Thursday, 25 February 2021

Making the Most of it!. End of January 2021

At the end of the middle week of January we had a little bit of snow in our part of North Oxfordshire. Not enough to keep me away from work but an adequate dusting that made everywhere look much more wintry and appealing. It's amusing how a covering of snow makes everybody feel better about the world even though it creates extra hardship and makes performing normal duties more difficult. Our wildlife certainly doesn't welcome snow but it does bring the shyer birds and animals out into the open more as they search for food. 

Red Kite

One of my jobs is situated just to the north of Banbury and I once again opted to leave a small amount of tidying up for the Saturday morning so that I could combine my exercise walk with work in the same area. Having negotiated the rather icy and slippy minor roads we pulled into the skid-pan of the empty carpark at Farnborough Hall. There was more lying snow than at home and a heavy frost overnight had crusted the surface over. Remaining upright while walking wasn't easy, so our Nordic walking poles came in very useful. This was my first ever visit to Farnborough for birding, I'd worked in the village a few times over the years, and the whole area looked superb and potentially very birdy. Not the first time, or the last, I wished that I had somewhere like it near my home. We had gone there with a specific bird in my mind to find since I knew from the vibrant Banbury Birders WhatsApp group that the long narrow boomerang shaped lake known as Sourlands Pool was a regular haunt of a small flock of Goosanders. As soon as the pool came into view I spotted the Goosanders, six in all composed of equal numbers of males and females. The Goosanders, our 89th species of the year, had also seen us approaching of course and were swimming lazily away towards the other end of the pool.

Goosander, female left & male right

We followed the path along the waters edge, very carefully too considering the conditions underfoot and the fact that it was very cold and I for one didn't fancy getting a soaking. A Kingfisher whistled as it alighted in one of the partly submerged fallen trees. I've seen some excellent photos taken of Kingfishers at this site, DaFu who birds here regularly in particular has some really nice ones, but as soon as we got anywhere near the tree the Kingfisher was off again to another perch further away. Coupled with the overcast skies (there was blue sky approaching though), foretelling of more snow to come, and the general gloom beneath the tall trees that shadow the lake, my own effort at capturing the little jewel via the camera was hopeless. Kingfishers don't like me and hardly ever pose well for me. Consequently I have grown to hate most photos of Kingfishers that I see, especially those full frame shots of a bird on a mossy covered branch or reed stem, and worse still ones of them diving. I'm not at all jealous. (I do have some of my own Kingfisher photos taken a while ago, see here).


We followed, keeping a respectful distance, the group of Goosanders right to the far end of the lake. When birds are grouped together in flocks then they become much more jumpy than a single bird would and I understood why most success in seeing these Ducks came in the early morning before the daytime recreationists appeared. As we stood around fifty metres away, two more Goosanders flew in above the trees and landed with a splash, the female almost right in front of us. Once she saw us though she dived under and only resurfaced when in amongst her fellows. So now there were eight Goosanders, four males and four females.

A Grey Heron flew in and landed with little grace in a small patch of reeds. The Herons arrival caused great consternation among the Goosanders who became increasingly agitated and then, as one, took to the air and flew low and hard along the waters surface and away back towards the carpark end of the pool. If I hadn't have been looking elsewhere then I might have gained some nice flight shots. We retraced our steps back but there was no sign of the Goosanders so they must have flown out to another water body nearby.

A Nuthatch called loudly from the opposite side of the pool. I found it high in a tree illuminated beautifully in the early morning sunshine that had superseded the dreary start. Nuthatches are terrific little birds, both richly coloured and energetic as well as cheeky. They can also be very confiding, especially at garden feeders if you're lucky enough to get them visit your garden which of course we aren't at home. This bird kept its distance though.


We found nothing else new for the year in the trees around the lake and the water itself held only Mallards and Moorhens. A Stock Dove cooed mournfully from the very top of a very tall tree. Back at the car we saw our first other person for the day, a policeman in full uniform walking his attack dogs. Nervy moment that!

Stock Dove

I took a slight detour to check in on a breeding pair of Little Owls that we discovered, with help of course, the year before. These Owls nest in a stunted tree that is riddled with cavities and encompassed by a mass of unruly branches that resemble the best "bad hair day". Conveniently the tree is less than fifty metres from a road so the birds can be viewed if present without walking anywhere. We were in luck, one of the Owls was perched up in the branches, we could see it even as we drove up the lane. I took a couple of photos from inside the car and just as well that I did because the Little Owl immediately flew out of the tree and down to another perch in the lower reaches of a Conifer. We watched the bird through the scope for a while, added it to the list, checked the nest tree again which was now empty, and left. I find most Owls, as delightful as they are, a tad boring to watch unless they are in hunting flight mode. An Owl stood in a tree doesn't do a lot!

Little Owl

We were still missing quite a few common and expected species from our year list so during an afternoon off in midweek we took some time out together and headed for Dix Pit and Farmoor both within 25 minutes drive from home so I felt within boundaries. I'm not a massive fan of Dix Pit, it lies next to a busy refuse tip, if the wind is in the wrong direction it can hum a bit, and lorries are continually trundling up and down the access road, but it is nevertheless a terrific site and attracts some really good birds. I probably only visit once or twice a year unless a scarce or rare bird is found there. We have seen a Pied-billed Grebe (in tandem with a disallowable White-headed Duck), Black-necked Grebes, a Garganey, several Greater Scaup and others over the years. The Pits greatest claim to fame was for housing a Baikal Teal which I of course missed. Our main interest on this visit though was directed towards the small copse of Alder trees that edge the lake on the tip side. These trees are a good spot to find Siskins, we discovered them last year when searching for an overwintering Garganey. We soon found the Siskin flock, about twenty in all, feeding on the fruits of the Alders. We didn't have long so I rattled off a few shots, it wasn't worth wasting too much time since it was another grey and drizzly day in a long sequence of grey and drizzly days.

Siskin, female

We scanned the pit itself and came up with a pair Goldeneye and a few Red-crested Pochards, which were both new for the year, as well as bigger numbers of Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall and Shoveler. The Grey Heron and Cormorant nesting colonies on the island were already in full swing, we counted around twenty nests of each, and a couple of Egyptian Goose flew overhead.

Grey Heron

Farmoor is just a ten minute drive from Dix Pit and many birds regularly commute between the two. As well as the dreary grey skies, it had at least ceased raining, there was very little wind and the surface of both reservoirs barely mustered a ripple as we walked along the causeway. We had a target bird here and knew that they would probably be at the western end of Farmoor 1, where they usually feed. Before we got there though we had added a fine adult Yellow-legged Gull, stood on one of the many buoys, to our year list. A trio of Little Grebe's, feeding close in, were also added to the list shortly after.

Little Grebe

I spotted the three Greater Scaup from some distance away and was pleased to see them close in to the causeway as well. We saw these ducks at the end of 2020, along with a juvenile Great Northern Diver which sadly must have moved on, but seeing them again today took the year list total on to 96, not bad considering the current restrictions. We approached the Scaup, they were mingled in with Tufted Ducks and Coots, carefully since they were only twenty to thirty metres out from the bank so in spite of the gloom there were some decent photo opportunities in the offering. By walking up the other side of the causeway we were then able to cross the road and squat on the wall right next to the Ducks. The triumvirate of notable ducks is composed of a first winter male, a first winter female and an adult female. I tried initially to capture all three in one shot and although they lined up nicely for me, they looked away rather than towards the camera.

Greater Scaup

The most obliging of the Scaup was the adult female which often approached the bank quite closely. I took some photos that were reminiscent of the masterpiece paintings produced by our incredibly talented and esteemed county recorder. I hope that's praise to both sides.

female Greater Scaup

The male Scaup was actively diving for food and whenever it resurfaced with weed or whatever it was eating, it would be earnestly chased by one or more of the Coots. The Coots are unable to dive to any great depths owing to their cork like bodies so will regularly try to relieve one of the duck species of their catch but they are certain to fail since the duck will merely dive under again or, if the Coot gets too close will surf quickly across the water out of their reach. Coots scoot (now that's clever if I say so myself) as well but they're not as fast! Not exactly sure what the Scaup was eating but it looked like an aquatic weed of some description.

male Greater Scaup

The female Scaup further entertained us by swimming in close again. She had less trouble with the Coots, maybe that white blaze to the face makes her look more formidable. I always think that the female Scaup look a trifle bigger than the males anyway and at Coot and Duck scale that difference must be more obvious. 

We noticed a Great Crested Grebe close in on Farmoor 2, the other side of the causeway, so left the Scaup for a while. Despite having many hundreds of images of Great Crested Grebes in my portfolio they make excellent subjects and I always strive to get photos of them capturing fish. By design the smaller bite-sized young fish stay close to the edge of the reservoir where the water is shallower and weed lined and thus they can keep away from the larger predatory fish of the deeps. Unfortunately for the small fry this tactic, if fish have enough of a clue for strategy, places them right in the domain of the skilful Grebes. This particular Grebe was catching a fish almost on almost every dive. Once snared the Grebe would return to the surface and manipulate the fish so that it could swallow it head first. 

Great Crested Grebe

After another quick look at the Greater Scaup we wrapped up a pretty good afternoons birding.

I've been working at a job on the outskirts of Wantage since before Christmas and the next stage of the project was almost ready. I needed to have a site meeting there so on the Friday after sorting out the details for the upcoming work, I drove a few miles to catch up with some Egrets that had been found in Letcombe Regis very close to where the Great Bustard had been seen at the end of last year, and was still present there in early January. I strangely felt attached to one of the Egrets because after seeing a photo on a local Facebook page, I identified one of them as a Cattle Egret (not difficult I know but the poster hadn't realised) which would be a year tick for me. As I drove up to the field next to the allotments where the Cattle Egret was usually to be found feeding amongst some Sheep, I saw four Egrets flying away into the distance. Sure enough, on arrival there was no sign of any Egrets at all, we had just missed them. Fortunately though I knew that they had probably relocated just a few hundred yards away to a small pond where the birds had first been spotted. We parked up right by the pond, peered through a gap in the hedge and there right in front of us on the opposite side were the four Egrets, three Little Egrets and the Cattle Egret, numbers 97 & 98 for the year.

Cattle Egret

Little Egret

We stayed just a few minutes, some "twitches" are like that, because the weather was drawing in again and more precipitation was imminent. We had a quick look in for the Great Bustard but it was not in its previously favoured field and a equally quick tour of the surrounding roads didn't turn it up either. As folk keep reminding me, it shouldn't count on a year list anyway, although I would have added it to mine. We drove back home through a mixture of the weather folks favourite; rain, sleet and snow.

The penultimate day of January was miserable weather wise, cold with heavy rain turning to sleet and snow. It was pointless going anywhere very far so we opted to spend an uncomfortable hour at our local wetlands reserve. The birds were as subdued as we were and apart from some Common Snipe and a half-hearted attack by a Sparrowhawk at the birds on the feeders there was little to see. Our only reward for the short vigil was a Grey Wagtail, our 99th species for the year, feeding at the settlement beds of the adjacent Sewage Works. Even on cold and dreary wet days there are always flies on s**t to keep Wagtails happy.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Working the System. Mid-January 2021

The Lockdown meant that we were literally well and truly lock-downed. No twitching allowed outside of the immediate local area at all so the Rustic Bunting in Surrey would have to remain on my most wanted list. Our recourse was to check some local spots out to gain some early New Year ticks and also to undertake some careful planning, basically combining work with pleasure, in order to get a little further afield. I tend to grizzle a bit about the Oxon birding scene, in particular the area around my home town in North Oxfordshire can be desolate, but we are actually fortunate to have Grey Partridge close to home which is a hard to find species in the county these days. On a drizzly morning on the 16th we cruised the minor roads just a few miles from our house looking for the covey that we'd seen right at the end of last year. We had already tried, on New Year's Day, but had been defeated by fog on that occasion. Today at least we could see further into the fields. It took me less than five minutes to spot, presumably the same group of four Grey Partridges that we'd seen three weeks before, not in the same field but just a few hundred metres away in a neighbouring enclosure. We parked at a convenient spot off the road, which was surprisingly busy, and took some exercise by walking back along the verge to a suitable viewing spot. The birds were a fair way off and were hence untroubled by our presence. I secured a few record shots and returned to the dryness of the car.

Grey Partridge

In the field where we'd seen the Grey Partridges last year, we found a larger covey of thirteen Red-legged Partridges feeding in almost the same spot, close to the road. There is a muddy pull-in from where the birds could just about be seen through the hedge without leaving the car and scaring them off. Flocks of birds are always more wary than individual birds and even though we stayed in the car they still eyed us suspiciously. I drove slowly along the road to a gap in the hedge and took a quick couple of photos. Two Partridge species in minutes and we were up to 78 for the year.

Red-legged Partridge

The quandary of how far it is reasonable to travel for exercise during lockdown persists. For birdwatchers the situation is difficult to assess. Some are happy to stay at home and watch the garden birds through their windows. Most of those people will no doubt have an abundant and varied cast of birds visiting. Other folk are lucky enough to live in or close to a nature rich area so they don't need to go far to get their fix. Others are less fortunate and yearn to watch birds further away from their town and city homes which are generally lacking in bird variety. Birding is generally a lonely exercise, unless at a popular reserve or a large twitch, and social interactions are few so wherever birding walks are taken the risk to oneself or to others must be very slight. And yet the government, who deigned that hunting and angling are suitable forms of exercise, have not come out in support of birdwatching despite its proven benefit to mental health. For my own part I am still allowed to go to work, which is a blessing and I feel really sorry for all of those folk that are unable to earn a normal living at the moment. My work takes me to several different sites in different parts of Oxfordshire and other neighbouring counties. At this time of year I leave home in the morning before it's light and usually arrive back as it's getting dark so there's little chance for birding until the weekends. My weekends have always been precious to me, sacrosanct even, and I try to avoid working on them at all costs, until the lockdown that was. Now it makes sense for me to go out and do the little higgle-piggly leftover jobs which only take an hour or so for the times when I can go out and exercise as well.

One of those small finishing jobs involved a trip out to a small village in South Northamptonshire, just a few miles from the Oxfordshire border, which is close to a wood where we enjoyed seeing Crossbills last summer. I felt that mixing business with pleasure, two birds with one stone so to speak, would be allowable, and guilt free, since it would save going out for a walk when I got home. Naturally I took Mrs Caley with me since she needs to get out too. With work done I parked up in the small carpark and we walked into the woods. The sun was shining brightly and owing to recent forestry work was reaching us on the track. There were some impressive log piles lining the path, presumably non-native conifer trees being stripped out which seems to be de rigueur these days. I hope they leave a few for the fir tree specialising birds like the Crossbills. Within a hundred metres of the car we had added three new species to the year list in Coal Tit, Treecreeper and Nuthatch. A Jay made it number four a little further into the wood, this walk was going well.

Treecreeper & Coal Tit

Last July we had found a group of twenty-three Crossbills in trees next to a crossroad of paths deep into the wood. We reached the same spot and almost immediately, alerted by loud chipping calls, we saw around eight Crossbills land in a tree right next to the one that we'd found them in before. A few moments later they were joined by another five. Surprisingly though, and despite the birds settling in a largely leaf-free tree, some of the birds instantly disappeared amongst the branches. By my reckoning there was a fairly equal mix of male and female birds. 

Common Crossbills

The Crossbills relocated to a nearby tree, conveniently putting the bright sunshine to our backs. I selected a rich salmon-red coloured male perched at the top of the tree to photograph and then a greenish hued female bird which was much better camouflaged against the similar tones of the tree branches. 

The Crossbills flew off en masse without any obvious stimulus and disappeared over the woodland. When they flew back over our heads a few minutes there were over twenty of them so maybe the flock that I had seen last July had indeed all survived and stayed intact through the autumn and winter. Hopefully they'll breed in the woods and raise more Crossbills during the spring. We ambled along the main cross path for a while hoping, against hope in reality, that we'd discover a Woodcock hidden in the leaf matter at the base of the trees. In over thirty years of birding I have only ever found a handful of Woodcocks "on the ground". That tally wasn't altered on this walk but I'll keep trying. We failed to see any of the expected Siskins, they were common in these woods last July, either. Five year ticks on the walk was more than satisfactory though and we drove home happy.

I had been tipped off by a friend of the whereabouts of a breeding site for Barn Owls so later in the week on a rain free afternoon, not been many of those recently, Mrs Caley and myself walked along a footpath next to the flooded river and fields towards the old derelict and remote barn that has housed the pair of Barn Owls for the last few years. We were only a few miles from home and I had never thought to walk there before and obviously had no idea that a wonderful bird such as a Barn Owl could be seen there. The barn lies a good mile away from the closest access point so must provide a safe harbour for the pair of "Barnies". We were far from alone on the path though and met several locals out walking their dogs. One of them actually stopped and asked us if we were looking for the Barn Owls, it appeared that the pair of Owls were actually local celebrities! The chap told us that they were usually out hunting just as it got dark and not before, on this day sunset was still an hour away and night another half hour later than that so maybe I had jumped the gun on this occasion. 

We stopped in a small copse about a hundred metres away from the barn and spotted a Treecreeper picking its way through an Oak tree. A Marsh Tit was in the tree as well but there was little light on offer so I didn't waste my time with the camera. I kicked about in a small reedy and flooded patch hoping to surprise a Jack Snipe but I'm about as good with finding them as I am with Woodcock. Entertainment, while we waited for the Owls to appear, should they appear, came in the shape of a pair of Stonechats which flitted around the same rough patch of ground that I hoped the Owls would hunt over later. The cloud obscured sun was dipping down ever lower so any attempt at photography was pretty futile but (I've got to put something on here otherwise it would just be a massive ramble of waffle) I took a few anyway.

Stonechat (female)

We had to be back home by 5pm so made our leave, still a good hour before the Owls predicted appearance. Mrs Caley suddenly said, 'look ahead of us, by the bridge' and there flying away from us was the unmistakable beige and white broad-winged shape of a Barn Owl! Just when you don't expect to see something then it suddenly appears. We watched the Owl alight on a fence post and I, forgetting my reticence with the camera, fired off some shots, all with the wrong settings of course. We couldn't work out how the Owl had managed to fly past without us noticing, it must have flown along behind a low hedge that lined the path on its northern side. We were up to 87 for the year. I surmised that the Barn Owl had emerged earlier because the wet rainy night before had probably curtailed its hunting and left it hungrier than usual.

Barn owl

The Barn owl took a quick look at us stood a hundred metres away, took to the air and flew over another hedge and out across the flooded field. The hedgerow obscured our view so we walked quickly to the bridge to gain a more elevated position. We couldn't relocate the Owl but tarried on the bridge for a few minutes in case it returned. The Barn Owl did just that a few minutes later but now flew right over where we had been standing when we first saw it. If only we'd stayed there! I'm fairly sure that birds know where you are at all times and take great delight in teasing you whenever they can.

The following afternoon was a bright and sunny one so we opted to return in the hope that the Barn Owl or Owls would be out hunting in the better light meaning that I'd be able to get some nice photos. We stayed until dark and there was no appearance from any Owls at all. Obviously they had fed well the night before. It's often said that a day-flying Barn owl signifies problems in the Owl world since it suggests that they're hungry and haven't hunted successfully on previous nights. So I was obliquely happy that we hadn't seen one again since it augured well for them. If they hatch young later in the year then daytime hunting takes on a different meaning since they will have hungry youngsters to feed. Mrs Caley did spot a Yellowhammer, new for the year, so it wasn't a completely fruitless walk that evening.

Yellowhammer (male)

I had more plans to work around the guidelines for the weekend in the Banbury area so spent the Friday evening checking out what had been seen recently at some of the sites to the north of the town. I had a job to look at in the area so had a good enough reason to travel out that way. Mrs Caley could navigate.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Bramblin' Man, 9th January 2021

My Christmas present to myself was to finally subscribe to an unlimited and Ad-free version of Spotify. It always takes me ages to conform and join most of the rest of the population in embracing new fangled technology, I can remember resisting the advent of CD's for years before succumbing. Music has always played a big part in my life since my early days and I forever consider myself extremely lucky to be a teenager in 1976 when, for me, music really took off. Since having Spotify I have listened to music almost every night and have found myself exploring music genres and artists that I'd never bothered with before. Whatever the principles of subscribing to such a monster in regard to it's treatment and paltry rewarding of the musicians that make it, there is no doubt that streaming services like Spotify make appreciating all music so much easier. For somebody like myself, who want to explore music that I've never previously experienced, I am now able to do that without having to buy albums on trust. An example; I had heard a song by Mark Lanegan (one of my own favourite musicians) and Isobel Campbell called Ramblin' Man. Spotify allows you to discover basic information about songs and artists so I found out that the track was actually written by The Allman Brothers, a band I'd never heard of before, back in the 60's. I listened to that original song and further realised after an internet search that they had based their version on an older song, also called Ramblin' Man, by Hank Williams which was written in 1951. I did know about Hank Williams, an inspirational but troubled (aren't they all) and pioneering Country music singer through my love of Americana. By extension I have now listened to a lot of Hank Williams' back catalogue (although not so much Allman Brothers). Anyway, I'm rambling on….

Mrs Caley and I love year listing, the name given to building a count of all birds seen in a calendar year. This year is going to be tricky to get a decent list going because of the national lockdown that was instigated on day 1. It's always tricky for us anyway because we live in Oxfordshire where in a good year there might be 200 species recorded (with luck we might see 150 of those). Compare that to the 300+ that will be seen in Norfolk or Yorkshire. In our best year, 2019, we saw 289 different species of bird in the UK but our average year total is around 240-250. Last year, badly affected by travel limitations and lack of holidays, we managed 243. My last blog post detailed how we had made a good start to this years tally by seeing 72 different types of birds over the first weekend.

Roll on to Saturday the 9th January. The weather was forecast to be awful on the following day so it seemed as if we'd only have the one chance over the weekend to add birds to the list. I had to run some materials that were needed for Monday on one of my jobs out near Chipping Norton so I had already hatched a plan to seek out some birds that we'd seen at the end of 2020. Normally we wouldn't go specifically to see the same bird two weeks running but for year listing purposes, and, particularly with the Yellow-browed warbler seen last weekend, it sometimes has to be done if the sightings are either side of the end of one year and the start of the next. The target bird this time would be, and I guess that you've already sussed it, the Brambling. We had fantastic views of a good sized flock of the winter visitors from further north on the penultimate day of last year but it would be good to get them onto the new year list quickly this time since then we wouldn't have to go purposely looking for them later.

Having completed my work drop off we, Mrs Caley was with me of course, drove the extra couple of miles and parked next to the small copse. There was nobody else around at all, probably owing to the thick fog that enveloped everything that morning. You didn't need to see the birds though to know that they were still present, the chattering noise of the Brambling could be heard as soon as we exited the car. We walked through the gap in the hedge full of expectation but that early enthusiasm was soon dashed because we could hardly see each other at a few paces apart, let alone the birds that were definitely in the copse and hedge somewhere. There was hope though, the sun was trying its hardest to blast through the gloom and we could see a brighter patch of sky above the larger trees to our right. The advantage to being cocooned in the fog came in our ability to creep up on the birds largely unnoticed, meaning that I could get within range of the birds to actually be able to take some photos. The Brambling were everywhere along the hedge and most were not interested in doing anything other than to sit out the fog. I imagine that with danger lurking away from the hedge that they were safer staying close to cover. I took some photos, knowing that Photoshop would eliminate a lot of murkiness in them.

In addition to the fog it was also a frosty and cold morning and the tree branches were coated with ice on their northern sides. 

It was past mid-morning and we'd been in the field for maybe half an hour when the sun did finally manage to push the foggy cloak back a bit. Suddenly the flock of birds took that as their cue to race out into the field to feed. There were Chaffinches, although a lot fewer than the week before and outnumbered by the Brambling, and Linnets but I was only really interested in the smarter visitors from the North. After a bout of feeding the finches would return to the hedge, rest and preen and soak up the paltry bit of warmth offered by the meagre sun. The slightly brighter conditions brought an extra chill to the air for us though and we stood shivering in the cold shadows since we didn't have the benefit of sitting in the sun up on top of the hedge.

In all I reckoned there were about 60 Brambling present although there were possibly even more. Some of those birds were especially confiding and allowed me to take some very nice images, which after editing even showed a sky blue background! I think that blue sky lasted for only around 20 minutes just before midday. With the clearer air it was now much more difficult to approach the birds closely so I partially hid in amongst the bushes and waited for birds to perch in the nearest trees which they very obligingly did. The orange, black and white plumage, particularly of the male Brambling was illuminated beautifully in the temporary brightness.

My attention was diverted by a Bullfinch calling softly in the tree above my head which was also a new species for the year list. The Bullfinch, a male, was difficult to see though as it kept itself surrounded by the twigs of the tree. A male Chaffinch was much easier to view in the same tree but our first Greenfinch of the year flew off just a soon as we noticed it. A small party of twittering Long-tailed Tits moved the year total on to 76.

The fog was settling in again so we decided that we may as well leave, it was clear (not) that conditions wouldn't improve. A lone male Brambling sat forlornly low down in the hedge quite near to the road. Despite its outward beauty it was evident that this bird was sickening for something since it made no attempt to move at our approach. It was rather fluffed up and would barely move its head. I guess that, in any gathering of birds in harsh winter conditions, there'll be casualties and I feared for this one. I apologise to it for invading its dignity by taking a few pictures before leaving it alone, wishing that it'd make it through the days ahead. A Sparrowhawk arrived without herald, scattering the flock of Linnets in the field every which way. The Brambling all dived for cover, except for the poorly one. By being there we had probably saved its life, for now anyway.

Lord, I was born a Bramblin' man
Tryin' to make a livin' and doin' the best I can
And when it's time for leavin'
I hope you'll understand
That I was born a Bramblin' man
Lord, I was born a Bramblin' man
Lord, I was born a Bramblin' man
Lord, I was born a Bramblin' man
Lord, I was born a Bramblin' man

(Adaptation from The Allman Brothers, Ramblin' Man)