Sunday, 24 January 2021

Aynho - Souldern Wharf :: 22 January 2021

I'd taken the morning off as it was my birthday and sun was forecast - I hoped to make the most of the day, as going out for a meal isn't an option these days.

I headed for Aynho Wharf and parked up outside the Great Western Arms, making my way onto the canal towpath and towards Souldern Wharf. A single yellowhammer flew overhead.

House sparrow, blue and great tits all fed from feeders along the path, placed by the canal-boat residents. A few black-headed gulls made merry in the floodwater and a pair of wigeon could be seen from here, one atop a post and presumably taking a rest from the freezing cold water.

A few redwing heard me coming and took to the wing, and a flock of rook spun around and into distant trees. I eventually reached an area where the canal was higher than the footpath and the water spilled across an into the ditch beyond. I was considering what to do when I heard a couple of calls from the field to my right - I wasn't sure what it was and decided to go have a look - climbing a fence and jumping the stream. While there another birder came in the opposite direction - it turned out to be Mike Pollard. He relayed that he'd seen c450 wigeon, gardwall and some pintail - the latter were distant and probably out of camera range. He swiftly crossed the water spilling from the canal and shouted that he'd chosen the wrong route and it was quite deep.

I made my way back onto the footpath and decided to have a go at crossing, using the hawthorn on the right to balance - this was mostly successful but I have the scars on my wrists and hands to remind me of that! While my boots were wet, my feet weren't.

Aynho - Souldern Wharf

I plodded along and the footpath stayed clear of further water ingress. I came across the wigeon, gadwall and started to locate pintail - eventually I could separate 11 individuals.


I'm amazed that these pintail turn up in the floodwater each winter - I saw them at the same time last year.

On the return journey I came across a single overwintering chiffchaff, my first of the year, and a flyover jay. I crossed the ford and added to the scars - my boots are still damp from the experience. To add to an earlier great spotted woodpecker I heard (perhaps the same bird) I heard one drumming in the distance.


At the car I spotted a grey wagtail above the front door of the Great Western Arms. It hopped onto the wing-mirror and then roof-bar of a parked car then out over the canal.

Grey wagtail

Sightings included: black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, carrion crow, chiffchaff, cormorant, gadwall, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, grey wagtail, house sparrow, jay, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, pied wagtail, pintail, redwing, robin, rook, starling, wigeon, woodpigeon, wren and yellowhammer.

BOS Balscote Quarry :: 16/17 January 2021

We didin't want to join the parade of "walkers" around our estate and park so elected to walk the paths and lanes around the Balscote / Alkerton area. We parked up at the BOS Balscote Quarry and popped in to see if the brambling was showing - no such luck. We walked down the road, around Balscote and back up to the reserve.

In the field opposite the entance, we had 52 fieldfare and 16 redwing. Accompanying them we had a flock of finches feeding in the scrub. I picked out a few goldfinches but the majority of what I saw were linnet - the flock must have been 100+ strong but I couldn't say precisely what proportion the linnet were, but estimate almost double the number I have seen coming to roost - so closer to 80 than 40.

We did the same the following day and found that 'Mark Ribbons and Son' were undertaking some reserve maintenance. They had previously removed buddleja from the stone cliff at the road end, hoping that this may entice sand martins back into the area by making it more "cliff"-like. They had returned to clear the cuttings and do some maintenance on the nest boxes.

Reserve maintenance

We decided to walk the other way and alongside the active quarry works on the Alkerton Road (onto the public right-of-way, not seeing many species but had both fieldfare and redwing over. A buzzard landed ahead of us at various points and made hard work of looking elegant.

Common buzzard
Common buzzard

We circled round and back to the reserve. I popped in again and was lucky enough to spot a brambling in the scrub below the hedgeline. It didn't venture out and eventually Mark and his son, plus Dylan Parry-Davies appeared, at which point the birds scattered. I chatted briefly (socially distanced of course) and the jumped in the car to head home.

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.