Monday, 8 January 2018

Short Day Count

Yesterday, (Sunday 07/01) Gareth, myself and local birder Clive, took part in the BOS Short Day Count. We birded from 08:00am - 16:00pm in grid square SP44, covering Banbury and the area to the north, traversing Oxfordshire, Warwickshire & Northants.

We did pretty well too, getting 71 species in total, with highlights being a calling Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker, Hawfinch, Water Rail, Jack Snipe, a roosting Tawny Owl and Yellow-Legged Gull. I didn't take too many photos but here are a couple of ropey records of the Tawny Owl & the Hawfinch.

Friday, 29 December 2017

2017 highlights package

Here are a selection of my 2017 wildlife 'best bits' :

Waxwings: The first part of the year saw a continuation of the first decent Waxwing invasion year for sometime. I was lucky enough to encounter a few in Banbury, even coming across a few in trees right next to my work car park! In Northants, I got to enjoy great views of a group in Roade, however the star of the show was a showy little chap, a couple of minutes down the road from my house in Brackley (not found by me I may add!):

Blue Rock Thrush: One of the most popular rarities in recent years, the Blue Rock Thrush of Stow-on-the-Wold stayed well into 2017 before disappearing, only to turn up on it's migration back south at Beachy Head, Sussex! A very memorable bird that I had seen back in late 2016 but went back for seconds with Dan & Gareth on 28th January, getting some fab views in the late afternoon sun.

Bluethroat: I longed to see a Bluethroat ever since I first showed an interest in birds and wildlife. Last year I was finally able to enjoy my first in the Biebrza Marshes of Poland. This year though, I had the chance to see my first in the UK, with an amazingly confiding wintering bird at Willow Tree Fen in Lincolnshire. I grabbed the chance without hesitation and it was oh so perfect, with the bird wandering to a staggering 4 feet away at times and in beautiful winter sunshine too.

A memorable encounter of the LRP: I never tire of watching displaying Little Ringed Plovers in spring. This year I was lucky in that Grimsbury Reservoir in Banbury held up to 4 birds during the spring. Most of the time, they were flying around calling and displaying or keeping fairly out of the way, however one particular male showed brilliantly well one early April evening.

Exciting spring passage & Black Throated Diver! Two days from the spring particularly stood out as some of the best spring birding I've had.

Firstly 30/04 was a real Tern day with plenty of Arctic & Black Terns to enjoy. Between myself, Dan & Gareth, we managed both species at Grimsbury, Boddington & Draycote Reservoirs plus a very decent supporting cast of migrants. Seeing several big balls of Commic terns dropping out of the stormy skies over Draycote, were a particular highlight. 

Secondly, Saturday 06/05 will also live long in the memory. With already good birds in situ and the weather looking decent enough to pull in further good birds, I decided to have a day trawling around Northants to see how many species I could see. I started at Summer Leys early morning in cloudy skies and drizzle and was surprised to find no other birders there! Well as they say, 'early bird, catches the worm' as I went on to find an impressive array of passage birds, including Avocet, Wood Sandpiper, Garganey, 4 Grey Plover & several Black Terns.

Among several other places, I visited Stanford Reservoir, 'the place' this year due to the draining of the reservoir. Already there were Sanderling, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Grey Plover & a Whooper Swan, as well as plenty of Greenshank. The highlight for me though was coming across a late Jack Snipe bobbing up and down completely out in the open! 

Then there was the cherry on the cake. I nearly didn't bother to pop into Pitsford, in the fading light of the day, however totting up my day total, I was agonisingly close to 100 species. A scan from feeding station revealed very little....what was until I couldn't believe my eyes as a pristine Black-Throated Diver loomed into view, cruising about in the mouth of Scaldwell Bay!! I also managed to break the 100 species barrier for the day, ending on 103!

Black Hairstreaks: This year saw my best and most prolonged views yet of Black Hairstreaks. I headed up to the deep, dark depths of northern Northants, to Glapthorn Cow Pasture. With the sun out and surprisingly few 'lepidopterists', it was all rather spot on! See my account here.

Northumberland: In June, Dan, Gareth & I spent a fantastic few days visiting the Northumberland coast. Following a successful twitch for a Marsh Warbler on the way up, we then took a boat trip around Coquet Island, to see the big Roseate Tern colony. We also took a day trip out to the Farnes in stunning, scorching weather, as well as wandering around Holy Island enjoying the carpets of orchids. A super fun trip which has got our minds thinking about perhaps returning in the autumn...

Patch butterflies: I have a small handful of relatively local sites to Brackley with an impressive array of species including Wood White, Purple Emperor, White-Letter & Purple Hairstreaks, White Admiral, Marbled Whites & Grizzled Skipper.

Last year I was excited to discover a new site for Grizzled Skipper. Some more extensive exploring of the same site this year has revealed more surprises, with small numbers of Dingy Skipper & Small Heath, plus a few Southern Marsh Orchids too.

The Purple Emperors in Bucknell Wood put on an excellent show this year, as well as a few stonking Valezina Silver-Washed Fritillaries. I also saw my first Small Coppers there (my 29th butterfly species in Bucknell), a reflection perhaps of what appears to be a very good year for the species locally.

Breeding Bee-eaters: This year provided a golden opportunity for birders to enjoy breeding Bee-eaters in the UK (however later it transpired that they were unsuccessful), with up to 7 birds residing in a quarry on the Leicestershire / Nottingshaire border. It was a while before I could get over there, however thankfully I made it over to the temporary RSPB watchpoint on a sunny Sunday 02/07. See my account here

A bold Leveret: While having a stroll near Brackley, I was lucky enough to come across this Hare leveret that quite literally wandered up to me!

Early Autumn Phalaropes: One of THE main highlights of the year has to be my discovery of a Grey Phalarope on my local patch of Grimsbury Reservoir, Banbury.

Farmoor Reservoir, near Oxford hosted a juvenile Red Necked Phalarope for a few days in late September and was an incredible opportunity to see one up very close.

The Daventry Sab's: A fabulous county tick, on the back of the same gale that brought the Grimsbury Grey Phalarope, completing a memorable birding week!

Borneo: I'm pleased to say I got married back at the end of September and so for much of October, Em & I were away on our honeymoon in Vietnam and Borneo. Borneo had far more of a wildlife focus, spending a few days along the Kinabatangan River & the general area of Sepilok, known for it's Orangutans. Needless to say we had an amazing time, seeing some spectacular wildlife. See my blog post on the trip here

The big Hawfinch invasion: While on honeymoon, an unprecedented invasion of Hawfinches arrived from the continent, due largely to a lack of available food in their normal wintering areas. On returning to the UK I was very keen to get in on the act. Thankfully I was able to find quite a few on some exciting vis mig sessions over my Brackley garden - not the worst garden tick!

I also discovered small numbers in situ around nearby Thenford Church (which appear to be there for the winter), a regular male in Bucknell Wood & a flyover bird in Towcester. A mega treat to encounter these stunning birds locally!

Grimsbury Reservoir patching: Another decent year of patching, full of the usual peaks and troughs. Overall though, a great little haul of birds including the obvious highlight, the Grey Phalarope, as well as Kittiwake, Knot, Sanderling, Common Scoters, Little Gull, Black Tern, Arctic Terns (including a couple of tricky portlandica birds), Whinchats, Wheatears & Redstart.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017


Last week was a particularly cold one, beginning with a huge snow flurry on Sunday 10/12 and temperatures hitting -9 early on Tuesday 12/12...brrrr! This rather restricted getting around locally with frozen snow and ice making roads more than a bit dodgy!

By later on the week, conditions had distinctly improved. On Thursday (14/12) I had a half day off work. Before partaking in a little Christmas shopping, I decided to pop up the road to Thenford to check if any Hawfinches were still about, having not been there for a while. 

A half an hour look produced a number of sightings of 2-3 birds flying around and feeding in the large yews on the far side of the lake producing some nice scope views.

The next day (Friday 15/12) was another day off for me. I was meeting up with my parents during the afternoon, however I had the morning free for some birding. I decided to pay another visit to my local-ish patch of Bucknell Wood, in a further attempt to unearth some Parrot Crossbills.

It was a beautifully clear morning, however there was a bitter wind chill making it kind of unpleasant to be honest! It was all a bit quiet in the wood too, however I persevered.

I spent a while around one of the main crossroads in the centre of the wood for a bit of a scan. I then got a bit jammy, as a Hawfinch flew in, calling loudly, before continuing over my head and landing in a nearby tree. My view of the bird was obstructed by a Yew tree, so I slowly and gently crunched my way through the snow a few feet to my left, to reveal the beautifully sunlit male Hawfinch...what a cracker. I took a few photos before the bird headed off up the ride and out of sight.

This welcome distraction allowed me to momentarily forget about how flipping cold it was, however this didn't last long! So on I trudged to complete my circuit, enjoying an unexpected Grey Wagtail feeding in the small, steam-fed pool close to the car park.

I still had a couple of hours to kill so on my way to Northampton, I popped into Shires Meadow, Towcester to see if I could locate the Firecrest that was seen earlier in the week. The park was full of birds with quite a few showy Redwings foraging around the icy grass and leaves.

Despite plenty of effort, I failed to find the Firecrest, although I jammed on yet another Hawfinch heading low NW! Considering how low it was flying, I thought there was a good chance it may have lingered, however I couldn't re-locate it.

I also got out a bit during the weekend too. On Saturday (16/12) Em & I popped over to Bucknell Wood again to walk our usual loop. No Hawfinches or pie-in-the-sky Parrot Crossbills, however a Nuthatch gave some brilliant views, coming down to feed on one of the tracks.

On Sunday (17/12), I met up up with Dan & Gareth for a long overdue catch up. We planned for a day of birding, however seeing the forecast, it was only likely to be the morning, before the rain set in. We set off early for a walk around Otmoor, hopefully to catch up with the long-staying male Hen Harrier. After a fair old bit of scanning we found him cruising about distantly, towards the back right of the Greenaways field, providing some decent scope views. It was cool too to see it alongside one of the three resident Marsh Harriers, allowing us to really appreciate the considerable size difference.

We didn't see too much more of interest, other than a couple of Barnacle Geese amongst the local Greylags, 1-2 male Stonechats and a Fox. There was generally a distinct lack of wildfowl and Plovers, presumably due to the recent snow and ice.

Around 11:30am the rain began to set in as predicted, encouraging us to head off in search of a pub with a nice fire and a good roast!

On the way home, the guys were keen to pop into Thenford for a quick look for Hawfinch so we paid homage for half an hour or so as the rain briefly abated. We managed views of one bursting out of a nearby yew tree calling as it headed off into the Heseltine estate. It was cold and the light was closing in, so around 15:00pm we decided to call it a day.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Close to home

This weekend has been beautifully bright, crisp and cold. This encouraged me to get out and explore some sites close to home, in the hope of unearthing a few local scarcities. I have to say it turned out to be really successful!

A still & sunny morning was forecast for Saturday (25/11) morning and so I was keen to get out first thing to my local patch of Bucknell Wood. I've had some very decent luck with Hawfinches locally in the last few weeks and I was really hoping to get one on my Bucknell patch list too, knowing full well, this winter was THE chance to get them here.

As predicted, it was a stunner of a morning and It was pleasing to find no other cars in the car park. I had the place to on!

Walking down one of the main, central tracks through the centre of the wood, I heard that distinctive sharp, snappy call that I had become so familiar with during the last few weeks...Hawfinch, boom!! It flew over the track and then away from me, before luckily circling back round and going right over my head calling loudly throughout. What a treat!

On a bit of a high, I continued on with a big old circuit of the wood, however there were unfortunately no more Hawfinch sightings. I did though enjoy a few other nice bits & bobs, including a couple of vocal flyover Brambling, 4 Lesser Redpoll (including a bird with a metal ring - too far away to read), a flyover Cormorant, several vocal Raven & Siskins.

Sunday (26/11) was again lovely and bright, however there was a bit more of a breeze, with a right old chilly edge to it! I decided to try out the fields between Brackley & Croughton in the vein hope of finding a Hen Harrier, a real Northants bogey bird of mine! This area has real potential for finding winter raptors with large open fields and a nice mix of rough areas, hedges and woodland, as well as several high points to scan the area. Barely 5 minutes from home, I took the road to Hinton-in-the-Hedges off the A422, on the western edge of Brackley. This road climbs right up to a significant high point in the landscape and is a good vantage point to scan for birds. Driving along here, the small-ish silhouette of a bird sat in a roadside sapling loomed into view. It was about Jackdaw size, but it just didn't look right. As I slowly crawled towards it, the bird dropped down into the adjacent field, revealing a flash of blue, pointed wings...a male Merlin!! I tried my best to creep out of the car and to the boot to get my camera and bins but unfortunately the bird flushed. I quickly got to the bins and watched it cruise down to a distant fence. Here it sat for a good 10-15 minutes allowing good if distant scope views (horrific phone-scoped photo below at x60!). Bumping into a Merlin anywhere is special but this really was an unexpected treat. A serious local mega!

I spent the rest of my morning walking a long stretch of bridleway north of Croughton, a track I hadn't yet explored. There is a decent chunk of woodland here and some large open fields. There were plenty of birds about but nothing spectacular. Best were a couple of flyover Golden Plover and a couple of showy Red Kites.

Later on, a quick look at Thenford Church again proved fruitful with a couple of relatively brief flight views of a female/1st-winter Hawfinch, loosely associating with a group of Redwings.

I finished my day over at Boddington Reservoir for the gull roost. It was a very decent roost with excellent numbers of larger gulls. I managed to pick out at least 5-6 adult/4th winter Yellow-Legged Gulls, as well as a possible adult Caspian Gull at last knockings, in the near darkness.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Kitti & Kes

The Grimsbury Reservoir patch has been painfully quiet for quite sometime. This week however, I was treated to a bit of a surprise, with a smart 1st-winter Kittiwake bobbing about on the water, a short way off the pontoon at the southern end of the reservoir.

It soon moved to the centre of the reservoir with a group of LBBGs, however typically these were soon disturbed by a fisherman and all drifted off away from the reservoir. The Kittiwake wasn't seen again. Boooo! This was amazingly the fourth Kittiwake I've seen at Grimsbury in three years and the third I've found! Not bad for humble old Grimbo!

Other than a few Yellow-Legged Gull sightings and a solitary male Stonechat, the other recent highlight has been the reliable presence of an extremely confiding female Kestrel, allowing an amazingly close approach down to around 15-20 feet. A bit of a treat to see one so close!

Short Day Count

Yesterday, (Sunday 07/01) Gareth, myself and local birder Clive, took part in the BOS Short Day Count. We birded from 08:00am - 16:00pm in g...