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