Monday, 28 July 2014

Middleton Lakes: Pacific golden plover

A mid summer treat for Midlands birders, a Pacific golden plover (in gorgeous breeding plumage) is currently the centre of attention on the Jubilee Wetland at Middleton Lakes.  Check out the Tame Valley Birding blog for more.  Spent a beautiful warm evening strolling around the wetland; the air filled with the calling of common terns, busy catching food for their fledged chicks.  A quick post with a couple of pics.
Pacific golden plover
...with reflection
Update Tuesday morning: this next series of pics courtesy of Colin Wilkinson
...with wing stretch, Colin Wilkinson
view of south est scrape, host to the Pacific golden plover, Colin Wilkinson
sunset across the Jubilee Wetlands, Colin Wilkinson
wetland view, Colin Wilkinson
Mike scoping the north scrape, The Lookout in the background.  Two garganey on show.  Colin Wilkinson
Other birds included about 40 adult common terns and ten juveniles, three ringed plover, two snipe, single green and common sandpipers.  Three yellow wagtails, linnets and reed buntings.  Lots of ducks, including several broods of tufted ducks, wigeon, teal, shoveler, little and great crested grebes, two little egrets (yes just two!).

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Oxhouse Farm and Lobbington Hall Meadows SSSIs: brown argus and spiny restharrow

An afternoon stroll around the two SSSIs in Warwickshire, just south of Kineton, part of which is managed by Banbury Ornithological Society as the Neal Trust Nature Reserve.

Walking in along rights of way from the nearby village of Butlers Marston, the path goes through Lobbington Hall Farm Meadow, marked by signage on the gateway.  There are green-winged orchids here in spring, just now there is a good display of spiny restharrow and pepper saxifrage and plenty of other meadow flowers and grasses.  This is type of meadow is rare in the south Midlands and this is a very good example.
spiny restharrow
meadow view
Continuing on to Oxhouse Farm, I'm nearly lost in a sea of tall nettles but survive to reach the next meadow, which has quite a different character: perhaps due to a greater influence from limestone bedrock.  Here the grassland has been less intensively managed and scrub has invaded around the edges.  Large ant hills have developed too.  This is where I stand a chance of seeing Dark Green Fritillary butterfly.  I search high and low but no luck.  But there is plenty else to see.  A few marbled white butterflies and plenty of field scabious with attendant longhorn moths.
Oxhouse Farm SSSI eastern meadow
shaded broad-bar
woolley thistle

Just north of the meadow is a small arable field with a flowery field margin colonised by brown argus - dozens are very active and I manage to photograph two together.  Very smart looking.  A back-lit brimstone is also very attractive.
brown argus
common blue nectaring on common fleabane
looks like this is an Essex skipper
Reading the rest of the SSSI citation I realise this is a place I must return to slightly earlier in June and July, when I might find white-letter hairstreak and more flowers.  Early July should be best for the dark green fritillary.
The woodland here is also very interesting with a lot of mature poplars and records of all three woodpeckers to encourage a visit it February or March.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Farthinghoe nature reserve: spotted flycatchers fledged

This morning I spent some time exploring Farthinghoe nature reserve, which is part of a former railway line, later used as a landfill site, then restored as a nature reserve.  A recycling centre next door makes it possible to combine a recycling trip with some nature watching (or a trip to Waitrose in Brackey, in this instance!).  Active management keeps the site attractive to a really good variety of birds and butterflies.  As soon as I arrive I hear spotted flycatchers calling and realise adults are feeding very recently fledged chicks.  Today is warm and sunny and many insects are on the wing, so flycatching is easy for the adults.
recently fledged spotted flycatcher chick
adult feeding the chick

Elsewhere teasel and burdock attract peacock butterflies and bright yellow flowers of perforate St John's wort and agrimony add vibrant colour.

perforate St John's wort
Nearby, roadside verges are looking colourful in places, especially close to Upper Wardington with splashes of pale mauve field scabious.  I also identify hairy St John's wort in another verge.
field scabious

Yesterday (Friday 25th July) I ran back though the Upper Cherwell Valley stopping at Grimsbury Reservoir where there was a single little egret, then continuing along the new flood defences.  The new pool is now home to three little grebes, nearby thistly meadows attracting a flock of 70 plus goldfinches and there were five grey herons scattered along the route.  Most surprising were two snipe flushed from not particularly damp grass at the edge of the flood bank.  Purple loosestrife looks stunning too.
purple loosetrife
EA pool

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: redshank and little egrets

An hour spent at Grimsbury Reservoir in Banbury early evening was very rewarding, with excellent views of two birds I've not seen there before.
For some reason I usually walk around the reservoir in an anticlockwise direction, but this evening I noticed a lot of black-headed gulls around the south west corner so I decided to go there first and continue clockwise.  I soon heard the distictive "teu" call of a wader and located a redshank on the concrete shoreline.  I managed to get quite close, then it flew a short distance to roost on the floating pontoons.  I was an immature bird, judging from the slighly paler orange red legs (adults are more vivid) and well spotted wing coverts.
Further on, at the very far end of the reservoir, two little egrets were busy hunting the shallows.  They were a bit more timid than the redshank but allowed reasonably close approach. They then flew off and fished around the pontoons.

It was another lovely warm evening with butterflies, including a few peacocks, on the wing and nectaring on the last few bramble flowers.
Swifts are very noticeable at the moment with large groups screaming around Banbury - I saw about twenty a little later in the evening over the Wood Green swimming pool area.  Make the most of them, in two weeks they will be gone.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Whistley Wood: native woodland bouncing back

A short stop off at Whistley Wood near Brackley, Northamptonshire, on my way back to Banbury.  In recent years enlightened management by the Forestry Commission, who manage the wood, has enabled large areas of former conifer plantation restored to native woodland.  The woodland rides are also well managed by regular mowing and support a good variety of plants, they in turn attracting many butterflies.  It easy an easy place to visit with good roadside parking off the B4525 and a network of woodland rides to explore.
The sun is shining and it is a warm afternoon - should be good for butterflies.  And it is, but no hoped-for white admirals, their flight period may be over at this site or the population is low this year.  I saw several here in July 2006, then just a few days later, saw one fly through the garden in Upper Wardington.  These are my only white admiral sightings in our area to date.
great willowherb - profusion along the rides

a few white-flowered great willow herb are mixed in with the pink
rosebay willowherb
large skipper - king of a "rosebay willowherb castle"

brimstone butterflies gathered around a clump of betony flowers

cobnuts forming on hazel coppice

tufted vetch
A roadside "woodland for sale" sign prompts me to investigate.  Turns out 14.4 acres are for sale at £98,000.  This woodland is immediately adjacent to Whistley Wood and part of the larger ancient Shortgrove Wood.
white admiral at Whistley Woods, 15 July 2006

Cambridgeshire: Ouse Fen wetland taking shape

An early morning excursion into the fens just north of Cambridge to see how RSPB's Ouse Fen project is going.   Most of the project area is an active sand and gravel quarry operated by Hanson. Some parts of the quarry are now fully restored, full of exciting wildlife, and accessible to the public. It is still early days, but the potential of this site is enormous.
Walking in along a track from the village of Over, I pass cereal fields then spot cattle grazing the banks that surround the new wetlands.  Soon I'm looking across a landscape of pools, reed beds and grassy hillocks.  Common terns are hawking over the pools looking for insect prey as well as small fish.
Green woodpeckers are also much in evidence, the new grasslands no doubt creating good habitat for ants, their favoured food.  I follow a trail that winds through the reed beds before leading out to a viewpoint. Soon I'm hearing the pinging call of bearded tits from several spots and I catch some fleeting glimpses.  A bittern flights across on heavy wings, back and forth to a favoured patch of reeds.
 A male marsh harrier hunts quite close to the path then, with prey in talons, drops down into the reeds, presumably to feed chicks.
Reed buntings are busy gathering food so I stop only briefly to capture a portrait of the female with a beakful of spiders.  Perched attractively on dying flower stems of hogweed, this scene is a reminder that the summer is progressing
Twenty years ago I lived in Cambridgeshire and it is fantastic to see how much more habitat has been created for wildlife in the fens since then.  Really big projects like this one at Ouse Fen, as well as those at Wicken Fen (National Trust), The Great Fen (Wildlife Trusts) and Lakenheath Fen (RSPB) are transforming the county into one of our very best for wetland nature with charismatic species like the bittern, crane and bearded tit.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Oxfordshire: adder free zone

Last night's evening talk at the Banbury Ornithological Society was all about our local amphibians, presented by Rod D'Ayala, one of our local "Herp" experts and enthusiasts, and co-ordinator of Ox-ARG.  Oxfordshire still has good populations of our commoner amphibians and reptiles. The great-crested newt, a protected species, is actually quite widespread and doing well (though I have to admit I have not yet seen one locally myself.....but will now start looking!).

Sadly though the adder looks likely to have died out in Oxfordshire in very recent times. Rod does not know of any recent authentic records.  Historical records are mostly from the south of the county, where there is more extensive heathland and woodland.  So if you see a snake in the Banbury area you can be pretty sure it is a grass snake.  That is a real shame but a situation unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.  If you want to see an adder best to try Cannock Chase, Wyre Forest or Forest of Dean.  If you haven't ever seen one do try, they are exciting to observe and very attractive.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Glyme Valley SSSI: meadow clary

Sunday 13 July
An afternoon walk around the public footpaths that wind through the upper reaches of the Glyme Valley, including a long and narrow SSSI most notable for one of the largest patches of the rare meadow clary in the UK.  There is plenty more to see on a sunny summer's day, and though I am quite close to Chipping Norton, there is nobody else around.
the meadow clary meadow
meadow clary
The largest clary clumps are protected by squares of sheep netting; they look healthy and it is good to see plenty more smaller plants established in the field.
The meadows are very attractive with bright patches of ladies bedstraw dotted with tall meadow scabious and, in places, the more delicate small scabious.
meadow scabious
Butterflies are pretty common too and many are looking more worn and faded, especially the marbled whites.  One field is also a wildlife trust nature reserve.
Birds included red kite and buzzard, marsh tit and yellowhammer.  Plus a pair of ornamental black swans one of the small lakes.
Many of the flowers in these meadows survive in roadside verges across the area, especially meadow scabious and meadow crane's-bill.  Those species seem to be able to compete with the more vigorous grasses.  These meadows show us where those roadside specimens originated - from flower rich meadows long since lost to arable and improved grassland.
lady's bedstraw
A beautiful insect with long antennae attracts my attention, there are quite a few of them on the scabious flowers
Now I have time to do a bit of research I think the "beautiful insect" above is a longhorn moth  Nemomorpha metallica.
These moths can occur in quite large numbers, fly during the day in June/July and are associated with field scabious.
dwarf or stemless thistle
greater knapweed

A great display of field bindweed brightens a grassy bank next to some farm barns.  Easy to forget what a beautiful flower this is.
field bindweed

bee orchid starting to set seed