Sunday, 25 January 2015

Big Garden Birdwatch and an afternoon with raptors

Breakfast time was ideal for participating in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.  A relaxed hour tracking birds in and around the garden.  Most of the regulars were in attendance - goldfinches, chaffinches, coal tit etc. but no real surprises - though a very close fly-by buzzard was a little unusual.  A pair of bullfinches visited the shrubs opposite our front garden too.

A morning visit to Tadmarton Heath nature reserve was pleasant in the morning sunshine - a very vocal mistle thrush establishing his territory; nuthatches also calling from the hedgerows.  Mammals included a couple of close fox encounters and a muntjack deer.

An afternoon cross country run was more interesting though.  With a small back-pack carrying my map, binocs and mobile phone, I was able to visit some fairly off the beaten track parts of north Oxfordshire.  I stopped at four small woodlands to try and locate willow tits, like last weekend I was successful at my final stop - a small woodland near Cropredy.  A male willow tit made an almost immediate response to my playback of calls (on my mobile phone), and started to sing too.  He was quickly joined by another, I assume the female, and they then flew around in the trees together for a short while.  The pair's behaviour gives every indication that this is an established territory for them.  I'm also starting to get a better idea of their preferred habitat locally - not a great surprise to find this is wet, unmanaged woodland with plenty of dead wood.

Not far from the willow tits, I was pretty surprised to spot a peregrine falcon sitting on a small tree in a pasture field.  In was able to approach reasonably close, and noticed another bird sat slightly lower down and looking paler.  I moved a little closer and could now make out a female sparrowhawk.  Not often you see these two birds of prey in the same tree.

Birds of prey were much in evidence today - several kestrel sightings, and a whole succession of close encounters with buzzards, including one group of four.  No red kites though - they are still pretty scarce to the north east of Banbury.  I'm still waiting for my first local merlin too; my hopes are raised my recent sightings in south Northants!!

It was interesting and a little sad to relate that there were very few birds in any of the farmed fields - no winter thrushes, for example.  Only when I got back to Upper Wardington did I find a few fieldfares - once again in a field next to the cricket pitch.  Some of the fields close to the village, grazed by sheep, do seem to be very traditional sites for fieldfares, and I'm wondering how many come back each year to feast of the earthworms in these pastures.

No pics from the weekend, but a couple of frozen/frosty Grimsbury Reservoir last Thursday - the coldest night of the year.
frosty bramble
early morning reflections on the icy reservoir

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