Sunday, 22 June 2014

BBS and Upper Cherwell Valley: kestrels fledging beside the M40

An early start for the second of my two BTO Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) visits to countryside near Moreton Pinkney in South Northants.  Vegetation laden with dew soaks my trousers but the early morning sunshine is energising and soon I'm watching a distant little owl perched atop a large hawthorn bush.  Many birds are still singing, especially blackcaps and wrens.  Juvenile goldfinches and linnets are feeding on the seed heads of arable weeds on the edge of the oil seed rape crop that has grown almost to head height.

Further along I eventually find a single tree sparrow where five years ago there would have been a dozen.  A few butterflies are on the wing, including ringlet and large skipper.  No mammals recorded at all, not even a rabbit.  Forty five species in all over the two visits this year - one less than last year but still the second highest in eight years.  In that time, the losers seem to have been the tree sparrows, others have fluctuated, especially wrens and skylarks, and some have just been occasional like willow tits (twice) and cuckoos.

Back in Upper Wardington, a spectacular insect flutters around our patio doors over lunchtine.
ichneumon wasp species - female with very long ovipositor

The lovely weather tempts me back down towards Banbury and the Environment Agency flood defence scheme area.  Almost immediately I surprise a grey wagtail that flies up from a small ditch where it was feeding, but instead of disappearing off into the distance it sits calmly on a perch beside the ditch and starts preening.  A rare stroke of good fortune.

male grey wagtail

I have time to get my camera and creep forward for some close-ups. Eventually the bird flies off, joined by a juvenile that remained hidden in the ditch. Grey wagtails seem to be as common as pied wagtails in our area at the moment, the latter getting a little scarcer it seems.
preening tail feathers
feeding in the ditch

My wanderings take in the new lake where dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies are getting well established.  Coots are raising a brood of chicks and six drake tufted ducks are moulting into eclipse plumage; their breeding season work is already done.

Marbled white butterflies are scattered around the whole area but always on the move.  Burnet moths are too busy to worry about the close proximity of my macro lens.
narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moths
Marsh woundwort is flowering in a prominent location next to one of the huge concrete regulating structures.
marsh woundwort
Tucked away in fen-like vegetation I encounter a couple of blood-vein moths; really stunning.

To round off a very enjoyable afternoon I find a couple of juvenile kestrels flying with what seems a lack of confidence.  They are only just out of the nest box, which I soon realise is attached to a huge motorway sign, where another juvenile kestrel is surveying the view.  How had I managed not to notice that box on my previous visits?  I feel like I have been let into another small secret about this area.  The more you look the more you learn.......
kestrel's have been provided with a motorway home
which they find to their liking.....
EA have just mown the flood bank which means the newly established meadow saxifrage won't have time to set seed.  I'm hoping they will survive and spread vegetatively.  And there will less habitat for the voles and mice needed to feed young kestrels, and not too far away, young barn owls.  Which is a shame - but overall the area is definitely getting better for nature, and is very much more accessible.

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