does stand out from the crowd.  It is a third winter - so not quite an adult (a smudge of darkness in the tertials and a dark marking on the bill).  I am now trying to convince myself this is the elusive Caspian: the head shape looks right (pear-shaped), the eye small and dark.  The light is failing so I take a few pics to check when I get home.

On the monitor screen, the images of the bird are a bit distant and too grainy to interpret any more detail. The field guides all point me in the direction of Caspian but I'm just not 100% sure - though feeling better informed for next time - hopefully a closer view in better light!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Boddington Reservoir: wild mushrooms in the woods

Misty murky weather has prevailed all weekend with the merest glimpse of the sun.  Today I reacquainted myself with Boddington Reservoir.  It is only ten minutes from home, but in the "wrong" direction i.e. not a convenient stop en route to Banbury like Grimsbury Reservoir is.  It is though, undeniably, one of the best areas for nature in Banburyshire: our largest expanse of water is surrounded by really nice habitats like wet woodland, flowery meadows and scrubby grassland.

Today it was not at it's best - grey misty conditions seemed to dampen bird activity.  But it was still rewarding to watch great-crested grebes at close quarters, check through the mixed gull flock for a few common gulls and kneel down to inspect a cluster of woodland mushrooms.  Wildfowl were surprisingly few in number-  just mallard.  The area is known to be good for tree sparrows and willow tits so I will return in better conditions soon.

Later in the day I managed a quick visit to see the gull roost at Grimsbury Reservoir - at 4.30pm the roost contained about 800 black-headed gulls, 80 lesser black-backed gulls and a single herring gull.  The latter IS notable - my first of the year at this site (since I stepped up my coverage in early summer).  Herring gulls have undergone a huge change in status in our area over the past twenty years - from being quite numerous and frequenting the rubbish tip at Alkerton in hundreds, to being something of a scarcity and a notable sighting. Much of this is linked the closure of the open refuse tip at Alkerton a few years back. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: Black redstart at the waterworks

I managed to catch up with the black redstart that has made a temporary home at the waterworks next to the reservoir.  This is part of a small influx to the country, and a really nice bird to have on our patch. They are a rare breeding bird in the UK but not uncommon during early spring and late autumn on migration.  They are a much more common bird in much of mainland Europe. The last one I saw locally was a Draycote Water on a very cold March morning a couple of years ago.

A female pochard was on the reservoir, actually quite a scarce bird locally, so nice to see.

Back-tracking to last sunday, the glorious sunny weather was great for birding.  Most noticeable for me was the arrival of fieldfares, with a flock of fifty over Upper Wardington first thing.  A late morning cross country run to Eydon via Culworth also produced more fieldfares, a few redwings and a flock of about 50 common gulls (I take my binoculars with me a in a small rucksack).  I lingered en-route in  a small patch of poplar woodland beside a stream and enjoyed watching nuthatches, treecreepers and goldcrests.  Sadly there were very few birds of prey, just one or two buzzards - no kites or kestrels - a bit surprising.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: goldeneye on a crisp sunny morning

Wonderful early morning sunshine and the first significant frost of the autumn created some lovely early morning views.  
A fairly quick early morning visit to Grimsbury Reservoir on my way into work was well worth the trouble, enabling me to add a new bird to my site list - a single female goldeneye.
female goldeneye

Great crested grebes now number six - the highest number this autumn so far. 
great-crested grebe taking a drink
A pair of mute swans were also in residence, swimming their way sedately to the far end, then taking flight to return to the near end.
mute swan take-off
one of the herd

starling in smartly spotty winter plumage
I nipped back to Upper Wardington at lunchtime and found a small flock of common gulls (15) in a small sheep grazed field next to the cricket pitch.  Nice to see and likely to be newly arrived from up north.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

late October: exceptionally mild weather

The past week has seen the warmest Haloween ever, with summer briefly returning to Banbury on Friday with temperature peaking over 20 degrees centigrade.

The gull roost at Grimsbury has quietened down a bit at the moment, but still huge numbers of corvids - jackdaws, rooks and crows swirling around in large flocks around dusk.

Lawyer's wig toadstools, also know as the shaggy inkcap, have sprouted from the well-trimmed lawns of the Thames Water treatment plan next to the reservoir.
shaggy inkcap toadstool

The golden plover flock at Top Dawkins, Upper Wardington, increased to 215 birds today. 
Yesterday, in the same field, over fifty lesser black-backed gulls were feeding in the late afternoon plus a single yellow-legged gull.
part of the golden plover flock (just before the heaven's opened!)

A tree sparrow has found the feeders in the garden at Upper Wardington, joining the gang of house sparrows.  Hopefully the word will get around that the food is good ("high energy, no mess", of course) and a few more will join in over the coming weeks.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Upper Wardington: brambling in the garden

A better than expected day on the local birding front, largely thanks to the back garden being alive with birds attracted to freshly re-stocked feeders.  Lots of blue and great tits, chaffinches and goldfinches.  A male blackcap joined in the activity, pecking away at the over-ripe plums, which were also proving irresistible to the blue tits.

male blackcap feeding on plum
Then, what seemed to be a chaffinch showed a flash of peachy coloured plumage and a white rump: a male brambling - recently arrived from Scandinavia, and happily joining the locals at their food bar.  But he stayed in the background, not allowing me a decent photo, so  "record shot" will have to do.
record shot of the male brambling

The birds also delighted in bathing in our pond just beyond the kitchen window.

blue tit poses above the pond
bathing great tit
Also good news was the return of a decent sized flock - about 80 - of golden plover to the field at Top Dawkins on the edge of Upper Wardington.  A bight green carpet has appeared across the field with the sprouting of the winter wheat, but still a good crop for the plovers to forage amongst.

I made an evening visit to Grimsbury Reservoir to watch the gull roost - this time about 500 black-headed gulls, fifty lesser black-backs, four common gulls and a single adult yellow-legged gull.  The yellow-legged gull flew in fairly late on - about 5pm - just as the light was failing so no pics.

Grimsbury Reservoir: yelllow-legged gulls

Not blogged for a few days now.  Last weekend I was birding with friends in Aberdeenshire, catching up with rarities like spotted sandpiper (from North America) and yellow-browed warbler (from Asia).  I was also great to see huge flocks of pink-footed geese at Loch of Strathbeg and eiders on the Ythan Estuary. 
pink-footed geese, Loch of Strathbeg

Eiders at the Ythan Estuary (plus common gulls in flight)
Meanwhile back in the local patch it has been fairly quiet, the main interest being the gull roost at Grimsbury Reservoit that is sometimes attracting yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.  The size of the roost is quite variable, and dominated by black-headed gulls.  Lesser-black-backed gulls are also frequent, with a few common gulls now regular.

Twice now I have seen a yellow-legged gull in the roost, associating with the lesser-black-backs but standing out from the crowd with it's paler grey wing-feathers and relatively white feathering on the head.  Herring gull is very similar but has more streaking on the head and is a paler shade of grey.  These distinguishing features are important as the most distinctive feature - leg colour - is rarely visible in the roost as all the birds sit on the water.  The most recent bird, last Tuesday, also had a black marking on the bill, indicating it was not quite a full adult, though the plumage showed no vestiges of immature mottled feathering that I could see.  This photo is not great, but I think you can see this feature.  I have yet to see a herring gull in the roost so far this autumn.  I am not a great expert on gulls - still learning - so welcome any comments on the gull news/pics.
adult yellow-legged gull (front, left of centre)
Elsewhere, there are a few redwings in the hedgerows, but only a few, and no fieldfares.  Will be interesting to see when they arrive.  I imagine most of them are still in Scandinavia.  Also a couple of barn owl sightings along local roads, perhaps reflecting the good breeding season and young birds  now moving out of the established territories.

Finally, my photo of one of the great skuas at Grimsbury last week appeared in the pages of the Banbury Guardian.  They do give wildlife a good profile in our local paper, and cover environmental issues from time to time, which is good to see.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: Great skuas!!

During the morning a big movement of redwings was recorded by one of my RSPB colleagues during their walk into the office in Banbury.  Exciting to hear birds were on the move from Scandinavia.

I was not able to get out birding myself until near dusk, managing to fit in about an hour to watch the gulls roosting at Grimsbury Reservoir.  When I arrived at about 17.45, it was clear their were a lot of black-headed gulls around - I quickly estimated about 1500, then counted 21 common gulls amongst them, including one with a red leg ring I was frustratingly just unable to read, even using the scope. 

Nothing too out of the ordinary, but clearly an influx of gulls. 

Then I suddenly noticed two very dark gull-like birds joining the group of lesser black-backed gulls circling overhead in the gathering gloom.  Their bright white wing-flashes told me that these were not actually gulls but most likely great skuas.  It was hard to believe I could be watching these oceanic birds at a small urban reservoir in the heart of England.  So I quickly got my camera out to take some record shots.  I had to switch to manual focusing due to the poor light - but thanks to the modern digital camera's remarkable high ISO settings I got some reasonable shots. They were remarkably tatty and clearly in full wing moult.  After a couple of circuits of the reservoir they headed off together in a westerly direction - maybe headed for the Severn Estuary?
great skua - note tatty wings and missing primary feather

That was not all.  Huge numbers of jackdaws also came into roost - well over a thousand, a couple of flocks of pied wagtails  - each about twenty birds, a calling little owl and kingfisher.

Then to round off the evening an adult little gull joined the black-headeds.  It looked about half the size, and sat of the edge of the flock, not quite one of the crowd.  By this stage it was just too dark to photograph.

The great skuas appear to be the third record for Banburyshire.  The little gull is a bit more regular, but still not seen every year (though another recently at Boddington Reservoir).

The next few days could be very interesting too.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Upper Wardington: misty morning with tree sparrows

Very misty start to the morning creating some atmospheric views across Top Dawkins. I spent some time touring local farmland sites as part of the national golden plover count - but pretty much drew a blank - just a single calling bird, not seee, near Top Dawkins (Upper Wardington).  On a more positive note, at three places where I stopped to look for "goldies" I was rewarded with a chirping of tree sparrows from the hedgerows.  My impression is that tree sparrows have got scarcer in our area just recently, so it was reassuring to see they are still doing OK at some local sites.  The largest flock was about 30 near Moreton Pinkney. 
misty morning Top Dawkins
lesser black-backs near Marston St. Lawrence (flock of about 100)
Meadow pipits were also very noticeable, as were skylarks and yellowhammers.  A flock of about 70 lapwings drifted across the landscape.  We are still awaiting the arrival of the Scandinavian thrushes - redwings and fieldfares.
buzzard photographed through the front windscreen hence distortion!

At the end of the day I decided to have another look at the Grimsbury Reservoir gull roost.  This time it was dominated by black-headed gulls - about 500, with a few lesser black-backs and a single common gull.  One of the black-headed gulls was a partial albino - with very white wings - but definitely not a Mediterranean gull.
partial albino black-headed gull, above/left of centre - note white wings tips

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: corvids and gulls gathering at dusk

With the evenings drawing in rapidly, my early evening visit co-incided with roost time for gulls and corvids, and pretty spectacular it was too.  Not to mention the full moon.

An added bonus was a calling little owl.

A conservative estimate of 750 jackdaws, about a hundred rooks and a few crows gathered amongst the cattle in the pasture field behind the reservoir.  Flocks flew in from various directions, settled for a feed in the pasture then retired to the adjoining trees for the night.
jackdaws and a few rooks
lesser-black-backed gulls in moonlight reflections
On the reservoir itself, lesser black-backed gulls streamed in from 6.15pm until I left about 6.45pm:  450 by the time I left, also about 250 black-headed gulls. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Upper Wardington: golden plover studies

Early morning brought the first autumn frost then a lovely sunny start to the day.  I decide to cover three of my local patch sites.  I start close to home, watching the golden plovers at Top Dawkins, a large arable field on the edge of Upper Wardington.
golden plover flock coming in to land
The golden plover flock seems to have reduced in number from the eighty plus earlier in the week - about forty now.  A couple of small flocks fly in while I'm watching, so it is likely there are more around, using other fields nearby.  I try to get some better photos, and have some great opportunities as the flocks flew overhead.
The birds have a favoured area near to a large greenhouse in the northeast corner of the field, and a few venture fairly close to the road, giving great views through the telescope but a bit far for my telephoto camera lens.  They start to feed quite actively, there seems to be a good supply of invertebrate food.  Oilseed rape is starting to grow rapidly: in a few weeks it will probably be too tall and dense for the plovers to feed amongst, and they will have to move on.  So I need to make the most of their time here.
Also feeding in the oilseed rape field are about twenty skylarks, two buzzards and a scattering of lesser black-backed gulls.  One of the buzzards jogs across the field looking for worms, not the feeding style we expect from this master of the air!

Moving on to Grimsbury Reservoir, all seems pretty quiet.  Fishermen are out in force, not along the shore of the reservoir, but dotted along the adjacent river Cherwell.  Then a surprise - a brightly coloured duck flies into view - I rapidly recognise a drake Mandarin duck.  He flies in the direction of the river and is gone.  I'm left wondering if the fishermen disturbed it from the river, which offers some attractive habitat for this tree nesting duck.  I'll make sure I check the river more closely next time.  A kingfisher also catches me by surprise, perched on the reservoir perimeter fence.  It flies off across the reservoir and I loose it for a couple of minutes, then it appears again, flying off towards the river with a small fish in beak.  The grey heron is in no such rush and allows me some nice views and a chance to capture more misty morning images.
buoy with rising mist
My final stop is Tadmarton Heath. It is my first visit for a while.  It is very noticeable that the warblers, so plentiful in early September, have pretty much gone now, I don't even hear a chiffchaffs.
Tadmarton Heath viewed from road approaching from Lower Tadmarton
It feels very "between seasons": the summer birds have gone and we are still waiting for the winter influx of thrushes and finches.  But there are still buzzards to enjoy plus jays, roe deer and green woodpecker.
juvenile buzzard