Tuesday, 31 July 2018

A trio of visits to BWR, 27/28/29th July

There is an old adage amongst Patch Workers, those dedicated birders that stay ever faithful to one site, that "no two days are ever the same". Well that statement is quite often refuted at Bicester Wetlands Reserve where at this time of year nothing much seems to happen but as mentioned in my previous blog Black or Black? 26th July this past week has thrown up some interesting birds.

On Friday we had caught up with the Black-tailed Godwits that had been found on Thursday morning but which we had chosen to ignore preferring to go for the Black Terns at Farmoor instead. We had intended to go for a look at them after Farmoor but the usual Bicester traffic chaos had thwarted that idea. They were easy enough to find since they were stood ankle (that's a birds ankle which is actually halfway up the leg) deep in the water but a long way out on the main scrape. Apparently the previous day they had been much closer in but you can't win them all.

The brighter coloured of the Blackwits
A large (by BWR standards) group of 32 Lapwings were loafing on the spit closest to the hide and a few of them were taking time out to bathe. Lapwings are beautiful birds and perhaps under appreciated since they are still reasonably common but we should remember that they are in decline along with so many of our farmland birds. The feathers have a wonderful oily sheen to them.

Lapwing bathing
The majority of birds on view were Black-headed Gulls that were also copying the Lapwings in basically doing very little but also taking a dip both on the main scrape and in the Works Pool. All of the Black-headed Gulls are in moult now and most have at least partly lost their chocolate brown head feathers that they sport during the breeding season. I tried, as I always do, to turn one into a Mediterranean Gull and, as I always do, failed completely. It can't be too much longer before they discover the reserve on a regular basis (there is a record of one from last year, a juvenile, that didn't linger).

Black-headed Gull bathing
Green Sandpipers are a regular visitor to BWR and July sees a peak in their numbers. Today there were 7 on or around the main scrape (I have seen as many as 20 before) and I'm hopeful, along with the other regulars that they'll entice a scarcer wader in like a Wood Sandpiper, or an even rarer one such as a Pectoral Sandpiper, as the Summer progresses.

Green Sandpiper
It was a hot day with little wind and the reedbed was a hive of activity with many Reed Warblers evident. Some of these were showing really well right in front of the hide but you needed be quick to get on them and quicker still to get photos that were unhindered by vegetation.

Reed Warblers
A juvenile Common Whitethroat was creeping along one of the fences in search of insects. It was very careful to keep partially hidden by the weeds and reeds but showed itself now and again.

Juvenile Common Whitethroat
The Reed Warblers caught my attention again and I rattled off some more shots whenever a bird perched openly on the reeds and a female type Blackcap, much more furtive in the trees, appeared too.

Reed Warbler
Female Blackcap
On Saturday after our morning spent at Farmoor, see Farmoor, 28th July, we returned to BWR mainly to see if the Black-tailed Godwits had ventured closer to the hide. They hadn't, choosing to stay well out on the far side of the scrape as they had the day before. However, no sooner had we settled down in the hide, the 2 Blackwits chose to take to flight and I thought that they were off to continue their migration but they obviously just fancied a short bout of exercise and after a couple of circuits landed back in their favoured area. You can see from the photos that the less brightly coloured bird is larger and also has a longer bill so that bird is most likely a female whereas the smaller more brightly plumaged bird would be a male. Unlikely that they're a breeding (or failed breeding) pair but it is possible since they've chosen to migrate together.

Black-tailed Godwits
While looking at some sinister looking Grey Herons, one of which was definitely up to no good, I noticed a small greyish bird at the base of the reeds. The scope view revealed an adult Water Rail. Not unusual for the reserve but I don't think I'd ever seen one here in the summer before. In winter we get fantastic views of them as they eat spilt seeds under the feeders but even though this view was completely crap it will probably be more memorable. Breeding of these secretive reedbed dwellers was proven here last year when a juvenile was spotted in the same area. I kept scoping the spot but no young birds broke cover this time and, owing to the close proximity of the Herons, best they stayed well hidden if they were there.

Water Rail
I mused on the old adage stated earlier in the piece. On Friday we had terrific views of Reed Warblers and a juvenile Common Whitethroat right outside the hide whereas today, because of the strong breeze, there were none to be seen. There was also just a solitary Lapwing on view against the 30 odd on Friday while the Black-headed Gull number had dwindled considerably too. 

A single Common Snipe was present on both days as were up to 7 Green Sandpipers. Although at times both fed in the first cut of open water, the hide is still not quite close enough in order to get great shots with my lens. How I'd love the hide to be moved across the road! Better photos are gained when birds fly since a flying bird is a much bigger target to focus on!

Common Snipe
Green Sandpiper
The Grey Herons remained, stood menacingly out by the reeds, and we saw one catch and devour some unfortunate prey. I couldn't be totally sure what it was, at first I thought it might be a chick of a Moorhen but after looking hard at the blurry photos, it possibly looks more like a mole? then and again is that a beak and feet? I just hope it wasn't a Water Rail chick!

Grey Heron and prey.
Sunday dawned with persistent drizzle and light rain, always good birding weather but not very nice to go out in. It's in such wet weather that I'm really thankful that we have this great little reserve on our doorstep and even more grateful that it's just yards from the car to the sanctuary of the dry hide. We've also seen some really good birds on the worst weather days here, the best being 3 Common Cranes a few years back. No big surprises during our hour or so today and the Blackwits had seemingly moved on but had been replaced by 2 Common Sandpipers which spent most of the time chasing each other around the scrape.

Common Sandpiper
The number of Green Sandpipers was still stuck at 7, must have been the same 7 on all days, and the Common Snipe remained still.
Green Sandpiper, moulting a primary wing feather
Just over a week had passed since I had finally managed, after years of trying, to secure some decent photos of a Green Woodpecker, a juvenile male which spent a few minutes perched on the fence in front of the hide, the best of which had secured me a "Notable Photo" in Birdguides weekly competition!

"Notable" Green Woodpecker!
You can hear the "Yaffle" on most visits to the reserve and on hearing one I searched and this time found an adult male (shown by the red cheek patch, females have black cheek patches) perched almost on the same section of fence. It remained long enough for photos but in the less than ideal murky light the results weren't quite up to the same standard. 

Adult male Green Woodpecker
It flew off in the direction of the Works Pool and I refound it on the short grass just over the Water Plant Compound fence. It was hunting out food on the ground, the persistent rain probably bringing Ants and other insects to the surface. 

When it burst into flight I was ready and secured some nice flight images, probably too far away for a winning image, but I'll submit it in hope anyway. Woodpecker flight is very fast so the camera is more than useful in freezing the action to enable the intricate barring of the wings to be admired.

After a quick check on the Works Pool where the juvenile Little Grebes were still harassing their parents for food, Mrs Caley exclaimed "look, a deer"! Just beyond the gate and fence a Roebuck was sauntering past as bold as brass. It looked directly in our direction but wasn't bothered, even if it detected our presence, since it even stopped to munch on some vegetation. It melted into the long grasses at ease and disappeared from view although we were able to see it cross the scrape where its fed by the outlet stream from the reedbed.

There was time to check on the scrape and the Common Snipe had at last come close enough for decent views. The Grey Heron gathering had increased up to 5 birds, 2 of which faced each other as if in a staring contest!

Common Snipe
Grey Heron stand-off!
We are spending a fair bit of time at the reserve which led Alan the warden (I keep him well bombarded with photos) to remark that we are spending more time there than he does! Alan and his team of volunteers do a terrific job in maintaining this natural haven so close to the ever busy town and they deserve great credit. I have work to attend to again so it'll be a few days before I'm able to get back down there, unless something good turns up of course. 

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