Sunday, 13 September 2015

Banburyshire: autumn on the march

Last weekend  it seemed the swallows were ready to leave, but in fact many are still here, especially one family with the adults still busy feeding fledged young.

A mid week evening visit to Bicester Wetland Reserve was partly motivated by a faint hope of finding a spotted crake, or at least a water rail.  In the event, no rails or crakes were about, but a small influx of snipe was perhaps the highlight, all thirteen busy feeding in the gloopy mud.  One of the cows got a little bit enthusiastic and romped through the wetland with a big splash and ended up with a good coating of mud on its belly.
amphibious ungulate
Towards dusk things quietened down a bit, then a Sparrowhawk landed on the railings right in front of the hide!  I cranked up the ISO setting to capture the moment.
Today I spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering slowly around Tadmarton Heath looking for migrants.  Meadow pipits, siskins and swallows were migrating overhead in small numbers.  In the scrub and hedgerows there were good numbers of blackcaps, chiffchaffs and whitethoats and three lesser whitethroats. A redstart posed well atop some brambles for a few moments then disappeared into the tall hedgerow adjoining the golf course.  The autumnal hues are starting to glow from the hedgerows - scarlet rose hips ripening and the rich purple of elderberries.
One bit of local conservation news is the adoption by Butterfly Conservation of a one mile section of the Oxford Canal near Fenny Compton to the north of Wormleighton Reservoir.  This is also a great area for birds that like scrub and woodland, including both willow and marsh tits.  It will be interesting to see how their management improves the area.  The Canal and River Trust are encouraging more groups to take on this type of initiative, something to consider for other stretches of canal.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Upper Wardington: gathering of the swallows

The end of summer in Upper Wardington is usually marked by a gathering of the local swallow population on the wires and roofs of the village, often just outside our front door. 
most of the swallow flock
A few "flockings" in the past fortnight had indicated that migration time was getting close. Now it seems imminent.  Early this morning a group of about fifty birds of all ages from adults to just-fledged juveniles were densely packed on the wires: preening, stretching and chattering. 
the view from below
Each vehicle moving through the village prompted them all to lift from the wires and wheel up into the sky.  However, I was able to stand right underneath with my camera, and even chat to neighbours, without disturbing them.  I shared the spectacle with one of our neighbours, who is also a local farmer.  He reported them having a good breeding season with several pairs nesting in the stone barn just around the corner.  This is one of the few old barns left in the area yet to be converted into a house.
a very juvenile swallow not long out of the nest
wing and tail stretch
A hobby dashed overhead, distracting the flock, and causing them to rise up into sky with a chorus of alarm calls.  Swallows are a major part of their diet, but on this occasion it moved rapidly onwards.
jackdaw also enjoying the sunshine
After enjoying the swallows, I travelled down to Bicester Wetland Reserve for some early morning birding.  The water levels are noticeably higher following recent rain, but there were still a few green sandpipers on show, a dunlin (quite rare at this site), two little egrets and a snipe.  A reed warbler was very confiding, sitting out in the early morning sunshine, warming up after a chilly night.  A kingfisher hovered over the pools, a dazzling sight.

reed warbler
My last stop of the morning was Tadmarton Heath where ringing was in progress, and almost straight away a real surprise  -  a flock of thirty five siskins feeding on thistle seed heads.  Andy Turner had caught one in the mist nets - a first for the ringers at this reserve.  I wandered on across the scrubby meadow, picking blackberries and enjoying brief views of a whinchat.

Later in the afternoon, back in Upper Wardington, ravens were calling noisily overhead, two pairs tumbling in the air.  Then more - a procession of birds heading towards an arable field below Fox Hill.  In the end I counted fifteen ravens, by far the largest gathering I have seen near in the village since they re-colonised our area about a decade ago.

All in all a day of flocks - some nearly ready for departure (our swallows), some just arrived from further north (siskins), and of course the resident ravens being sociable.