Saturday, 5 June 2021

Lower Heyford :: 30-31 May 2021

I was feeling tired having started early on Saturday and had a late-night visiting friends (now that the Covid restrictions have been relaxed) - still observing social distancing of course! I eased into the morning but decided not to venture out birding. Instead, and after lunch, I set off for a walk across the fields from Lower Heyford to Northbrook and back along the canal - my wife was playing in a tennis match and so I thought I'd test the walk for us to do together someday.

Skylark, yellowhammer and linnet showed around the fields and hedges and as I rounded a corner, I spotted a corn bunting singing in a distant taller bush. I took a couple of photos and started to halve the distance. Unfortunately, two dogs bounded from the footpath ahead - the bird took off and I was left with a heavily cropped effort as a record.

Corn bunting

I continued on hoping for another corn bunting sighting but had nothing but skylark and more yellowhammers. I reached the barns and as I approached, I saw a little owl take to the wing and drop over and out of sight. I was chuffed as that was two separate encounters in two days. I walked on and stopped at the gate beyond to look back to where the owl had been. As I scanned the owl landed on the windowsill right in front of me - what a sight! Unfortunately, it saw me and shot off before I had been able to do anything other than take a sharp intake of breath. I waited but it didn't reappear.

Further along the footpath two red-legged partridge spotted my approach and flew off up the fields and out of view. I searched the area for them and spotted a green woodpecker hanging on a post - I loved the way the posts lined up and took a snap.

Green woodpecker

I approached the canal and heard one of two approaching canal boats hit the bridge that crosses both the canal and river. I alerted the boat setting off from the lock in the opposite direction that they might take care as the passed! I waited for them to open the lock and depart so that I could cross to the towpath that would take me back to Lower Heyford. Chiffchaff called all along the path and several sedge warblers showed as I made my way alongside the water. It was very peaceful and a great way to spend the afternoon.

Sedge warbler

In addition to the birds I enjoyed the numbers of damselflies, demoiselles and butterflies along the water's edge. In total along this stretch I counted ten chiffchaff - quite a number along this short stretch.

Comma butterfly
Beautiful demoiselle
Banded demoiselle

That night I talked with Kevin Heath and we decided to investigate the little owl I had seen the day before and agrred to rendezvous at my house at 5.15am and set off for Lower Heyford. We were surrounded by skylarks as we made our way across the foelds, these being joined by occasional yellowhammers. We reached the barn and although we could hear some sounds of little owl, they were further back and behind the barns - we circled round, and Kev picked out a raptor call from a large tree and we initially though it may be a kestrel. It soon stopped calling and we thought we may be too close but before we retreated, we watched a hare in the fields below which then led Kev to a pair of grey partridge to the left and then I spotted another to the right.

Grey partidge

I took up watch for the little owl from behind the gate and Kev popped into the hedge to see if he could spot the raptor in the tree - he was gone such a long time that I wondered if he'd fallen down a well but eventually I got a message on my phone that he had two red-legged partridge and I fell back to join him. We watched as the raptors left the tree, still calling. They turned out to be hobby and not what we'd expected to find here. We tried relocating and taking pressure off the area around the barn, but we still didn't see the little owl. The hobby did then land in a tree beyond the barn and sit for a long time.


Eventually we decided to call it a day and made our way back, again encountering numbers of skylark and this time also a corn bunting.

Corn bunting

We paused to look for the corn bunting again and who should come round the corver but Mr and Mrs Truby - they stopped and took a photo, presumably of our bird - they had come across a corn bunting in the usual hedge. We stopped and chatted for a while and noted little egret and grey heron over. Nick mentioned that they'd already had yammers and corn bunting in the hedge before the barn and so when we parted, we stopped and found a lovely bunting singing at the far end.

Corn bunting

Later we were to hear that Nick hadn't seen the little owl either but that it had called solidly for half an hour. He did though have views of a marsh harrier, the hobbies, and a cuckoo which landed on the barn roof but left before he could get a photograph. We agreed this is a very nice spot.

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