Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Some Mockery But No April Foolery! 1st April 2021


There
have been some amazing birds found over the years in peoples gardens during the RSPB sponsored "Big Garden Birdwatch" weekend in January. One year somebody in Bedfordshire found an Ovenbird (no, not a Chicken but a Pipit like Thrush from North America) in their back garden. Others have found Hawfinches, Hoopoe's and Turaco's (escapee) and even a Puffin. For our part we once found a Coal Tit in our own garden. We were giddy for weeks afterwards. Anyway, this years big story centred around another rare North American bird when a Northern Mockingbird was discovered feeding in a Holly tree in the back garden of a house in Exmouth, Devon. There had only been two previous records of Mockingbirds in the UK and the last was back in 1988 so this was a bird that most if not all Twitchers and Listers would want to see, Myself and Mrs Caley included. However the whole country was in its third Lockdown owing to the Pandemic and non-essential travel was discouraged, in fact it was illegal. So for most birders the Mockingbird was strictly off limits unless you were lucky enough to live locally to Exmouth. Not that any of that prevented many of the major twitchers from travelling to see the bird, including a few that I know. Some of them even fell foul of the law and ended up paying an extra two hundred quid for their troubles. Mrs Caley and I did not travel. For responsible people it was out of the question.

When the Mockingbird remained in Exmouth throughout February and into March, the possibility of it staying for long enough raised the chance that we'd be able to go and see it once the Lockdown was lifted. The date for the easing of restrictions was the 29th of March when travel would be allowed again providing no overnight stays were taken. As I mentioned in my previous blogpost, I should have been working but fate conspired so that I'd have most of the week off. On the Tuesday we'd dipped out on seeing the Rustic Bunting at Thursley which had fled as soon as it heard that the Caley's were on route. The next day I had a bit to do but that evening, with the rest of the week free, we made plans to drive to Devon and see the Mockingbird for ourselves.

The Mockingbird had been reported as being present most days by just after seven in the morning so we'd have its presence confirmed before we got halfway there. Naturally, just to stretch my nerves even more tautly than they usually are, the message of it still being there was late in coming on the Thursday and we were only around thirty miles away when we finally had those nerves settled. I was well aware of it being April Fools' Day too so wasn't taken anything for granted. We parked in the street directly opposite the row of back gardens where the Mockingbird was usually seen. It was well known by now that viewing the bird was problematic to say the least. The favoured garden was protected by an eight foot high fence and it couldn't be seen from the alleyway that passed behind the garden unless you were either made of gigantic proportions or were a window cleaner or such like and just happened to have a step-ladder with you. Many people had become window cleaners for the day and had taken small ladders with them so that they could peer over the fence. Otherwise more distant views could be had by looking across the road and over slightly lower fencing. There were just four other birders looking for the bird when we arrived and we joined them on the wide pavement next to the busy main road. The bird was not showing but we were pointed towards the Holly tree, right next to the fourth closest house, where it would most likely be seen when it appeared again. We crossed the road and set up our scope and trained it on the Holly. I still had to stand on tip-toes for a decent view and I'd taken a small hop-up so that Mrs Caley could see better too. We had heard a few stories about some rather unpleasant and unhelpful locals who had become a trifle annoyed with the birders visiting to see the Mockingbird so were more than a bit taken aback when a chap came out of his own back garden and invited us to stand on his driveway from where there was a much better view of the Holly tree. Just a few moments later one of the other birders also stood on the drive announced that the Mockingbird was in the Holly again. A momentary panic in trying to find the bird and we had the latest addition to our life lists. It had taken less than ten minutes to see the bird.

Northern Mockingbird


The Mockingbird remained almost motionless and peered around its adopted home. Maybe it was counting the attendance, "Mmm, a few this morning then, my popularity must be waning". It resembled a miniature Shrike without the fierce looking bill or maybe a really plain and washed out Barred Warbler. Our initial view was of the front and the underparts of the bird which presented a rather sombre pale buff and grey bird. The long tail was evident and the merest hint of a white wing bar could be seen. The black bill, quite long and slender, was set into a pale grey head into which was set striking and piercing black eyes. 





Happy with those initial views and record shots I nevertheless wanted some better photos so left Mrs Caley on the driveway while I walked down the alleyway where there were another four birders. To my great fortune, one of them was an actual Window Cleaner, and he had a ladder with him! Breathing excitedly in my face mask (don't go there) I politely asked if I could have the next stint on the ladder to grab a few images. The kind fellow immediately gave up the ladder to me, telling me that the Mockingbird had moved into a Palm tree. It took me a few seconds to even find the Palm and it wasn't straightforward hanging onto a ladder while trying to stabilise the camera enough but after yet another slight panic I did find the Mockingbird. It was at the back of the tree and obscured by the berries that it was feasting upon.




Fortunately the Mockingbird adjusted its position slightly, meaning that I didn't have to dangle perilously off to one side of the ladder. To be fair I was only four rungs and therefore around three feet off the ground so I wouldn't have fallen far. I took a few more frames of the once again stationary bird, then vacated my spot, thanked the chap for the loan of the perch and returned to Mrs Caley who was having some cracking views through the scope.




I went back to the alleyway after I noticed three of the four birders in the alleyway leaving and the kind man with the ladder allowed me another look at the Mockingbird which was now perched in the top of a twiggy tree and once again was just staring around. My view now placed the bird against a backdrop of the house chimney and brickwork which in the photos almost resembled autumn foliage (something that was pointed out to me by a Twitter Troll later who reckoned I'd nicked the image from somewhere else and that it must have been taken in New England in the Fall even though the Mockingbird was perched in a newly budding tree!). I stayed this time for less than a minute despite being told to "Fill my boots, there's no rush". Like a lot of other birders, staring into somebody else's garden is not my preferred method of birdwatching, so I was determined to keep our stay to a minimum. I do think some people do misunderstand the birders aims, after all we are there for the bird and not to peer into folks lives or bedrooms. High zoom optics don't allow for wide-angle views anyway and they are trained purely on the bird. My single-mindedness of seeing the bird meant that I didn't notice any salient points of the house or garden or anybody in them except for the trees that the Mockingbird perched in and the chimney.






I collected Mrs Caley and my scope just in time. Another, far less charming resident had emerged from his own back garden and ordered us in a very direct and impolite manner to get off his drive! I tried to explain to him that we had been invited onto the shared driveway by his neighbour but he became even more animated and directed his anger towards the neighbours garage door instead. Reminding him calmly not to touch my scope again and to tone his language down a shade or two, we hurriedly left, the volley of abuse following us as we crossed the road. I've never been able to fathom how some people can become so stressed at such an early hour in the day, it was still only half past nine, but I guess that particular chap had become fed up of the intrusions. It was disappointing though to become the target of such obnoxious behaviour since we hadn't overstepped any marks and had merely taken advantage of another persons generosity. But I guess it does make you realise just how difficult it must be to be a celebrity or royalty and have to put up with Paparazzi every single day. We had been in Exmouth for barely half an hour and were very glad to be leaving so quickly. We had other plans now we were in the area anyway.

The area of Devon on the opposite side of the Exe Estuary is a stronghold of Cirl Buntings. We usually drop into Labrador Bay, a small RSPB reserve set high on the cliffs, between Standen and Torquay, on our way to Cornwall in October for our Cirl Bunting fix and we've rarely seen them in the spring so this trip would give us an ideal opportunity to do just that. Labrador Bay is probably about five miles from Exmouth as a Cirl Bunting or Mockingbird flies but required a twenty-five mile drive around the estuary to get to. There is a small council run carpark and as my luck would have it the parking attendant was in attendance so I had to part with eighty of my good pence to park for a couple of hours. I hate paying to park. We could hear a Cirl Bunting singing as soon as we left the carpark, choosing to walk around the designated pathway that takes you through some of the thick hedges that the Buntings depend on for nesting. Similar to the set-up at Thursley Common where we dipped on the Rustic Bunting on Tuesday but did at least get a couple of Little Buntings, the Cirl Buntings here are given supplementary food throughout the year and a thriving population has been established. On one visit a few years ago we counted at least seventy feeding in an adjacent stubble field. It only took me a few minutes to find a fine male Cirl in the hedge by a gateway.

Cirl Bunting


A little further on, where the path begins to dip down a very steep path towards the sea, we heard a Cirl Bunting in full song, which is like a mixture of those of the closely related Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting. The Cirl Bunting was perched in the top of one of the tall trees and the singing of its song appears to take a fair bit of effort and is delivered with much gusto since the bird tosses its head back  in order to generate as much volume as possible.




Another birder (togger really) wandered along and said that he could hear the Cirl Bunting singing but couldn't see it. I directed him to where the bird was perched at the top of the tree and was met with an incredulous, "That's a Linnet (you idiot)". People like that chap raise my ire very quickly so I snapped back (too much stress in my life lately which I need to get a grip on), "Linnets don't sing Cirl Bunting style though, do they!" Eventually he found the Cirl Bunting which was on a branch about three feet away from the Linnet and then proceeded to set up his tripod and camera right in front of us and thus rudely ignoring any Covid protocols. We left him to it and went for a stroll part way down the field but not going too far because that would entail returning back up that aforementioned steep slope!

Our unwelcome friend had gone, thankfully, so we looked along the field edges again but there was no further sign of any of the Cirl Buntings that we'd found before although plenty of Linnets remained. We had got our year tick, the 135th of a tricky 2021, so were happy enough to move on. As we walked slowly between the hedges I heard another Cirl Bunting singing. I swung around and spotted the bird right at the top of a bramble patch close to the tree where the one had been before.



This looked to be an opportunity too good to pass up so we walked steadily back, through the gate and back into the field. As we neared the bramble the Cirl Bunting remained still but watched us warily. My method in these cases involves walking towards the bird a few paces, taking a few photos, then take a few more steps and a few more shots and so on. Usually the bird will either dive for cover or fly off before you can get anywhere near it but on this occasion the Cirl Bunting just stood there and incredibly allowed me to approach within twenty feet which was close enough to obtain virtually full frame images. Easily the best photographs of such a beautiful species that I've ever managed to take. After taking a few more, I walked backwards and left the bird in peace. It remained perched on the bramble and was still there as we walked back along the hedgerow path towards the car.






We had another close encounter with another male Cirl Bunting just yards away from the car. Interestingly we had only seen one female bird during our visit, possibly denoting that they were already involved in incubating eggs and hatching out more of these lovely birds. Credit is due to the RSPB, other nature conservation groups, and local farmers, for doing such good work in helping the Cirl Buntings to thrive.




After paying homage to our boat that was parked out in the bay, sadly we're not able to make full use of it during the pandemic and the skeleton staff of fifty are costing us a fortune, it was time to move on. At least I've been able to have the logo repainted on the front while it sits idle.



We pulled into a rough carpark in a heathland area high above Teignmouth thinking it would make a nice spot to take our sandwich lunch and maybe get lucky and see a few birds while there. As I reversed into a spot, I noticed a familiar face walking across the carpark. Our friend Colin had done exactly the same as us but had been a couple of hours ahead! He'd also stopped at the same place with exactly the same thoughts that it looked like a likely place to see some heathland birds. But as happens when we meet the next hour was spent discussing everything birds and birders and the only birds we saw were Stonechats and a Siskin. A Short-eared Owl was reported from the RSPB's Exminster Marshes which was back across the other side of the estuary and presumably found by a twitcher to the Mockingbird which was only a couple of miles away. I decided though that a Shortie flying around at midday would have been flushed and would soon go to ground again so chose not to return around the circuitous route and instead we hit the M5 and headed northwards towards home.

We had another bird that we wanted to see anyway which was conveniently about halfway home so we'd be able to take a break from the drive at the same time. The drive was undertaken with a fair bit of angst though since regular updates of the Short-eared Owl still flying around the marshes were being posted on Birdguides. It's fairly typical that I make the wrong decision when choosing where to go these days. Anyway I'm sure we'll get to see a Short-eared Owl somewhere this year eventually even if they have been very thin on the ground locally this winter and spring. Our diversion was to Barrow Gurney Reservoirs and to year tick the long staying Long-tailed Duck that we'd twitched on the way home after seeing a Melodious Warbler at Dawlish Warren last August. That time we'd parked in the main carpark and had an arduous walk, so it seemed at the time, up a ton of steps and then around two of the three tanks (as they are known) to see the Duck. While there I had noticed a small carpark for the use of Fisherfolk and Church Goers right next to the tank that the Long-tailed Duck frequents. So this time I pulled into that parking spot, whether legitimately or not, I didn't care, jumped out of the car, took a quick scan of the water and couldn't see the Duck at all. Undeterred I set the scope up and scanned again and found the handsome Long-tailed Duck, #136 for the year, right under the furthest bank. With no intention of walking anywhere to get closer views, I took a crappy record shot and left for home. We'd come back again the next time we travel to the south-west.

Long-tailed Duck


















Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Just One More Day! 30th March 2021



The 29th of March saw the first relaxation of Coronavirus restrictions with the lifting of travel bans throughout England. Along with many other birders this modification was great news since it meant that I could finally get out of Oxfordshire, go to other areas and hopefully see some of the rarer bird species that had been denied to us so far this year. The only snag was that I had a full schedule at work so wouldn't be going anywhere!

As luck would have it (or not, if you consider that work is also very important) the project that I was supposed to start on the Monday wasn't quite ready for me so, apart from a couple of catch-up smaller jobs, I had little to do for the week. A bird that I really wanted to see was the Rustic Bunting that had taken up residence for the winter at Thursley Common in Surrey. It had been present since the end of November last year and I had checked the bird news almost daily to see if it was staying faithful to the site. We had already missed out on a Rustic Bunting a few times before so I was keen to add one to my UK life list. A couple of them had evaded us while holidaying in Cornwall in the past. Last October when one had turned up and shown well at Lowestoft, we had set off early the next day but unfortunately the weather was so bad with torrential rain that it was too dangerous to travel and we turned back for home after just a few miles, after finding two drivers that had already come to grief by aquaplaning into ditches. As it happened the bird had flown off early morning and we would have missed it anyway so maybe fate saved a long and wasted journey.

My chance at the Thursley Common Rustic Bunting wouldn't come until the Tuesday. I kept an eye on the bird news all day Monday and sure enough the Rustic was present and showing well right up until the evening. A good friend of mine had travelled down during the day and seen it really well. So we made plans to leave early on Tuesday morning and get the bird for ourselves. We were on the road a little after five o'clock, it wasn't yet light and we should arrive at Thursley by seven. As we trundled down the M40 I noticed the full moon sinking below the horizon and a big part of my heart sank with it. The Rustic Bunting had been singing for the last few weeks and had acquired a near full summer plumage so it would definitely be moving northwards to its breeding grounds soon. Fingers crossed it hadn't chosen the night before to leave, after all we'd had good weather for a while and it hadn't so far. 

The carpark at Thursley was already quite full when we arrived into a fresh and misty morning so it seemed as if we wouldn't be the only ones looking for the Buntings. I say Buntings because the Rustic had been kept company for a large part of its stay by a couple of male Little Buntings, another scarce species but one which we've seen before including one in Oxfordshire. The Buntings and other birds were attracted to an area on the common known as "The Bunting Bushes" where seed is scattered for the birds to eat throughout the winter. The practice of supplying supplementary winter feeding for birds is widespread and many rare and scarce species have been found coming to the provided food. Once a bird has found the feeding station then they tend to stay loyal to the handouts for a long period. I'm the same with my fridge. 

I was hoping that the fog had persisted on the Common all night but it was obvious that it was just an early morning shroud created by the frosty start to the day and it would soon lift once the sun popped up. As we walked towards the Bunting Bushes the uneasy feeling that I'd had earlier when I'd seen the clear night and full moon amplified, I'd been duped by birds leaving overnight before in very similar conditions. I had done my homework, as I always do, and knew that the Rustic Bunting had always been reported as being "still present" by 09:00 at the latest and usually an hour earlier than that. We joined the assembled throng of twenty or so other, socially distanced, birders at just past 07:30. I glanced at my phone and saw that somebody had reported the two Little Buntings ten minutes previous but as yet there had been no sign of the Rustic variety.


The Bunting Bushes


We stared at the bushes and the ground below them, expectantly awaiting the scarcer birds but for half an hour had to be satisfied with a trio of Goldfinches and a single Lesser Redpoll. Buntings were flying into the trees just to our left but owing to the angle of the sun, they were difficult to identify but to my eye they did all look like Reed Buntings. At two minutes past eight, a Bunting sprang forward through the bushes. Some of the Toggers, clearly they had been here longer and had possibly visited before so knew what the bird was, instantly began firing off a volley of shots with their cameras. I had to check the identity first, it wasn't a Rustic Bunting but also not a Reed Bunting, it was one of the Little Buntings. I joined in the rapid fire of camera shutters.


Little Bunting


Nothing much else happened for the next forty-five minutes except for more repeated visits by the Goldfinches. It was almost nine o'clock and there had not even been a whiff of a Rustic Bunting. My uneasy feeling had been replaced by a major sense of foreboding. A drake Mallard waddled purposely into the arena and looked as if it was going to announce, "Sorry folks but there'll be no Rustic Bunting today" and then began taking its own fill of the food on offer rather than let it go to waste.

Mallard


The camera shutters started clicking again. A Little Bunting had appeared and I was quicker to join in this time. This bird was initially a lot more cautious than the first bird we'd seen an hour before so could well have been the second bird but to my eye, all Little Buntings look the same. Little Buntings are smashing looking birds, superficially looking like a female Reed Bunting but they're a tad smaller (obviously) and have rich chestnut coloured cheeks and a well defined white eye-ring. I'd seen two Little Buntings before, both at some distance away, so this bird being so close was fantastic to see and I managed to add some improved images to add to my own personal and modest portfolio.






It was another forty-five minutes until a Little Bunting appeared again. However it was also nearly ten o'clock and the Rustic hadn't shown. It was evident that the scarcer bird had indeed moved on overnight which was a trifle hard to take considering that it had been present for almost four months but had decided to ship out on the first day that we had the opportunity to go for it. Perhaps we should have cheated the Lockdown rules like so many others had. Mind you I got stick recently from some of my peers for daring to bird on Otmoor which is just ten miles from my home during Lockdown so I'd probably have been completely ostracised from the local birding scene if I had. At least the Little Buntings had provided some decent consolation for missing out on the Rustic Bunting so the disappointment was tempered a bit. There will be another Rustic Bunting to twitch in better times somewhere next autumn. Indeed the same bird could well return to the Bunting Bushes for another winter.




We stuck it out for another hour before giving up. Woodlarks had flown overhead and during a "call of nature" wander we had added Dartford Warbler, Siskin and Stonechat to the day list. We heard Crossbills too but I couldn't be bothered by then to raise more than a cursory interest in any of them. The only subsequent birds we saw at the Bunting Bushes were a few Reed Buntings, more Goldfinches and a greedy cock Pheasant.

Goldfinch

Pheasant

Reed Bunting


The Rustic Bunting wasn't reported again, such negative news actually provides a small degree of comfort because it means that at least we didn't just "miss it" on site. Our interest in seeing new birds hadn't waned and we were already looking forward to the next day out. With twitching you have to accept the occasional dip, we've had a few now, but those misses just make the successful twitches even more pleasurable. There was a much rarer bird down in Devon and I had more time off at the end of the week. As for the Rustic Bunting all it needed to do was stay for one more day! And it couldn't even do that.

"Nothing to see here, move on please!"














Thursday, 22 April 2021

Eking out a Birding! End of March 2021



For the first time for in a while, or so it seemed, I was actually busy at work. It's fairly typical that after a long period of sporadic employment I now had a full diary for the foreseeable future just at the time when the spring migration of birds gets into full swing. So it was to the weekends that I was eagerly looking forward to, for some respite, and would be for a while. Having said that my own workload is subject to many factors that can upset the schedule so by the following week I'd probably be back to the "new normal" as opposed to the "old normal" that so many of us crave for. Coincidentally Lockdown rules were being relaxed on the 29th of March which would allow more travelling again and which would allow us, and lots of other like-minded folk, the chance to see some birds at other places outside of our home county, so we may yet get the opportunity to see the Mockingbird and Rustic Bunting that we have so wanted since the start of this year.

A Black Redstart had been found at Chinnor during the week and amazingly was joined by another on Friday. The birds were frequenting a new housing estate on the edge of an old cement works and quarry which has attracted Black Redstarts on several occasions over the past few years so it seems to be quite a place for them. After finishing work on Friday we drove over to look for the birds and drew a predictable blank! I contacted a friend of mine that evening and he said that he'd give me an early update on the Saturday morning if the bird or birds were still present. With few other options on offer we had already set off to have another look for ourselves and had just parked up when Jez called me to say that he'd just seen a male Black Redstart on the roof of the favoured house. We joined him on the edge of the Quarry nature reserve less than five minutes later, the bird had flown off of course but at least we knew it was still present. After a socially distanced chat, Jez left us to check out the Old Kiln area where a female Black Redstart had been seen the day before. We stayed, scanning the roofs of the houses for any birds but in the next half hour only saw some Pied Wagtails, never big friends of Black Redstarts, and the ubiquitous Red Kites flying overhead. Birding around houses is never easy. There are an infinite number of places that birds can hide undetected and there is also the feeling of intruding on peoples personal space when looking fir them. We intended to leave quickly once (if) we'd seen the Black Redstarts and within another half hour anyway if one didn't appear. We were in luck though when ten minutes later Mrs Caley spotted the fine male Black Redstart adorning the roof ridge of a house a few doors down the road from where Jez had spotted it earlier. Black Redstarts had given us the runaround this year so far and this was our fourth attempt at seeing one so it felt good to finally add it to our year list.

male Black Redstart


I let Jez know that we'd seen it and prepared to leave. As we walked back to the pavement from the nature reserve another Black Redstart popped up on the roof of the nearest house. Birds can be like buses sometimes! This was the female type and it posed for a couple of minutes on a chimney stack, for just long enough that Jez connected as well.


female Black Redstart


Instead of going straight back to the car we decided to explore the nature reserve for a while. With the old cement works gone a large area of the quarries and surrounding ground have been recreated into a fine looking reserve. It attracts a lot of folk not particularly interested in the nature, dog walkers as is common these days were everywhere, but if you live close by then it offers some great potential to the birdwatcher and Jez and other locals have already amassed a fine bird list there. Although we didn't see an awful lot as we walked, we did find a lovely Yellowhammer singing from one of the hedgerows.


male Yellowhammer


We know of a place in the area where Firecrests can be found so we took the twenty minute drive north to the wood near Wendover. Firecrests are not the easiest birds to see because of their habit of utilising the very tops of some pretty tall conifer trees for feeding. Occasionally they descend lower to feed in Holly trees. You need keen ears to locate them by their high pitched shrill calls and tinnitus sufferers like myself find it more than difficult. Luckily Mrs Caley has sharp hearing and after wandering for a while under the Firs she found one of the little sprites energetically searching for food in the fronds of a Conifer. We spotted another nearby and that bird very dutifully obliged by using a Birch tree as a stepping stone between two conifers. Photos were easier to obtain in the bare Birch but still a bit tricky to track such a small bird that was probably twenty metres up a tree.


Firecrest


In the absence of anything better to do we retraced our steps and drove back past Chinnor, resisted the urge to have another look for the Black Redstarts, and headed up to Linkey Down for a walk. Linkey Down is one of Oxfordshires prime locations for catching up with migrating Ring Ouzels and will usually host a few, both in spring and autumn, for a few days. But it was still a bit early in the calendar for them and none were evident, although some had been reported from other localities in neighbouring counties. We'd need to return in a couple of weeks. While on the Chiltern ridge however, we were treated to a continuous display from Red Kites and Buzzards which were gearing up ready for their breeding season.

Common Buzzard

Red Kite


Ravens are also plentiful on the ridge, they are encountered reasonably regularly in all parts of Oxon now, and we watched at least four use the updrafts to swoop and soar. Ravens are impressive birds, a portent of doom in folklore, as big as Buzzards and are masters of the air. For a patently amateur photographer like myself Ravens present a problem because settings have to be altered in order to get distinct images of the dark bird against the lighter sky. Despite the fact that two of the birds were flying very close to us I still managed to make a mess of most of my opportunities. It was a thrill to watch them though.




Raven


We returned home for a restful afternoon but I noticed that quite a few Wheatears had been seen in the county. Three of the Wheatears had been seen at Barford Airfield, reasonably close to home, and a place where I'd seen a Dotterel in the past, that was a while ago though so I contacted Kyle for some more info on the access to the site. We headed up to the airfield, a military installation which is still active, later in the afternoon. The weather had turned increasingly cold and windy, making for a bracing walk. Most of the site is out of bounds to the public but there is a footpath that runs around the perimeter of the airfield. We tentatively followed the path, there was nobody else around, and checked out the fields where we could. I saw a Corn Bunting fly into a small tree along with some Meadow Pipits that had been feeding next to manure pile.

Corn Bunting


Becoming a little anxious, as I am prone to do, actually it's more impatience than anxiety, I called Kyle again. Earlier he had mentioned that he wanted to see a Corn Bunting so I had suggested that he checked out Lower Heyford which has always been a reliable area for them. After asking about the Wheatears again, we had further to walk apparently, I casually mentioned that I'd just seen a Corn Bunting. Having not found any at Lower Heyford he said he was on his way! We followed the track downhill to another open field area. Kyle had said that the Wheatears were frequenting an area next to a grassy mound so I set up my scope and surveyed the area next to that mound, which laid at the end of the field. The Wheatears, two males and a female, were blatantly obvious! A few minutes later we were stood alongside the hump. One of the male birds was feeding quite close to the fence by which we stood, the other two were hunkered down against the wind somewhat further out in the field.


Wheatear, male (top) & female (bottom)


After taking a few more shots of the closest male Wheatear we returned to the car, and met Kyle walking in from the parking area. I put him on to the bush that the Corn Bunting had been perched in, it had disappeared but would soon return so he got his bird. While we discussed proceedings he then trumped us good and proper by announcing that he'd seen an Osprey flying up the Cherwell Valley while searching for the Corn Buntings earlier. Seeing Ospreys in Oxfordshire is a very hit and miss affair and we are very good at missing. I don't usually panic about seeing Ospreys because we normally holiday in Scotland in June but I doubt that we'd be going there again this year so I felt well and truly gripped by his sighting!




With a lot of distractions going on in the background, we made a half-hearted trip to Farmoor on the Sunday morning. It was a typical grey and overcast day which somewhat matched my mood. We saw very little of note although Sand Martin and Swallow were year ticks. A small flock of 6 female Goldeneye lingered on. A Sandwich Tern was seen by the pontoon at the western end of the causeway, we'd sat there for half an hour earlier but we were on the far side of F1 when it was seen. By the time we returned to the pontoon the Tern had left. As we reached the marina the Sarnie put in another appearance. I slammed the car door shut.