24th May morning; Cuckoo Wars
Not that we need, or rely on, a Bank Holiday for respite at the moment, considering that most days are like a holiday, apart from the fact that we can't actually go anywhere for a proper holiday this spring and summer, because of the travel restrictions. Normally we would have been gearing up for another trip to the highlands of Scotland via Northumberland or another part of Northern England or Southern Scotland on this weekend but that was denied to us this May and June so it was back to Otmoor on the Sunday morning. Much improved weather greeted us for our walk after the inclement conditions encountered during our Collared Pratincole twitch of the day before.
The fun started immediately once we'd opened the car doors when I caught the unmistakable reeling song of a Grasshopper Warbler. It sounded as if it was right in the hedge next to the car but of course it wasn't but was throwing its voice from somewhere within the carpark field. I spent a good half hour trying to pinpoint the songster, at times it felt like it was just yards away, but failed to find it. It must have been singing from deep within a bush, so having seen one already this spring in a more open part of the field Mrs Caley and I moved on. We were greeted at the bridleway by a Cuckoo calling from one of the nearby Oak trees. As stealthily as I could, you need to exercise great care when approaching Cuckoos since they will fly off as soon as they see you which is usually before you've seen them, I walked towards the trees. Through a gap in the crown of the first Oak, I could see the Cuckoo perched on a sturdy branch at the top of the second tree. I managed a quick snap before the bird spotted me and was away. I'v never secured a really good photo of a Cuckoo, but, no, I'm not giving in and going to Surrey to photograph that bloody "plastic" and artificially fed Colin either!
|male Marsh Harrier with prey
The Swifts were still gathering insect food high above Greenaways but as yet there was still no sign of any Bitterns. We needed a rest so grabbed the bench that overlooks the isolated reedbeds that the Bitterns seem to favour at this time of year. The bridleway was getting busier with more folk out enjoying a constitutional and a couple that I alerted to the Bitterns last time out joined us in the vigil. We didn't have to wait for long, when I spotted a Bittern fly up out of the grass just the other side of the ditch and into the closest patch of reeds. It was up and down too quickly for me to get a photo but now I knew that there was one out there it would just be a matter of time before it broke cover again. In the event it was a mere ten minutes when the Bittern suddenly flew up from the reeds and headed directly for the nearest patch of reeds to the bench. For the entire twenty second flight I put the camera into machine gun mode before the bird disappeared into the reeds again. I suspect that the Bittern has a nest, and hopefully some young, in that patch of reeds. It would seem that the Bittern was the same one, considering the notch in the primaries on its left wing, that I saw a couple of weeks ago by the Wetlands Watch Hide (see here). Then it looked very underweight and scrawny, now it looks very fit and healthy.
24th May, afternoon; Bonus!
Part way through the afternoon I discovered that a Red-necked Phalarope had been found at Wilstone Reservoir near Tring. Wilstone is only around twenty-five miles from home but involves travelling through Aylesbury to get there. Normally driving in or around Aylesbury is a pain in the proverbial but of course, under present circumstances with most people staying at home because there is nowhere to go to spend money, the roads are much less busy so it's not so bad. I know from experience that Phalaropes can be very short staying passage migrants because, being so small, they are easy targets for bigger birds such as Gulls and Coots and are quite often hounded out of their stopover spots. So I coerced Mrs Caley out of her Sunday afternoon slumber and coaxed her into the car for the forty-five minute drive to the reservoir.
The main carpark was rammed full, people were obviously finding stuff to do without any financial outlay, and a mini-gridlock had formed at the entrance. Luckily I remembered that on our last visit, during which we enjoyed a really good coffee in the freezing cold garden centre cafe next door, there was additional off-road parking there. The people responsible for jamming up the carpark actually did us a favour since we were now able to park much closer to the jetty, and to where the Phalarope was. We passed our good friend Ewan on our way to the reservoir bank and, after the steep climb up the embankment, emerged bank side into a fairly brisk breeze. We spied the gaggle of Birders and Toggers about a hundred yards to our left but couldn't see the Red-necked Phalarope, mind you, as I said, it's a pretty small bird and would be hard to see from that distance. We walked closer and about halfway there, I saw the Phalarope, our 163rd bird of this awkward Lockdown year, bobbing about on the shallow waves of the reservoir just off the end of the jetty. It was pointless taking any photos at this point but, obviously, I took a few anyway, just in case the bird decided there and then to fly off. When I got home, I binned all of the record shots.
|male Red-necked Phalarope
As I alluded to earlier, Red-necked Phalaropes are easy targets for the bigger waterbirds and this bird had to in turns avoid the malicious intentions of a Coot, several Black-headed Gulls and even some of the Canada geese which were grumpy because of folk occupying their jetty resting place. When seen close to the more familiar birds it was evident just how tiny a Red-necked Phalarope is.
|Coot harassing the Phalarope
|evasive action from a Gull attack
|big Canada geese and tiny Red-necked Phalarope
|Great Crested Grebe with Crayfish
25th May morning; Once Bittern, Twice and it's more shy
We hit Otmoor early, by our standards anyway. So early that there was only one other car already parked up. I hoped to see the Grasshopper warbler but again, despite it singing continually, it remained hidden. With any luck another would show again once the first broods had fledged and the male, wanting to start another family, would choose a more open perch to reel from. While I searched for the Gropper I spotted the strangely plumaged Dunnock again, it's odd looking because it has bare skin around its face making it look like a miniature Rook. Nearby was a far more conforming example of its species.
|odd looking Dunnock
|normal looking Dunnock
Like I said, and even if the Bitterns were shy, Otmoor is hard to beat at times!