Wednesday 15th April: Flogging an Increasingly Emaciated Patch
The one day, Tuesday 14th April, that we didn't check out Trow Pool and its surrounds, Alan found a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on the Incinerator Pool. That is fairly typical. We had checked that pool at least six times over the preceding week and seen nothing! We hadn't yet seen any LRP's this year and had already missed some at Graven Hill in the week before. I was fully back at work so wouldn't be able to check the pool out until Wednesday evening.
It was, yet another, warm and sunny day, at least the fine weather had made the current situation more bearable for folk, as we walked down the path towards the Incinerator. Because we needed the Plovers, we didn't spend much time looking at much else on the way, but we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing energetically from the trees around Trow Pool. We hurried to the metal fence and peered through the slats at the uninspiring hardcore lined reservoir. It took me just a few seconds to spot the pair of Little Ringed Plovers, predictably, just about as far away as they could be without leaving the vicinity. Bird number 142 for the year secured.
|Little Ringed Plovers|
Saturday 18th April: More desperate flogging of the Patch
The morning was remarkable in that it was raining! The fine weather that had predominated during the Lockdown period so far had given way to a horrible fine rain and dingy, drenched start to the day. The Scottish call such conditions, dreich, and I feel that word sums it up very succinctly. Not a day for walking and getting wet then, so we visited our local nature reserve at Bicester Wetlands (BWR) to have a look from the hide there. We were alone, just as well because of the social distancing rules set out by the Banbury Ornithological Society, whose guidelines for using the hides on their reserves stated that only one person, or a cohabiting couple, can be in a hide at any one time. We'd last visited BWR a week ago and nothing much had changed since then except for the obvious build up in House Martin numbers. Around fifty or so were hawking insects over the settling beds of the nearby Water Treatment Plant, in tandem with a smaller number of Swallows. I didn't bother trying to photograph any, mainly because they were at the back of the hide and to see them I'd have had to stand outside and get wet! Instead we peered through the gloom at the scrape, noting that the Black-tailed Godwits were still present, and saw a couple of Common Snipe huddled up close to the far bank. A Sparrowhawk buzzed through without stopping, a Jay followed it. We spotted the Sedge Warbler again but as before it wasn't showing off. The only other birds that took my fancy enough to be photographed were a pair of synchronised feeding Gadwall.
|Mallard and ducklings|
I've never been a patch birder. It's just too dull on a regular basis. I admit that it can have its exciting moments, I myself experienced a thrill when I found the Wheatear and the Corn Buntings over the last week or so, but generally you find nothing unusual or different from the norm. I can see the appeal in checking out a site once a week or so but every day just isn't for me. Mind you I'm stuck in deepest Middle England, if my patch was in coastal Cornwall or Norfolk then obviously I'd see it very differently! Having said all that, I have the upmost admiration for those folk that do keep a regular and consistent patch watch, such as Dai at Farmoor, Alan at BWR and Bark at Otmoor. Without birders like them, the rest of us wouldn't get to know about, or get the chance to see, the birds that frequent those patches.
Sunday 19th April: A Gropping Change of Scene
We live close to a wonderful place, Otmoor, only a fifteen minute drive from our house. Guidelines suggested that it was ok to go to an open space for exercise so long as you can socially distance from others, which shouldn't be a problem since the general Otmoor area is huge. Myself and Mrs Caley are the king and queen of self isolating anyway. I can't remember when we last had a visitor to our house and we shun social gatherings at the best of times. We actively seek remote places to visit, and holiday in, and positively avoid other people, well I tend to anyway, Mrs Caley is thankfully much more friendly, sociable and a far nicer person than I've ever been so she'll always talk to you! I work in isolation and the last football match I attended was back at the start of March, so I reckoned we were pretty safe to be let out into the countryside. A good friend of ours who birds the Moor a lot had been visiting regularly and I'd been in touch with him to get the lay of the land. There were three other cars parked up when we arrived early that morning so we weren't quite alone in wanting to escape our own immediate area.
Otmoor is the place in Oxfordshire to go to see newly arrived spring migrants and Warblers in particular. Of all of the Warbler species, my most sought after every April, is the Grasshopper Warbler (aka the Gropper) and Otmoor usually holds a few. One of the favoured areas is the field next to the carpark and quite often you can hear them reeling away as you gear up for the walk ahead. The first bird we heard and located though was a rattling Lesser Whitethroat actually in the carpark bushes. Lesser Whitethroats can be tricky to see owing to their normal preference for thick Blackthorn and Hawthorn bushes but reveal their presence by their "jit, jit, jit, jit" call. It took a while but we saw the bird when it flew right across the carpark and continued singing from the other side. Our year list moved up to 145 for the year.
As we walked up the track towards the feeder station I heard it. The Grasshopper Warbler! Instantly I felt a little bit better, Groppers are among my most favourite of birds and I will never ever lose the excitement of hearing the first one of spring. The song isn't really a song at all but has been likened to a whirring fishing reel and is indeed known as reeling. Once you've heard the reeling song it then becomes a stern test to find the singer since they most frequently sing from deep cover. They are also renowned ventriloquists and turn their heads while reeling making pinning their actual position down very tricky. However, and luckily for us birders, a Gropper will sometimes creep slowly up to a more prominent and open perch from which to sing, and this morning we were in luck. Grasshopper Warblers are most easily seen on fine and sunny days and this morning was just that, not many days lately had been anything but, except yesterday of course. I found the reeling Gropper quickly. Compared to usual when you may have to spend ages trying to find one even if it's located right next to you, today it took just a few minutes to find the bird singing very low down in a bramble. While I set the scope up for Mrs Caley to admire it, the Gropper climbed higher and higher until it reached a halfway point in a spindly growth of an adjacent bush. Once there it was in full view and I grabbed a few record shots.
We could hear a Cuckoo calling from trees on the opposite side of the carpark field but the source of that distinctive song remained unseen. Strolling along the bridleway we heard our first Reed Warbler of the year and from further away a Bittern "boomed" from the reedbed, another bird that is normally hard to see and also has a strange "song". If I drew up a list of favourite birds, a high proportion of them would be species that are hard to see. Birds like the Nightingale, Corncrake, Capercaillie, Water Rail, most other Warblers as well as the Gropper and Bittern would all figure. I enjoy the challenge of finding them. I also love the "little brown jobs" that a lot of other people tend to ignore. One Warbler species that isn't hard to see on Otmoor is the Sedge Warbler. Almost every bush that stands along the bridleway ditch has a resident and territorial Sedgie at this time of year and they sing their mad little song full of clicks and whistles almost continuously. One Sedge Warbler was particularly showy.