Sunday, 31 August 2014

Cherwell District Plan: Banbury and Bicester set for many more houses and major development

Banbury and Bicester are set to get a lot of extra housing and employment development if  revisions to the draft Local Plan are accepted.  Thousands of extra houses are planned, especially on the west side of Banbury.  Equally significantly, employment development (including distribution depots) will break into the green buffer immediately east of J11 on the M40 at Banbury.  In Bicester, new development could take place on fields next to the Bicester Wetlands nature reserve.

For details have a look at the detailed consultation documents here.  Looks like we are set for two decades of massive construction in our area, with HS2 firmly on the horizon and all of these housing and industrial developments likely to start soon.

Will it make much difference to our wildlife, even if the landcape is badly impacted?  Interesting question. Mark Avery talks favourably about a Waitrose development which might be better for wildlife than the farmland preceding it.  This example also shows how poor so much of our farmland has become for wildlife.  So perhaps some well planned developments with good green space, habitat corridors and the like will be better.  The plan talks the talk so there is some hope.  But what we really need are those special habitats that are now so scarce - wet grasslands, flower-rich meadows, native woodland, heathland.  We need more than habitat corridors and great crested newt ponds, good and worthwhile though they are.

Earlier today I had a chance to make my first visit to the Pauline Flick nature reserve near Great Rollright, managed by the Banbury Ornithological Society.  A stretch of former railway line that has developed as woodland and scrub with a grassy ride running up the middle.
view along the abandoned railway line
a view out from the nature reserve to the arable landscape beyond
wild angelica
Elderberries were laden with fruit and small flocks of birds were making their way along the habitat corridor, including marsh tits and goldcrests.  A raven called at is flew slowly overhead. Many beautiful flowers of wild angelica lined the grassy ride.

I have taken on the Conservation Officer role for the BOS so I'm leading on responding to planning issues - like the Local Plan.  This can be heavy going, but another recent case feels more immediately beneficial.  This concerns the Horsehay Farm sand quarry at Dun's Tew, home to the largest (and until recently, only) sand martin colony in Banburyshire.  There are plans to extend the quarry, including making long-term provision for the martins.  A lot of the sand will be required to make the mortar for all those new houses (at least for those built traditionally in Hornton stone, requiring the special golden sand from this quarry).  So more houses for Banbury should leave a legacy of homes for sand martins.  I hope the BOS will be able to work with the quarry owners to ensure this happens.

Finally, back in Upper Wardington, a young wood pigeon is making rapid growth in the typically flimsy nest located in our hedge.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir and Upper Cherwell Valley: Greenshanks make a short stop then move through

A great selection of birds this morning, highlight being a pair of greenshanks that first caught my attention as they called overhead about 7.40am.  They circled around flying lower and lower, almost landing a couple of times, then finally decided to make a landing.  Sadly for me, right on the opposite side of the reservoir.  I didn't have time to walk around to get a closer view before they decided to move on, but I managed to capture some flight shots "for the record". They are always a special bird for me, especially since last summer when I saw two pairs with chicks in the north-west Highlands of Scotland.  This pair may be heading to wintering grounds around Chichester Harbour, or perhaps crossing the Channel with their sights on the coast of France or Spain.
two greenshanks, right hand bird calling "teu teu teu"

Nice to see the black tern has stayed from yesterday so more people can enjoy it.  Actively feeding around the reservoir, it regularly dips down to the water, presumably to pick off small insects of some description.
black tern
Other birds around included kingfisher, little ringed plover, common sandpiper, all three wagtails (yellow, grey and pied) again, five swifts and four blackcaps.

Wandering on up the the pool east of the M40 (we must agree a good name for it), I was pleased to fiund two whinchats sitting amongst the dead seedheads of docks.
juvenile whinchat
On the water, the regular group of little grebes (5), coot (3) and tufted ducks (5) were present, plus a couple for grey herons standing around the edge.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: black tern drops by

Nice surprise at Grimsbury Reservoir this evening: a juvenile black tern joined the three common terns. A couple of times it landed for a rest on the pontoons.  This bird will definitely have crossed the North Sea on its way from where it was raised (probably somewhere in eastern Europe) to Banbury.  The juvenile little ringed plover is also still present.
juvenile black tern

Also two grey wagtails, good numbers of swallows, a few house and sand martins an five swifts.

The two shots below were taken a couple of days ago, in better weather.
juvenile common tern

Early morning visit to Tadmarton Heath produced a female redstart and at least ten whitethroats, despite a bit of drizzle.  Also a great crop of blackberries!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir and Upper Wardington : Common terns show they can raise young & starlings make a splash

Two young common terns are being raised by a single adult in the Grimsbury Reservoir area.  They have been around for a few days now; the adult bird is often feeding away from the reservoir - along the canal and the river.  The youngsters are less willing to leave the reservoir - as soon as the adult returns they become very noisy begging for food.  
one of the two juvenile common terns
Common terns have yet to breed in the Banbury Ornithological Society area - the presence of this family shows that a small number of pairs could breed successfully in our area if a nesting raft could be located on a suitable water body. Grimsbury Reservoir is probably too busy with boating and fishing, but it would be good to look at the options; possibly Wormleighton Reservoir?

The waders that had graced the reservoir for a few days have now gone, it will be interesting to see what turns up next.  

Meanwhile, in Upper Wardington, the starling flock has grown to about 300 birds, the vast majority are juveniles.  They have taken to bathing in our small garden pond, creating quite a splashy spectacle as wave after wave pile in for a quick wash.  The vegetation in the pond has been trampled flat already.  
juvenile starling taking a bath
Song thrushes (three) are gathering in a yew tree laden with berries, let's hope they can make them last into the winter.
song thrush in yew tree
Yesterday I went for run across the higher land east of the village.  I was delighted to see a flash of orange from the tail of a redstart as it flitted in and out of a hedgerow just ahead of me.  A sprinkling of redstarts are migrating through our area at the moment; they are always a nice find.  There are some great images taken today on the Oxon Bird Log, worth a look.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: yellow wagtails

A quick post with pics from this morning: bright sunlight and great conditions for yellow and pied wagtails, extremely active feeding amongst the cattle, also starlings doing likewise.  Swallows and house martins swooping over the cattle too.  On the reservoir itself, the dunlin and little ringed plover remain, joined by a mute swan.  Two juvenile common terns appear, but not the adult - it can't be too far away.  A grey wagtail feeds along the concrete shoreline.  Two swifts join the hirundines (swallows and martins) for a while.

yellow wagtail - I'm getting closer to them!
grey heron
adult and immature black-headed gulls

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Tadmarton Heath: spotted flycatcher amongst the tit flock

An early-ish visit on a chilly but nice and sunny morning.   Most of the birds seemed to be gathered in a single flock working their way around the edge of the woodland surrounding the western side of the nature reserve.  Long-tailed tits were numerous and noisy, in amongst them were smart looking willow warblers in fresh plumage ready for their migration south of the Sahara.  A pair of marsh tits fed higher up in an ash tree, where a spotted flycatcher also showed itself, making a few characteristic flights out of the canopy to snap up small insects.
view looking east, wild bird crop in foreground
Moving on around the hedgerows were several blackcaps, whitethroats and a family of bullfinches.  I watched as a whitethroat fed delicately on the individual nuggets of berry that make up the whole blackberry fruit. 
common blue
In the wild bird strip some lovely flowers of corn marigold made a great subject for the camera.  
corn marigold
Leaving the nature reserve and heading back through the golf course to my car, I disturbed a kingfisher from the golf course lake.

In the evening, a quick visit to Grimsbury was rewarded with a family of common terns, an adult and two juveniles.  Both the juveniles had metal rings on their legs.
one of the two young common terns
A couple of grey wagtails graced the concrete shoreline.  The dunlin and common sandpiper are still in residence.  No swifts at the reservoir but I saw a single bird over Banbury.  They are very few and far between now.

yellow wagtail feeding amongst cattle grazing in the field next to the reservoir yesterday
These photos of swallows were taken at Grimsbury Reservoir yesterday evening in great light.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: dunlin

juvenile dunlin

Quick post: three waders at Grimsbury Reservoir yesterday (18th) - this dunlin, also common sandpiper and little ringed plover.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Otmoor RSPB nature reserve: seven raptors and summer insects

Spent today with friends looking for birds, dragonflies and butterflies at Otmoor.  Mid-morning rain rapidly cleared to give a sunny but breezy afternoon.  Raptors were much in evidence, with red kites and kestrels regularly in view, several buzzards and hobbies, and singles of marsh harrier, sparrowhawk and peregrine.  A single adult greenshank gave great views from the bridleway path and was later joined by a little ringed plover.  The cloud and wind reduced our encounters with warblers, but we did see a few reed warblers and whitethroats.
migrant hawker
We searched the Roman Road track near the car park for brown hairstreak butterflies but drew a blank, though they had been seen earlier in the afternoon.  We did find a clouded yellow next to the second viewing screen that overlooks the reed bed, for most of us this was a first of the year.
A brown argus butterfly allowed very close approach at the far end of the car park where it was nectaring on fleabane.  Dragonflies included three hawkers: brown, migrant and southern; and numerous ruddy darters.
magpie moth
common blue on tufted vetch
brown argus on fleabane
All in all a very rewarding day.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Tadmarton Heath and Grimsbury Reservoir: lots of young birds

Tadmarton Heath is an area of high ground (just under 200m elevation) about three miles south west of Banbury.  Part of the area has been developed as a golf course of the same name.  On the eastern side of the golf course, a nature reserve has been established by the Banbury Ornithological Society. I made my first visit on Monday evening, joining a BOS field trip.  I have since returned twice in the morning and am finding it a very enjoyable place to spend an hour or so looking for birds and other wildlife.  The main habitat is rough grassland with bramble and willow scrub. There is also a strip of land that is cultivated and sown with a "wild bird mix".
wild bird mix strip, Tadmarton Heath nature reserve
The views across Banburyshire are also impressive.  The original idea came from the desire of the BOS to establish a nature reserve for farmland birds.

On my visits to Tadmarton Heath this week the highlight has been great views of sparrowhawks. They have nested in the adjoining woodland and the young birds are almost constantly calling and practising their flying skills. The adults are busy hunting along the hedgerows!
juvenile sparrowhawk
My early morning mid-week visit was also rewarded with a tree pipit calling as it flew over - a scarce bird in our area, they formerly bred but are now just seen on migration.  This morning I also had good views of marsh tits and willow warblers.  Several pairs of whitethroats nest here and I enjoyed watching an adult and youngster feeding together in the dried stems of hogweed.
adult (on the right) and juvenile whitethroat
 I also photographed the UK's largest cranefly, Tipula maxima, in one of the boggy areas - quite spectacular for a cranefly!

I have also managed a couple more visits to Grimsbury Reservoir where plenty of sand martins and swallows are stopping off on their migration. Today, around sixty sand martins were swarming over the water and a few stopped to rest of the barbed wire perimeter fence.  Quite a few are juvenile birds (with very scaly plumage) and at least one was bearing a metal BTO ring.
juvenile sand martin with metal BTO ring on right leg
two juvenile sand martins
juvenile sand martin - note pale edges to feathers creating a scaly pattern
adult sand martin - no scaly pattern or buffy feathers
juvenile swallow
About twenty swifts were also present, plus the little ringed plover that has been around for a few days now.
adult goldfinch, Grimsbury Reservoir
Completing my round up, yesterday (Friday), I ran home through the Upper Cherwell Valley, where the goldfinch flock has grown to 120 birds feeding on a huge patch of thistles close to the flood bank. Five yellow wagtails and three common terns flew overhead, three grey herons were dotted along the route, and four cormorants roosting in the riverside trees.

Finally, back in Upper Wardington, we have an exceptional number of starlings around the village at the moment, with a flock of about 200 birds gathering on our rooftops today.  The vast majority are juvenile birds, indicating a very successful breeding season indeed.
a noisy group of juvenile starlings gather on the rooftop

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Grimsbury Reservoir: little ringed plover, swifts and more

A quick post to show a few recent photos from Banbury's reservoir taken in the early morning.  When you think this is a concrete lined lake, well used by fishermen and dog walkers, it actually attracts quite a few birds.  The advantage is that many of the birds have got quite used to people and I can sneak up on them with my camera without causing alarm.  Many birds pass though, only staying for a few minutes, hours or perhaps a couple of days at most.  There is always at least one grey heron.

this juvenile lesser black-backed gull just couldn't balance on the buoy
adult lesser black-backed gull showing how to do it!
fly-though hobby
my swift photos are gradually getting better
a small gathering of sand martins (nearest bird) and swallows on the barbed wire fence that surrounds the reservoir
sand martin close up with swallow to the right
beautiful back-lit juvenile little ringed plover
two blackcaps having a break from eating elderberries
Other birds around the past couple of days include garden warbler, chiffchaff, willow warbler and sparrowhawk. 

If you continue past the reservoir to the canal and follow the tow path under the M40 you will reach the new flood defences, including a small lake that also attract waterbirds  - on Tuesday there were four little grebes and a common sandpiper.