Monday, 26 April 2021

Farmoor, Balscote and Grimsbury Reservoir : 24-25 April 2021

It seemed a long week, probably as it was the first for a while that I'd worked all five days. It had been busy and so my birding had been restricted to a dash up to Boddington Reservoir on Thursday evening after work to see twelve arctic terns. An amazing hour with stunning birds, still water, a beautiful light in the late sun and bumping into Mike Pollard.

As has become the norm these days, I arose early and made my way up to Balscote Quarry arriving just before 6.00am. It was still cold, the car reading 1°C on the dial. Amazingly I wasn't the only one there and Iain Brown stopped by to pick up a moth trap that he'd placed out overnight - just a single resident when he empltied it. Iain didn't stay long as he'd promised to do some decorating for a friend. I picked up the usual suspects and spent an enjoyable hour and a half. Towards the end I saw a fox which has been spotted around the site - it also saw me and doubled back, appearing on the other size of the bowl a couple of minutes later. Many of the birds didn't give it much attention but the lone lapwing decided to do what it knows best and give chase - I suppose it is programmed and there it must despite not having a nest to defend.

I completed my sightings on the BirdTrack mobile app and saw there had been an update to say that there were little gulls again at Farmoor Reservoir - there had been a record 81 counted the previous day. Instead of heading home for breakfast or checking out a site that had been suggested over the county lines into Warwickshire, I jumped intot he car and made for Farmoor.

I arrived at a little after 8.00am and the temperature was noticeably higher and so I didn't bother with a coat. I reached the water's edge and found two birders watching a small flock of twenty little gulls - I joined them and soon we had a single arctic tern in the flock, and then a black tern. That would do nicely. A few common tern fished at the fringes and beyond.

Black tern and little gull

I decided to relocate and watch from the causeway, passing the second wooden structure before I reached what seemed to be the best vantage point. I watched a couple of passes before Ewan Urquhart approached from the far end - he tells me that of late he is walking about 50 miles a week around Farmoor. We watched as the little gulls made a couple more passes.

Little gull
Little gull
Little gull
Little gull

Eventually most of the little gulls landed on the water at the western end of the causeway and so we made for there. Observing from the causeway it was instructive to see the size difference of the BHG and little gulls together.

Little and black-headed gulls

As Ewan left towards the Visitor Centre, two swift appeared in the sky; we tried to out-do each other counting one more as others arrived but eventually ten was as high as we could get.

The previous day, Nick Truby had posted a superb photo of a grasshopper warbler from Farmoor and so I decided to move on and see if I could find it - Ewan told me that he'd heard it reeling that morning. I arrived to find Moth Clark in attendance and reports that the bird was still there but very elusive. Sure enough, I could hear it and we decided it was in the lefthand bushes along the track away from the reservoir, most likely in the area just beyond the dead specimen. We waited and waited but didn't have any sightings. After about an hour I was watching the back side of the bush a bird dropped down from the precise spot we'd suspected and into the grass - from then all reeling stopped and we had an almost silent hour to follow with only the briefest of calls. We made do with the singing sedge warblers and whitethroats.


I walked back along the river and had a single green sandpiper fly back towards the lock and a handful of Cetti's warbler call as I passed by, one showed reasonably well but I only got a photo as it popped higher up the tree - that time of year ...

Cetti's warbler

At the turn to climb back up to the reservoir I heard and then saw my first garden warbler of the year. Quite a dull bird in appearance, it's chattering song is quite a standout sound - not a looker like some returning migrants, such as redstart, but still a real sign that spring has arrived.

Garden warbler

Back across the causeway the boats had multiplied on the water and there was a dramatic reduction in the gulls and terns on the wing - I couldn't locate the black tern but still had a few common.

Back at the Visitor Centre I found Nick Truby, his wife and Ewan having a chat - Nick had been off looking for nightingales (and been successful). I joined them for a while and then we all made for our cars.

The next morning I slept a little longer but was still at Balscote Quarry by 6.40am. I noted the usual species and had a muntjac deer pass by but always partly obscured by grass and scrub. The linnets were a little jumpy and took to the wing on each pass of the kestrel. Both mistle and song thrush sang. A willow warbler joined in with calling chiffchaff and soon it was visible in trees and on the scrub to my left, close enough for a photo.

Willow warbler

At about 8.00am a WhatsAppr message came in with Mike Prentice reporting snipe and little ringed plover numbers - I hadn't seen him and so I was confused as to his report. I sent a message and he had been through before I even arrived! I had nothing new and decided to move on. I stopped to look at some trees that looked interesting with many woodpecker/nuthatch holes and watched for a while but only had starling enter. I did however find a family of foxes and they performed well - one adult had picked me out and kept an eye on me but didn't chase the cubs back into cover. A very nice experience.


Back home I was working on my laptop after a late breakfast and lifted my phone to see there was some activity on the WhatsApp group - I was going to unpack some deliveries but decided to give that a miss for just now as a sanderling had dropped into Grimsbury Reservoir. I left immediately and on arrival at the Spiceball Park parking found there was a space - just. I made my way to the western side where it had been reported. I was dismayed to see that a sailing event was taking place and fisherman were plodding around the bank inside the fence. I met another birder coming the other way and he assured me the bird was still there but that it was doing its best to avoid the sailing dinghy's coming within metres of the bank. I came across a grey wagtail and was concerned as one of the fisherman had rounded the corner and was coming my way - he flushed the sanderling but fortunately it didn't leave and it landed a little back down the path. I dropped back and had good views, managing to take a few photos through the perimeter fencing.


It was already getting towards lunchtime and so I didn't hang around, passing Mike Curnow on the path. Approaching the car I bumped into John Friendship-Taylor while he was unloading his baby son (Luca) from the car into a pram - Luca's first twitch! I heard later that while Mike had been watching the sanderling for only a couple of minutes before the fishermen walked along the bank and it flew off - Luca's first twitch was unsuccessful but they did pick up a garden warbler by the river.

Monday, 19 April 2021

RSPB Middleton Lakes :: 18 April 2021

On the way home from dropping my youngest back at University, I took the opportunity for a short visit to RSPB Middleton Lakes. As I had anticipated the car park was full but for one place, which I took. There is a visitor reception centre where a couple of volunteers were talking to new arrivals and I wandered over to see if there was anything of note around the reserve. 2m1f lesser spotted woodpecker have been regulars here and indeed I was informed they'd been listening to drumming throughout the day and as recent as half an hour before. Given the number of visitors, many of whom were not birders but families with children, I suspected that I'd have little chance of seeing them today - that proved to be a correct deduction.

However, the lady did mention that three cattle egret had been seen in previous days but that she'd heard that they may have moved on. Also that a bittern had been heard calling from the reeds around Fisher's Mill Pool. I set out ever hopeful.

At the feeding station there were the usual variety of tits, a couple of mallard and a family of coot - very cute little chicks. These were joined by four large brown rats making the most of dropped seeds. Unfortunately the path passed the heronry is closed and so the spectacle of large numbers of heron in the trees was hidden from view, although heron could be seen entering and leaving the area.

As I neared the bridge to cross the canal I found a nuthatch feeding in a tree, searching in the crevices for grubs. There was a family playing in a tree nearby but the nuthatch didn't seem to be worried by them, at least until they started to move off at which point it relocated into a tree. Someone had left a few seeds on a handrail on a small wooden bridge and I watched the nuthatch land there and took a couple of shots. Quite confiding but not a patch on the bird we had at Linky Down last week.


Rather than crossing the bridge to the wetland I turned and looked through the hedge into the field with sheep in - there were the three catlle egret. I made my way down the bridgeway and stopped at a clearing where I might be able to get a photo. As might be expected, the birds were at some distance and the heat haze was causing havoc with a decent capture. I suppose at that distance it was only ever going to be a record shot.

Cattle egret
Cattle egret

I doubled back and across the bridge to find a wall of noise coming from the scrapes on Fisher's Mill Pond. There were large numbers of black-headed gulls calling and squabbling. I'm surprised anyone had been able to pick out a booming bittern over that racket. I continued round but didn't see anything of note and on talking to guys coming the other way it didn't sound like there was much to add. I decided to stand in the car park and hope for the LSWs as the site had quietened down but no such luck.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

RSPB Otmoor :: 17 April 2021

I arose and decided to make for RSPB Otmoor - it was around 6.45am when I pulled in and there were 17 cars already parked up. I set out and stopped behind a couple of chaps who had arrived just before me as they watched a couple of birds, including a wren, hop around the top of bushes. I looked along the bushes in blossom to find a couple of common whitethroat, along with a chiffchaff - my first whitethroat of the year.

Common whitethroat

Sedge warbler called from the bushes and I kept my eyes peeled for the glossy ibis which is still being reported in The Closes but didn't add anything significant. I reached the bridleway and found a small group chatting, including: Peter Barker, John Reynolds and Mark Chivers. They said 'hi' but didn't appear to be on anything and were just scanning Greenaways. In the reeds to my right I spotted my first reed warbler of the year. It stayed very low and made it impossible to get a photo with a clear shot of it's head and so I didn't bother.

Blackcaps, goldfinch and chiffchaff all fed in the bushes to my left and there were sooo many Cetti's warbler calling. I saw one dart across the path and so was happy that at least I could add it to my day's list. A few steps further on the chaps from the car park had caught up with me and another Cetti's called from a bush ahead. This time it didn't leave but hopped around the branches and amazingly gave a view where I could take a photo - well chuffed.

Cetti's warbler

Along the bridleway I met up with Trish and Dan Miller - it is great to see them and Dan looking so well after his illness. They had been waiting for a bittern but hadn't been lucky so far. Dan had heard a grasshopper warbler in the scrub to the right of the brideway but it didn't show and had since gone silent and/or gone.

We joined up and made our way to Big Otmoor and on the way I heard a grasshopper warlber reeling down the path to first screen. I decided to have a look. 20-30 minutes later I hadn't seen or heard a peep out of the groper but had been entertaned and teased by Cetti's warblers at every turn. Sedge called from the bushes to my side. Dan and Trish had joined me here and we decided not to go on to first screen as all the guy coming back from there said there was nothing of note. Big Otmoor it was then.

At the crossroads we stopped and talked with Mark Chivers who had relocated there. He was waiting (and hoping) that a Cetti's would perch in the blossom bathed in sun. A Cetti's was moving around although landing everywhere but there. Suddenly it perched in a bare bush directly behind us giving fantastic views and a few of us rattled off a few shots - this then repeated again and again. This must be the best views I've ever been afforded by this (usually) skulking species.

Cetti's warbler
Cetti's warbler
Cetti's warbler
Cetti's warbler

Dan and Trish set off to look around Big Otmoor and I finished chatting to Mark - by now Peter Barker had reported bar-tailed godwit and ruff on Big Otmoor. At this point Mr and Mrs @old_caley appeared and I stopped to chat some more. The Cetti's continued to perform. I left the three talking and went to catch up with Dan and Trish. A beautiful red kite soared through and I took a couple of snaps as the light was very nice. A red kite later would be mobbed by lapwing as they protected their nests.

Red kite
Red kite
Red kite

I joined them and we scanned the scene, moving along a bit to get a better vantage point. After a short while I picked out one of at least two ruff and within minutes Dan had the bar-tailed godwit. It was turning out to be quite a day. A chap stopped to our left and our excitement grew when he said that he had a spotted redshank in his sights. At first we couldn't find it but not many mintes later we all had good views. I took photos of these three birds but the haze and distance made it impossible to get anything but record shots - amazing to add the spotted redshank as it hadn't been mentioned earlier, and we'd all dipped it on previous visits.

We made our way back to the car park and it was very busy - Dan and Trish were quick to get away but I had decided to change my shoes. I was about to get into the car when Peter Barker returned and told me of the experience he and John Reynolds had just had with a grasshopper warbler - he showed photos and later John's were on view on the Oxon Birding Blog.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Yellow wagtail