Saturday, 9 January 2021

Balscote Quarry :: 09 January 2021

With Lockdown 3.0 in progress it was a day to stay local. I decided to integrate a drop-in to Balscote Quarry into my daily exercise and on arrival found Iain Brown already in residence. We socially distanced and he let me know that he'd already had jay before I arrived but not much was about - to be fair there wasn't much to see as the water below was completely shrouded in fog.

Before he left he picked out red-legged partridge beyond the feeder area and shortly after they decided the coast was clear to break cover; there turned out to be three.

Red-legged partridge

At the same time we noticed that a female brambling had joined the chaffinches and so I tried to get a photo with both r-l partridge and brambling in. I did the best I could in the murk. A pair of collared dove dropped in and Iain mentioned they are not common on the site. A couple of yellowhammer and a single reed bunting fed with the chaffinches.


The r-l partridge became even bolder, venturing out as far as the rear feeder and allowing a slightly better shot. A single great spotted woodpecker flew by, almost following the road. Despite waiting for a short while the brambling had disappeared and the male with darkening head colour never showed.

Red-legged partridge

I left to continue my morning exercise.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Farmoor Reservoir & RSPB Otmoor :: 02/03 January 2020

Two outings that were quite different this weekend, mainly due to the number of people attending each site.

On Saturday I opted for a trip to Farmoor Reservoir and for a longer walk - we planned on at least a circuit of F2 plus a section along the river. We crossed the causeway in pleasant sunshine having found a large number of coot in the harbour - in the end we had counted 441 for the circuit.

Other than pied wagtail, there was nothing of interest on the causeway but as we approached the opposite bank, we could see that the scaup were just to the right of F1. We stopped for a couple of photos before dropping down to the river at the Pinkhill hide.


We passed through the gate and onto the path - to the south we found the path was under water and so thought that we would try heading northwards. We reached the turn onto the river bank to find that the path was flooded there too - the plan had to change, just after we waded through a shallow pool of water.

Back on the reservoir we walked around F2, coming up against an increasing number of people coming the other way - usually at this time of year there would be just a few people around, but with the shops shut it appears people have nothing else to do and have decided to decend on open spaces.

Little grebe

We reached the car park to find it was full. Queues were starting to form as people tried to enter, blocking those trying to exit. Thank goodness we had started early and were leaving ourselves - most of the wildlife on site was human! Our largest counts of birds were coot at 441, tufted duck on 222 and cormorant on 71.

The following day I decided to visit RSPB Otmoor, this time leaving earlier to see if I could avoid any crowds. I arrived just after sunrise and made my way passed the feeders. I stopped and soon saw a marsh tit, a good start to the visit.

Marsh tit

I moved on to the bridleway and met Ewan Urquhart peering through his scope, searching for a hen harrier - he reported that he'd seen three marsh harriers but not much else. I forged on, coming upon a small mixed flock of goldfinch and chaffinch - no brambling amongst them. I turned towards the Wetland Hide and watched numbers of reed bunting, linnet and chaffinch on the path, feeding on seed that had been scattered - still no brambling. Eventually a birder came the other way and the birds scattered. I made for the First Screen 1.

I reached the gate and saw Dan and Trish Miller coming my way. As we chatted, we scanned the far side of Ashgrave picking out flocks of geese - too far to see detail but the flock presumably held numbers of white-fronted geese. Some of the golden plover and lapwing took to the wing and we observed a peregrine heading away from us at the far end of Big Otmoor. We proceeded to the First Screen, spotting winter thrushes as we went. The Millers only stayed at Screen 1 for a short time as they wanted to see the peregrine being reported at the Second Screen. I watched the numbers of gadwall - a single female marsh harrier passed at a distance from left to right and out over Greenaways (and back).

Marsh harrier

Cetti's warbler continued calling but remained out of sight - at least four heard during the visit. Nothing else showed and so I headed back. I took some photos of golden plover on terra firma, and a rather approacable song thrust (numbers of song thrush seem to be stronger this year?).

golden plover
Song thrush

I reached the entrance to the Wetlands Hide and bumped into Ewan again - we chatted and I looked through his scope at the white-fronted and barnacle geese on Ashgrave. The Millers (and others) returned from the Second Screen and we all decided to call it a day. On the path, by an area undergoing some tree management, Dan and I stopped to view some redwing - two birds flew along the channel behind and I immediately thought the colour and size indicated water rail; unfortunately I hadn't been expecting it and couldn't convince myself that I was certain they were water rails, so decided not to tick them.

That was it for the day so I headed home before it had a chance to rain.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Nether Worton & Great Tew :: 30/31 December 2021

Two quite different days but just a couple of miles from one another, especially when it came to winter thrushes.

Walking along the gated road from the church in Nether Worton there were flock upon flock of mixed redwing and fieldfare. As has been the case for much of the autumn and winter, fieldfare have outnumbered redwing and today was about 3:1. We were surprised by the lack of tit flocks in the hedgerows but by the bridge at the end of the road we did find two goldcrest - too mobile to catch a decent photo.

Fieldfare and redwing

A grey heron fed in the field beyond.

A flock of c.70 starling fed in the fields and some flocks of small birds passed but unfortunately against the setting sun - no call, no ID.

On the following day we tried a new walk around Great Tew Estate. Not a single winter thrush was seen. As you'd expect there were numbers of corvids with 149 rook noted, most (c.101) in a single flock.

When we reached the road we found four red-legged partridge and a single mistle thrush. While I have seen increased numbers of song thrush this year, I've struggled to see any mistle.

Red-legged partidge
Mistle thrush

Almost back to the car park we came across a roost of red kite with eleven birds already there - we assume that the two birds we'd spotted earlier were in this number.

Red kite

Finally, as we were entering the village, Charlotte spotted a nuthatch. There was a garden with a feeder opposite and so it was likely visiting that. A good way to wrap up our 2020 birding walks. Species included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, carrion crow, chaffinch, coal tit, fieldfare, goldcrest, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, grey heron, house sparrow, jackdaw, kestrel, long-tailed tit, mallard, mistle thrush, nuthatch, pheasant, red kite, red-legged partridge, redwing, robin, rook, starling, stonechat, woodpigeon and wren.