Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Linky Down & Adderbury Lakes :: 13 April 2021

There had been a report of ring ouzel at Burton Dassett on Sunday but I'd concentrated on the local visiting common redstarts. I had no time on Monday but had a day off on Tuesday so I'd arranged to meet Kevin Heath and travel (separately) to Linky Down which is more reliable for rouzels - more special to go with Kev as he hadn't seen one before despite trying for the one at Burton Dassett over the weekend - in fact no one had managed to relocate it.

We opted for the early shift again, arriving by 8.00am. We parked in the Aston Rowant Car Park, booted up and slung our scopes onto our shoulders - it was likely we'd need them if the birds were at the bottom of the valley. We had chiffchaff, blackcap and numerous red kite as we made our way to the likely spot. We scanned at the head of the valley and then followed the path around the motorway side of the valley. Up to five magpies fed down in the hollow along with a single pheasant. We watched some red kites cruise around, ocassionally dropping to pick up what would likely be worms.

Red kite
Red kite

After a few minutes Kev scanned again but this time there was a male rouzel feeding; as we continued to search we added a female. Result. We posted the sightings on WhatsApp and soon it had been uploaded to the Oxon Bird News site. Another birder appeared and he explained this was his fifth attempt to see one here this year and was happy to hear they were in view. I took a couple of record shots but it must have been 175m+ to the birds.

Ring ouzel

The male took to the wing and headed up towards us and we had great views. I didn't take a photo as I assumed that it would land somewhere around our position and I'd get a better opportunity - mistake. The bird dropped over the trees and behind the fence line. Although we had decent views it wasn't really possible to get a decent photo. We made our way round and saw the bird hanging about with a few blackbirds but quickly took off and disappeared - the last we were to see of it. The female showed in the hollow for another five minutes but it then too went awol. Despite searching and scanning we didn't connect again.

We were making our way back to the car park when a chap came the other way - he'd seen the news update and hopped into the car to have a look. Another Scot, from Dundee - I hope the rouzels played ball.

Kev and I dropped our scopes into the boot of my car, had a circuit of Cowleaze Woods and were surprised about how few birds we encountered. Goldcrest saved the day with a number showing high in the tree canopy. Red kite and buzzard dropped into trees ahead of us but left before we got close.

Eventually we returned to the far end of the car park and Kev picked out the call of a nuthatch. It flew across the clearing and onto a branch, perching there for quite a while before it took to the trunk of the tree - we'd never seen such a confiding individual. It continued to entertain for a good five minutes and even without our views of rouzels, it was worth the ticket money alone. We parted and made our way home.

Nuthatch

After lunch I suggested a walk with her indoors and we settled on a visit to Adderbury Lakes. We reached the edge of the top pool and watched three blackcap feeding on flies out across the water, returning from each foray onto overhanging branches. A couple of chaffinch arrived and mimiced the behaviour. There were moorhen and mallard on the water and chiffchaff in every direction.

Blackcap

On the other side we spotted a pair of sparrowhawk and the male did us proud, landing on a branch and giving good views. A short but enjoyable walk.

Sparrowhawk

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Balscote Quarry & Grimsbury Reservoir : 09-11 April 2021

I arrived at Balscote early on Friday but found Mike Prentice already present. On the water he'd located a ringed plover and yellow wagtail which showed on the closest island, over the top of the gorse. It was my first visit since the viewing area had been modified a little and I liked it - much better setup for scopes and for general viewing of the "big sky'. I set up the scope and locked onto the plover but was confused as this one was a little ringed ... aha there were two birds, one of each species.

Ringed and little ringed plover
Ringed plover and yellow wagtail

All the usual suspects were there and there was a surprise appearance from a single remaining female brambling, still hanging on in there. The jays seem to be getting bolder and two could be seen and were calling regularly. At one point it looked like one was going to land on 'Steve's perch' but it caught sight of me and veered off. Soon nine sand martin were swarming around the tower and hanging on - hopefully we shall have a breeding colony this year. I posted that I'd had a great morning on the WhatsApp group and seen 38 sepcies before breakfast (8.30am) - this prompted a suggestion from Mark Ribbons of a pre-breakfast challenge when John Friendship-Taylor pitched in that he'd reached 43 earlier in the week.

Sand martin

I returned at sunset and was entertained by the birds going to roost. What a spendid evening.

Balscote Quarry

I was back at Balscote again on Saturday morning, but not until 6.45am - this time Mike Prentice and Iain Brown had beaten me to it and asked 'what time I called this?' - very funny!

The ringed plover had flown off the evening before but the yellow wagtail remained and there were fewer sand martins - a single swallow passed over. I took a photo of a flock of golden plover that regularly took to the wing in the field SSW of the reserve and later I counted the birds to find the peak flock was 255 strong. There were three lapwing but eventually two relocated leaving just a single male.

Lapwing

Several chiffchaff called and an individual regularly sat in the trees behind. A couple of willow warbler also called with one passing through the blackthorn bushes at the rear of the viewing area.

Chiffchaff

Mike and Iain moved on but I stayed hoping to get somewhere near John's total of 43 before breakfast. Tim Price and Mark Ribbons both dropped in and were going to have a look at Grimsbury Reservoir and the pools alongside the M40 - rather a grand title for some flood puddles but they are holding several ringed and little ringed plovers, green sandpiper, yellow wagtails, mipits, etc. As it got close to my time to leave, one of the jays dropped in at the rear of the feeding area and gave good views. Finally the regular red-legged partidge waddled in, taking my total to 43. On the way home I added a house sparrow and a raven for a total of 45 - I had a roll and bacon to celebrate.

Jay

At lunchtime I noted that Mark Ribbons had found a common redstart at Grimsbury Reservoir and had got the news out. Unfortunately I was heading out to sit in a back garden with some friends for a chat - at least until it snowed! No twitch for me.

Sunday morning arrived and I was again out early and bumped into John F-T as we parked cars at Grimsbury Reservoir. We made for the west bank and found a yellow wagtail and a meadow pipit on the shore. Looking back to the sailing club we could see a single common sandpiper - my first of the year.

Common sandpiper

In the big oak tree by the gate into the water treatment works, John picked out c30 hirundines perched on the branches - not a sight you see often here - they usually use the fence or railings. Strolling on we stopped to look at several birds flitting around the bushes and eventually one flew out and perched low in the reservoir perimeter fence - it was a common redstart - result. We stalked the bird as it fed and eventually got good views, but my photos were a bit flaky - disappointed when I opened them at home later. Five white wagtails also showed.

Adrian Tysoe appeared and we watched the redstart as it made it's way along the bushes to the left of the path. At the end of the straight path it vanished and we made our way around to the plantation to see if it had relocated there or if a second was still present. Mike Pollard and Iain Brown then joined while Kevin Heath passed through - we couldn't relocate the bird. Mike, Kevin and John all left and Iain and I made our way back down the western shore. When we got to the bush we had first found the bird in, it flew right and out to the copse in the field beyond.

As we left we connected with the common sandpiper again and this time we had five yellow wagtails. Mike Curnow, Clive Payne, Adrian and Sandra Bletchly were all arriving as we reached the cars.

At home I read that Anthony Fowler had been heading for Grimsbury Reservoir through Hanwell Fields when he'd spotted a male common redstart, which became two. The one at Grimsbury was still showing and so there were three in total. I couldn't resist going to see if I could find these and perhaps get a better photo. Leaving my car I found Mike Prentice drawing up and we soon connected with one of the birds. As we watched, Kirsty Brannan appeared from the playing field where she'd been following both birds. The redstart entertained, dropping onto the ground in full view and perching in various bushes and trees, and at one point it bathed in the ditch behind which held a small amount of water. I headed home for lunch.

Redstart
Redstart
Redstart

Monday, 5 April 2021

RSPB Otmoor and Balscote Quarry :: 02-05 April 2021

Glossy ibis has been reported at RSPB Otmoor for some time and so it seemed rude not to visit given the lifting of some Covid-19 restrictions. I arranged to meet Kevin Health, one of the other Banbury birders, there at 6.40am to try and beat the crowds.

On the track up to the bridleway we stopped a few times to see if we could see the ibis in The Closes - this is where it has been reported most frequently. Nothing seen from this side. We walked along the bridleway seeing marsh harrier and redshank as we went. Cetti's warblers called frequently. We stopped to listen to a booming bittern - the booms were very short and we never had sight of the bird. Moving on we made it to the gate by Big Otmoor and scanned the field picking out a pair of oystercatchers and a barnacle goose. We checked with the other observers and they hadn't been able to add anything unusal to these from this vantage point - one passing mentioned that he'd seen garganey further along the bridleway and so that is where we headed.

We stopped a couple of times to scan the pools but had pintail, tufted, wigeon and teal. It was a cold wind but we persisted and soon one of the other birders located a nice male as it cruised out from behind some cover. There was still nothing significant on offer on Big Otmoor but we did hear and see a few sedge warbler that have returned nice and early. We headed back and took the path down passed the Wetland Hide and viewed The Closes from the other side. There was still no view and worryingly no one had seen it all morning.

A bittern could be heard just behind us, in the reeds, but it didn't show either. Eventually we moved on and made for the 1st Screen. Along this path I had my first pochard of the year! and a water rail called from over the bank, but we couldn't see it - disappointing as it sounded so close.

We reached the 1st Screen and there were only a few birds on the water. On the far hedge line we picked out marsh harrier - a male this time. A bird then caught my attention and swung over us - it was the glossy ibis. We watched it over Big Otmoor and decided it had stayed too high to have dropped in there and so most likely had returned to The Closes.

Glossy ibis

We decided to make our way back and onto the track beside the Wetland Hide. After a minute or two we found the ibis - a life tick for me! Photos were all for records only given the distance involved - it had decided to feed roughly halfway between the two possible viewing areas we thought. Numbers of birders grew and so we left and hoped to see the bittern on the way back - no such luck.

Glossy ibis

Turning right from the bridleway back onto the track to the car park, we stopped to see if we could see the glossy ibis in this direction - we stood near a birder with a camera and he said he hadn't found it yet. No sooner than we started looking it dropped out of a tree and onto a grassy strip. Photo quality was still limited but the light appeared marginally better.

Glossy ibis

The following day I popped up to Balscote early and bumped into Mike Prentice, stopping briefly on his way to Otmoor. There were some birds on the water but mainly it was the snipe, little ringed plover and yellow wagtail that featured.

Yellow wagtail

On the Sunday we had our usual Easter breakfast and decided just to take an afternoon walk around Souldern - near the viaduct I saw my first bee-fly of the year - I was lucky and it was a dotted bee-flay rather than the more common dark-edged.

Dotted bee-fly

Easter Monday I set out early again and arrived on site to see what might be visiting. I reported back to the site management and again the little ringed plover and yellow wagtail featured, with fewer snipe showing this time. However the lapwing were displaying and c25 golden plover dropped into the field beyond the leftmost perimeter hedge.

Lapwing
Yellow wagtail

Friday, 2 April 2021

King Sutton & Balscote Quarry :: 30 March 2021

I made the most of the weather and set out for a new walk starting from the Cherwell Silos facility on the road from Banbury to King Sutton. The sun was out but the sun was still to warm the air - a fleece top was required.

Through the gate, across the railway bridge and of up the track I went. Almost immediately, skylark could be heard and seen rising into the clear blue sky and two grey wagtail flew over in the direction I'd just come from. I reached the brow of the hill and found a pair of pied wagtail feeding in amongst the crops. A few steps on and these were joined by a dozen meadow pipits, unconcerned by my presence. A few linnet fed on the opposite side of the path.

I walked on and spotted a hare sunning itself on the slope - skylarks continued to rise while others chased one another low across the crops. I reached some trees and could hear a great-spotted woodpecker drumming. A green woodpecker fed out in the field in amongst 12 fieldfare, 2 magpies and 4 crows.

I reached the bend in the track and decided to continue on the path straight ahead. Chiffchaff called but were interupted by 3 great-spotted woodpecker all drumming in adjacent trees.

Great-spotted woodpecker

Ahead I saw yellowhammer, then heard and saw my first blackcap (male) of the year. It flew away and along the hedge but when I got to the trees I'd seen it land, I couldn't relocate it. I did however find a bird perched on a wire, but not one I had been expecting - a chiffchaff. I could hear more chiffcaff ahead, to my left and behind.

Chiffchaff

As I entered the next field and started to climb the slope the temperature was noticibly warmer. Two jays took to the wing and flew ahead to a house which I believe is called Keepers Cottage. Skylark continued to entertain as red kite and buzzard attempted to catch thermals.

Eventually I headed back and as I passed the area I'd seen the chiffchaff I spotted two long-tialed tits in a tree - this was fortunate as when watching them two treecreppers appeared. They were unconcerned by my presence but didn't stay still, feeding frantically.

Treecreeper

I strolled back picking up more meadow pipits, some now also perched on the wires. I had a flyover yellow wagtail - this is early but when I got home I checked and there appeared to have been a fall the previous day with multiple reports across the country.

After lunch I went looking for corn bunting again at Barford but without success - I did locate a single male wheatear and saw a sparrowhawk fly past again. I moved on and decided to return to Balscote Quarry where it was quiet and allowed me to have another close encounter with a muntjac deer.

Muntjac deer

While I sat two jays could be heard in the far bushes, eventually one appearing at the rear of the feeder area. I started to take photos but in no time a magpie dived in and flushed the jay back along the hedge.

Jay

Sand martins gathered and investigated the right hand tower, sweeping sand from various nest holes. Two swallows dropped in, my first of the year.

Swallow
Swallow

What a pleasant day in very pleasant weather.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Balscote Quarry and Barford :: 26-28 March 2021

The weekend started on Friday again. The previous day had held reports of sand martin starting to drop around the country and most importantly at Grimsbury Reservoir, so that is where I headed. I arrived by 6.20am and sure enough there were 9 sand martin feeding over the water - I'm sure soon sand martin sightings will be commonplace as the reservoir plays host to large numbers of hirundine during the season - it is also why we had fingers crossed for a visit from a red-rumped swallow (delivered a couple of years ago).

Sand martin

Around the rest of the reserve it was quiet. Well, I say quiet, but that isn't quite accurate - all around chiffchaff were 'giving it some'. I bumped into @987jonty on the way round and later he reported a singing blackcap that I'd missed.

I popped home for breakfast and noted that wheatear had been reported by Sandra and Adrian Bletchly the day before, at Barford RAF station. I know the area now as I've been trying to connect with a corn bunting there for the last few weeks plus Adrian Tysoe had posted that he'd seen both wheatear and corn bunting that morning. So off I went again.

I searched for the corn bunting as I made my way to where the wheatear had been reported but didn't find one. Skylarks took to the wing rising higher and higher.

Skylark

I reached the gate at the bottom of the slope and started to scan for the wheatear - as I did so a sparrowhawk appeared from my right and crusied through in front of me. This resulted in the wheatear being as close to the opposite side of the field as they could be - there were 2 males and 1 female.

Sparrowhawk
Wheatear

On the way back to the car I saw a small flock of linnet (24) and 3 late redwing. Home for lunch.

After lunch I had a coffee before heading to Balscote Quarry. I was partularly keen to see if there were any sand martin visiting - the weather had turned mixed and rain was falling either side of the reserve. I hoped to escape a soaking. I watched as groups of 2, 5, 8 and 3 sand martins passed though.

Part way through the passage Mike Prentice turned up to catch the largest group of the afternoon (8). We talked for a short while and as he prepared to head home a bird darted across our heads and out over the gorse beyond. It was a female merlin. As it reached the far hedges a cloud of small birds ejected from their perches to evade capture - we didn't see the result and the merlin was lost from view. In my excitement I posted that we'd seen a hobby, only for my error to be pointed out (suitably chastised).

Sand martin

Six brambling showed around the feeders while linnet started to perch on scrub a little closer than usual. The two red-legged partridge are becoming more brazen and seem not to be so wary of us standing in the viewing area.

Brambling
Brambling
Linnet

The visit was very productive and I ended with 35 species just from the viewing area - including 22 linnet and 17 snipe. A buzzard may have had the wrong idea of how the second feeding station is supposed to work ...

Buzzard

Later I heard that Mike Prentice had spotted a second merlin between Whatcote and Brailes - a two merlin day!

I got up early on the Saturday morning to find the car frozen and a measured temperature of 1°C - the wind didn't help. I arrived at Balscote Quarry to find nothing of partular note, just a couple of greylag (leaving soon after) and a pair of teal. I counted the brambling and got up to 9! Soon Iain Brown dropped in on his way to work. All the usual suspects were there but as I sat, a single muntjac tried to sneek past in the undergrowth on my side of the gorse.

Muntjac deer

On the WhatsApp group I heard that Mike Pollard had wheatear in Wardington and thought about going for seconds to Barford. I had a chat with Nick Truby and he suggested a site in Lower Heyford where I might encounter corn bunting. I set out and walked around but only heard and saw skylark. I started back and about halfway back to the car I saw a red kite cruising by and a large gull behind. Only, it wasn't a gull - I raised my bins to see that it was in fact an osprey! OMG - what a treat and in the middle of arable fields.

Osprey

I posted the sighting and the direction of travel so that guys back home could keep their eyes on the skies - none reported seeing it over the Banbury area. I then had a call from Nick to remark on how much of a lucky beggar I was. He also communicated that he'd gone to see the wheatear and had also spotted a corn bunting there. I jumped back in the car and stopped in Barford as it was almost on the way home. Nick was still there when I arrived but the corn bunting had just popped out of view. A flock of c35 fieldfare scuttled past and into trees behind.

I stepped ahead and within minutes a corn bunting landed on the top of a distant tree - the one Nick had indicated. YES! As I watched Kev Heath turned up to see the wheatear but joined to watch the corn bunting. A linnet joined the corn bunting and it was instructive to see the size difference. We dropped down to see the wheatears and had a chiffchaff on the way back to the car. What a day!

Corn Bunting
Corn bunting
Corn bunting

Sunday started warmer but still with a wind - I had a bit of a lie in as we had lost an hour with the clocks going forward; it was closer to 9.00am when I got to Balscote Quarry and found Mike Curnow already there. I counted 12 snipe but it was difficult to be sure as they were hunkered down. I scanned the far bank and located a little ringed plover - it turned out that Iain Brown had reported one earlier that morning. Moments later Mike spotted another - a pair!

Little ringed plover

Mike Prentice arrived and counted 16 snipe using his scope. Two other chaps (Clive and Jim) also passed through and Clive picked out a wader in the sky overhead - I snapped a couple of photos to find it was in fact a black-tailed godwit.

Black-tailed godwit

I was just about to leave with Clive and Jim, and was recounting the merlin sighting from Friday, when Clive pointed over my shoulder and alerted us to the merlin cutting across the bowl. We had another brief but enjoyable sighting. Off home for lunch.

Later I suggested my wife and I go for our exercise walk back to Barford and do the circular walk I'd used before. No sign of corn bunting but still good views of skylark and three wheatear.

Skylark

There weren't any surprises in the way of birds but we were treated to views of roe deer.

Roe deer
Roe deer
Roe deer