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.

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