Wednesday, 21 July 2021

North Oxfordshire :: 15-17 July 2021

Over the past couple of weeks, one of the guys on the Banbury Birders WhatsApp group had occasionally been posting photos of a family of little owls that he'd encountered. While I'd seen a few in various locations, none had been particularly helpful in providing a good photo opportunity. So, I got in touch and asked if it might be possible to know where to go for views as good as he had posted. I was in luck, and he was actually watching them when my message got to him, and he replied immediately. With my wife out playing tennis I dropped any plans I'd had and made my way to join him.

On arrival I found he was just about to head home but indicated that he'd seen one relocate from the 'usual' tree into a much larger one on the opposite side of the path we were on. He wished me luck and left me to see what I could do about a decent photo. It took about 20 minutes but then a bird appeared in the hole of a branch and sat there watching me watch it. A few minutes later another flew across from the back of the tree to the other behind me but too low and much of the flight below the hedge, for a flight shot.

Little owl

As the sun dropped it became obvious that getting great photos was going to be a challenge as the sun was relatively behind the tree and casting the owls into a partial silhouette. They were great to watch and were becoming more and more active as sunset approached. Just as the sun was dropping out of view the finder reappeared and joined in taking some photos. Once the harsh light was out of the picture it was a little easier to see features, although the ISO settings continued to increase. We watched them catching the May bugs flying around the treetops and set off home happy. A plan had formulated in my head as I now realised that the sun would rise behind the path and flood the tree with rays - early morning would provide a better opportunity and I now knew where to come.

Little owl
Little owl
Little owl

I arrived in the morning with my now regular birding partner Kevin Heath. It was just a little after sunrise and we could see a little owl on the branches as we approached. Already happy. We watched and had good views although initially the birds were on more distant parts of the tree. The later the hour the more they stopped on the front of the tree and bathed in the morning sun. As we watched and looked up and down the field we saw another little owl on the further end of the field - we went to investigate and found another bird on the downslope and a further 100m away; perhaps there is another group as this individual never came back to the tree and we already had 2 adults. Something to investigate at some time - a previous year's young setting up an adjacent territory?

Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl

On the Saturday morning I met up with Dan and Trish Miller - they hadn't ever encountered a little owl and had spent many hours in the spring trying to connect with some in Oxford, without success. Again, just after sunrise we found the birds initially static as before but as the morning wore on, they started to perform. We were benefiting from the fact that the farmer had been hay baling and this proved to a reason for the owl to visit the ground and the bales on a frequent basis. We watched them as they fed and counted four individuals. I could still see another far down the field - someday I will investigate further.

Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

RSPB Otmoor :: 11 July 2021

We decided to target a species missing from our year list and head to RSPB Otmoor. There had been plenty of bittern sightings but none while I had been there -there also seemed to be less sightings over Greenaways than last year with the majority I'd heard of from 1st screen.

Another early arrival and we made our way down past the feeders and onto the bridleway. It was noticeably quieter than my last visit, but we still were greeted by an array of warblers, including both common and lesser whitethroat. We slowly made our way along and eventually reached the patch of reeds that had been so productive for bittern sightings previously. Within minutes Kevin Heath send up a shout that a bittern was coming in from the right. I swung round in time to see the last 30ft of flight before it dropped into the reeds - I suppose it must have been on the far right of Greenaways. Luckily, I had managed to get focus and send off a volley of photos before the bird was lost into the reeds.

Bittern
Bittern

We joked that we had our day's target bird and that we could get back home, but of course pushed on. After a short look over Big Otmoor we set off down to 1st screen, seeing a pair of bullfinches join warblers, juvenile sedge and several other species feeding on the track ahead. On and into the hide we noted the species on the water and over but none caught our eye, although juvenile shoveler were good to see. We left for 2nd screen passing yet more warblers enroute.

Common whitethroat

From 2nd screen we eventually added a little grebe but saw nothing remarkable; the species count continued to rise. We arrived back at 1st screen to find Mark Chivers and Peter Barker in residence, and they pointed out a garganey which we'd not seen on the way passed. We stopped to chat and soon we were joined by Nick Truby and his wife Anne. With his typical delivery he inquired as to who had invited "the Banbury boys" 😂. After a short catch-up Nick mentioned he'd seen a great white egret on Big Otmoor and so we set off to try and find it - he mentioned tht he'd been lucky as most of the time it was out of view.

We stalked up and down the bridleway but with no joy. At one point we stopped to identify a small bird hopping in the trees behind us when out burst a sparrowhawk/cuckoo/little owl sized bird - it appeared to have little or no tail as it quickly flew away through the branches, and we tried to discount sparrowhawk - also there have been no mention of little owl on this stretch and so we thought it may be a juvenile cuckoo given the colour. We will never know.

We made our way back along the bridleway to the car, stopping at the gate to the cattle pens. We watched as a male marsh harrier quartered the far edges of Greenaways putting up a curlew. Now scanning the area, we caught sight of an approaching bittern and had a long and enjoyable fly-past - I took photos but by then the heat haze was causing havoc. This was then followed by the emergence of a hobby from the far hedge line. 54 species noted and home.

The following day we joined a Banbury Ornithological Society to a dairy farm in Whatcote - run by one of the members. He gave a very interesting introduction to the works there and then led a walk around the fields around the farm. It was a great catch up with many as meetings have largely been online during the pandemic. The highlight for me was a barn owl in a barn covered with a corrugated roof. It really was an enjoyable evening and finished off with coffee/tea and cake.

Barn owl