Thursday, 25 March 2021

Balscote Quarry and Barford : 19 & 20 March 2021

On Friday I was showing my age, quite literally. I attended a clinic targeting the over-50s to receive my first Covid-19 vaccination. Appropriately I had to line up in a queue of 50 people to receive it - the curse of choosing the earliest session available - a preference for people trying to get back to work. One of my colleagues who had no queue an hour later put it nicely when he joked "fortune favours the lazy". Afterwards I dropped through town to pick up some churros from a new little Spanish cafe in Church Lane - best fresh - and dropped them to my two girls working at home. I had a quick coffee and headed up to Balscote Quarry as it was another Friday furlough / holiday.

That morning there had been reports of sand martin at Grimsbury Reservoir but there were none to be be found here. All the usual suspects were showing, with numbers of gulls again presumably relocating from the Ironstone Lane floodwater that has now receded. Soon lunchtime arrived and I headed home.

After lunch I thought I'd get some more fresh air and hope that I didn't fall victim to the reaction I've heard some experience after their Astra Zenica vaccine. A count of c130 black-headed and 44 common gulls now at Balscote Quarry. The snipe were feeding out in the open in a change from the week before, with up to 19 feeding or asleep. At one point I was almost convinced there was a jack snipe in a hollow after disturbance from a lapwing, but I didn't get a second view to confirm - another one that maybe got away.


The brambling were significantly more active than in the morning, while the snipe continued to feed in the open. Adrian Tysoe arrived - soon and suddenly large numbers of birds took to the the wing behind ahead and beyond the water. Birds headed in all directions and we scanned to see if we could see what had caused such a commotion. Fortunately a raptor appeared to our left - we were happy to have picked out the reason for the melee but unfortunately the bird was silhouetted against the sky; we could see that it wasn't a sparrowhawk. I managed to wheel around quickly and shoot off a couple of photos which I hoped to extract some detail from later - on review it turned out to be a female merlin, with what looked like an ex-starling. After all that waiting for a merlin at Balscote I'd had two in a week!


Mike Prentice passed through and we discussed whether any birds might still be roosting on site or if any early pass-through birds might be available. I arrived at 5.30am and Mike was just a couple of minutes behind. It was a good start to the day as the light bled in - the 26 Canada geese didn't half make a racket as they departed.

In the afternoon I decided to try for corn bunting and I returned to Barford. The only bird I saw in the field of interest, or on the posts was pied wagtail. However, I was given a show by a multitude of skylark singing and rising from the crop field to the right of the path.


No luck on the corn bunting but as I appraoched a wooded area I came across a few linnet in the tree canopy. Behind I could hear the loud chattering of more linnet but before I could reach them they had relocated to another distant tree, although fortunately the path would take me passed this. There were c200 birds in this flock. There were so many lambs and the farmers were driving them from field to field.


Along the path back into Barford I spotted a further c50 linnets in a flock and behind this field, a very pale buzzard.


I started Sunday at a slower pace visiting Balscote mid-morning. Mikes Curnow and Prentice were already on site when I arrived and reported a flyover curlew and the first visit to the reserve by sand martin - hopefully some will take up residence for this summer. Snipe (16) were less active than previous days, sleeping in the scrub on new islands close to the far bank. It was the deer and hare that entertained.

Roe deer
Brown hare

Counts of gulls included c175 black-headed, 106 common and a single lesser black-backed. Four female brambling and two male fed amongst the finches on the ground with buzzard, red kite and kestrel hunting overhead.

A great few days with a merlin the highlight.

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