Sunday, 26 November 2017

Burton Dassett: Winter Random Square bird survey

This morning I spent two hours out and about around Avon Dassett, a few mile north of Banbury, participating in the BOS Winter Random Square Survey.  This involves spending 2 hours counting all the birds you can find in a 1km square.  Sometimes the two hours can drag a bit by the end, but this morning, in glorious sunshine, there were plenty of birds about, helped by a reasonable diversity of habitats within my allotted square - a leafy village, parkland, scrub, arable farmland, pasture and tall hedgerows.

Having spend a bit of time yesterday checking potential Hawfinch sites locally without further success, I was not particularly expecting to find any on the survey.  So it was a very pleasant surprise when, after about ten minutes, one popped up on top of a nearby tree, bathed in the morning sunlight, a great view but almost immediately it was off.... 

I managed to find a total of 38 species, including a pair of Ravens, a flock of about fifty Skylarks, five Yellowhammers and plenty of Redwings and Linnets.

Fieldfares have become noticeably more common in the past week or so, this bird was guarding an apple tree, fending off blackbirds when it could.

Fieldfare near Edgcote
Mute Swan, Wroxton College
Grey Heron searching for food in a field of winter wheat near Thenford
Edgcote Church and Yew trees

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Banburyshire: Hawfinches around the churchyards

Churchyards are turning out to be the place to look for Hawfinches at the moment.  There have been regular sightings at Thenford churchyard near Middleton Cheney over the past couple of weeks; I managed a brief view of a flock of six flying over last Monday morning. This afternoon I had a look around the tiny churchyard at Edgcote near Wardington, another promising looking site with a couple of fruiting Yew trees.  Quite a few Redwings and Greenfinches were siting in the top of several mature trees surrounding the churchyard, then suddenly a Hawfinch appeared and started calling, and I soon realised another was sat just below it.  Not great views high up in the tree and partly hidden behind smaller branches, but I pointed my lens using the point focus setting and captured a record shot!  Then they few off, not to be seen again (as, sadly, tends to be the case with them).  What these two churchyards have in common are mature fruiting Yew trees and being located next to parkland estates with plenty of mature trees.

Hawfinch record shot - Edgcote Church

Edgcote Estate
Edgcote Estate
I managed some better photos at Bicester Wetland Reserve in the morning, where an immature Water Rail showed very well early on right in front of the hide.  Two Cetti's Warblers were singing, one in the small reedbed and one in the scrubby willows along the path towards the cattle field.  A large flock of tits and goldcrests contained a Chiffchaff that was not giving the classic "Hweet" call but a "Swee-oo", I had heard this call a couple of weeks earlier but this time got a decent view and it was clearly a regular Chiffchaff.  I heard a second Chiffchaff making the same call while I was out for a run near Wardington around midday today - it was fly-catching in a sheltered sunny spot.  Again, my attention was drawn by the unusual call, then I spotted the bird (no binocs this time!).  Much has been written about Chiffchaff calls, for example, in Birding Frontiers
Juvenile Water Rail feeding in the small area of cut reed in front of the hide
Excavator at work last week, expanding the scrape habitat - a Redshank dropped in straight away
a Mute Swan family has moved in
Wrens often show very well just below the hide

Water Rail, Bicester Wetland Reserve

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Wroxton College - Hawfinch encounter

Autumn 2017 will be remembered as the "Hawfinch Autumn" I'm sure.  A remarkable influx of birds from the continent has enabled many birders to find this giant finches on their local patch and there has already been some great blogging on the subject.  Having stumbled upon my first local hawfinches at Tadmarton Heath a week ago, when I just managed to see two birds as they flew off and away, I was determined to get a better view. 

Hawfinches are notoriously shy birds, sometimes frequenting tree tops and often first located by their call, a sharp clicking "pix!".  They used to breed in Banburyshire - the last recorded nest was found in 1987 - nowadays there are very scarce visitors and seen less than annually.

I have focused my effort at Wroxton College, just west of Banbury, because clumps of mature trees around the grounds of the college are one of the most likely places to attract any passing Hawfinches.  The college, very kindly, allow access to the grounds during daylight hours, and it is a nice place to walk and enjoy the autumn colours. This morning was my third attempt to find Hawfinches at the college and I arrived reasonably early just as sunlight was starting to create a wonderful glow across the autumn foliage. After about 40 minutes I reached the bottom end of the park, below the main lake.  Looking up into the treetops, there they were: two very large finches with huge bills, looking quite settled, they then started calling, giving me time to capture a few record shots.  They dropped down a little bit into slightly better light, then down further into a large yew tree.  More calling ensued, then a flock of five Hawfinches burst out of the Yew and immediately flew off, not to be seen again that morning!
Hawfinch high up in the tree top
Two Hawfinches
This Hawfinch dropped down into better light for a brief moment
back lit Beech leaves
Beech tree
leaves floating in the lake
Raven calling
Mute Swan family (7 cygnets raised on the lake)
Yew berries (which Jackdaws were feasting on... until I pointed my lens in their direction)
Female Goosander on the lake today, also a drake Teal and Kingfisher
Female Green Woodpecker
Tadmarton Heath: bird feeders are up and the wild bird strip is starting to ripen, though maybe a bit late this year to produce much food so we are adding some extra seed.

Coat Tit approaching the feeders.
Bird food crop maturing
Corn Marigold still in flower
Wardington:  Still lots of Buzzards hopping around looking for worms
Bicester Wetland Reserve: Cetti's Warbler still singing from the reedbed though hard to see, also an eastern-race Chiffchaff heard then seen at dusk, hopefully this will stick around and better views gained.  Plus the usual flock of Teal, a few Shoveler and 8 Wigeon.
Bicester Wetland at sunset

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Wardington: a gathering of Buzzards

Common Buzzard
My birding highlight of the past few days has been the daily gathering of Common Buzzards in a large arable field known at "Top Dawkins", between Wardington and the A361.  My peak count in the past three days has been an incredible 33 birds, scattered across a large expanse of bare cultivated land.  Daily there are between 15 and 25, each bird waiting to pounce on anything that moves, presumable in most cases this will be an earthworm.  This event reflects the amazing success of Common Buzzards in our area in recent years, firmly establishing themselves as our most numerous raptor.
Five of the buzzards
Quite a pale individual this, but there is at least one bird that is much paler and a couple that are very dark chocolate-brown.
Golden Plover have also returned to this field - just three so far - hopefully more to come over the winter period.  I also saw my first Redwings of the autumn this morning. at Bicester Wetland Reserve.

Finally, a few images of my recent trip to a somewhat windswept Shetland: some birds that we can dream about possibly finding in our local area!
Yellow-browed Warbler
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Purple Sandpiper
Sea stacks at Eshaness

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Grimsbury Reservoir: Grey Phalarope gallery

Much excitement at Grimsbury Reservoir this week with the discovery of a Grey Phalarope on Monday evening by John Friendship-Taylor.  Within a hour, a small gathering of local birders had assembled to enjoy great close-up views.  This ocean-faring wader was one of several blown off course by recent gales and taking temporary respite on our inland lakes and reservoirs.  The first ever recorded at Grimsbury, and only the fourth in the BOS recording area. 

It stayed for four days, enabling many to catch up with it, and no doubt many thousands for full frame images were taken!  It spend nearly all it's time feeding along the eastern shore of the concrete-lined reservoir, continually picking around for tiny food items. Incredibly confiding, it was content to walk or swim within a metre or so of the anglers and photographers sitting along the shoreline. I took a series of photos during it's stay in different weather and light conditions.  Here are a selection:

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Banburyshire: early autumn reflections

Grey Heron, Bicester Wetland Reserve
The transition from summer to autumn has happened pretty quickly - nights are cooling down rapidly, birds are on the move and hedgerow fruits have ripened.
A few calm and sunny early mornings created nice conditions for photography, especially for waterbirds with mirror-like reflections in the water.
Little Egret, Boddington Reservoir
Grey Heron, Bicester Wetland Reserve
Grey Heron, Grimsbury Reservoir
Grey Heron, Grimsbury Reservoir
 Even the cows at Bicester Wetland Reserve got in on the act:

A single juvenile Black-tailed Godwit was spend the past few days at Bicester Wetland Reserve, quite at home wading around in the gloopy mud and showing well.  The first two photos were taken just after dawn this morning in the lovely glow of early morning light.

Last weekend, Yellow Wagtails were on the move and I was really surprised to discover a flock of 35 just outside Upper Wardington, with about a dozen Pied Wagtails.  A couple of Meadow Pipits were also around, my first of the autumn.  This weekend, there were lots of Meadow Pipits in fields on the high ground above the village, though the Yellow Wagtails were down to just one or two birds.

Out and about in the farmed countryside, birding highlights have been limited - a Redstart, a couple of Lapwings, a few small flocks of Linnets and the occasional Tree Sparrow.  I did manage to sneak up on a Yellowhammer that seemed very relaxed and unconcerned about my presence, and captured some nice close-ups.
Yellowhammer near Farnborough

Bicester Wetlands scene, early morning
Bicester Wetland at sunset
Boddington Reservoir