Sunday, 20 June 2021

Crookham and Greenham Common :: 19 June 2021

After a 4.00am alarm call I was off to Crookham and Greenham Commons with Kevin Heath - we still travelled in separate cars to protect against transmission (to him from my wife's school and/or in the other direction), although we are all double vaccinated. Hopefully someday soon we will get back to a state where we can all share cars again.

We made for the edge of Crookham Common where I have previously seen nightingales and where Nick Truby had been in late April and confirmed their continued presence. We set out along the stretch I had seen them previously but couldn't heard any calls - we stopped to enjoy chiffchaff, blackcap and a vocal jay.

We then crossed the road to where Nick had indicated was the best spot - perhaps we should have done that from the off. We listened but didn't hear any calls but did have great-spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, families of blackcap and robin, goldcrest and various tit species.

I looked back down the track and spotted a couple of birds on the ground next to a large bush - one was a dunnock but the other was a nightingale. I alerted Kev but he didn't get on it before if departed - it didn't take too long before we heard calling over in a far hedge and then saw one flying across the track. We moved a bit closer but left space so as not to crowd the bush where from time to time it seemed to land. Ocassionally we heard calls from both sides of the track and also a couple of nice views, but failed on each opportunity for a photo. After and hour or so of listening and watching a bird was flitting about the foot of a nearby tree, eventually hopping onto a low branch. I set off a volley of shots and was rewarded with a few in focus as a nightingale paused briefly and turned to move on.

Nightingale
Nightingale

We'd managed to connect with one of our target species and so decided to relocate and park at the Greenham Common Control Tower and try our luck at some more.

Greenham Common Control Tower

As we entered to Common we spotted willow warbler and various corvids, then set off along the gravel path watching the gorse and scrub for any signs of birds. We spotted a stonechat, then another, before Kev located a Dartford warbler - it had dropped out of sight before I got on it. We were at some distance from the spot and so moved a little closer spotting a juvenile Dartford warbler in the base of a bush. Another target bird ticked.

Darford warbler

We pushed on along the track where the runway had been, continuing to see large numbers of stonechat and a common heath moth. A meadow pipit showed atop the scrub and we had a little ringed plover over.

Stonechat
Common heath moth
Meadow pipit

From inside an area of gorse we could hear Dartford warbler and waiting eventually one flew out and passed us - it forgot to land in view - we waited to see if it would reappear, but no dice. We had another similar encounter but this time the bird flew further from us and again out of sight. We were nearing the end of the site when we heard a brief call and another Dartford warbler flew past us but this time stopping briefly in view before returning back. This was our best view and I had managed to shoot off two bursts.

Dartford warbler
Dartford warbler

Three flocks of birds ahead of us rotated in balls across the sky - resembling a small murmuration, occasionally joining up. We couldn't make out what they were, and I had to wait until I got home to see what they were. They appeared to be a species of pigeon, but it was behaviour I have never seen before - I've seen larger flocks but not his communal gathering and staing in roughly the same spot for more than 5 minutes.

Pigeon flock?

We moved on deciding to skirt the edge of the tree-lined perimeter and stopped at the very far end on the gravel path. We scanned the area and after a few minutes Kev announced he had woodlark in his sights. I established where he was looking and raised my bins - this turned out to be an error but a happy natural reaction. I confirmed the ID but some movement on the track to the right sent two birds into the air - I followed them round while Kev said that there was still one on the ground. Before I got on it, it was off too - damn and blast, I'd missed a record photo but was still overjoyed to see it as it was a life tick for both of us. I was particularly happy as they'd discussed woodlark on Springwatch recently and so was better informed than I might have been.

I had promised to be back home for lunch and so we reluctantly had to pull stumps and head back - I had a call from 'her indoors' as we made our way back to the car.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Farmoor Reservoir :: 13 June 2021

I arrived at Farmoor Reservoir and met up with Kevin Heath - not sure what we would see today but good to get out early as it was going to be a hot one. We had a look down to the water treatment works and could see a yellow wagtail on the fencing, with greenfinch and goldfinch below. We crossed the causeway but there was absolutely nothing in the way of waders - the water was dead calm and not much on there either. No hirundines showed and not a single tern was fishing - the only highlight was a snow goose in amongst the geese at the visitor centre end.

We decided that there was little going on at the reservoir and made our way down through Shrike Meadow to the hide by the river. We could see a Cetti's warbler calling from trees but not close enough for a photo and then not in the open when we closed the distance. Warbler song filled the air - it was very relaxing. On the riverbank we saw a bird flying through the trees on the opposite bank and both announced "jay" at exactly the same time. Whitethroat, sedge and reed warbler and Cetti's warbler accompanied us as we made our way along the river.

We stopped where Kev had seen a kingfisher on our previous visit and heard cuckoo close but out of view. Dragonfly and damselfly worked their way over the riverside reeds with occasional patches of demoiselles. A rather handsome male reed bunting called from above us, and a couple replied from both sides of the river.

Reed bunting

We reached the turn back to the Pinkhill Reserve and hide when we heard a cuckoo ahead - we stopped and tried to pick it out but had no luck so continued up the slope and passed / round a small wood. Looking down towards the river below a reed warbler stopped long enough for a photo. We saw not one but two cuckoos in the area we had heard the calls originating from earlier - they chased one another, eventually departing to the left and back towards Pinkhill.

Reed warbler

We worked our way back down to the river but as we passed the track down to Pinkhill Lock we stopped to listen to a reeling grasshopper warbler. I've spent quite a bit of time on this bird in the past and only had a fleeting glance. Amazingly it soon popped onto a low stalk and sang strongly - I snapped off a few photos and watched as it moved to another perch and repeated it's song. A couple of women, traveling in opposite directions (one running and the other walking a small dog) stopped and asked what we were looking at - they appeared genuinely interested and waited for us to indicate where the bird was next time it sang. As it flew a bit further away towards the river, we could see that it was joined by a second. What a great result and happy to have eventually seen it here.

Grasshopper warbler
Grasshopper warbler
Grasshopper warbler

We called it a day and made our return back along the river. We heard and saw all the warblers again but nothing extra. Mating banded demoiselle rested on the vegetation on the river bank.

Banded demoiselle

Returning to the cars anticlockwise around F2 we added a single swallow around some barns and two house sparrows on top of a roof. We had noted 51 species but it was the grasshopper warbler sighting that had given me most pleasure - a special spring for me with these warblers (see again).

Monday, 14 June 2021

Hinton Airfield :: 12 June 2021

It had been a busy week and by Friday night I was feeling a bit weary. So, when Kevin Heath got in touch and he felt much the same, we decided to give an early start on Saturday a miss and think about Sunday instead. However, I'd then been thinking about where to go, and my mind fell on a site that I've never visited - Hinton Airfield. In the lockdowns John Friendship-Taylor had walked here from his home in Brackley and turned up some interesting birds - I contacted him to confirm the parking spot I'd found on my maps and what a common route around may be. He confirmed the details but also said that he was thinking of going there in the morning if I would like to join him - an opportunity not to me missed, rather than stumbling around on my own.

I arrived slightly early and as I waited I listened to the calling skylark and watched a grey heron over. A calling yellow wagtail caught my attention, and I raised my bins to see it atop a nearby tree. It had a full beak of what I originally thought was nesting material but turned out to be food for the nest. That is how you provision a nest!

Yellow wagtail

John arrived and we set off on the south side of the airfield, spotting another yellow wagtail and yellowhammer ahead. In the bushes to our right, we came across a family of whitethroats, the mother with food for the youngsters hopping excitedly from branch to branch. Soon we came across another family group, this time long-tailed tits. They fed amongst the branches in the hedge, constantly on the move. Looking across the field we could see another yellow wagtail sitting on top of a small dung heap. More whitethroat showed and we were already into double figures.

Long-taled tit
Long-taled tit

We came upon a field where the farmer had left a very wide margin and it was filled with red poppies - it was really a beautiful sight. John stopped to take some photos and I couldn't resist either.

Field of poppies
Field of poppies

We continued passed a barn and came across (another?) family of long-tailed tits and into a large area where some small planes were parked up on the far edge. To our left we spotted a brown hare and watched it moving slowly at first, but then it sauntered across to our right - wrong decision - as a dog and its owner rounded the corner and the dog took off after the hare. No competition. Despite the owner calling on the dog, it tried to follow but the hare opened the gap between them and disappeared into, and presumably through, the hedge.

Brown hare

We came across another brown hare shortly after, more distant but running towards us - it stopped for a short while but then exited stage left, and into the hedge. John headed for a short patch of grass, leading to an area of higher grass and scrub - he had a purpose and soon announced that he'd found some bee orchids - searching around we counted ten. It is odd but we only found two more and not too far from the main group. Continuing into the scrub we saw a butterfly fly past and land ahead - we got up close and John identified it as a small heath - I would have had to check at home but he knows his stuff. Shortly after we had another and this time John identified it as a brown argus.

Bee orchid
Small heath butterfly
Brown Argus butterfly

We circled back to the cars and I was pleased to have had a first visit with someone who knew the area and had some butterfly knowledge. A great visit to somewhere new - it will be on the list for regular visits, especially for spring migrants.

Friday, 11 June 2021

WkWT Brandon Marsh :: 06 June 2021

I'd been wondering whether to go out on Sunday morning - chatting to Kevin Heath we decided that we'd meet up and try Warwickshire Wildlife's Brandon Marsh. We agreed a meet at 5.00am on the north edge of Banbury and set off from there. As is normal this time of the morning, the road was covered in woodpigeon and magpies. Unfortunately when passing a flock of woodpigeons on the verge, one of them made a very late decision to take to the wing and flew right in front of my car - so much for being a nature lover ☹.

We used the member's entrance and set off round Grebe Pool and through New Hare Covert - here we encountered a family of great-spotted woodpeckers and a pair of jays. We also stopped to watch a European hornet buzzing around an old dead tree - what a sight and a brute it is.

European hornet
Jay

Once passed the golf course on our left, we looked out over Alban's Reedbed and could see the source of the distant cuckoo calls. There was also a kestrel in a high branch of a tree. Cetti's warblers called but only showed as the darted off. The cuckoo worked it's way in parallel to us but stayed distant. I have seen cuckoo in a large leafless tree near the bench as you turn for the Wright Hide - we moved back to take pressure off, hoping for a landing there but with no luck. We popped into the Wright Hide and after a short while we could hear that the cuckoo had moved much closer and went to investigate. While not on the tree we’d hoped for, there were first two and then three cuckoos that flew past, splitting into a single and a pair.

Cuckoo

Back in the hide we looked out at five little ringed plovers running around the scrape. Kev picked out a kingfisher amongst the species on view, but I didn't latch on to it. In the distance two shelduck dropped in briefly - the first either of us has seen this year - strange but true. While good to view there was nothing else of particular note, so we set off down the track.

Little ringed plover

We stopped at the Badwin Hide and I hoped to pick out the kingfisher as this is a favourite spot but didn't. Of particular interest was a pair of oystercatchers that were protecting their three chicks - so cute. It was quite comical watching the three chicks all trying to squeeze together under the adults.

Oystercatcher with chicks
Oystercatcher with chicks
Oystercatcher with chicks

On from here we stopped at the East Marsh Hide, joining three other occupants. From here we could see all the same birds but on our side of one of the islands a rather independent lapwing cick was feeding on the water's edge. We watched for a short while and as nothing appeared to be changing, we set off to the hides further out on the trail - to the very end (Ted Jury Hide).

Lapwing chick

We were accompanied by one of the guys from the earlier hide and we chatted establishing he was one of the conservation volunteers for the reserve. Kev had previously played on the golf course adjacent to the reserve and it was a surprise to hear that the local Council have decided to close it permanently pending any interested buyers. We could see a couple of cuckoos in distant tress and regular flypasts from green woodpeckers. We willed the cuckoos to stop on the dead tree out in front of the hide, mostly occupied by stock doves. A couple of redshank flew past landing far to our right.

Green woodpecker

Sedge and reed warblers fed in the short reeds occasionally showing clearly enough for a photo.

Sedge warbler

We watched on as the cuckoos moved around in the distance and eventually, we had a closer pass that allowed an attempt at a flight shot - not too bad given the grey clouds and threat of rain. Given that one of the target species for the day had been cuckoos, they delivered in spades.

Cuckoo
Cuckoo

We headed back, taking in the Mick Taylor and Steetley Hides with Kev spotting yet another kingfisher that I didn't see. The rain started to fall, and we made for home - a nice morning out and a first visit here for Kev. A new member for the Trust secured!

RSPB Otmoor :: 02 June 2021

It was the last day of my extra-long weekend - half term holidays for my wife from the school. While she slept on I arose early and set out to target a bittern sighting at RSPB Otmoor. There was no sign of the glossy ibis on The Closes but from the bridleway I could see a single common crane feeding at distance - no point in another record photo.

Cetti's continued to call along the bridleway, joined by sedge and reed warbler and looking back down the path a male marsh harrier cruised across Greenaways. I reached the crossroads without having seen or heard from the bittern and decided on a quick look along Big Otmoor. I had good but fleeting views of two cuckoos and had an oystercatcher mobbing a red kite but nothing out of the ordinary.

Oystercatcher and red kite

I walked down to 1st screen and noted a handful of pochard but no bittern flights as I waited and watched. At second screen a lone pintail slept far to my left and later disappeared down a channel in the reeds. Still no bittern flight so I made my way back to the bridleway to stake out the reeds on Greenaways. A lovely whitethroat followed level with me for a hundred yards or so, singing constantly.

Pintail
Whitethroat
From the bridleway alongside Greenaways I was frequently distracted by calling Cetti's and passing cuckoo but continued to have no sightings of a bittern. A cuckoo decided to land on a few trees to my right but always against the sun, throwing it into silhouette. I took a couple of photos for record purposes.
Cuckoo

So no bittern but while waiting/searching for one I noted black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, cetti's warbler, chaffinch, chiffchaff, common tern, coot, cormorant, crane, cuckoo, goldfinch, grasshopper warbler, great crested grebe, grey heron, greylag goose, lapwing, lesser black-backed gull, lesser whitethroat, linnet, little egret, little grebe, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, marsh harrier, mute swan, oystercatcher, pheasant, pintail, pochard, red kite, redshank, reed bunting, reed warbler, rook, sedge warbler, shoveler, skylark, snipe, song thrush, swallow, swift, tufted duck, whitethroat, willow warbler, woodpigeon and wren. Over 50 species but not the one I was hoping for - still a good day out!

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Lower Heyford :: 30-31 May 2021

I was feeling tired having started early on Saturday and had a late-night visiting friends (now that the Covid restrictions have been relaxed) - still observing social distancing of course! I eased into the morning but decided not to venture out birding. Instead, and after lunch, I set off for a walk across the fields from Lower Heyford to Northbrook and back along the canal - my wife was playing in a tennis match and so I thought I'd test the walk for us to do together someday.

Skylark, yellowhammer and linnet showed around the fields and hedges and as I rounded a corner, I spotted a corn bunting singing in a distant taller bush. I took a couple of photos and started to halve the distance. Unfortunately, two dogs bounded from the footpath ahead - the bird took off and I was left with a heavily cropped effort as a record.

Corn bunting

I continued on hoping for another corn bunting sighting but had nothing but skylark and more yellowhammers. I reached the barns and as I approached, I saw a little owl take to the wing and drop over and out of sight. I was chuffed as that was two separate encounters in two days. I walked on and stopped at the gate beyond to look back to where the owl had been. As I scanned the owl landed on the windowsill right in front of me - what a sight! Unfortunately, it saw me and shot off before I had been able to do anything other than take a sharp intake of breath. I waited but it didn't reappear.

Further along the footpath two red-legged partridge spotted my approach and flew off up the fields and out of view. I searched the area for them and spotted a green woodpecker hanging on a post - I loved the way the posts lined up and took a snap.

Green woodpecker

I approached the canal and heard one of two approaching canal boats hit the bridge that crosses both the canal and river. I alerted the boat setting off from the lock in the opposite direction that they might take care as the passed! I waited for them to open the lock and depart so that I could cross to the towpath that would take me back to Lower Heyford. Chiffchaff called all along the path and several sedge warblers showed as I made my way alongside the water. It was very peaceful and a great way to spend the afternoon.

Sedge warbler
Moorhen

In addition to the birds I enjoyed the numbers of damselflies, demoiselles and butterflies along the water's edge. In total along this stretch I counted ten chiffchaff - quite a number along this short stretch.

Comma butterfly
Beautiful demoiselle
Banded demoiselle

That night I talked with Kevin Heath and we decided to investigate the little owl I had seen the day before and agrred to rendezvous at my house at 5.15am and set off for Lower Heyford. We were surrounded by skylarks as we made our way across the foelds, these being joined by occasional yellowhammers. We reached the barn and although we could hear some sounds of little owl, they were further back and behind the barns - we circled round, and Kev picked out a raptor call from a large tree and we initially though it may be a kestrel. It soon stopped calling and we thought we may be too close but before we retreated, we watched a hare in the fields below which then led Kev to a pair of grey partridge to the left and then I spotted another to the right.

Grey partidge

I took up watch for the little owl from behind the gate and Kev popped into the hedge to see if he could spot the raptor in the tree - he was gone such a long time that I wondered if he'd fallen down a well but eventually I got a message on my phone that he had two red-legged partridge and I fell back to join him. We watched as the raptors left the tree, still calling. They turned out to be hobby and not what we'd expected to find here. We tried relocating and taking pressure off the area around the barn, but we still didn't see the little owl. The hobby did then land in a tree beyond the barn and sit for a long time.

Hobby

Eventually we decided to call it a day and made our way back, again encountering numbers of skylark and this time also a corn bunting.

Skylark
Corn bunting

We paused to look for the corn bunting again and who should come round the corver but Mr and Mrs Truby - they stopped and took a photo, presumably of our bird - they had come across a corn bunting in the usual hedge. We stopped and chatted for a while and noted little egret and grey heron over. Nick mentioned that they'd already had yammers and corn bunting in the hedge before the barn and so when we parted, we stopped and found a lovely bunting singing at the far end.

Corn bunting

Later we were to hear that Nick hadn't seen the little owl either but that it had called solidly for half an hour. He did though have views of a marsh harrier, the hobbies, and a cuckoo which landed on the barn roof but left before he could get a photograph. We agreed this is a very nice spot.