Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Farmoor Reservoir :: 22 April 2019

I left home and proceeded along the old road from Banbury to Oxford. Leaving Adderbury I saw two jays in a tree above the left side of the road. Then, between the turns for Wootton and Tackley, I saw a partridge's head sticking above the grass verge. I spun round and when I got closer found a pair of red-legged partridge.

I arrived at the reservoir by 08.45am and climbed up to the bank with a walker. Unfortunately, as we got to the causeway she was ahead of me with her sticks, waving them around to move the flies around her, simultaneously scattering a group of wagtails. No chance of stopping to investigate these for the present.

I started across the causeway and soon caught up with another birder, intently scanning F1 with his scope. Little gullAs I drew beside him he pointed out the three little gulls quartering the centre. In summer plumage they were easy to spot and follow. Over of F2 there were also a dozen common tern. More common tern passed overhead.

No sign of any of the arctic tern from yesterday (there had been 46+). When I reached the end of the causeway I received a message from Nick Truby saying that he might come over later, if he every got bored of the grasshopper warbler he was watching at Otmoor. He also inquired whether there were any black terns; I said not. Garden warbler

I dropped down to the Pinkhill Reserve and heard a reed warbler in the reeds on the opposite bank; as I watched one popped out and onto the stem of an outer reed. Behind me a garden warbler sang - mobile but often visible.

I continued along the riverbank hearing the occasional Cetti's and sedge warblers, but only seeing the sedge. Numbers of reed bunting joined in the singing. The cuckoo was calling and I managed to pick it out in a tree but it quickly took off and headed across the river and back where I had come from.

In the Hide I was just getting comfortable when a cuckoo flew from left to right Sedge warbler- great views - but unfortunately my camera was not prepared and I couldn't get a photo. I waited. while but it didn't pass by. Sedge and reed warbler sank in the reeds opposite, occasionally showing.

Back on the reservoir I looked at F2 to see a number of boats sailing around, accompanied by a speedboat. On F1 there was a group of paddle boarders. The number of gulls and terns had reduced very substantially when I was down in the reed bed and meadow. I opted to return round F1. The little gulls were still there and in two groups now numbered 7.

When I got to the valve tower I saw a group of wagtails fly off with at least one being a yellow wag. As I got to the causeway a couple waited for the yellow wag return - chatting they were from South Wales (lived in Barry) and were on their way home from birding in Surrey. As we talked a local birder popped over to see us and pass on that a black tern had dropped in, followed by an arctic term. Check. I sent a message to Nick but apparently he was already nearly home and decided to try another day. I left for home and lunch.

In the evening I popped out to RSPB Otmoor to see if I could see the short-eared owls. Mostly I was watching a distant pair of bittern, the male displaying to the female the entire time (puffed up). There were also three brown hares.

I was about to give up when one of the warden's walkie talkies cracked into life and a report of the SEO on Greenaways was passed on. After about five minutes we picked it out and watched through scopes on a few occasions - the SEO disappearing for long periods of time. Well worth the visit though - even if the SEO was circa 900m away!

Sightings at Farmoor Reservoir (41) included: arctic tern, black tern, black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, common tern, coot, cormorant, cuckoo, dunnock, gadwall, garden warbler, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great tit, grey heron, greylag goose, jackdaw, jay, kestrel, little gull, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pheasant, pied wagtail, red-legged partridge, reed bunting, reed warbler, rook, sedge warbler, tufted duck, whitethroat, woodpigeon and yellow wagtail.

Grimsbury Reservoir :: 21 April 2019

After a delicious BBQ I decided to make a quick circuit of Grimsbury Reservoir. The water was very quiet with only a handful of the usual species. At the waterworks I searched along the hedge hoping for black redstart but always unlikely. There was a single linnet.

WhitethroatAt the north end there were plenty of tits and a number of blackcap and whitethroat. Nothing overly special on the riverside but still happy to see chiffchaff and willow warbler. Unusually there were a couple of house sparrows in the brambles.

Sightings included: blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great tit, greenfinch, house sparrow, linnet, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pied wagtail, reed bunting, robin, rook, whitethroat, willow warbler and woodpigeon.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

RSPB Otmoor :: 19 April 2019

The weather forecast was set fair and so we decided to visit RSPB Otmoor. We dropped into the petrol station and stocked up with lunch on the way. When we arrived the car park was full but amazingly I saw Nick Truby and his wife arriving at their car, ready to depart. I hopped out the car and over to chat with Nick and congratulate him again for his photos being selected as in the Birdguides' "Photo of the week - Other notable images". Lesser whitethroat

Nick had spotted redstart (common) in Long Meadow last Sunday, and so we decided to have a look - not many seem to survey Long Meadow and so the lack of reports didn't mean they weren't showing. We set off and immediately came across a lesser whitethroat, showing well, but mobile.

Down Long Meadow we spotted chiffchaff, yellowhammer, blackcap (m&f) and a distant muntjac deer. As we approached the last bush before the large brick wall, I saw what initially appeared to be a blackbird. Ring ouzelBut looking through my bins it then presented as a ring ouzel! - who'd have thought?! I just spend a day looking for these at Linky Down but here was one on Otmoor.

We continued on but failed miserably to locate any redstarts but were entertained by several willow warbler. I decided to work back down the opposite side of the meadow and came across the ring ouzel and flushed it back across to distant bushes and out of sight - not one minute later I then flushed a woodcock which shot off ahead and quickly out of sight too - another tick.

We circled back to the car and ate our lunch. BitternThe weather wasn't disappointing us and the temperature was already up to 23°C. Refreshed we were off around the reed beds.

On the bridleway we could see distant marsh harrier and a single redshank preening in one of the shallow pools. By the bench we were told that the 'booming' we had been hearing was coming from the reeds ahead and that two bittern had been showing from there. We watched from here until one of the guys to our left spotted one on the edge of the water in the distance - a challenge for the camera at around 200m! All this time a reed warbler sang below us, but out of sight. BitternI waited for the warbler to appear, so Charlotte continued on to the hide. Eventually the it showed, briefly, then skulked back into the dense reeds.

I joined Charlotte in the hide but there wasn't much there, other than a few reed bunting and a smaller flock of linnet than we have seen through the winter months. We didn't hang around.

Down the first screen we could hear 'booming' from the channel beside the path but obviously no sighting. No sign either of the reeling grasshopper warbler near the kissing gate that Nick had mentioned. We reached the screen and had views of distant marsh harrier and tumbling buzzards; not a behaviour I have seen in this species before. A cuckoo called in the distance and I picked him out in a far tree; confirmed by a silhouette on the photo I took, and later by a group with a scope.

As I was standing by the rightmost window of the screen a flying bittern came inoto view - I wasn't ready with the camera and only managed to get it focussed at 300mm before it was almost passed. At least I managed to alert everyone in the hide and we all got what must be the longest flight I have seen. Cracking.

On the bridleway, as we returned to the car, we had closer views of marsh harrier and then a cuckoo dropped into the trees behind me. Unfortunately it was off before I could get round but at least I had better views of it in flight.

Sightings (39) included: bittern, blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, cuckoo, gadwall, goldfinch, grey heron, greylag goose, jackdaw, lapwing, lesser whitethroat, linnet, magpie, marsh harrier, mute swan, pheasant, red kite, redshank, reed bunting, reed warbler, ring ouzel, robin, rook, shoveler, teal, tufted duck, whitethroat, willow warbler, woodcock, woodpigeon and yellowhammer.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Blenheim Palace :: 16 April 2019

Another day off as it is the end of my holiday year at work, and as the family are all off work due to school or University Easter breaks. We decided to visit Blenheim Palace for a walk, and because there was a Bonaparte's gull reportedly still present. It was reported to be on the old shooting hide by the boardwalk on Queen's Pool this morning but when we got there there was no sign, although there were common and artic tern; one of each. It was interesting to see the grey herons and little egrets in the trees on the island in Queen's Pool.

We strolled round the grounds and as we reached the turn I dropped round the edge of Queen's Pool again; still no sign. We continued back to the bridge and could see some birders on it. From here we could see numerous sand martin and swallow, but no Bonaparte's gull. I talked to a couple of the guys and no one had spotted it recently.

The family were growing restless and so we headed back towards the Visitors entrance for afternoon tea. I could see some gulls off to my right and so negotiated to head off on my own to look over to the back end of the South Lake, west of the bridge. I could see one of the birders I had talked with (Dave Lowe) and dropped down to see what he had found. Sure enough the Bonaparte's gull was there and spinning round with a number of black-headed gulls. I took some decent photos given the poor light and gentle drizzle, unfortunately of the wrong bird! I did get a few of the right bird, but poor and from distance. Bonaparte's gullWe also had flypasts from the terns, particularly the arctic.

The family were waiting and so I had to leave without a better opportunity to get a decent photo, now that it was feeding on the opposite bank.

Sightings (29) included: arctic tern, black-headed gull, blue tit, Bonaparte's gull, Canada goose, carrion crow, chiffchaff, common tern, coot, cormorant, goldfinch, great tit, grey heron, greylag goose, jackdaw, little egret, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pheasant, pied wagtail, red kite, rook, sand martin, shelduck, swallow, teal, tufted duck and woodpigeon.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Aston Rowant - Linky Down :: 15 April 2019

I hadn't been here before and was somewhat doubtful that I was going in the right direction, despite having talked to four guys in the main car park. Eventually I saw two birders at the foot of the valley. I approached the beginnings of a path down the valley edge and stopped to look at some movement in a tree / bush ahead. Ring ouzelDamn me, it was a ring ouzel; and there was another hopping along the ground to the left. As I raised my camera the bird dropped to the ground and I was never able to get focus on the birds as they fed and bobbed right to left. Eventually I lost them.

I noted another couple of birders higher on the hillside and wondered why they were so high up. I made my way round in their direction, and then saw a female ring ouzel fly ahead and very shortly after a male dropped into and out of a tree to my left.

As I got closer the two birders approached and one noted the male I'd just seen in the tree. I mentioned the two further back up the track. One said it had taken him more than an hour to locate where he should be. In any case, they mentioned that they had very good views on the top plateau of the valley with a bird dropping in very close. In a short time three ouzels were showing albeit at a little distance.

As I watched, another birder passed through the gate below me and I waved him up - John Edwards. I pointed out the birds I had and as we watched they got closer and more numerous. Whilst watching four birds in bushes at the top of the valley, another three flew in from the right. A very fruitful visit to Aston Rowant NNR with sightings of 7 ring ouzels.

I was after a specific species and so wasn't searching extensively but sightings (12) included: blue tit, chiffchaff, dunnock, goldfinch, great tit, green woodpecker, long-tailed tit, magpie, pheasant, red kite, ring ouzel and song thrush.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Wildlife BCN Summer Leys :: 13 April 2019

Woke early and so after a leisurely breakfast I headed off to Wildlife BCN Summer Leys; it has been ages since I've visited due to the spate of break-ins and the closure of the bridge down to the reserve (I've had limited time too).

On arrival I headed for the Pioneer Hide and who should I see but @987jonty. As we talked a flock of c.50 fieldfare launched themselves from a tree to our left, others could be heard. Late leaving this year? @987jonty mentioned that someone had seen an osprey earlier, over towards St. Mary's, but that he hadn't seen it. Garganey

In the hide I added common tern to my year list; initially there was one but there were three when I left. It was suggested that there was a yellow wagtail on the far side but I never found it. I was joined in the hide by another chap and I warned him of the cutting wind when you opened the side shutters. As he opened them he decided nothing was showing well enough to endure this and having been out on the reserve for 1½hrs, he would warm up in his car. As we walked towards the car park he spotted a wren obligingly showing for a photo (saw this on Facebook later). Willow warbler

As I walked around the path there were numerous chiffchaff, willow warbler and more blackcap than you could shake a stick at. At the next hide I met a chap coming out who let me know of the two little ringed plover on the scrape. When I came out he was standing with his scope and chatting to another guy doing the same. Apparently the second chap had spotted the drake garganey sleeping on the waters edge but when he looked again, it had gone. We searched for a while but couldn't locate it.

We looked again from the screen (hide) but still no joy. Continuing on I saw @987jonty though the hedge and he said he'd seen the garganey feeding in the corner Chiffchaffof the reeds from the Charles Towler (Feeding Station) Hide. When I got there I found it back on the waters edge and asleep. Fortunately a coot took umbrage at the sleeping garganey and charged, forcing it into the water. It swam right, back into the weed and reeds but at least was visible (just).

Onwards and added more views of chiffchaff and willow warbler, close enough this time to get a couple of photos. As I turned for home I had my first views of speckled wood butterflies for the year.

Sightings (44) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, bullfinch, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, common tern, coot, cormorant, dunnock, fieldfare, gadwall, garganey, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great tit, greenfinch, grey heron, greylag goose, jackdaw, lapwing, little egret, little ringed plover, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, oystercatcher, pheasant, redshank, reed bunting, robin, shelduck, shoveler, swallow, teal, tufted duck, wigeon, willow warbler, woodpigeon and wren.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Seamill and Coast :: 08-11 April 2019

A visit to West Kilbride and Seamill to see the folks. We were again staying at the Seamill Hydro and so each morning I got up early to be on the beach by sunrise. Red-breasted merganserThe sun rises behind a hill and so it is closer to 7.05am before the sun climbs high enough to be visible.

My first morning out started with views of 6 red-breasted mergansers (3f,3m) offshore. The males were displaying to the females although they appeared to be completely unimpressed. I never managed to get them all within a single group by did manage a couple of photos before they began to exit, stage left.

I headed south from the hotel and stopped on the bridge to see if the dippers were showing. No sign. I was just about to move on when there was an Wheatearodd disturbance under the shallow water and to my surprise there was a sudden commotion, much splashing of water, and an otter shot off up the burn hugging close to the righthand wall.

Two wheatear (my first of the year) amongst the rocks in front of the houses overlooking the sea, one catching grubs for his breakfast. Just short of the Waterside Inn there were numbers of rock and meadow pipit and four further wheatear on the beach. In the field to my left there were also a further 16 wheatear.

I scanned each curlew sighting hoping for whimbrel Rock pipitbut no such luck.

The second morning I made it down to the beach and tried again for sighting of dippers (and now also hoping for another otter encounter!). I waited on the bridge and damn me, a dipper flew past me from the beach side, and up the burn and out of view.

I retraced my steps from the day before and found many of the wheatear had departed the cow field by the Waterside Inn, and most were now to be found on the beach and rocks. The rock pipit were showing well and could be seen with nest-building materials.

As I approached the burn, I saw a Water pipitlighter-coloured pipit and on reviewing my photographs confirmed it was a summer plumage water pipit.

In the late morning we headed off to Tescos for some provisions. We then detoured back from the shops to look at any birds showing at Irvine Harbourside. We found four sandwich tern fishing up the estuary and then a flock of pink-footed geese on the nearside spit of the River Irvine. Two wheatear showed across the river from Harbour Road on the opposite bank.

Sandwich ternPink-footed goose




Black guillemot

As I headed out on the third morning the sky was completely clear, and there was a pink appearance to the island of Arran. This became redder and redder as the sun climbed above the hills behind, until the beach, sea and islands were bathed in sunlight. No sign of the dipper or otter and I didn't add any new species to my list.

After lunch Charlotte and I decided to have a walk from Troon Harbour to the sea wall. At the harbour we saw 46 eider swimming around with 5 grey seals. There was also a single black guillemot, with two more outside the main harbour. Purple sandpiper

We started out towards the sea wall and as as we walked, we found a small flock of ringed plover with a single dunlin. As we got to the path along the sea wall we spotted 4 purple sandpipers playing chicken with the incoming tide; along the remainder of the wall we found 12 more. We also noted 5 redshank, more ringed plover, and 20 turnstone.

The fourth morning was the last walk for this visit. I could only find 2 wheatears though there were increasing numbers of ringed plover (8), reed bunting (2), and a grey wagtail outside Seamill Hydro.

I flushed what looked like a snipe from beside the cow Ringed ploverfield by the Waterside Inn but didn't get a good look to know precisely what it was. I decided a distant fuzzy photo of the birds distant behind wouldn't be conducive to obtaining an ID.

Sightings (50) included: black guillemot, black-headed gull, blackbird, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, collared dove, cormorant, curlew, dipper, dunlin, dunnock, eider, gannet, goldfinch, great black-backed gull, grey heron, grey wagtail, greylag goose, herring gull, hooded crow, house sparrow, jackdaw, linnet, magpie, meadow pipit, oystercatcher, pied wagtail, pink-footed goose, purple sandpiper, red-breasted merganser, redshank, reed bunting, ringed plover, rock dove / feral pigeon, rock pipit, rook, sandwich tern, shag, shelduck, song thrush, starling, stonechat, teal, turnstone, water pipit, wheatear, wigeon, woodpigeon and wren.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Draycote Water :: 06 April 2019


A couple of black-necked grebes (in summer plumage) had been spotted at Draycote Water on the previous day, so I got up early to arrive as the gates to the reservoir opened. The car park was predictably quiet as not many had beaten me there.

On previous occasions any black-necked grebes I'd seen there had been off Farborough Dam and so I headed that way. Not a sign of the grebes but there were c.10 little gulls in the centre of the water and numbers of sandmartin moving left to right. All to distant for a photo.

When I got to the hide I stopped briefly and decided Goldcrestto go to the trees just beyond the boardwalk as there are often a selection of tits and finches there. I was not disappointed as I soon found a blackcap, chiffchaff and a pair of goldcrest.

As I strolled back and forth a green woodpecker landed in a tree ahead but almost immediately left again. As I watched the blackcaps a treecreeper dropped in a the top of the trees behind.

As I made my way back to the car, I could see reed bunting, meadow pipits and a few skylarks in the field down the bank on my left. Nothing else of note other than the sandmartins appeared to have departed. Blackcap

Sightings (38) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, gadwall, goldcrest, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, green woodpecker, greylag goose, herring gull, jackdaw, lesser black-backed gull, little grebe, little gull, mallard, meadow pipit, moorhen, pheasant, pied wagtail, reed bunting, robin, rook, sand martin, skylark, teal, treecreeper, tufted duck, woodpigeon and wren.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Farmoor Reservoir & RSPB Otmoor :: 30 March 2019

I had a 9.00am appointment in Didcot and, as I finished before 10.00am, I thought I'd spin across to Farmoor Reservoir. It was misty as I had left home but now it was a beautiful sunny morning. ChiffchaffI left the car and immediately found and watched a chiffchaff in the trees by the car park. I then decided on a clockwise circuit of F2.

Every copse I passed buzzed with the call of chiffchaff, then my phone buzzed with a call from Charlotte to see how my morning was going. As I walked and talked I came across a flock of c.80 snow geese, a few blue morph. I understand that this feral flock travel around Oxford, although I've not personally encountered them before. This large flock, typically numbering up to c.100 individuals, are found wintering on many of the large reservoirs around England but particularly Farmoor in Oxfordshire. Snow geese

I watched one of the number of fly-fishermen catch a beautiful trout and land it successfully. He was a friendly guy and asked about my sightings as he was playing the fish. Unfortunately from the distance I heard a shout and saw his disappointment as he lost the fish back into the reservoir - an unplanned catch and release ...

I reached the causeway and dropped down to the river, hearing another chiffchaff singing it's heart out and spotted bullfinch on the far bank. Heading right I could hear reed bunting, chiffchaff and a Cetti's warbler. I reached the turn to the Pinkhill Reserve hide and met a chap waiting for the Cetti's to return, Water voleit having exited stage left. We chatted and watched as a water vole climbed a tree stump, but not clear enough for a photo. Although we heard the Cetti again it didn't really show enough to confirm a sighting - likely candidates exited left but at speed and slightly in cover.

Not much to see from the hide but I did see another water vole scurrying around under the feeders to the left, this time enough in the open to get a shot.

Bought a sandwich from the Visitor's Centre and decided I was close enough to RSPB Otmoor to make a quick visit there. Again, a calling chiffchaff as I left the car park. Marsh harrierNothing new for the day until I got to the hide where I saw a small flock of linnet and two oystercatchers. At the first screen I watched some aerial manoeuvres from three marsh harriers which mostly ended with them dropping down into the reed-bed.

A strange looking leucistic drake pochard was visible from the first screen, with at least 5 other smart looking drakes. On the way back to the car I saw two redshank 'getting it on', and a third a bit further along Big Otmoor.

Sightings at Farmoor Reservoir (33) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, grey heron, greylag goose, little grebe, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pied wagtail, red kite, reed bunting, robin, snow goose, starling, tufted duck, woodpigeon and wren. Additionally at RSPB Otmoor (11): Canada goose, lapwing, linnet, marsh harrier, oystercatcher, pheasant, pochard, redshank, rook, shoveler and teal.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

WkWT Brandon Marsh :: 24 March 2019

Back from a couple of weeks working in the USA, and it was a beautiful Sunday morning. After a relaxing breakfast we pulled our stuff together and decided on a visit to Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Brandon Marsh. We arrived to find the car park full - visitors had taken to parking their cars along the access road - we followed suit. Despite the volume of visitors we managed to find a table in the Badgers Tearoom and enjoyed our bowls of soup. Treecreeper

Out on the reserve we opted for our usual circuit through New Hares Covert. By the tall trees we saw nuthatch (2), song thrush (2), great spotted woodpeckers (2) and treecreepers (2). We found it odd that earlier posts on Twitter had mentioned many chiffchaff as they were silent in all their usual haunts.

From the Baldwin Hide we watched as a great crested grebe fished close by the hide. Eventually he caught a substantial roach and took some time to get it over. It then cruised gently across the water, having had sufficient and deserving a break. Great crested grebeWe could see two little ringed plover (#96) and two oystercatchers on the scrape.

Nothing exciting from the EMP, just three shelduck and some odd gulls which all turned out to be juveniles of common species, so moved on to have a look at Teal Pool. Earlier there were reports of a jack snipe showing well. As we waited a few people dropped by but none had any views. We had to make do with a couple of feeding redshank. Just as we were about to leave - yes definitely this time - I found a snipe in the reeds on the far bank. As it skulked around, behind the reeds, I convinced myself that it was the jack snipe. Unfortunately, I looked at cropped photos when we got home, and it was obviously a common snipe. Bugger.

From later hides we picked out some stock doves and a kestrel basking in the sun, on one of the large bird houses mounted in trees. As we approached the Visitor's Centre we at last heard a group of chiffchaff calling. They were there after all!

Sightings (46) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, common gull, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, goldfinch, great black-backed gull, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, greylag goose, herring gull, jackdaw, kestrel, lapwing, lesser black-backed gull, little grebe, little ringed plover, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, mute swan, nuthatch, oystercatcher, pied wagtail, redshank, reed bunting, robin, shelduck, shoveler, snipe, song thrush, stock dove, teal, treecreeper, tufted duck, wigeon and woodpigeon.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Draycote Water :: 24 February 2019

I looked at Twitter on Saturday night and found that three Slavonian grebe had been found at Draycote Water so I heading there after breakfast. ChiffchaffSetting off, a chiffchaff [#95] sang and worked it's way along the edge of the car park.

From the Visitors Centre I could see a birder looking out at some birds on the corner of Farnborough Dam. I walked along, noting the rise in little grebe numbers since I was last there.

When I reached the corner it hadn't been the slavonian grebes. I decided to continue on and make a full circuit, despite having only paid for a couple of hours parking. A good view of a fast moving goldcrest was the highlight of the far side. Still a number of goldeneye and goosander present.

Relatively quiet in bird numbers which I thought surprising at this time of year.

Sightings (31) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, canada goose, carrion crow, chiffchaff, common gull, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, goldcrest, goldeneye, goosander, great crested grebe, great tit, greenfinch, greylag goose, lesser black-backed gull, little grebe, long-tailed tit, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pied wagtail, reed bunting, robin, rook, teal, tufted duck and woodpigeon.

Rutland Water :: 21 February 2019

Half term at Charlotte's school so I took another day off to spend some time with her - but birding! There were some reports on Twitter of several smew at Rutland Water and so we set off there early. On arrival we went into the Anglian Water Bird Watching Centre and picked up coffees and paid for our permits. I then left Charlotte for an hour as I had to take a conference call with clients in the Middle East. Egyptian gooseWhen the call was over we set out, heading north towards Lagoon 4.

On the way we added egyptian goose [#91] and heard both great spotted and green woodpeckers but couldn't get our bins on them. We stopped off at several hides adding great white egret [#92] to the year list; a single stonechat displayed to our left. We bumped into another birder with a camera and discussed the smew - as a result we dropped into the hide on the southern end of Lagoon 4.

Looking out across the water, everything was very distant but after a few minutes scanning the surface Great white egretfound two and then four redhead smews [#93]. I took a few record shots but they never came close enough to get a decent shot, nor did we see any males.

Onto the Bittern Hide, overlooking Lagoon 3, we met the birding photographer and he said that he'd gone into the Plover Hide and had been lucky to get good views of a pair of smew close to the hide. As there was nothing special where we left and headed to the Plover Hide.

We could see the smew through some distant reeds to our right and eventually they swam out far enough for some better record shots. A juvenile peregrine flew from island to island, eventually landing in the waters edge. SmewIt was soon joined by an adult. Looking back round the smew had become two pairs and both started swimming in our direction, eventually giving us a decent swim-past.

Nothing showed at any of the other hides as we made our way back to the Centre.

After a spot of lunch we headed to the southern hides and on our walk, added a pair of bullfinches [#94]. We got to the Harrier Hide and had three stonechat in distant bushes. The guy we shared the hide with had been down the path and said there was nothing of note warranting us going further. It was getting late so we headed back to be sure we were back in SmewBanbury to collect Eilidh from the train.

Sightings (54) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, collared dove, common gull, coot, cormorant, dunnock, egyptian goose, gadwall, goldeneye, goosander, great black-backed gull, great crested grebe, great tit, great white egret, greenfinch, grey heron, greylag goose, house sparrow, jackdaw, lapwing, lesser black-backed gull, little egret, little grebe, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, oystercatcher, peregrine, pheasant, pochard, red kite, reed bunting, robin, rook, shelduck, shoveler, smew, sparrowhawk, starling, stock dove, stonechat, teal, tufted duck, woodpigeon and wren.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Sandbach Flashes & Wybunbury Moss NNR :: 18 February 2019

Back from a working visit to the USA, we popped up to see our youngest at Keele University. While there we had a short walk around Wybunbury Moss National Nature Reserve and also Sandbach Flashes SSSI. Goldcrest

Our accommodation lay on the very edge of the Wybunbury Moss National Nature Reserve and so, at the end of our first day we popped down. Wybunbury Moss is a rare example of a "schwingmoor" or floating peat bog. This comprises a raft of peat, in some places only one metre in thickness, floating on a lake which itself is 13 metres in depth. The floating nature of the Moss is thought to have been created by the subsidence of underlying salt-bearing rocks, sometime in the last 5000 years.

As we went round there were a number of crow species, and a buzzard that flew off, landed ahead, and then flew off again each time we approached. Water railA pair of noisy mistle thrush flew in and out fir trees. An interesting place but not abundant in bird species and it wasn't until we got back up to our accommodation that we came across a pair of goldcrest, and a pair of nuthatch. As the light disappeared we heard a tawny owl towards the trees on the reserve.

The following morning we left Ailsa to wake up and chill as she had a stinking cold. We drove the 9.5 miles to Sandbach Flashes and found a couple of cars already parked up on the verge. Black-tailed godwitThree people stood with scopes viewing the water from the Elton Hall Flash viewing area. From the car we looked at the water on the other side of the road spotting redshank, redwing and fieldfare. At the gate to the path leading to the viewing area, there was a very friendly water rail showing well; you couldn't get much better views.

From the viewing area we added a single close black-tailed godwit; eventually we had 8 on a very distant split. In front of them we had a mixed group of 10 m&f goosander. There were very large numbers of wigeon on the water and particularly in the fields beside. A flock of lapwing rose with gulls when spooked.

PintailOn a distant bank we spotted a couple of sleeping pintail which eventually took to the water and swam with another two (3m&1f). Between them, and some teal and wigeon, a group of 14 snipe skulked.

I'm sure we will return when we visit our daughter again - passing time while she is at lectures.

Sightings at Sandbach Flashes (44) included: black-headed gull, black-tailed godwit, blackbird, blue tit, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, collared dove, common gull, coot, cormorant, dunnock, fieldfare, goosander, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, grey heron, grey wagtail, herring gull, house sparrow, jackdaw, lapwing, lesser black-backed gull, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pheasant, pintail, redshank, redwing, robin, shelduck, shoveler, snipe, song thrush, starling, teal, tree sparrow, tufted duck, water rail, wigeon and woodpigeon.

Additional to these, at Wybunbury Moss were: buzzard, goldcrest, greenfinch, mistle thrush, nuthatch and wren.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

RSPB Otmoor :: 03 February 2019

Another cold day (4°C) but it felt warmer with the sun out. There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground but it Marsh harrierhadn't stopped people turning out; the car park was almost full.

All the usual birds round to the feeding station and then to the hide. A flock of linnets flew off at the slightest movement; these were joined by reed bunting, a few chaffinch and a couple of yellowhammer. In the hide a couple mentioned that they had seen a short eared owl at the first screen and so we headed there next. No dice ... but we did have female marsh harrier and a fly through peregrine. Off to the left of the screen water rail called. Ahead and right I saw what I thought may be a water rail in flight, low to the water, but too far away to be sure. Stonechat

Down to the second screen and we saw mute swans ice breaking - really strange noise. A pair of stonechats continually dipped into the water at the edge of the pool and sat on overhanging twigs and stalks.

Sightings (31) included: blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, great tit, grey heron, kestrel, linnet, mallard, marsh harrier, moorhen, mute swan, peregrine, pheasant, pied wagtail, red kite, reed bunting, robin, rook, shoveler, stonechat, teal, tufted duck, woodpigeon and yellowhammer.

WkWT Brandon Marsh :: 02 February 2019

Another cold one. This time a visit to WkWT Brandon Marsh - Charlotte came with, and asked for somewhere with a cafe and not to go round a large expanse of water. This fitted the bill. Whooper swan

We started round New Hare's Covert to the Wright hide, but other than tits and a few chaffinch we didn't see much. A buzzard low over the golf course and a few very persistent robins were all that caught the eye.

Round at the Wright Hide, we were disappointed by the extent of the ice covering the East Marsh Pool. Some birds on the ice but most on the scrape or on the few pools formed in the ice. In the distance we spotted the two whooper swans [#83] which we thought might not be visible from the East Marsh Hide as they would be obscured by a reed bank.

Sure enough, the whoopers were indeed obscured when we got to the EM Hide. Just the usual gathering of ducks and geese, so after a hopeful wait to see if the bittern showed, we moved on.

Two fieldfare over but nothing to add. Back to the Visitors Centre for a sandwich.

Sightings (36) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, coal tit, common gull, coot, cormorant, dunnock, fieldfare, gadwall, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, greylag goose, lapwing, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, nuthatch, pheasant, pied wagtail, reed bunting, robin, shelduck, shoveler, song thrush, teal, tufted duck, whooper swan, woodpigeon and wren.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Broughton Castle :: 27 January 2019

Sightings of brambling in a mixed flock on Sandfine Road, Broughton near Banbury lured me out this afternoon. It didn't Redwinglook promising as it was cold, there was quite a strong wind and spots of rain were falling. As I arrived though it stopped spitting with rain and was just windy and cold!

No sign of any brambling in the mixed flock at the beech wood - mostly great tits, a few blue tits and a handful of chaffinch. Another flock of c.20 birds turned out to be all goldfinch.

As I walked, I added redwing and mistle thrush [#77] to the year list. On the slope I also saw two roe deer lying on the stubble field. Roe deer

As I turned back I watched for any movement in the trees and was often distracted by blue and great tits darting about. I did however also see a single treecreeper.

Sightings included: blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, carrion crow, chaffinch, goldfinch, great tit, long-tailed tit, mistle thrush, redwing, robin, treecreeper and woodpigeon.

Hanging Houghton :: 26 January 2019

The forecast suggested that the morning would be the best time to be outdoors and so, with reports of a great grey shrike just north of my usual Northants range, I decided on an early start. When I arrived at Hanging Houghton I was unsure of access by car, and signs suggested that the surface was unsuitable. I continued driving until I came to an open barn and parked up with a dozen or so other vehicles - according to GoogleMaps I was only 500m away.

As I walked along I saw a flock of goldfinches to my left, then yellowhammer and a couple of skylark. Ahead I could see around ten people with scopes presumably on the shrike or trying to pick out a lapland bunting, reported the day before. A couple of cars had ventured this far but the potholes confirmed I had done the right thing in leaving my car back at the barn. As I reached the congregation I talked to a chap coming from my right and found out that the shrike had been seen but was off to the right and across a couple of fields. I decided that it might be a losing battle trying to spot the lapland bunting in the scrub, so headed straight for the shrike. Around the scrub were flocks of skylarks, chasing each other and some rising as they often do - I'm not sure I've ever seen this many together before.

When I got to the top of the hill there were two blokes scanning with scopes. They had seen the shrike 10 minutes before on the hedge ahead but it had dropped and disappeared. Great grey shrike In just a couple of minutes, one of the guys (a young lad who worked at an RSPB reserve) picked out the bird on the other side of the field - distant, but a tick. The young lad said he was visiting family but he had popped out to add to his year list, already standing just short of 150 - in fact he had been to Blashford Lakes the previous week to see the lesser scaup. In the hedge ahead of us we were treated with numbers of chaffinch, yellowhammers, linnet, reed bunting and tree sparrows.

The shrike worked its way along the far hedge and eventually both of the others left. I was joined by another local birder and we watched as the shrike worked back along the far hedge, eventually dropping to the ground. It didn't reappear but as I looked along the hedge behind us it appeared ahead but still a little distant. It didn't stay more than a minute and dropped again, out of sight. Raven passed over, cronking as they went.

Not long after @Old_Caley (Nick) and his wife turned up - amazing who you bump into on a cold, windy Northants hillside! Eventually I saw the shrike fly out from the hedgerow ahead and across the field to the far side. We watched it settling in various far away bushes and trees. At this point an annoying birder decided to walk along the far hedgerow and right up to the bird - it stayed still until he was right upon it at which point it took off, into the high branches of a tall tree - talking to him later it appears that he never saw it, even when it flew off! It then disappeared for some time, and I had to head home to meet for lunch. I said goodbye to Nick and his wife and headed back.

Sightings (17) included: blackbird, carrion crow, chaffinch, dunnock, goldfinch, great grey shrike [#74], great tit, linnet, magpie, pied wagtail, raven, reed bunting, rook, skylark, stock dove, tree sparrow and yellowhammer.

As I write this I have just finished my "Big Garden Birdwatch". Nothing out of the ordinary but after I submitted my results I had an extra group of goldfinch visit - 15 - and a beautiful male sparrowhawk [#75]. I also see that Old Caley managed to get closer views of the shrike just after I left - oh well.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

HIWWT Blashford Lakes :: 20 January 2019

Today we dropped our eldest daughter at SEASON, the Exclusive Cookery School located in a converted well house within the grounds of Lainston House Hotel. Siskin

We then continued on to Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve - I'd scanned potential birding sights earlier in the week. The Blashford Lakes reserve used to be a series of gravel pits until it was developed. The woodlands, lakes and grasslands at Blashford attract a plethora of wild birds and I decided well worth a look. With six bird hides and 8km of rolled gravel paths it probably won't be the last time either.

We left the car in the main car park and walked round to the Tern Hide. Having never been there it was good to find some maps of the reserve in handouts. Siskin A large flock of linnets fed on the water's edge. It was absolutely freezing and so we didn't stay in the hide for long. After I left I heard two guys talking and it appears there was a lesser scaup on the very far edge - not visible with our bins though.

We continued round to the Education Centre and Charlotte decided to stop and have a cuppa before pushing on. I decided to go on to the Woodland Hide to see what they were getting on their feeders; best birds were nuthatches and a small flock of siskins.

No sign of Charlotte so I continued on to Ivy South Hide. NuthatchAs I set out two blokes said there were some goosander here and a yellow browed warbler, if I could find it. I stopped off at the hide, picked up what I could and stepped out hoping for the YBW. Three guys were pacing on the far side so I made my way over. Talking to one he said that it had shown an hour earlier but only for 10 seconds and it was high in the trees - not looking good. I strolled to and fro for around 10 minutes, and then Charlotte arrived. She told me that she had stopped off at the Ivy North Hide and had views of a bittern, although not in the open and only really visible with a scope - damn.

Not two minutes later I saw a bird that looked a likely candidate for LBW; before I could get the camera on it,Yellow browed warbler it flew off towards the trees on the edge of the water. I kept an eye on this area and just a few minutes later spotted it making its way back over. A couple of photos and I could see it was the target bird. As others arrived I pointed them to the spot where the bird had been and left them in hopeful mood.

We headed back toward the Ivy North Hide but before we reached it, we spotted a water rail reasonably well in the open, feeding. Good views! Into the hide and we didn't manage to spot the bittern but had more views of water rail.

Returning to the Education Centre for lunch, we heard some noisy Water railgreater spotted woodpeckers chasing one another and as we stopped to watch, a treecreeper ascended a tree ahead.

Sightings today (39) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, coal tit, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, goldeneye, goosander, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, grey heron, linnet, little egret, little grebe, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, mute swan, nuthatch, pheasant, pochard, reed bunting, robin, shelduck, siskin, song thrush, treecreeper, tufted duck, water rail, wigeon, woodpigeon, wren and yellow-browed warbler.