Sunday, 17 May 2015

Upper Cherwell Valley: Curlew amongst the saxifrage

It's been a while since my last blog entry so I'm playing a bit of catch-up. 

Last weekend I enjoyed taking part (with Neil McMahon) in the Long Day Count organised by the Banbury Ornithological Society (BOS).  Twelve hours in the field within a 10km square (SP54) makes this event quite a marathon, especially if you start at 4am as we did!!  Thanks to Neil's excellent field skills, and especially his ability to pick up and instantly identify even the faintest of calls, we did pretty well - see his write-up here.  Highlights included a drake Mandarin duck on a "just dug" farm pond, spotted flycatcher, just-fledged ravens and a red kite.  Misses included nuthatch and yellow wagtail.  The latter seem to be extremely scarce in the local area so far this spring.

On Monday morning an early visit to Tadmarton Heath BOS nature reserve was rewarding, with six species of warbler singing, and long-tailed tits feeding young.
crab apple blossom

long-tailed tit
In the evening I caught up with one of the grasshopper warblers that have taken up residence in the scrubby grassland nest to the Hanwell Fields housing estate in Banbury (where up to six have been counted). 

Wednesday evening was warm and sunny so I took off for a run across the local area, including some higher farmland known as Danesmoor.  Several large fields were put down to grass last year and during the day the first harvest of grass had been taken - with a flurry of fast-moving tractors and trailers.  I was stopped in my tracks by a remarkable number of raptors wheeling above this major grass cutting operation - presumably attracted by some easy pickings!  Having never seen more than one red kite locally before I could scarcely believe it when my kite count reached ten birds, also an exceptional twelve buzzards and two kestrels. Some of these kites had travelled quite a way to join in the fun; no doubt a taste of things to come as red kites get more established in South Northants.

Friday morning was a fairly early start for my second breeding wader survey in the Upper Cherwell Valley, part of a wider RSPB co-ordinated survey across the Upper Thames area. 

Spring in the Upper Cherwell Valley
Perfect conditions - lovely calm sunny morning and curlew present in some of the fields, a total of three counted so quite likely two pairs.  One meadow also had a good scattering of the lovely meadow saxifrage plants in full bloom, a very localised flower these days and very indicative of quality unimproved grasslands.
meadow saxifrage

On Saturday morning another early start (5.30am)! - this time a BOS field trip to Tadmarton Heath near Broughton, to hear the (almost) dawn chorus and enable newer members to discover the reserve. We had a very enjoyable couple of hours, picking out the songs of garden and willow warblers and numerous whitethroats.  We were all taken by surprise by the appearance of stunning male ring ouzel, feeding out in the open on the cultivated wild bird strip.  A reminder that there are still birds on migration.
male ring ouzel

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