Sunday, 31 May 2020

RSPB Otmoor :: 31 May 2020

The RSPB Otmoor reserve has been authorised to open on a limited basis from 28 May 2020, Garden warblerbut the paths to the screens, the screens themselves, and the hide are all still closed. The standard two metre social distancing rules are obviously in place and signs are displayed at various points.

I still try to avoid unnecessary contact and so again set off at 4.30am, arriving at 5.00am in the car park. It was clear that there were more cars in the car park today compared with the 28th - even at this early hour there were a couple of bays already occupied.

As soon as I turned onto the bridleway I could hear garden warbler in the trees to my left. Pausing I found one singing it's heart out in the red sunrise light. Cetti's warbler were also numerous and quite vocal. BitternI heard distant cuckoos and some common snipe were drumming over Greenaways.

I made my way along the bridleway picking up the usual warbler and other species expected for this time of year. When I reached the crossroads for the screens and hides I watched several cuckoos and Cetti's warblers but just couldn't get a decent photo - good views considering the general skulking nature of Cetti's. I also had a couple of bullfinch pairs pass by.

I spent some time around this area and noticed, out the corner of my eye, a heron coming my way, Bitternquite high in the sky. As it got closer I sudden realised it was in fact a bittern at an unusually high altitude. I quickly raised my camera and shot off a few photos as it circled me and flew off across Greenaways, where it dropped down.

I walked back and stopped to talk to a birder, photographing in the reeds in the channel beside the bridleway. As we talked, a cuckoo flew behind me and back where I'd come from. I saw that it landed in a tree and so we both strolled down, taking occasional photos as we went. By this time the light had stopped being quite so red and my photo showed the normal grey plumage. Bittern

The cuckoo soon departed and I talked with a mother and young daughter who were looking for the bittern. I explained that I'd seen it but that it had dropped into Greenaways and probably into one of the patches of reeds. I saw a few people ahead with cameras and scopes and suggested the go there as they were all probably waiting for the bittern. When I reached the area myself I found that they were waiting as I'd thought and found Dan and Trish Miller were there again. We waited for almost an hour and picked up several species, including curlew.

Eventually the bittern raised it's Cuckoolong neck and head high enough to be seen through the reeds. This only lasted for a few tens of seconds before it took off and flew away from us. The photos weren't as good as those from my earlier flyby.

It was time to head home but I promised to phone Dan and Trish if I came across the turtle dove on my journey back to the car. I reached the cattle pens and to my delight, the turtle dove was feeding on the track leading away from the pens. I phoned Dan and after a few minutes Trish arrived - fortunately the turtle dove stayed long enough for her to see it - her previous views had been in poor light. In actual fact, Turtle dovephotographing across this track is a little tricky and haze is a bit of an issue.

After a couple of minutes a woodpigeon came in to land, too close of the dove's liking and it left and down the trees along the bridleway. I said my goodbyes to Trish and followed the dove, stopping on several occasions to listen to and watch Cetti's warblers as they flitted about. When I turned the corner I could see the dove in the treetop ahead and got some better photos than when it was feeding on the ground.

I spotted a couple of willow warbler along this stretch as I made for the car. Another good visit and great to bag the turtle dove.

Sightings (46) included: bittern, black-headed gull, blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, cetti's warbler, chiffchaff, coot, cuckoo, curlew, garden warbler, goldfinch, great tit, grey heron, greylag goose, lapwing, little egret, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, marsh harrier, moorhen, mute swan, pheasant, raven, red kite, red-legged partridge, redshank, reed bunting, reed warbler, robin, sedge warbler, skylark, snipe, stock dove, swallow, swift, tufted duck, turtle dove, willow warbler, woodpigeon and wren.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

RSPB Otmoor :: 28 May 2020

With lockdown restrictions starting to relax, and now being allowed to exercise further from home, Reed warblerI ventured away from Banbury for the first time in 10 weeks. Although I have titled this with "RSPB" of course the reserve is still closed and I instead went for a walk along the public bridleway which cuts through the area and round the body of the reserve.

To avoid contacts I rose at 4.00am and was on the reserve by 5.00am, shaved and showered. I made for the bridleway and started along hearing, but not seeing, curlew. I heard my first sedge and reed warblers of the year and soon encountered a couple of garden warbler in the trees opposite the cattle enclosure. Above snipe drummed, and across CuckooGreenaways skylarks were rising high into the air. Good numbers of bullfinch progressed beside me.

Eventually I heard a cuckoo and saw one cross the path ahead - would this be the only one of the day? I needn't have worried as a couple of times three showed together, chasing through the treetops. I even managed to get a decent but distant shot of one on a branch.

Cettis warblers were very vocal and I managed to see one in the reeds to my left and thought I'd managed to get a photo but when I reviewed them it was just a blur. I don't remember them being quite so numerous along this stretch before.Common whitethroat

A handful of chiffchaff called but I didn't hear a willow warbler at all but common whitethroat were much more obliging.

On my return I bumped into Dan and Trish Miller who were also on the bridleway but waiting to see if they could see a bittern. Unfortunately work awaited and I decided not to hang around and continue back. Later they reported that they had in fact seen two and had both in the same shot.

What a welcome escape from the house today was. I must try it again when I have the chance and it is sensible to do so.Chiffchaff

Sightings in this short visit included: blackbird, black-headed gull, blackcap, blue tit, bullfinch, canada goose, carrion crow, cetti's warbler, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, cuckoo, dunnock, gadwall, garden warbler, goldfinch, grey heron, greylag goose, jackdaw, lapwing, magpie, moorhen, pheasant, reed bunting, reed warbler, rook, sedge warbler, skylark, snipe, stock dove, swallow, tufted duck, whitethroat and woodpigeon.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Banbury :: 19 May 2020

When I finished work last night, and sat down for dinner, I noticed that there were many updates Hoopoeon the Banbury Birders WhatsApp Group. It appeared that a hoopoe had been found in Twyford, the next village along from where I live. I could see it had been around, though flighty, for much of the afternoon and evening but it went AWOL for long periods of time - sometimes relocating from Rawlins Close to Walton Avenue. I also then had a message from @old_caley.

I rose this morning and as I was heading for the shower I heard a WhatsApp message arrive and when I looked, it was @mikepnature to say the hoopoe had been seen but was still very mobile - he'd just missed it on a rooftop by 5 minutes. I finished up, Hoopoemade 'her indoors' a cup of tea and shot over to Twyford. I walked in through Twyford Road, Twyford Avenue and Margaret Road. As I passed the end of Rawlins Close I could see @mikepnature with his bins raised. I hurried round and there it was, sitting on someone's front lawn. To my left was Mark Ribbons and soon Sandra Bletchly approached and joined us - socially distancing of course.

I also picked up my first house martins of the year.

An amazing bird to have locally and, after it had departed, I still made it home before 8.00am.HoopoeHoopoe

Friday, 8 May 2020

Banbury :: 07 May 2020

The sky has been a bird more overcast of an evening and so I've stopped playing Foxwith star trails for the moment. Perhaps I'll have a go in the southern sky just for something to do when the night sky is clear again - there should be less light pollution in that direction as I am on the south side of the town.

Getting up early for International Dawn Chorus Day I was lucky enough to find a beautiful fox munching away on sunflower seeds from my ground feeder. I've therefore decided to get out my trail camera and have a play with that. We have been seeing hedgehogs every night but we hadn't been aware of the foxes visiting, and so this camera should capture what is happening overnight. It has also had the benefit of capturing some common behaviour of one of our magpies who seems to take great delight in scattering starling flocks when they congregate on the lawn. I posted about this on Twitter and have embedded a short video of the usual sightings we have.

With the trail camera I have picked up several hedgehogs, and at least three individuals - two tolerate each other, and at times another is subjected to some aggressive behaviour. It is also interesting to note that when foxes are in the garden they pay little attention to the hedgehogs and won't stay long if the hedgehog is 'hogging' the ground feeder. There are definitely two separate foxes visiting, with one showing black socks on the front legs - the other is the female.

On a second occasion now, we have had a fox feeding just as sunrise is approaching; so those images in apparent daylight are actually just before dawn - modern cameras for you! The foxes then disappear before people are around and the recordings are left to the birds.

Typically the hedgehogs set off the traps about a dozen times a night and the foxes visit two or three times - but typically individually.

So many bad things are happening outside at the moment, is is nice for these situations to arise and give me diversions to working from home and not getting out and about.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Banbury :: 03 May 2020

I set the alarm to go out for International Dawn Chorus Day. The weather didn't look promising but with a Foxflask of coffee and the camera in hand, I ventured out. I was stunned to encounter a welcome but unexpected visitor to my ground feeder - a lovely fox.

I took a chair from the garden table and set it up by the patio doors and sat to listen to the morning song, taking long deep breaths; what a great way to relax.

The feeders were already busy with my goldfinch x canary mule, goldfinch, robin, blue tit, great tit, blackbird, starling, magpie, dunnock, woodpigeon, collared dove, carrion crow and greenfinch all visiting. Although I was primarily there to listen to the birdsong, I also noted a silent mallard pass over at around 20 ft.Fox

As I sat, a newly fledged blackbird that has been in the garden for a few days now, joined me on the patio feeding along the edge of the grass. Amazingly unconcerned about my presence but hopefully it will become a bit more streetwise soon so as the avoid the local sparrowhawk.Blackbird

The woodpigeons have built in number with up to seven at a time and the magpie seems to enjoy chasing the starlings whenever he visits, often just turning up to do this then leaving again straight away.

By 6.15am the rain had strengthened and I retreated indoors but opened a window to continue listening to the morning birdsong. Think I'll get another coffee on the go, make a bacon roll and listen to the RSPB Dawn Chorus Soundscape from their reserves. I'll likely also catch up with Chris Packham's broadcast from today after that.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Banbury :: 29 April 2020

As the national lockdown drags on, I continue to work from home but now am intermittently asked to take some of my remaining holiday. GreenfinchThis has allowed me to spend a bit more time looking out of the window but at the time when the weather has turned a bit more like April is supposed to be - the summer weather has retreated at present.

Mostly I have seen all my usual birds with little new of note - I do seem to have more greenfinches than in previous years.

My attention was drawn to a light coloured bird initially on the ground, and since then also on the feeders. Goldfinch x canary muleA strange coloured goldfinch is what I photographed and shared on Twitter. A really useful comment from @old_caley pointed to the fact that it was a goldfinch x canary mule.

It appears that most canary types are used in the production of Mules for various reasons exhibition, song, colour etc. In fact, new species can be produced from mules and hybrids - occasionally a mule or hybrid is found to be fertile and if bred it creates a new species. Mostly they are sterile.

The bird has now been in the garden for three consecutive days and I've enjoyed watching out for it.

Hopefully something unexpected will pass in the coming days / weeks.Goldfinch x canary mule Goldfinch x canary mule

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Banbury :: 14 April 2020

Halfway through April and we are in the 'middle' of a lockdown Dark-edged bee-flyfor the Covid-19 global pandemic. The official advice is to "stay at home", and so I am - that and my office is closed in any case. Work continues as usual, without the overseas travel and perhaps with longer hours, but from the comfort of my home office space. Birding has taken a major hit.

I am in the process of removing what remains of the back garden, having built on much of it last year; not much to entice insects and birds other than the feeders, although the wild area - previously the vegetable plot - has a nice array of dandelions which is proving popular with dark-edged bee-flies. WoodpigeonOnce we are able to get out again I will start filling with plants again.

A few butterflies through as well including: peacock, small tortoiseshell, green-veined white, orange tip and holly blue.

Mostly my time outside is during a 30-45mins lunch break but the Easter weekend just passed allowed for time out in the great weather we've been having.

I have struggled with any migration sightings but was astonished to see a female marsh harrier while looking up from the screen and out the window. Other than that for the most part the garden birds have entertained, Common Buzzardespecially with their song while I am on conference calls - it has been a topic of conversation as it is apparently really obvious in the background.

The thermals have given the red-kite and buzzards the opportunity to circle and rise high with a best count of two kites and four buzzards at once. I haven't even seen an osprey, although @grimsbury_birds and @Vanellus26 had the same bird over their houses in Parklands and Hanwell Field. Another was seen in a dead tree near the Borrow Pit. Still time!

The #lockdownlist has been depressingly small, much as when I do the 'Big Garden Birdwatch'. What they lack in numbers though, they make up for in song. HedgehogLast night we were also graced by not one, but two hedgehogs in the back garden - a first that we know about.

It is likely that this lockdown will continue for the next three weeks (at least) and so there is still time for something of note to pass by.