Sunday, 29 January 2017

Banbury: Urban Collared Doves

A pair of enterprising Collared Doves have taken to nesting on top of traffic lights in the centre of Banbury, somewhat appropriately, opposite the Three Pigeons Inn!  Presumably, incubation and chick-rearing benefits from the warmth of the light bulbs below.
I noticed them nesting in the same place last year but never got around to photographing them, so when I spotted them using the same traffic light last week I decided to make the effort this year.  It is also pretty amazing that they can successfully raise young in the middle of winter. 
I managed a short visit this morning before the rain set in today, and captured some nice images and video clips of an adult brooding the chick, then the chick alone in the nest. These birds are extremely tolerant of people using the pedestrian crossing below them.
I've also seen this behaviour in Adderbury, and checking on-line, there are quite a few other records of this happening across the country.
On the drive home afterwards, I also encountered a nice mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plover feeding on sheep pasture (not a common sight around here), also very good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares.  A Red Kite drifted overhead and Tree Sparrows chattered in the hedgerow trees.
Collared Dove chick in the nest - already quite a good size and not too far off fledging

Adult feeding the chick
the nest is right next to this Inn

Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Common Gulls near Upper Wardington
more of the lapwings - the flock numbered over 200 birds
Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Sheep

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Queensland 2016 No.2: Atherton Tablelands, Lake Eacham & Hasties Swamp

Yungaburra is a great base for exploring some of the best and most accessible places in the Atherton Tablelands.  As well as the Platypus in Peterson Creek, there is plenty of wildlife in and around the small town, and close by is Lake Eacham, part of the Crater Lakes National Park.  The crater within which Lake Eacham sits is covered with rainforest and easily accessible via a circular trail.  You can also swim in the lake (which we did, briefly, as it was quite cold!).  We visited twice and saw a good range of birds plus the Musky Rat-Kangaroo, a primitive marsupial.  I got a brief, close-up view of a male Victoria's Riflebird (one of my three target species) right beside the entrance road, unfortunately just as a cyclist passed by and disturbed it.  Quite a stunner.  Later in the trip I saw several female birds and glimpsed a couple more males, but this turned out to be my best view.  If you stay in the lodges next to Lake Eacham you are much more likely to get good views.
Musky Rat-Kangaroo, Lake Eacham
Grey-headed Robin, Lake Eacham
Pale-yellow Robin, Lake Eacham
Spotted Catbird, Lake Eacham
Lake Eacham
Also quite close-by is Hasties Swamp National Park, a fairly small area of wetland that has been protected from drainage and has become a honeypot for waterbirds.  The wetlands are easily viewed from a tower hide. We seemed to hit the reserve just at the right time for Plumed Whistling Ducks - there were thousands crowded along the shoreline creating quite a cacophony of whistling calls.    There were also large numbers of Magpie Geese and a selection of herons and egrets.
Hasties Swamp
Plumed Whistling Ducks
Magpie Geese
Pacific (White-necked) Heron, Hasties Swamp

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Chacombe: Glaucous Gull

Adult Glaucous Gull, Chacombe - I think this is the first in the BOS area since 2010
This was a great weekend to be out and about in Banburyshire - crisp, cold and generally sunny.  Today I was able to spend most of the day out in the field, aiming to visit a couple of sites with the hope of finding Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a bird I have yet to encounter in the BOS recording area.  Needless to say I failed in my main quest, but there were more than ample rewards - some special places with surprising numbers of birds, and an icing on the cake towards the end: finding a splendid adult Glaucous Gull, amongst the gull gatherings in Chacombe.  The Glaucous Gull was not too unexpected as several have been seen recently in Warwickshire but it is still a very scarce bird here. Fortunately Gareth was parked just 100m down the road, and obligingly it flew towards him and landed in a pasture field where we enjoyed a prolonged view before it took flight yet again.  This was not the last we saw of this bird as it arrived at Boddington Reservoir to join the gull roost there, just as the light was failing - a very good spot by John.

early morning light on the edge of Chacombe - frost on the ridge and furrow pasture
Wroxton College - rear view
Wroxton College - front view

Ravens over Radway
Wild bird food strip near Radway - 100s of buntings (mostly Yellowhammers) plus a few Tree Sparrows
Adult Glaucous Gull - flight shot (canon slr + 400mm lens)
Adult Glaucous Gull - phone-scoped.  Also in this area: an adult Caspian Gull, a first winter Great Black-backed Gull and five Tree Sparrows
Fieldfare, Chacombe - one of my best phone-scoped efforts so far
Wren, Wroxton College
gates often get in the way!
but not always  - Fieldfare (heavily cropped photo!)
Yesterday afternoon I walked southwards down the Oxford Canal from Aynho Wharf, to see what birds were left on the receding flood waters of the River Cherwell.  The day before yesterday there were good numbers of Wigeon and Teal reported, plus a few Pintail.  This afternoon the wildfowl numbers were lower and the Pintail had left, but there were plenty of thrushes and a Buzzard that was happy to let me point my lens towards it!  Also a lovely sunset.
Buzzard on a barn roof
Pollarded willow
Middle Cherwell Valley at sunset

wildfowl and gulls on the floodwater (which had mostly frozen over)

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Caulcott: Cattle Egrets

Last weekend's BOS "short day count" produced a major bonus with the discovery of the first Cattle Egrets - a group of three birds - so far recorded in our area.  These birds have been attracted to an excellent feeding area - a field full of free-range pigs. It is very rewarding when you find something really unusual on your local patch and a was delighted for the finders as they survey the birds in this particular area regularly, adding a lot to our knowledge of local bird distributions. 
two of the three Cattle Egrets - the first to be recorded in Banburyshire
This morning I managed to catch up with them myself, and enjoyed watching the egrets feeding in very close proximity to the pigs, especially when the pigs were actively feeding in the mud and straw.  The egrets were able find some rich pickings including plenty of worms. 

These birds are part of a significant influx into the UK, the last time this happened (in 2008), a pair stayed on the breed successfully in Somerset, perhaps the same will happen this year?  Directions to see the birds, plus many nice pics and clips are to be found on the Oxon Birding Blog
This story also demonstrates the link between our food and local wildlife, and shows how supporting  local producers can help promote a more diverse farmed landscape in our area.
the piglets were delightful too!

The other ornithological event locally is the presence of a male Blue Rock Thrush in a suburb of Stow on the Wold.  Found over the Christmas period, it is a great rarity in the UK and has attracted huge numbers of admirers as well as much debate over it's origin.  I made the trip over to Stow after watching the egrets, and got some lovely views of the thrush as it sat preening in a favoured bush.
Male Blue Rock Thrush, Stow on the Wold

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Banbury: Waxwings

A quick lunchtime trip up to Longelandes Way in Banbury was rewarded by some nice views of eleven Waxwings (13 were seen in the same area yesterday) trilling away in an ornamental tree half way down Portway.  They briefly descended onto a much smaller ornamental rowan.  I managed a few quick pics before they flew off.  There are quite a few berry-bearing trees and shrubs in the area, so hopefully they will stick around for a few days.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Queensland 2016 No.1 : Atherton Tablelands

The first instalment of "highlights" from a tour around the Cairns area last August.  My nephew's wedding in Noosa, north of Brisbane, presented the ideal opportunity to spend some time exploring north Queensland, and area I'd not visited on two previous visits to Australia.

With a week available, the itinerary was honed-down to three areas: Yungaburra and Mount Molloy in the Atherton Tablelands (inland from Cairns), and the Daintree area north of Cairns.  I also had three specific targets - Platypus, Southern Cassowary and Victoria's Riflebird (a bird-of-paradise).

Rather than write in detail about where to go and stay, I hope the images will give a flavour of what you can see in a week or so in this excellent area.  Top of my list of "wildlife to see" was definitely the Platypus. I was blown away by the wonderful views I had to two individuals right up close at Peterson Creek, a well known Platypus-spotting reserve of the outskirts of Yungaburra.  Their presence was first given away by a trail of bubbles breaking the surface..... then that amazing face appeared! They couldn't have been more confiding.
Platypus in the creek
Getting closer
now almost too close for my 400mm lens
This all happened just hours after Mark and I had touched down at Cairns Airport, picked up a hire car and driven up the long, winding road to the Atherton Tablelands.  After checking into a motel and grabbing some lunch, I thought I might as well check out the reserve as it was just a few hundred metres along the road, and was very pleasantly surprised to find the Platypus almost immediately (they are more active at dawn and dusk). 

The Atherton Tablelands sit at about 1000m elevation, and much of what was once extensive rainforest has made way for farmed countryside with cattle and crops, but the rolling landscape still dotted with patches of surviving rainforest and surrounded by relatively unspoilt forest-clad mountains.  There is a rich variety of wildlife here, including several endemic birds and marsupials, and some impressive trees, volcanic cater lakes and wetlands.
Saw-shelled Turtle, Peterson Creek
Spectacled Monarch - commonly encountered in the rainforest