Saturday, 30 April 2016

Upper Wardington: Yellow Wagtails and more

male Yellow Wagtail
I was fortunate this morning to capture some nice shots of a male Yellow Wagtail beside the road near Wardington.  This is a favoured locality for them, normally one or two pairs but sometimes none at all. They usually nest in fields of winter wheat or field beans, commuting to better feeding areas including the local sheep grazed pastures.  
This male is busy establishing his territory, singing from the fenceline.
A female was perched on the same fence a little further on.  There is also another male around.  I have seen them in a few localities over the past few days whilst birding in the local area, which is pleasing as they seemed very scarce last year. 

With the arrival of so many of our summer migrants in the last week or two it was a real surprise to see a flock of 22 Fieldfare lingering in one of their favoured pasture fields yesterday (Friday).  I wonder if these late departing birds are headed for the more northerly part of their range in Scandinavia.
Fieldfares on 29 April
An adult Curlew Sandpiper has recently graced Balscote Quarry nature reserve and a nearby pool on Ironstone Lane - showing particularly well today in the afternoon sunshine today, but too far off to get reasonable photos.  Watching through the telescope, this bird's plumage details were very fine: brick red face and breast, grey crown and spangled wing coverts.  This really is a rare occurrence - only the second spring record in the Banbury area - the other was also at Balscote in May 1993.
Adult Curlew Sandpiper - record shots

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Banburyshire: great grey shrike, garganey, whinchat....

Despite the nagging cold weather pattern, the past few days have been great for birding, with some crisp sunny mornings and some scarce birds in our patch.  The seasonal survey work and back-garden birdwatching has also been rewarding.  Out of the wind there were times when you could almost imagine it was a warm spring day! 
A few highlights below:

male Whinchat - they used to breed in the Cherwell Valley but now just only a passage migrant.  This one brightened up my wader survey visit on Weds, then today (Thursday) lighting struck twice with one just outside Wardington.
male Blackbird - the female was busy building a nest for what will hopefully be their second brood of the season
female Great-spotted Woodpecker
Robin chicks in the nest early morning Tuesday- by the evening they were gone.
Great Grey Shrike, Edgecote, Tuesday morning (record shot)
Drake Garganey, Upper Cherwell EA Pool, Tuesday Evening (very poor light by the time I got there)
Goldfinch photographed through a gateway, part of a large group feeding on dandelion flower heads.  I rather like this image so have used it for my blog header as well.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Church Wood, Buckinghamshire: carpets of bluebells (plus a roundup of the past week or so)

bluebells, Church Wood
Bluebells are just at their best at the moment.  Yesterday I took an opportunity to see the impressive expanses of bluebell carpeting the woodland floor at Church Wood RSPB nature reserve near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.  Overnight rain had cleared leaving water droplets coating the flowers and glistening jewel-like in the early morning rays of sunlight. 
and more bluebells....
It has also been a busy period for bird survey work - this morning the BTO Breeding Bird Survey.  My eleventh year counting birds in one kilometre square near Moreton Pinkney in Northamptonshire.  In about two hours I clocked up thirty-nine species, including Sedge Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat.
dilapidated barn on my BBS route - a favoured haunt of Stock Doves
Sadly no Tree Sparrows - this may be the first year that I draw a blank - there seem to be fewer each year.  At least I can still see them in my back garden - up to four on the feeders over the weekend.
Tree Sparrows snacking on red millet in my back garden
Last week I completed my first wading bird survey of the season, part of the annual study of wading birds in the Upper Thames organised by RSPB.  This year I am surveying a new area for me - the Middle Cherwell Valley between Somerton and Clifton.  I managed to pick a lovely sunny morning, and there were plenty of birds, including a couple of pairs of Curlew, Wheatear, Snipe and Yellow Wagtail. 
Misty morning, Middle Cherwell Valley
Wet grassland and oilseed rape, Middle Cherwell Valley
Baby birds are starting to appear, last weekend it was fledgling blackbirds in the garden. 
blackbird fledgling: "feed me"
Hopefully they will soon be joined by some robins - there are four well grown chicks in this nestbox.
look carefully and you can see both adult robins on the nest!
just fed the chicks
Finally, just over a week ago now, I managed to get a few nice pics of a Dunlin that dropped into Grimsbury Reservoir.
Dunlin - Grimsbury Reservoir, Banbury

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Chimney Meadows: early spring beside the Thames

With spring starting to unfold, I took the opportunity to walk the trails around the extensive Chimney Meadows BBOWT nature reserve near Witney, hoping to find a few summer visitors. This is a big site and to do it justice you need to pull on a pair of walking boots and allocate a few hours.
The nature reserve is a work in progress, the Trust started looking after it in 2003 and have already carried out a lot work to re-establish formerly common habitats.  For example, numerous cowslips were just starting to bloom in the meadows being recreated on the higher ground that was formerly under arable cultivation.
Down beside the river, extensive wet meadows (that are designated a National Nature Reserve) were full of sedges and the first few flowers of lady's smock.  There are some shallow pools but surprisingly few birds apart from mallard ducks. A single sedge warbler was singing; swallows and sand martins drifted overhead.  
National Nature Reserve beside the Thames
Blackthorn coming into full bloom
A trail leads to a couple of hides overlooking small pools, but most interest is along the trail itself where there were lots of chiffchaffs singing, likewise a couple of blackcaps.  A marsh tit called and a pair of bullfinches moved more quietly through the overgrown hedgerow.
In places you feel transported back in time to an Oxfordshire countryside before the arrival of modern agriculture and urban development.  Small fields, characterful ash trees, yaffling green woodpecker, grazing Dexter cattle.
Plenty of birds of prey were on the wing, especially red kites and buzzards but also kestrel, sparrowhawk and a marsh harrier.  Apart from a single curlew there were no waders using the nature reserve, so it was a mild surprise to find a group of sixteen lapwings on territory just the other side of the river, using a strip of fallow arable land clearly prone to flooding so not sown with cereal like the rest of the field.