Thursday, 27 July 2017

Bicester Wetland Reserve: Mediterrannean Gull + Oxford Swift Tower: voting underway!

Last Sunday evening I made a trip down the M40 to spend a couple of hours watching Green Sandpipers and seeing what else was about at the Bicester Wetland Reserve.  It was nice to have the place to myself and I spent quite a bit of time watching and sketching a couple of the sandpipers from the first raised hide.  I decided to save my flask of tea for the new hide the overlooks Cattle Bridge Pool.  I settled into the new hide, poured a cuppa and started looking at the birds on the pool - then suddenly realised one of the small group of Black-headed Gulls was distinctly different - a juvenile Mediterranean Gull.  It was busy feeding with the other gulls, constantly on the move, occasionally stopping to preen and take a short flight.  They are still pretty scarce birds in our area, although their UK breeding population is increasing quite rapidly and breeding has now been recorded in Northamptonshire.  Turned out this was the first record for the reserve and a nice addition to the steadily growing list.
Juvenile Mediterranean Gull
with adult Black-headed Gull
Juvenile Mediterranean Gull
Oxford Swift City - please have a look at the three original designs shortlisted and place your vote:

This male linnet looked tiny perched on one of the benches at Grimsbury Reservoir last Saturday!
Finally, this is a nature blog and should cover much more than birds.  I couldn't help stop and admire the fine display of  "Chicken of the woods" beside the path through Grimsbury Woodland reserve at the weekend, an amazing bright orange and yellow.
Chicken of the woods - Laetiporus sulphureus

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Cattle Egrets breeding on two RSPB reserves this year

Remember those Cattle Egrets that were discovered near Caulcott during the BOS short day count back in January?  They were part of a significant influx that culminated in the second and third records of successful breeding in England.  The first to be "made public", back in May, were a pair at RSPB Burton Mere Wetland.  
Two of the Banburyshire Cattle Egrets, January 2017

Now, it has also been reported that five pairs have also bred at Ham Wall RSPB reserve in Somerset, raising at least nine young.  With a small colony rapidly established - at a site with several other heron species - maybe they can become a more permanent fixture as a UK breeding bird.  If they do, it may be just a matter of time before they spread northwards and start breeding somewhere in our area.

Cattle Egrets have a very wide distribution around the world and can provide a great spectacle, for example when they gather in large flocks before roosting in a favoured clump of trees:
Cattle Egrets  - Daintree River, Queensland, August 2016

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Rushbeds Wood and BBS: Silver-washed Fritillaries and disappearing Tree Sparrows

I have a bit of catching up to do on the blog front, so apologies for recent inactivity! 
Yesterday morning I made my second and final BTO Breeding Bird Survey visit to my 1km2 survey site near Moreton Pinkney in south Northamptonshire.  This is the eleventh year running I have surveyed this area and I have now seen 70 species in total - normally I record about 45 species each year (but nothing new this year, so getting harder to add new birds!).  For most of the common species the numbers are quite consistent, the main change is that Tree Sparrow has gone from really quite common - 23 in 2007 and 14 in 2010 - to none at all either last year or this year.  The species showing upward trends have been Goldcrest, Raven (now breeds very close to the survey square) and Buzzard.  Some of the scarcer birds seen over the years have included Barn Owl, Willow Tit, Hobby, Cuckoo and Kingfisher.  I would definitely recommend participating - the BTO website enables easy data entry and you can generate really useful summary reports from your own sightings.  You are also making a significant contribution to the national scheme that is so vital for monitoring our birds.

Later in the morning, a trip down to Rushbeds Wood nature reserve in the Bernwood Forest area south of Bicester was rewarded with some nice butterfly sightings and some stunning flower meadows.  This was my first visit and I was really impressed with the woodland and equally, the adjoining meadows of Lapland Farm, all managed by BBOWT.   I had hoped to find Black Hairstreaks, but didn't manage to connect despite scanning some excellent looking habitat, however I did manage to find several Silver-washed Fritillaries and a couple of White Admirals.
Silver-washed Fritillary
Silver-washed Fritillary nectaring on bramble
mating pair of fritillaries
Lapland Farm meadow, full of flowers and butterflies - in particular, numerous Meadow Brown and Marbled White
Flowers included Dropwort, Great Burnet and Common Spotted Orchid
Black-tailed Skimmer
Some good news for our local meadows from the Save Gavray Meadows campaign group.  Their tireless work to defend a cluster of meadows in Bicester from housing development achieved a notable success with the refusal by Cherwell District Council Planning Committee of the latest planning application from the developer, Gallagher.  However, there will be an appeal and no doubt this campaign will have to continue for some time to come.

Last week, on Wednesday, I continued my RSPB-organised wader survey in the Middle Cherwell Valley near Somerton (my third visit of the season).  Curlew continue to frequent the floodplain meadows in this area; on this visit one adult was feeding in a recently cut silage field.

This stretch of the Cherwell Valley is also good for farmland wildlife and is rewarding to visit year-round.  Common Poppies were particularly showy this time, with swathes of scarlet running through a couple of fields, especially near the margins.  Yellow Wagtails were gathering food from a large pile of manure, and Yellowhammers were singing from the tall hedgerows
Early morning view across the Cherwell Valley with dew-covered crops
Common Poppy

Monday, 17 April 2017

Banburyshire and beyond: spring in full swing

April is a great month to be out in the field, which can make it even harder to keep up with the blogging!  Our resident birds are busy nesting, and some are already raising young.  And our migrants are arriving in ever greater numbers, returning to their favoured haunts to breed or just passing through on their journey north.  Many flowers and trees are looking their best too - meadows full of fritillaries and cowslips, copses and hedgerows bursting with cherry and crab apple blossom.  I've been able to spend a good amount of time out and about, mostly in the local area but with a few trips just beyond,  here are some of my highlights .....

male Little Ringed Plover, Grimsbury Reservoir, 5 April
Female Little Ringed Plover, Grimsbury Reservoir, 5 April
Chiffchaff, Tadmarton Heath BOS nature reserve, 7 April
Snakeshead Fritillaries, Clattinger Farm Wiltshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Cotswold Water Park, 8 April
one of the fritillaries, 8 April
Red-necked Grebe, Daventry Country Park, 9 April
pair of Red-necked Grebes and single Great Crested Grebe, Daventry Country Park, 9 April
Red-necked Grebe, Daventry Country Park, 9 April
Eurasian White-fronted Goose, Daventry Country Park, 9 April

Song Thrush with ornamental cherry blossom, Grimsbury Reservoir, 10 April
Long-tailed Tit gathering spiders webs, Grimsbury Reservoir, 10 April
collected and ready to use!
Woodpigeons, Grimsbury Reservoir, 11 April
female Mallard on her nest at Grimsbury Reservoir , 13 April
male Blackcap in Ash tree, Tadmarton Heath BOS nature reserve, 16 April
Mistle Thrush, Tadmarton Heath Golf Course driving range, 16 April
Mistle Thrush, Tadmarton Heath Golf Course driving range, 16 April
Horsetails emerging, Tad
male Grey Partridge (female nearby), Upper Wardington - on strip of bare tilled ground that has attracted up to 7 passage Northern Wheatears in the past week.
Sand Martins at Farmoor Reservoir near Oxford, 17 April - where there were also my first Swifts and House Martin of the year (but no Bonaparte's Gull, I think I was about an hour too late!)
and finally....
male Great Bustards, Salisbury Plain (Great Bustard Project tour), 8 April
male Great Bustard, Salisbury Plain, 8 April

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Edge Hill Wood: Wood Anemones

Great to be out in the field today, calm conditions and increasingly sunny with really beautiful light in the evening.  Spring flowers are starting to look their best, especially Primroses and Wood Anemones.  I stumbled across a wonderful display of anemones whilst exploring the strip of ancient woodland that covers the scarp slope of  Edge Hill overlooking Radway, in south Warwickshire. 
Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are numerous here, as are Nuthatches and Goldcrests, you can also find Marsh Tits, whilst often overhead are Buzzards, Ravens and Red Kites.  There are plenty of big old trees with lots of dead wood, which is great to see as it is so important for wildlife, yet is often quite a rare sight in our local woodlands (all too often it is tidied away).

Wood Anemone
Wood Anemones by the thousand....
Obelisk, with The Grange in the background

Slightly surprisingly, Marsh Marigolds are at home in the woodland too

Two Tree Sparrows, back garden feeders, Upper Wardington
Male House Sparrow (left) and Tree Sparrow
The sparrow shots I took using my ipad to remotely trigger the shutter, enabling some better close-ups that I would otherwise be able to get.
I also called in to Balscote Quarry BOS nature reserve briefly, where a pair of Lapwings are nesting already, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers are behaving territorially.  In a neighbouring arable field, a flock of Golden Plovers are still present, having spent the winter in the area.  Their numbers seem to be dwindling rapidly though, as they start to head back north (most likely Scandinavia) - I counted 360 last weekend and only 75 today.  Some are coming into breeding plumage and looking very smart indeed. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Oxfordshire: State of Nature 2017 launched

This week has seen the launch at Blenheim Palace of a landmark publication that captures the current state of the county's nature.

Inspired by the national State of Nature, this report has been two years in development and includes a marvellous compendium of facts, figures and case studies, contributed by numerous individuals and organisations. 

The report's overall findings are that sadly the overall trend is towards loss and decline in nature, especially for farmland and woodland wildlife, but it also gives clear direction on the way forward needed to reverse this trend and highlights the action required across many sectors. 

Essential reading for anyone with an interest and concern for nature in Oxfordshire, it is also beautifully produced and includes images taken by many local photographers.

Led by Wild Oxfordshire, the report is available in two formats on the Wild Oxfordshire website - a Highlights report and Full report.  Do look at both.  The Full report in particular is a great source of information about who is doing what, and where.  The Oxford Mail has given it some great coverage.

If you don't have time to start reading the reports today please do have a look at this four minute film.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Queensland 2016 No. 3: Mt Hypipamee

Mount Hypipamee is one of the best and most accessible places to connect with many of the special birds and marsupials in the Atherton Tablelands.  It is part of the extensive Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.  We made two visits - the first was early morning and the second was an evening spotlighting trip led by Alan Gillanders.

Driving up in the early morning we hit several belts of fog and I wondered if we were in for a damp and dreary start.  Fortunately, as we drove up into the rainforest the fog disappeared and soon we were parked up next to a large grassy clearing in the forest.  Following directions from Alan, we carefully made our way into the rainforest and located a particular spot that was well hidden in the lush vegetation - the display ground of the Golden Bowerbird - one of the endemic birds of the Atherton Tablelands. 

We waited for about 15 minutes, then suddenly the male bowerbird appeared and immediately started tending his bower.  A stunning looking bird, his bright yellow and olive plumage glowed within the muted greenery of the rainforest.  He was soon carefully arranging clumps of grey lichen around the bower.  In low light conditions within the depths of the rainforest, photography was challenging, but I managed to capture a few record shots. 

Golden Bowerbird
We had this stunning sight to ourselves for about ten minutes, then a group of photographers appeared - slightly off course and heading straight for the bower!  I managed to avert the risk of damage to the bower and redirected them to our vantage point.  We decided to leave them too it and retreated back towards the road, then, fortuitously, the bowerbird perched on a branch just above us for a short while and enjoyed a final view of this wonderful bird.
Golden Bowerbird
We then spent time exploring the trails that lead further into the rainforest, past waterfalls and onwards to a very deep crater lake.
Crater viewpoint

Golden Whistler
We returned in the evening to join a spotlighting tour led by Alan Gillanders.  This is a great way to see many of the nocturnal marsupials and learn about their behaviour and ecology - highly recommended.  We visited two different habitats - rainforest and the drier eucalypt forest.  I was especially thrilled to see my first ever Tree Kangaroo, but the sheer variety and beauty of these endearing marsupials was really amazing to see.
Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo
Squirrel Glider
Yellow-bellied Glider
Lumuroid Ringtail Possum
Coppery Brushtail Pussum