Sunday, 25 October 2015

Radstone: twelve buzzards in a field

A perfect autumnal day and it was great to be out and about early.  I went in search of golden plovers - having seen a flock of 140 in yesterday's rain, just outside Upper Wardington.  This morning just one remained!  They do move around, but this autumn they don't seen very faithful to their "regular" field near the village. Instead, I headed onwards to check out some farmland bird sites near Sulgrave. The big flock of linnets remained, with plenty of skylarks and yellowhammers nearby.  A few fieldfares, recently arrived from Scandinavia, were scattered around, favouring tall hedgerows, attracted by the crop of haws and other fruit.

A recently ploughed field near Radstone proved to be a magnet for buzzards, with a total of twelve spread fairly evenly across the expanse of bare earth, waiting to pounce on earthworms.  They have done incredibly well in the past few years and are a great conservation success story for our area.

Near Helmdon I stopped to look at some finches in the hedgerow and immediately heard ravens overhead, then a red kite drifted through.  Small numbers of common gulls have also arrived; expect more in the coming weeks.

Last weekend a birding trip Pennington Marshes on the south coast was a great opportunity to connect with many of those waders we only ever see fleetingly, if at all, in our area.  Big flocks of black-tailed godwits fed in the estuarine pools close to the coastal path, sometimes taking flight and wheeling around in magnificent synchrony. A long-staying long-billed dowitcher added some rarity appeal. We even found a wryneck sitting very unobtrusively in a hawthorn bush.
black-tailed godwits feeding
black-tailed godwits in flight

 Small groups of spotted redshanks were feeding frantically - upending with great flexibility! 
spotted redshank with prey item
spotted redshank in classic up-ending pose!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Farmland birds: living with intensive food production

You have to admire our farmland birds, especially those successfully scratching a living around the margins of our intensively farmed landscape.  It is a tough existence for our yellowhammers, skylarks and linnets.  Earlier in the week I was fortunate to see my first cirl buntings in the UK - these birds were part of the recently re-introduced population in Cornwall.  Confined to a narrow strip of coastal farmland, about fifty pairs are now established but are reliant on sympathetic farming in the local area, supported by Environmental Stewardship.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been invested in re-establishing a population of cirl buntings lost only a few decades earlier.  The vulnerable position of these birds reminded me that it wouldn't take too much more change in our local farmland for us to loose our yellowhammers too.  We have almost lost our corn buntings already.
yellowhammer near Sulgrave
This morning I spent some more time watching the large flock of linnets gathered in a stubble field near Sulgrave.  The field looks like it has been directly drilled with a winter wheat crop - green shoots are appearing in straight lines - hopefully enabling the finch flock and skylarks to sustain themselves for a few more weeks, feeding on the spilt grain and weed seeds.  This field buzzing with bird activity was in contrast to most of the other arable fields in our area - now harvested, cleaned up and prepared for the next crop.  The bare fields can sometimes be attractive to birds, but hardly anything was using them this morning (apart from the odd crow and buzzard), most birds were on the relatively food-rich stubble.
linnets with a few greenfinches
Sadly no golden plovers to report, but a nice surprise was a flock of 23 lapwings, gathered in a stubble field close enough for some photos.  A brown hare crouched low in the field close to the lapwings and skylarks flitted around further back.
four of the lapwings
A regular site for tree sparrows near Weston was occupied by about eight birds and a few yellowhammers, but sadly the hedges have all been neatly trimmed back with little left for the winter thrushes (redwings and fieldfares) when they return from Scandinavia in the next few weeks.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Banburyshire: sunflowers and linnets

The glowing colours of Autumn are strengthening by the day in the hedgerows, woods and verges.

The early days of October have been crisp and warm, dominated by blue skies.  That will all change to tomorrow with the return of wind and rain, but this weekend it was great to get out and about in the good weather.

This morning I spent a couple of hours exploring the local farmland, checking out a few of the better areas.  This time last year golden plover were back, in small numbers.  No sign of them so far, but in their favoured field near Upper Wardington, a flock of skylarks numbering about 60, provided some interest. It looks like the field has been drilled, probably with winter wheat, and a spraying operation was just finishing.  The skylarks were bobbing around the field as the tractor moved across.  There were a few meadow pipits, pied wagtails and a couple of buzzards towards the back of the field.

I'd spotted a field of sunflowers growing near Sulgrave last weekend and vowed to return to take some photos and see if any birds were using the field.  When I arrived this morning, most of the sunflowers were still there, but rapidly being mulched by a tractor - this was a bit perplexing as the crop was only just starting to flower and some way off setting seed. 
A potentially amazing winter food resource for birds was rapidly disappearing, especially as the sunflower "crop" had been drilled into a stubble and was full of arable weeds.  Will be interesting to see what happens next.

Nearby, a prairie-like area of cereal stubble had attracted a large flock of linnets with a few greenfinches mixed in.  I reckon about 300 birds - so pretty exceptional for our area.  I took some pics of the flock to try and make a more accurate estimate of the flock size.
most of the linnet flock
A red kite drifted over. A few skylarks were scattered across this field too, and I got the impression there were many more hidden from view.

In the afternoon I squeezed in a visit to Bicester Wetland Reserve where I spent a relaxing hour or so watching green sandpipers (5), snipe (10) and dozens of teal.  Also, a couple of chiffchaffs and a small flock of siskins.

Lastly, a photo taken at Grimsbury Reservoir a few days ago , which I have just got around to uploading and quite pleased with.
black-headed gull