Sunday, 22 February 2015

Shotteswell: winter random square survey

Sat 21 Feb
My priority for the morning was to complete the BOS Winter Random Square survey, a long standing survey that is creating a fascinating record of the changing fortunes of our countryside birds.  Over twenty observers take part and this winter it seems to be as popular as ever.

BOS bird recorder Trevor Easterbrook generates the randomly selected squares, so the surveyor's job starts by looking up the square on an Ordinance Survey map and planning a route, normally making use of rights of way.  It is a good way to get to know new parts of our local patch.  There is often something a little unexpected to be seen during the two hour survey period.  

Shotteswell was my destination this time around, a small village north of Banbury, a short distance west of the M40.  The village sits on a steep slope facing towards the motorway, with small lanes winding through picturesque cottages and an ancient church.  There is a biting wind, but in sheltered spots the bright sunshine felt springlike.  Around the village, lots of house sparrows were chattering around well stocked bird feeders.  In the surrounding pasture fields noisy flocks of fieldfares were seeking out the best feeding sites too.

My surprise of the day was finding a grey heron atop a sizeable nest of twigs, built in an ornamental willow on a tiny island in what was no more that a large pond.  I tend to think of herons as nesting in secluded places, usually high up in trees, well away from habitation.  In London they are much less wary and nest in some of the Royal Parks.  Even so, this was a surprising location for a heronry in rural Oxforshire, but a very welcome discovery for me.  I later found a further two adult herons in a nearby field, so it is possible more than one pair will attempt to nest here.  There are very few sites where herons nest in our area - normally only two or three.
Shotteswell grey heron nesting tree
A tree sparrow has started to visit our feeder and I managed to grab a photo through the patio windows, posing with a house sparrow.  I've ordered some red millet seeds, known to be their favoured food, so hopefully I can attract a few more!
tree sparrow on the right, house sparrow on the left
Sunday 22 Feb
Driving across to Cambridge in the morning I saw three Northamptonshire red kites, one close to home near Greatworth, one in the Nene Valley somewhere in the Rushden area and one on the Cambridgeshire border.  It looks like the kites are successfully filling in the gap between the two re-introduction areas in the Chilterns and Rockingham Forest.  They are still scarce to north and east of Banbury but may be starting to gain a foothold here at last.

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