Sunday, 22 November 2020

Farmoor Reservoir :: 22 November 2020

Busy doesn't really cover the last week and so an opportunity to get out after 10 days was well received. A choice of Farmoor Reservoir seemed to be right. In the car park we chatted to a regular who was heading off to look at the winter thrushes by the river and see if there was anything unusual with them. We popped on our walking boots and set off onto the reservoir. We stopped by the left side of the marina and soon were on the great northern diver.

Great northern diver

Great northern diver

Eventually we were left trying to work out how long it could stay under - sometimes it was down fro minutes but this was just ridiculous. Looking out in the distance we picked out the GND - what a passage to get out there on its last dive!

We opted to set out across the causeway, hoping to catch up with the GND on our return. We reached the end of the causeway and located the scaup, hanging out with tufted duck.



We set off round F2 to make for a longer walk and at the turn to head down to Shrike Meadow we stopped to see a mixed tit flock, a great spotted woodpecker and several dunnock.

In the trees over the perimeter fence we saw a flock of c.20 fieldfare, and a chiffchaff. There was also a cormorant fishing party having great sucesss and surfacing with a range of fish from small to something I may have considered for my own dinner!

There were an increasing number of walkers and fisherman and by the time we got back to the Visitor Centre the GND had been chased off and replaced by little grebe.

Little grebe Sightings (29) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, dunnock, fieldfare, goldfinch, great black-backed gull, great crested grebe, great northern diver, great spotted woodpecker, greylag goose, herring gull, little egret, little grebe, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, mute swan, pied wagtail, robin, rook, scaup, tufted duck and woodpigeon.

Bucknell Woods :: 11 November 2020

My eldest was on holiday from work, whatever holiday is meant to mean during this pandemic. She hadn't been out for ages and so I convinced her to come for a walk with me, to Bucknell Woods.

As we entered the wood, we could see that the Forestry Commission had been busy felling trees all up the main track from the car park. To be honest it changed the feel and as we walked awe had fewer encounters than usual, until we reached the first turn. Here we came across some blue and great tits and chaffinch. As we continued we came across a couple of goldcrest and then a few siskin, the siskin very high in the tree-tops.

We tried to follow one of our usual routes but the path turned into a swamp and I almost lost a walking boot. We double-backed and took a shorter and critically passable route. We heard calls but I couldn't distinguish anything unusual. We came across more goldcrest on more than one occasion, and with a mixed tit flock had views that allowed reasonable photos.



Despite the curtailed route we enjoyed our time out in fresh air - a great contrast to life of late.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Pauline Flick, Balscote & Grimsbury Reservoir :: 07/08 November 2020

What a beautiful morning it turned out to be - bacon sandwich and coffee to get me going and then a walk with Charlotte at the Pauline Flick Reserve, managed by the Banbury Ornothological Society (BOS). To be precise it is managed by Jan Guilbride and as we pulled off the road we found her unloading feed and compost from the boot of her car into a wheelbarrow. I'd listened to her giving a presentation on a monthly Zoom Meeting for the BOS members during lockdown and knew who she was straight away. We chatted and she realised who I was from the sightings and blog post from my previous/first visit.

Charlotte offered our help with the wheelbarrow but Jan opted to stick to her plan.

Pauline Flick Reserve

We started on ahead and walked through the trees looking increasingly autumnal. I'd mentioned some flyover fieldfare on my last visit but now we could hear and see at least 24 individuals - we also counted 4 redwing on the same berries. No doubt why these winter thrushes were here - the abundance of berry-laden bushes was evident.

We saw the usual blue and great tits at the feeders but also coal and long-tailed on or nearby. Dunnock, chaffinch and robin fedd too. A red kite quartered the hedgerow but soon drifted away.

Red kite

We reached the area where Jan has erected a barrier to limit disturbance of a tawny owl roost and we could see where that was ahead. Jan also mentioned nesting jays in the spring but there is little evidence of a food source along this stretch so likely across the Chipping Norton - Stratford Road.

I showed Charlotte the exposed layered limestone before turning back. In the tops of the trees and bushes opposite there were branches laden with berries. A single bird cut through, stopping briefly on a stalk to the back. We could see a colour and initially had it down as a chaffinch but as we moved round we could see it was actually a male bullfinch - made Charlotte's day.

We passed Jan near the feeders and chatted briefly before making our way back to the car. On the way we had more views of winter thrushes feeding and watering by the stream in the valley below, and female bullfinch feeding on treetop mast.

On the return to Banbury we saw great spotted woodpecker over the fields. All in all a very pleasant morning.

After lunch I thought I'd pop up to Balscote Quarry to see if I could connect with brambling or the merlin being reported intermitantly. There were very large flocks of winter thrushes, mostly fieldfare and totalling c.100. There were also small flocks of redwing that passed over, c.6 each time. A great spotted woodpecker passed over twice and the kestrel hunted for a short time before landing on the sand martin pill where it stayed for more than 30 minutes.

As the light left a pair of muntjac deer passed, the female bounding through and the male deciding to turn back.

Muntjac deer

Muntjac deer

Two mute swan dropped in to join two thers already in residence. They swam but then comically stood up as the water was still relatively shallow. They then had a second thought and left, stage left.

Mute swan

The sun dropped and a late jay passed the viewpoint giving no opportunity to raise a camera in time and not enough light to do much with it if I had. The sunset was one to be enjoyed.

Balscote Quarry

As a opened the boot of the car a small flock of 9 long-tailed tits made for their roost and pipistrelle bats passed overhead.

An early alert went out of a pair of red-crested pochard at Grimsbury Reservoir - a rare visitor there. I swethered whether to go but when an update came that they were still there after 30 minutes I got dressed and went. They stayed distant but were graceful enough to put on a show of gently cruising back and forth for a good while.

Red-crested pochard

Eventually the female decided to have a kip and that was when I decided to pull stumps. Kevin Heath of recent brambling fame joined and the finder John passed by. Another regular Mike P also came for a look and while we socially distanced for a quick chat a pochard passed overhead but didn't stop.

Red-crested pochard

I returned to Balscote Quarry and counted 74 black-headed gulls, 11 lapwing, 9 fieldfare, fa pair of song thrushes, locks of mixed yellowhammer and reed bunting, and both great spotted and green woodpecker. Despite Steve Holliday having scattered seed under the feeders, the brambling never showed - the various finches did grow in numbers but not with their new friend. A single goldcrest passed behind and a pair of stonechats were initially distant but closed the distance enough for some shots before the weather drew in.

I packed up and as I turned to go a muntjac slipped back out of view into the bushes.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

BOS Balscote Quarry :: 30 October - 01 November 2020

It had been a funny week with my boiler breaking and being stuck at home due to wet weather or work. I got up late on Saturday morning and after breakfast started some housework. The rain set in so I didn't rush to see what had appeared on my phone. When I did eventually sit down I found that the Banbury Birders WhatsApp Group had been very busy - people had been enjoying a first ground feeding brambling (eventually 2m & 1f) at the BOS Balscote Quarry Reserve. The weather though had been foul but everyone thought it had been worth the visit.

I had lunch and decided to pop to the reserve to see if I could catch up with a brambling - by now the sun had made an appearance. I bumped into Mark Ribbons, Steve Holliday and others as they came and went but had no direct sightings of a brambling, although Adrian Bletchly pointed out a bird in a flyover finch flock - to be honest I didn't see the individual despite his best efforts.

After most had moved on, Mike Pollard dropped in and we continued our vigil watching green woodpeckers, song thrush, linnet and three muntjac deer.

Muntjac deer

We also enjoyed flocks of 20 lapwing and c.130 golden plover as they landed in fields behind and on the far edge of the water pool. As we waited Mike fetched his scope from his car and pulled out 9 snipe on the far bank. Kestrel, red kite and buzzard hunted over the site.

Golden plover

All very good but no brambling.

I woke on Sunday to my wife telling me there was a leak in the loft and water was dripping from the ceiling light onto the landing. I got dressed and brought step ladders in from the garage. I eventually located the likely culprit and contacted our plumber. As the leak was just a drip, I checked my phone and found that a brambling had been seen again and reported by Kevin Heath (Kev). I jumped into the car and headed to Balscote - the leak would wait.

I got to site and two cars were already in place. I found Adrian Tysoe watching below the feeders and made him jump as I crept behind. We waited and were joined briefly by Iain Brown. In Balscote he'd seen two brambling over and a flock of 30 continental blackbirds. Kev was also on site but down at the far screen watching yellowhammer amongst other species. Iain left us to continue the vigil. A pair of stonechat fed in the scrub between us and the water's edge.


After a little while we saw a male brambling drop down and feed from the ground. We shot off some photos and chatted, content that we'd connected with the bird. Adrian turned to look at the water in the bowl and reported that two little egrets had just dropped in - this was exciting as we believed this was a first for the year. We started to look through our bins and Adrian excitedly realised that the bird on the left was actually a cattle egret.

Cattle egret

Cattle egret

Adrian posted the sighting on the WhatsApp group and this brought the return of Iain. Just as well he was local as the egrets only stayed 10 minutes.

Cattle egret

A few others started to arrive but they would have to make do with a wait for the brambling - it did show again. I'd left by then as a sparrowhawk had cut through the feeders scattering what birds there were. Sandra Bletchly had also suggested that she'd not have let me leave the house with a water leak of any size and so I headed home - the plumber had looked at the photos I'd sent and suggested what I do to rememdy the situation.

Sightings included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, brambling, buzzard, carrion crow, cattle egret, chaffinch, coal tit, dunnock, fieldfare, golden plover, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, green woodpecker, greenfinch, kestrel, lapwing, linnet, little egret, long-tailed tit, mallard, pied wagtail, red kite, snipe, song thrush, stonechat, sparrowhawk and woodpigeon.

Monday, 26 October 2020

Bucknell Woods :: 26 October 2020

The forecast unexpectedly changed and it appeared that it was going to stay dry. We jumped into the car and headed for Bucknell Woods as we hadn't walked there for a while. The road from the A43 was blocked due to roadworks and so we had to circle round through Towcester to come in from the other direction.

Heading up the main path from the car park there were a number of goldcrest and then more as we reached the crossroads and our right turn. We also had blue, coal and great tits and then a treecreeper. Walking on we heard and then briefy saw a chiffchaff and then again more goldcrests.

The sky released some rain and we took cover in the trees. As we waited a flock of circa 15 birds headed over and called when they were out of view. I'm pretty sure these were the crossbills that have been there for the last few months - still there! Another treecreeper appeared to our right.




The rain fell again and we opted for a shorter route than usual, returning back to the car. Just before we reached the exit a small flock of redwing caught our eye and yet another treecreeper, this time one of a pair.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

WkWT Brandon Marsh :: 25 October 2020

The clocks went back overnight and so getting up at 6.45am was easier than usual - it was even light again! I took her indoors a cuppa and had breakfast. We were on the road and entered the code on the keypad to get in before the general public. There were already a dozen car in the car park as we drew up.

A flock of goldfinches greeted us as we put on our boots and a dunnock sang from the trees. We set off on our usual circuit: around Grebe Pool, through New Hares Covert and Swallow Pool. As we passed though New Hares Covert we came across a couple of jays, followed by a treecreeper and then a goldfinch. We also had a bullfinch over and a single redwing.


Overlooking the golf course a buzzard stood on the fairway, presumably feeding on worms or looking for his ball. We heard cetti's warbler but again couldn't get a view - a repeat of yesterday.

Common buzzard

We looked into the Wright Hide and it was empty, so we popped in - the doors have been taken off, there are hand-sanitiser bottles on entry (and exit), and the shutters are all propped open. The scrape looked much as it always does and there was nothing of note. I'd hoped for either )or both) siskin or redpoll in the trees above but found neither. We rounded the corner as a young couple marvelled at a tame robin who appeared to be happy at an approach to within a meter.

Passing the Jon Baldwin Hide we considered not going in as there appeared to be a couple of people already in residence. They beckoned to us saying that a kingfisher had just flown to the bushes opposite; it had been fishing right outside the window. Soon it flew to a pole and gave clear but slightly distant views. It then relocated into a couple of distant bushes and eventually gave us a flypast view.


We walked to the end of the path (Steetly Hide) adding a few more views of jay, and on the way back a kingfisher briefly landed to our left in the flooded channel.

Sightings (33) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, carrion crow, cetti's warbler, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, goldcrest, goldfinch, great tit, greylag goose, jay, kingfisher, lapwing, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, redwing, robin, rook, shoveler, treecreeper, tufted duck, wigeon, woodpigeon and wren.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

RSPB Otmoor :: 24 October 2020

I set off for RSPB Otmoor soon after sunrise and after 10 minutes of driving started to think I shouldn't have bothered - the windscreen wipers sweeping the rain from the windscreen. I did think about turning back but hey, it might not yet be raining at Otmoor I thought. Amazingly, it wasn't.

I walked from the car park and eventually stopped at the feeder staion to see if anything showed - I waited for a few minutes but nothing more than the usual tits, pheasant and chaffinch so I continued on. On the bridleway I heard cetti's warbler but as is mostly the case with this species, I didn't even get a fleeting glance - it wasn't the only ocassion this happened today.

I came upon a mixed flock of tits which on investigation included goldcrest and chiffchaff. Some of the Otmoor Massive passed in the opposite direction and mentioned that they'd seen upwards of 20,000 starling leave the roost and that there were large numbers of both lapwing and golden plover; they'd also seen a peregrine hunting in these flocks.

In the pools on Greenaways I managed to pick out eight snipe. This was only possible due to the fact that one flew in and allowed me to see them move about as it joined. Without this I probably wouldn't have been able to see them in the scrub.

I reached the fence overlooking Big Otmoor and spotted a stonechat feeding from the barbed-wire fence. It was joined by a chiffchaff that mirrored the feeding habit of the stonechat, dropping to the grass and returning with insects.

Chiffchaff and stonechat

In the distance I could see a sizeable flock of golden plover and decided to make for the 1st Screen. To my left I could see the stonechat continuing to feed and two wrens that hopped between the reeds and brambles.


The flock of golden plover joined with another that had taken to the wing and came my way, high but almost over. Great to see such good numbers and hopefully replicates the early spring when the flocks were 5,000+ and glistening in the sun - no change of that today!

Golden plover

At the 1st Screen there were good numbers of wigeon and gadwall. Over the reedbed, two female marsh harriers quartered from left to right. Flocks of golden plover and lapwing danced over The Flood. Several cetti's called to the left, right and behind.

Marsh harrier

There were then a few spots of rain and so I decided to make my way back. Along the bridleway, I saw two couples heading the other way. One couple appeared to have bins and a camera and those on the inside by the fence moved past as the others stopped for a photograph. I realised the couple taking photos were Mr and Mrs @old_caley. I stopped for a catch-up and we saw the tit flock pass us by, again with chiffchaff and goldcrest. We eventually went our separate ways but immediately I spotted a bittern take to the wing and fly off towards The Flood / 1st Screen. @old_caley followed after it.


@old_caley had mentioned that he'd seen a redpoll and a marsh tit at the feeding station and so I stopped there on the return. After about 5 minutes the marsh tit flew in from the left and onto the feeders. The rain started again, and this time a bit heavier. I opted to head for the car and journey home, rather than to The Pill where some interesting birds have been seen of late. Maybe next time.

Sightings (41) included: bittern, black-headed gull, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, cetti's warbler, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, *****, dunnock, fieldfare, gadwall, goldcrest, golden plover, goldfinch, great tit, grey heron, greylag goose, kestrel, lapwing, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, marsh harrier, marsh tit, mute swan, pheasant, red kite, redwing, reed bunting, robin, rook, snipe, starling, stonechat, tufted duck, wigeon, woodpigeon and wren.