Monday, 10 May 2021

Summer Leyes :: 09 May 2021

The weather has been unsettled and it was forecast that Sunday morning may be better in the early hours than later morning - Saturday had been a wash-out. I set off for Summer Leyes and arrived as the first car in tne main car park - not the first on site as regulars often park at other entrance points. Stepping out of the car brought a wall of song from the field between me and the water - broken by a few common tern over and the distant black-headed gulls on the islands and scrape. Garden, sedge, willow warblers and chiffchaff all made their presence known.

I peered out over the water and could see hirundines including swift, swallow and both sand and house martin. I looked from the Pioneer Hide and could see redshank but no sign of the spotted - scanning around I could see two black-tailed godwit in the distance.

After a short while I decided to make a circuit of the site adding blackcap and reed warblers as I went. Near the sand martin wall a Cetti's warbler almost burst my eardrum and I stopped to watch it and another individual chasing around beyond the fence. It stopped by a number of times and gave some nice views, even within photo range - it really has been a Cetti's spring.

Cetti's warbler
Cetti's warbler

Contunuing on I eventually found the spotted redshank looking smart in his summer plumage. I watched as it fed passed another wader which turned out to be a ruff.

Spotted redshank
Ruff and spotted redshank

Continuing round there were more chiffchaff, willow warbler and a green woodpecker feeding in an adjacent field to the right - a common place for me to find one. Soon I was back to the Pioneer Hide and from this vantage point could see that the spotted redshank had relocated here. Always distant but interesting to observe it feeding constantly and as I watched it work across the island I spotted a pale bird which turned out to be a greenshank - that was nice as when I looked for one at Balscote Quarry recently it must have been obscured behind the gorse as other saw it later and the following day.

Spotted redshank
Greenshank

Ricky Sinfield dropped into the hide - it was good to see him again. While he was talking he mentioned the group feeding by hobby the previous day and I mentioned that I'd seen his photos on Facebook - he suddenly stopped and said that there was a hobby sitting in a nearby tree - to observe social distancing I couldn't squeeze in and made do with a partial view through the leaves. This was an early appearance as it hadn't even reached 10.00am yet - flies were out though. A great visit following more than a year's absence. Sightings (53) included: black-headed gull, black-tailed godwit, blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, cetti's warbler, chiffchaff, common tern, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, garden warbler, great crested grebe, great tit, green woodpecker, greenshank, grey heron, greylag goose, hobby, house martin, jackdaw, lapwing, lesser black-backed gull, little egret, magpie, mallard, mistle thrush, moorhen, mute swan, oystercatcher, pheasant, redshank, reed bunting, reed warbler, robin, ruff, sand martin, sedge warbler, song thrush, spotted redshank, starling, stock dove, swallow, swift, tufted duck, wigeon, willow warbler, woodpigeon and wren.

On the way home I saw a message from Mike Curnow that a pair of whinchat were 'still' at the Borrow Pit (by the motorway). I turned off the A43 early and made my way down to park off the A361 and walk in along a footpath. Amazingly the pair were still there but mobile as dog walkers pushed them about - I never got close but took a couple of record shots regardless.

Whinchat
Whinchat

Friday, 7 May 2021

Piddington and Borough Hill :: 05 May 2021

On Tuesday evening I was talking with another Banbury birder, Mark Ribbons, as he tried to confirm the precise location of the wryneck at Borough Hill - he was just arriving at site. He was dropping in after visiting Piddington for the two female dotterel and regaled his encounter making it clear it was an unmisable opportunity. So it was decided and I left home at 5.00am the following morning - I had a video call scheduled for 9.00am, some prep work to do and so time was tight.

I parked on Forest Road and made my way down to the bridleway and out along the fields scattering the occasional skylark sitting on the path. I reached the likely spot and scanned to my left and right but didn't locate them so proceeded higher up the field and picked out movement to my right - it turned out to be a female wheatear, then two. I turned and made my way back down the slope and soon picked the dotterel out hunkered down in the field people have described - another life tick and two in a week. As I came level with them I counted a further five wheatear. I took photos and watched as the dotterel started feeding but too soon I had to leave and was home before 8.00am.

Dotterel
Dotterel
Dotterel

Her indoors had a tennis match in the evening and so we had an early dinner - I thought I'd have another go at the wryneck at Borough Hill. This time I arrived and the sun was shining, despite the forecast. When I pitched up there were a few observers (including Mike Pollard) which made locating the bird easier but it wa far from visible with it's head occasionally bobbing into view. Apparently it had been close earlier but (you won't guess what) a dog had just been through - just like Monday. Still there was time. Eventually the bird partially broke cover but still at distance and only briefly as much of the time it fed in the longer grass. Eventually it took to the wing and into the trees to our right. Not the killer photo I'd hoped for but still great to see again.

Just as well I went for these two as the following day there were no sightings reported and it looks like they have moved on.

Wryneck
Wryneck
Wryneck

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Balscote Quarry & Borough Hill :: 03 May 2021

I got up early and went looking for little owl in farm fields where a friend had seen one - I didn't connect in the hour I waited. The wind was getting stronger and I decided that I would relocate to Balscote Quarry which on reflection is an odd choicve as there it was even windier and cold. I recorded most of the likely species including two little ringed plover and was entertained by a showy and vocal willow warbler. The greenshank appeared to have moved on.

Willow warbler
Willow warbler

It was still only mid-moring and so I made for Boddington Reservoir to see whether I could reconnect with the grasshopper warbler, or any of the reported species. I was standing in the field listening for the gropper when I saw Nick Truby and his wife approach from the car park. I made my way back to see him and he mentioned that he'd just been to see a wryneck - it had been found at Borough Hill the previous day and I'd missed any reports as I hadn't checked my phone. I abandoned any plan I had and made for Daventry.

It didn't take long to locate the bird as there were a dozen or so people already in attendance. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I got my bins on the wryneck three spaniels tore through flushing the bird into a tree - the owner simply said not to worry as they flushed birds every time they were out ... still a life tick for me.

Eventually the bird reappeared but the rain had started and everyone started drifting off. I stayed long enough to get a photo and retreated before I got soaked - it then rained all afternoon.

Wryneck
Wryneck

Graven Hill & RSPB Otmoor :: 02 May 2021

On Saturday evening I was admiring some great photos of a wood sandpiper at Graven Hill Bicester, posted by Nick Truby, and resolved that I would modify my plan to visit RSPB Otmoor - an earlier start would place me by the Graven Hill floodwater field for sunrise and International Dawn Chorus Day.

Bicester sunrise

I arrived and turned the car so that I was on the right side of the car to view out the window. I spotted the pair of garganey but at that point they were on the far righthand edge of the field - they would relocate and gave good but distant views. They could also be heard giving mating calls and it would be great if this site could be given a local wildlife site designation - it has much to offer.

Garganey

Mike Pollard arrived and reminded me that I should stay in the car as lapwing are nesting close to the road and they are prone to leave the nest as people pass by. Although people do use this road as a thoroughfare, the least disturbance the better. We parked and watched the field for any sign of the wood sandpiper and as we waited we had lesser and common whitethroat in the scrub and a little ringed plover on the water. After about 15 mintes I had a call from Mike to say that the wood sandpiper had dropped into the pool beside his car and so I gently rolled the car forward until I could see the bird. It was in the closest pool and feeding in amongst the grasses and plants - great for watching through bins but difficult to get a photo. We had a great watch but by 7.30am it took to the wing and away - it would return regularly in the coming days.

Wood sandpiper
Wood sandpiper

I set off for RSPB Otmoor and arrived just after 8.00am and found that the car park was already full - I managed to squeeze in at the end of a row. I jumped out, put on by boots and made my way up the path towards the feeding station with a couple of Cetti's warbler calling and showing quite well. A cuckoo flew over and called from high in a tree on the Roman Road. At the feeders a lesser whitethroat called and showed briefly plus garden warbler sang from the corner to the bridleway.

Garden warbler

Reed and sedge warbler called from every drection, blackcap fed in several trees with several lesser whitethroat joining in. Marsh harriers fed over Greenaways - it was difficult to know where to look there was so much going on.

Sedge warbler
Blackcap

By the wetland hide two common cranes fed out in Ashgave and as I got my bins on the spotted redshank it took off and out beyond the cranes - I am destined not to get anything but a record shot of this bird. A curlew appeared to fly in to a distant part of Ashgrave. Another Cetti's showed in the hedge but it was partly obscured and not possible to get a good photo.

One of the other birders mentioned that he'd seen a glossy ibis in The Closes from the path by the feeders and I decided to make my way back. Two hobby had started hunting over Greenaways and were my first of the year. I eventually found the glossy ibis but it was much more distant than had been described - still better than when I saw it last.

Glossy ibis

I was joined by Dan and Trish Miller and we eventually made for the car park, spotting and photographing a lesser whitethroat on the way.

Lesser whitethroat

Monday, 3 May 2021

Farmoor Reservoir :: 01 May 2021

On Friday evening I was chatting with Kevin Heath on WhatsApp and deciding where we would meet. We couldn't decide how local we should stay, but we came across a report from Ewan Urquhart of black redstart at Farmoor Reservoir. We arrived at 7.45am hoping they would open the gates early, but ended up having a chat while they gragged it out until the allotted hour.

We made for the water treatment works to see if we could locate the bird from the previous day but had no luck. Kev picked out a candidate but it moved on before we had a chance to get a good enough view to be sure. Ewan turned up and joined the search but we couldn't find anything that matched. Across the causeway we encountered five yellow wagtail and watched until one of the wardens drove by in the opposite direction, flushing the birds.

We opted to drop down onto the river and immediately saw a jay on the opposite bank, then a couple of reed warbler in the reeds opposite.

Reed warbler

We made our way along the bank and came across another showy Cetti's warbler and watched - soon it hopped from the river side to the trees on our right. We peered into the base of the trees and found sedge and garden warbler, and a pair of blackcap. Kev heard a kingfisher behind and went to investigate - a couple of minutes later he beckoned me back as he'd found it perched in a dead tree on the opposite bank, but it had already departed by the time I reached him. A cuckoo called across the Pinkhill reserve.

Cetti's warbler
Cetti's warbler

Sedge, Cetti's and reed warbler called all along the bank - we stopped to listen for grasshopper warbler on one of the bends as Ewan had heard some calls earlier, but with no luck.

Sedge warbler

We reached the path to Pinkhill Lock and stopped to listen for grasshopper warbler - the spot I'd waited for 2 hrs the previous weekend. Again, we heard but did not see. We made our way up onto the reservoir again and round to, and over, the causeway. Swifts and swallows hunted over the water and were joined by just a couple of common tern. By the end of the causeway it started to hail/rain and we made for the car. It had been a pleasant visit but a shame we didn't connect with the black redstart.

Boddington Reservoir :: 29 April 2021

A busy evening for terns at Boddington Reservoir on Wednesday but the mention of grasshopper warbler by Dylan Parry-Davies and John Friendship-Taylor spurred me to visit before breakfast (and work). I got there at about 6.30am and heard the gropper reeling at the end of a hedge in the field opposite the car park. I followed the call and as I reached the source the bird hopped onto the fence and into the tree, where it started singing.

Grasshopper warbler
Grasshopper warbler

At that point I heard Adrian and Sandra Bletchly open the top gate and make their way down. I'd read that Adrian had heard the bird the previous day but that it had gone quiet when he looked. Almost as soon as the reached me the gropper took to the trees again and gave us a show - it couldn't get any better!

Grasshopper warbler

We left and made our way round the reservoir to see what else was on offer but I didn't add anything of note but had common terns, chiffchaff and willow warbler. We chatted to a very nice chap who is an ecologist working alongside many of the building projects, including HS2 - it was getting near time I made for the office in Banbury so walked back with him. We decided to have a look for the gropper but only heard it briefly - he headed for the car but I stayed on for another few minutes - I'm gald I did as the gropper started singing in the tree but out of view. However, it then dropped into the scrub behind a fence and then onto the barbed wire - I almost died with the view I had ...

Grasshopper warbler
Grasshopper warbler
Grasshopper warbler
Grasshopper warbler

In some ways it is sad to think that this encounter will likely be the best I ever have with this species, but what an experience!