Monday, 25 October 2021

Balscote Quarry :: 17 October 2021

I hadn't planned to go out, but my wife had an afternoon tennis match away in Farringdon - it was a beautiful afternoon and shouldn't be wasted indoors. A young couple left as I drew up leaving the viewpoint empty, so I set up with a flask of coffee, bins and my camera. The back pool was completely obscured by grass and weeds, perhaps also by the fact that the water level was very low. The area in front had managed to hold some of the recent rain and so at least some water was in evidence.

A small flock of golden plover came low over the far hedge unseen for much of the transit and dropped into the back field. I hadn't had time to count but I thought somewhere about 20ish. I could see a couple of pied wagtails straight ahead but not much else in the bowl. The team had reset the feeder area and a single female reed bunting was taking advantage; on the other feeders were six goldfinch and four greenfinches. A peak of eight chaffinches fed on the ground behind. In no time a jay appeared and seemed to veer away from landing on the top of the back wooden feeder structure, but only temporarily. In under a minute, it did just that and almost immediately dropped to the ground giving good views - excellent as I do love a jay. As it fed it was joined by a female pheasant - an often-overlooked beauty.


The jay started to look a bit restless and in moments a car passed the entrance. Surprisingly it didn't depart until Mike Prentice rounded the end of the hedge. It was great to see Mike as it has been quite a while since our visits to Balscote Quarry have aligned. We chatted and caught up with each other’s news, passing the time in the afternoon sun. A flock of golden plover circled and we counted c.30 but later I found it was 27 from a photo I'd taken. We were also surprised to see two swallows cutting across the site for a few minutes; when I posted this Mark Hunter replied that he had seen six over Shenington that afternoon.

Golden plover

In the bowl we could now see six pied wagtail and a single linnet, the pieds chasing one another around. Ray Smilie arrived and sat at the other end of the viewpoint and watched as a red kite soared passed and the number of buzzards grew. As he said the buzzard hovering against the breeze would make a good photo, I took it - he was right.

Red kite

We continued chatting - the mighty Wolves (supported by Ray) had managed to pull out a win in the Premier League the previous day in the 90+5 minute - and were treated to the jay returning. Iain Brown dropped in on his way home from Blacktoft Sands where he had been to see the white-tailed lapwing. No doubt he was trying out his new motor.


A yellowhammer showed on atop a distant bush but there was nothing more of note. A very pleasant afternoon though.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

RSPB Middleton Lakes :: 16 October 2021

We arrived at the RSPB Middleton Lakes car park at 7.50am, just before it was scheduled to open - we'd made good time from Banbury and only taken 50mins in convoy. In under 5 minutes an RSPB member of staff drew up, opened the gate and we followed them in. As instructed, we used the machine to issue “Member's" parking tickets so that they can keep track of how the reserve is visited.

We stopped at the feeding station and watched as the rats started to reappear - the lady member of staff having just been in to fill up the feeders. The usual tit species showed, as did moorhen on the ground. A nuthatch came in frequently, throwing some moves on the perch - some full 360s. We were soon on our way along the woodland path and saw several goldcrests in the trees and had multiple redwing flocks over; my first of the autumn.

We stopped at the wooden decked viewpoint and watched some chiffchaff and tits in the reeds beeyond. A Cetti's warbler called to our left and I watched to see if it flew - it didn't. A great tit and then a nuthatch dropped onto the posts beside us but left before I could get a photo. I turned back around and spotted a Cetti's warbler hanging from a reed at some distance, but in view. I snapped off a few photos and reached for my bins - it stopped long enough to get a nice view. It then called and flew out across the reeds, diving down out of view. Happy with the views we’d had I announced to Kevin Heath that we could go home now - I had a Cetti's day in the bag. A nuthatch then dropped onto the post again and allowed a couple of photos, although into the shade beneath the tree.

Cetti's warbler
Cetti's warbler

Approaching the bridge over the canal we found another showy nuthatch checking out the posts - we surmised that people must drop seeds here and that is why these birds show so readily.


Pressing on we passed Fisher's Mill Pool seeing the usual waterfowl on the water but then a raven overhead - we heard and then had a fleeting view of another Cetti's warbler. From the West Scrape Screen a kingfisher cut through at speed and out to our right we could pick out a great white egret but too distant for a photo - it remained that way all morning with these egrets. We then came across a few Konik ponies out on the scrape. Konik ponies are a wild breed of horse (the name Konik is Polish for 'little horse') originating from Poland and are an extremely hardy breed, making them a fantastic grazing animal. They were introduced as a management tool to graze parts of the site that they would struggle to get machinery into.

Konik pony

Kev mentioned the lack of grey herons and seconds later we saw several and had one on the wing. It was amazing timing.

We met one of the volunteers and they let us know that they were planning some management work on North Pool from mid-morning and so we made for there. On the way we picked out two very distant drake pintail and while standing talking to a regular visitor, a black-tailed godwit dropped in. There was a distinct lack of waders out on the Jubilee Wetlands and East Scrape.

Black-tailed godwit

We made it to the Lookout Hide and from there were treated to a sea of wigeon on the water. Amongst them we picked out a single drake pintail - it may have been a juvenile given the appearance of its head. Kestrel, great white egret, little egret, and teal all showed well. The work party duly arrived and we prepared to set off, Kev striking up a conversation before packing up. As we left Kev rescued a black slip wasp (pimpla rufipes) from the hide window and placed it safely outside. Showing Kev the photos, he thought that he really should have a manicure!

Black slip wasp - pimpla rufipes
Black slip wasp - pimpla rufipe

We stopped to talk with a couple of birders when many of the wigeon and other duck species took to the air from North Pool, filling the sky - presumably flushed by the work party. We asked if anything had appeared and were treated to a tiny dunlin far out on the scrape; too far for anything but a record shot.


We circled back, crossed the footbridge, and scanned the water known as the Dotshill Nature Reserve. Other than calling Cetti's warbler, little egret and a great spotted woodpecker, we didn't find anything of note. On the return around the eastern edge of the Fisher's Mill Reedbed we stopped to listen to some chiffchaff, giving the family group out dog walking some space to get ahead.

Back at the entrance to the path though the woodland we could see that someone had indeed dropped seed on the posts. The birds were making the most of it with the nuthatch filling up with regular visits.


It had been a good visit with 54 species noted and as we changed back out of our walking boots, a distant jay flew along the treeline.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Standlake Pit 60 :: 09 October 2021

We that didn't go as planned ... deciding how to spend the weekend I got in touch with Kevin Heath and came to the decision that the black-necked grebe (reported late Friday afternoon at Standlake) was the bird to target. We looked on the map to locate the site and could see lanes from the main road down to what looked like a caravan park. As we departed in the dark the sky was sparkling with stars - a clear morning gave us hope - we'd suffered a few weeks ago when at Wildlife BCN Summer Leys with fog lingering past mid-morning. No sooner had we left Banbury for Standlake than we started to run into pockets of fog.

We turned down a lane and I started to feel that this wasn't what we were meant to do - I talked with Kev and he thought this looked familiar and that he'd been down here fishing in the past. After a hundred yards or so the scrub along the roadside encroached to such an extent that I couldn't help but worry that the sides of the car were getting scratched - I considered reversing back up the lane but it appeared I was halfway and so much better to head forward than try and negotiate the narrow lane in reverse - we reached the clearing and abandoned the cars (tight against the hedge so as to not cause an obstruction) making for the hides. This was not the lane Kev thought it was.

We reached the North Shore bird hide only to find that the door was locked - this was turning out to be a poorly researched trip. I looked on the web and found a Reserve brochure which indicated the site was indeed a key holder reserve.

From the leaflet we learned that in the 1990s Oxfordshire County Council granted permission to extract gravel from this area of farmland, it also provided a wonderful opportunity to work with the mineral company to create a new nature reserve next to the River Thames. Extraction was completed in 2000 and since then a mosaic of wetland habitats have been established on this 25ha site, that now supports a wealth of wildlife. To date more than 150 species of bird have been recorded with an increasing number successfully raising young during the summer.

In order to avoid disturbing the resident wildlife, particularly during the nesting season, the reserve has been carefully designed to allow visitors to view the whole site from two hides. The hedges, trees and scrub that form the boundary of the reserve provide good cover for wildlife and the many berries and seeds produced each autumn attract various species of birds.

We worked our way round to the Langley Lane bird hide hoping that someone would be in residence but were disappointed. We had just passed a gate that had some views over the water and made our way back there. Although a restricted view, we could make out various ducks, little grebe, and a great white egret. I took some photos through the fog enveloping the site and managed to extract some detail.

Great white egret
Greylag goose

We were fortunate to catch sight of the black-necked grebe as it fed and preened far to the right of the hide, but it then headed away and to the far left and was lost from view. Eventually the little grebes put on a show as the sun burned through the fog.

Little grebe
Little egret

On the far north side of the lake, while on our marches to and from the two hides, we watched sparrowhawk and two jays pass over then counted at least four Cetti's warbler. While waiting for the fog to lift we also had a great spotted woodpecker knocking away as it fed in a dead tree.

The journey back up the lane was just as traumatic but in the end the damage was limited to long scuffs which polished out with only moderate effort - got away with that big time. A pleasant first visit but we will have to organise a key and a better parking spot.

The range of species we could see were limited to: black-headed gull, black-necked grebe, blackbird, blue tit, Canada goose, carrion crow, Cetti's warbler, collared dove, coot, cormorant, dunnock, gadwall, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, great white egret, grey heron, greylag goose, jay, little grebe, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, robin, shoveler, sparrowhawk, starling, teal, tufted duck, wigeon, woodpigeon and wren.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Farmoor Reservoir :: 03 October 2021

I arrived at Farmoor Reservoir not long after sunrise and met up with Kevin Heath. There was no time to waste, and we made straight for the causeway to see if anything had dropped in overnight - we didn't want to chance any disturbance and the birds being flushed before we got there. Over the water on F2 there were hundreds of house martins and a few swallows cutting across the water. Quite a spectacle!

We made our way along the causeway and initially could only pick out pied wagtails but by ⅔rds of the way across, we could see a pair of rock pipits ahead. In general, they are fairly common along rocky coasts but generally not found inland. They are usually resident, and only perform short movements, yet here they were on their traditional brief migration window. As we approached, they kept a constant distance from us and allowed no closer views or photos. Eventually they took to the wing, out across the water where we could see there were in fact three.

Rock pipit

We reached the end of the causeway and were a bit disappointed that there were no waders at all. We stopped to talk with Dave Lowe who was scanning the water and skies for any birds through - he mentioned at least 50 meadow pipits had gone over already. We scanned the water on both F1 and F2 finding a collection of gulls: great black-backed; yellow-legged; herring; black-headed; lesser black-backed. What a neck on those great black-backed gulls – real bruisers

Great black-backed gull
Yellow-legged gull
Herring gull

A couple of little grebes were feeding close to shore and seemed to be diving at a very high frequency - perhaps to do with the depth of the water? They are such attractive little birds.

Little grebe

We decided to make a pass round F2 and soon encountered a few meadow pipit, the first down in the grass. It made for an interesting photograph with the water/dew from the previous day's rain. After a handful of meadow pipit dropped in behind the scrub and fence line to our right, an individual briefly hopped onto the fence giving us a decent view.

Meadow pipit
Meadow pipit

Ahead we could see a flock of barnacle geese and as we approached a vehicle came from the other direction, sending them up and away down towards the river - thanks muchly. At least I got some photos before they departed. We retraced our steps and dropped down to the Shrike Hide hoping to see a kingfisher - someone recently posted a photo of one on the post and I hoped to be lucky - I wasn't. Leaving the hide a cetti's warbler was "giving it large" and I stopped to see if it showed. It called a few more times and then dived into a nearby bush giving me only the briefest of glances and zero chance of a photo - such a change from their showy nature in the spring. By the water works we hadn't seen anything of note but could hear a warbler in the tree beside us. We watched as a reed warbler flew across the river and into the reeds beyond - a late record for me.

Barnacle goose
Barnacle goose
We circled round past the Pinkhill Meadow hide to find that, probably due to Covid restrictions, the reeds to the front of the hide are so tall and dense that none of the pools are visible – we didn’t stay long. We climbed back up to the reservoir and the end of the causeway - as we paused, we could hear the call of a kingfisher and started to investigate - it sounded like it came from below the grate and the chamber below. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I saw it as it flew passed the building and down towards the river. Minutes later we could hear the call again and the slight echo from the chamber below - a further few minutes past and Kevin called as a kingfisher flew over our heads and again towards the river - we could continue to hear calls from the river for a short while after. Following this excitement, we then focussed on some small birds on the narrow bridge between the end of the causeway and the works building. One very pale looking chiffchaff landed intermittently on the railings and a series of great tit and dunnock fed around the same area. I couldn’t get a photo of the chiffchaff as it paused only for a couple of seconds each time. Fortunately, another chiffchaff appeared in the same area and stayed long enough for better views and a photo.

We decided to make our way back across the causeway and hoped something may have dropped in. It was however obvious that the hirundines had all departed and the water was now choppy - a strong breeze was blowing. Other than gulls, coot, pied wagtails and grebes there was nothing to see. We stopped at the cafe for a coffee and Kevin gave me grief for ordering a caramel latte, while he had a manly white coffee. We passed the valve tower and stopped to take picture of a little egret perched on the fence - it looked precarious and comfortable at the same time.

Passing the clearing between the trees on the left we stopped on a bench to see if there would be any new species in the scrub and found that the birds didn't want to show – each time they relocated at speed into the depths of the bushes - frustrating from an ID point of view, but we picked out the usual suspects.

Not the greatest list of species seen this time (still 44) but an enjoyable visit and good to catch up with these inland rock pipit.

Little egret

Monday, 4 October 2021

Pitsford Water :: 02 October 2021

The forecast was for rain from late breakfast time and so I decided that I'd try a birding trip on Sunday morning. A relaxed morning working on the laptop was interrupted at 10.35am by a message on the Northants Birds News WhatsApp group – the post reported that a Leach's Petrel had been found at Pitsford Water at 10.25, just north of the causeway and off the Fishing Lodge.

Reading the Where to Find Guide written by Lee Evans, this oceanic seabird breeds only on the Northern Isles with an estimated population of at least 10,000 pairs nesting annually. It is a regular autumn migrant off the coasts of West Scotland, NW England, Wales and SW England, and appears in much smaller numbers off NE and SE England and East Anglia. Peak passage is between late September and early November, with small numbers occasionally appearing in winter, following Atlantic storms. Leach's Petrels are particularly vulnerable to winds more than their normal flight speed and in autumn, when many are in an advanced state of moult, they can be blown about like autumn leaves. This can often lead to many birds, sometimes hundreds, being blown inland. This was the only reported inland bird that day that I am aware of.

Reports indicated that the Leach's Petrel was being regularly harassed by gc grebes / coot and had been doing short flights but was still in same area at 10.47am. By 11.40am it was still being regularly spooked but it was still showing well from causeway. I thought that it was showing signs of staying and decided that I might go over the lunchtime period - I found that her indoors had put herself back in bed and decided that sneaking off wasn't appropriate and delayed. After lunch and having established that my wife had been suffering from a migraine (and that it had improved), by 2.15pm I was in the car and heading for Pitsford (just under an hour’s drive).

I arrived and drove across the causeway, finding two birders with scopes at the car park end. I parked the car, paid the fee, put on my boots, and made my way over - someone had said how wet everyone had been getting and so I took an umbrella. The two birders informed me that the bird had been showing, but distant, and had moved out of sight round to Scaldwell Bay - I wasn't sure why they were still positioned here but found one apparently hadn't yet put any money in the meter and the other was just off to purchase a permit to enter the site. I put up my brolly and set out.

I made my way along and caught sight of a snipe on the wing, but it was not a great photo on review - the light was poor, and the rain was falling. Fortunately I'd had the forethought to protect my camera and lens with a waterproof cover. Just before I reached the Bird Club Hide a handful of birders were set with scopes and had the bird in their sights - it was on the water and would have been tricky to pick out amongst the other birds. But there it was!

The chap that had been purchasing a permit turned up and announced that this was his bogey bird, and he was so glad to have seen it. He didn't stay long as he had promised to be home for dinner - in Manchester! After about half an hour I made for the hide and found a couple of people in there and continued to watch the bird largely on the water but very regularly put up by great crested grebes, coot and gulls. The great crested grebes seemed the most upset by its presence and would dive then come up under of just beside the bird sending it up into the air. I am confused why they were so disturbed by such a diminutive bird and wouldn't just let it be.

Happy with my encounter I headed home to dry off. A lifer for me.

Leach's petrel
Leach's petrel
Leach's petrel
Leach's petrel

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Borough Hill :: 26 September 2021

It was a slow morning, but the day had warmed up nicely and at least a walk was needed before the weather broke during the week. Initially we thought about a circular at Nether Worton but eventually decided on Borough Hill Daventry. After lunch we tidied up and almost exactly half an hour we were in the car park pulling on our walking boots. On the ascent up to the mast we heard and then located four linnets in a bush at 11 o'clock. I closed the distance to take a photo but even at this range they were having none of it and flocked off. Hopefully this wouldn't be repeated by the other species.

Due to the nature of short-wave broadcasting, large areas of Borough Hill were occupied with towers, and masts to support large antennas. Transmissions from the short-wave station could be received across the world. The BBC eventually decided to close the station and on 28 March 1992 the last transmission took place, and the transmission equipment was moved to other BBC World Service transmitters. All but one of the radio masts have been taken down, with Arqiva now operating the single remaining mast.

We decided to take the high path heading north and soon flushed a skylark from the edge of the path. It must have been in the grass edge as it hadn't been visible as we approached. However, we were soon rewarded by another individual, this time stopping on the path ahead - instead of taking to the wing it ran along the path ahead of us. Only at the furthest corner did it disappear into the scrub and become lost from view. Overhead a passing red kite was being mobbed by a crow, getting close enough for the kite to keep his eye on the crow over its 'shoulder'.

Red kite mobbed by crow

Passing a concrete pad with bramble scrub at the far end we scanning the area and found a meadow pipit perched on the front side. Despite being prominent it wasn't easy to pick out but easily good enough for a photo. Soon it left and a second then third bird joined, and they flew back towards the Transmission Station.

Meadow pipit
Meadow pipit

We journeyed back along the lower path encountering only magpie, buzzard and kestrel. We stopped below the Transmission Station and sat on a bench looking down the eastern slope and across the fields towards Northampton. Within minutes a stonechat appeared on a post and then another behind; they showed for about 5 minutes at various distances but worked back to our left and were lost from view. Despite a search we returned to the car with no further species on our list.


Friday, 1 October 2021

Bucknell Wood :: 25 September 2021

I set out from my house following Kevin Heath with the intention of going somewhere a bit different - lately all our ventures out have been to bodies of water or marshes and so Bucknell Wood would be a nice change. Kevin had some fuel in his car but only for 90 miles including the reserve and had planned on dropping into the local Esso station on the way; however, as we departed around 15 cars queued along the Oxford Road waiting on the pumps, so we just drove by - the shortage of delivery drivers is becoming obvious. In Brackley I spotted that there were spaces at the pumps in one of the stations and we exited to fill up Kevin’s car.

We pulled up in the parking area at the entrance to the wood just after 7.00am and as we were putting on some walking boots another car pulled up - an early dog walker. We set out quickly to stay ahead but could soon hear the two gentlemen following behind. We saw a couple of deer in the trees and another that crossed the path before the dog walkers caught us up; a nuthatch called from our right and we could see goldcrests feeding in the canopy above. We stopped where we were and let the dog walkers get well ahead as the presence of the dogs could hinder our chances of catching sight of some of the birds. Another two nuthatch, a jay and a buzzard gave fleeting views as we waited.

We pressed on catching sight of mixed flocks mostly containing tits and a separate group of coal tits. Kevin spotted a treecreeper, but I wasn't fast enough to get on it before it departed and all I saw was a bird in flight, silhouetted against a grey sky. We could see an abundance of food on the trees and there were many squirrels taking advantage.

Grey squirrel

As we made our way along the path running parallel to the main road by the car park, we studied the tree canopy but couldn’t see anything other than the species we'd already encountered. Reaching the crossroads, we stopped to listen to the chattering tit flock ahead which was joined by the call of mistle thrushes. Movement ahead to our left at first appeared to be a blackcap but when stationary a pair of marsh tits could be seen. They stayed tantalisingly obscured in the bushes, occasionally crossing the path, but too soon disappeared back into the woods.

Marsh tit
Marsh tit

Walking on to see the mistle thrushes we could count at least 10 individuals. I took a photo but on review could see that there was also a juvenile song thrush amongst them; not something I can remember seeing before. They worked the top of the trees and despite being distant there were regular harsh rattling alarm calls. Another mixed flock of tits passed through too.

Song thrush

We took a path down through a denser area of trees but found fewer species on show. On exiting onto a wider path we found another mixed flock of tits with some chiffchaffs and a pair of nuthatches. As we watched the birds just kept coming with at least 50 passing through and then found another pair of marsh tits. Eventually we stopped back at the cars and had a chat as we drank some coffee. We still had time to make another pass, this time on the northern perimeter and still get back for lunchtime. No sooner had we set off than we heard nuthatches ahead. As we drew closer, we could count four having a barney. They worked at distance, but I took a record shot in any case. A treecreeper dropped into the tree to our left - quite a productive clearing.


Another marsh tit showed in the bushes behind, feeding on dioscorea communis berries. Soon we could hear a great spotted woodpecker which showed well as it climbed into view and along a sloped branch. As expected, it didn't stay long.

Great-spotted woodpecker

We watched a few hornets quartering the bushes beside our path before turning for the car once more - a jay appeared in the trees above but remained out of direct view until it paused briefly before flying off - no chance for a photo. It had been a great visit and all the better as it was a change from recent days out.