Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Cyprus: rock thrushes and exotic buttercups

Our week in the sun has flown by, and has actually been quite wet at times, surprisingly so for Cyprus! Highlight today was fantastic views of a group of at least seven rufous-tailed rock thrushes gathered on a rocky hillside high up on the Akamas Peninsula.  They are on migration, quite likely heading to the mountains of Turkey.  Also a pair of beautiful blue rock thrushes at this site.  Many botanical delights too; this really is a great place to see flowers in profusion, especially orchids, and the stunning Persian buttercup pictured below.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Cyprus: Akrotiri tour

Most of today was spent around the Akrotiri area, visiting several coastal wetland sites within the UK military base, with a good variety of birds - despite the obvious degradation of some of the key wetlands due to urban expansion from Lemesos and competition for water with agriculture and urban growth.  Most exciting was a brief but good view of a male black francolin, and both make and female little crakes. An early morning walk in Pissouri brought me very close to a couple of Cretzschmar's buntings in the village and some nice close up pics.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Cyprus: two endemics on day one

Great start to our week's holiday in Cyprus, with fine warm weather, and some excellent birds and flowers.  All were close to where we are staying in Pissouri.  No much time for writing in any detail this week, but will try to post a few images.  Cyprus has two recognised endemic songbirds, the Cyprus warbler and the Cyprus wheatear, both seen and photographed today, just a shortish walk from our hotel.  Other highlights included masked shrike, wryneck and hearing, but not yet seeing, a black francolin.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Grimsbury Reservoir: chiffchaffs on the wires

A wave of chiffchaffs (at least six, probably several more) seemed to be moving through Grimsbury at lunchtime, enjoying some more watery sunshine.  The wire mesh fencing around the reservoir is attractive to them - presumably small flies also finding the chain link a convenient resting place.
 A fine drake mallard paddled up the river with a duck.

The long-tailed tits were very busy nest building in the bramble thicket so I paused only briefly in their vicinity to marvel at their skill and artistry.

A male reed bunting appeared at close range in a blackthorn bush, but I could only capture the back of his head, then a blur as he flew off.

Out on the reservoir the black-headed bulls are looking very smart with their dark chocolate head gear, common gulls (about ten) are also now into breeding plumage, with clean white head plumage.  A couple of lesser black-backed gull were loafing around showing off their yellow legs.
lesser black-backed gull

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

People's Park, Banbury: lunchtime with nuthatches

Watery sunshine lifted the anticyclonic grey skies for a few hours today and tempted me across the road to People's Park in the centre of Banbury.  At least one pair of nuthatches are resident here and often easy to see.  On this occasion they were somewhat preoccupied with getting their nesting hole ready for the breeding season.  I tried to blend into the foliage of the weeping willow tree and watched the birds coming to and fo with nest lining material - seemed to be mostly leaves. 
 A pair of blue tits were also eyeing up this desirable nest site!
Nearby, a male great spotted woodpecker was very busy pecking away at a rotting sycamore branch as I looked up from below.

Local parks can be great places to watch and photograph birds that are normally much more shy out in the countryside.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Upper Wardington: more tree sparrows in the garden

Great to be able to report a major increase in tree sparrows visiting the garden feeders in the past few days.  From just a single bird a week ago, we now have up to six at a time on two feeders.  I have filled the niger seed feeder with red millet and they have taken to it.  None of the other birds seem to like it so far!  They do still prefer the main feeder with sunflower hearts, but there is a lot of competition for those seeds, even from jackdaws (surprisingly agile).  I still think tree sparrow numbers are low locally compared to ten years ago when I could see large flocks in winter, but they are hanging on for now.
five of the tree sparrows, plus a house sparrow

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Shotteswell: grey herons in breeding finery

Yesterday (Friday 13th) I returned to check on progress at the small heronry now established in Shotteswell, just north of Banbury.  Two pairs occupied nests; a further two single birds were standing on other nests - one very much in nest construction mode.  One adult appeared to be incubating - sitting tight on the nest.  The pair pictured below were indulging in some courtship, their plumes and pink-tinged bill making them look just a bit more splendid than normal. Though I'm mentioning the herons in my blog, I'd be grateful if you don't go for a look yourselves just yet as I have not established contact with the owners of the property they are nesting on and the location is potentially quite sensitive.
pair of grey herons
Also yesterday, I managed to catch up with the red-created pochard found by Gareth Blockley, this is quite a scarce bird in the BOS area, and certainly a first for me at Grimsbury.  A very good addition to our Big Bird Year list (now well into the seventies).
red-crested pochard (left) with great-crested grebe

The first summer migrants are starting to trickle in across the country but few have been recorded locally so far, though indications of an increase in chiffchaffs (including four at Wormleighton Reservoir yesterday) and likely some of these are new arrivals.  I am also thinking there have been quite a few migrant departures -  my impression is that fewer fieldfares have been around in the past couple of days compared to last weekend, and maybe some are now well on their way back to Scandinavia.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

more Northamptonshire willow tits as spring breaks out

As my week looking for willow tits in the north east part of the BOS recording area draws to a close I just wanted to share a few images and thoughts on what I've discovered.

Firstly, there are still a few places left with some willow tits, especially in south Northants, and it has been great to hear them singing in several different places. 

I have also learnt a lot about the calls and songs of willow tits and marsh tits and have a much better understanding of their ecology (having had time to read quite a few papers). For willow tits, top notch habitat is normally damp, scrubby woodland, often close to water.  They need dynamic management to keep recreating this habitat.  But they also need these wet and scrubby areas protected from clearance and drainage.  Marsh tits are much more at home in mature woodland with a well-developed canopy, and not so bothered about it being damp.

There is a lot we can do to conserve and improve their habitat, but this will require action (and sometimes inaction!) from key landowners. 
occupied willow tit habitat near Moreton Pinkney

While I've been out and about, spring has been in the air a little bit more: willow catkins about to burst forth, lambs in the fields, a first red admiral on the wing (yesterday as temperature soared to 14 degrees C), even one or two lapwings returning to farmland sites.
willow catkins
lambs enjoying themselves

Sometimes change in the countryside can be sad to see - this fine old oak tree, possibly the oldest in Warwickshire, caught some sort of fungus infection and had to be felled.  It was pretty much doomed anyway, sitting bang on the route of HS2.
huge old oak tree felled late last year

Change is also very much in the air at Farnborough National Trust property, with major tree clearance taking place to restore the original parkland vistas.  It does look quite drastic at the moment but there are plans to create more wildlife habitat as part of the project so lets hope there will be a net gain for biodiversity long-term to balance all the loss of dead wood and scrub.

Farnborough National Trust "makeover"

woodland clearance at Farnborough

Monday, 2 March 2015

Grimsbury Reservoir: goosanders and willow tits on the radio

Another first for Grimsbury Reservoir in the shape of the BBC Radio Oxford outside broadcast van! Reg Tipping and I were live on air for the breakfast show with roving reporter Lilley Mitchell for four slots between seven and nine.
live on air
The birds did not let us down: the noisy yaffling of the green woodpecker, courtship antics from the goosanders, the noisy rookery.......even the elusive willow tit put in an appearance. To top it all we heard a curlew fly over, a genuine addition to the Big Bird Year, bringing us up to 71 species for the year to date.  Have a listen here, it is quite entertaining!  (listen at 21 mins, 57 mins, 1hr 21 mins and 1hr 57 mins)

Later in the day I took a trip across to the Neal Trust BOS reserve near Kineton, where I spent a couple of hours in the shelter of the small valley.  Highlights included a woodcock, pair of marsh tits and the two Exmoor ponies grazing the butterfly meadow.  
Exmoor ponies
I also called into Balscote Quarry BOS reserve, where lapwings are back on territory. One bird was showing some nest "making" behaviour, shuffling around low in the crop behind the reserve.  A flock of teal, drakes in fine breeding plumage, were calling as they swirled around in a small flock on the back pool.  A couple of long-tailed tits bravely attempted to feed alongside a male great spotted woodpecker, but he was having none if it and gave them a quick jab with his bill to ward them off.
great spotted woodpecker and long-tailed tit