Thursday 28 January 2021

Birds to Banish the New Year Lockdown Blues. 1-3 January 2021.

Towards the end of last year a lot of people were expressing the desire to be rid of 2020 and roll on 2021. Well, the old adage of "be careful what you wish for" was never truer when through necessity, the New Year began with the whole country plunged into Lockdown again. From a birding perspective and particularly with regard to listing, 2020 wasn't ruined until March, this years plans are already in tatters!

No long distance trips are necessary, not even for major rare birds, so it would be back to local birding for the foreseeable future. In some ways, despite me often complaining about the relative paucity of birds in my local area, this would mean that we'd be putting more effort into finding birds close to home. My initial plans for New Year's Day were to travel up to Draycote Water where there was an absolute glut of less common bird species but at 35 miles away from home that was clearly too far to travel. Most wintering species remain until well into March anyway and, fingers crossed, the authorities will have eased the lockdown restrictions by then. So we opted for a short drive to the Heyford's and back in the hope of finding the covey of Grey Partridge that we'd seen at the end of last year. We didn't find any but did have the satisfaction of seeing a Corn Bunting which is always a good bird to get on the year list which with the addition of birds seen in the garden at home numbered 25. 

Time for confession number 1. We had nearly all day still and didn't want to be stuck indoors so elected, admittedly a little bit guiltily, to drive to Radley just south of Oxford. At 16 miles it's not awfully far from home and I felt reasonable enough to enjoy a brisk walk in the fog around a lake there. I like walking in the fog! It was extremely cold as well so our walk, by our standards, was indeed brisk and we only stayed for 40 minutes. In that short time though, we very luckily connected with a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, that were also enjoying some New Year's Day exercise, and a Kingfisher, which whistled past whilst searching for some shallow water that wasn't frozen. 

Ring-necked Ducks

During the exercise, we had time for a brief socially distanced interlude with a Mute Swan, who definitely had a cob on (ha!), and a gorgeous little Robin. Both were obviously after a snack that I couldn't provide so I made a note to take a bag of bird seed out with me in future. Our total number of birds species seen on the day was 41. Last year at Otmoor and Farmoor we saw 67!

Mute Swan


The next day's weather forecast was for settled and sunny conditions so it was a no brainer to head to Otmoor, local to us so no problems with going there, which is always brilliant when visibility is good. There are some really good wintering birds on Otmoor, especially a collection of sought after raptor species. Our walk would prove to be an interesting exercise. Basically we saw some really excellent birds but I hardly took a photo, and didn't get any images of any of the star birds. After pausing to add Marsh Tit to our year list, we were then surprised when a Lesser Redpoll nipped out from the pathway hedge, took a quick drink at a puddle and then disappeared back into the hedge. Incredibly we didn't see either species until the end of October in 2020 and in the same spot too. Now we had both on the New Year list already.

Marsh Tit

Another of the main attractions in winter on Otmoor are the large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plovers. Quite often these birds are well out on the moor and views are of distant whirling flocks but on this morning there were thousands settled on The Closes, the field opposite the feeders. They were still fairly distantly gathered out on the flooded field but at least when they all took to the air the spectacle of so many birds flying in formation could be marvelled at more closely. On a bright sunny day the Golden Plovers resemble sparkling jewels glinting in the clear air.

Golden Plover


We were already having a terrific walk but it got even better as we trudged through the thick mud that passes for the bridleway these days. The nice clean sandy path along Greenaways has been turned into a quagmire under the sheer weight of the amount of people visiting Otmoor over the winter. The moor which used to be pretty much the domain of birders and local villagers, has recently become a magnet for folk from all over seeking a safe place to get lockdown exercise and by those visiting to see the Starling murmurations that take place over the reedbeds on most evenings. You need a good pair of wellington boots if walking on Otmoor in 2021. As we walked along the bridleway, I made regular stops to scan Greenaways, the large field to the North, for any raptors that might be active. On one of those overviews I noticed a small flock of Starlings suddenly rise in alarm and head straight for the nearest hedge. When birds take instant evasive action and dive for cover then it's a sure sign that there is danger around and that peril came in the shape of a dashing Merlin which flew at great speed along the hedge. I followed the Merlin, a female, as it hurtled along the northern edge of the field until it took a sharp turn to its right and disappeared over the hedge and onto the Flood Field the other side. It had probably taken ten-seconds to fly almost the whole length of Greenaways so there had been no chance to lift the camera, besides it was too far away, to grab any photos. It was great to watch it though and will be a memory to savour since we don't see many Merlins in our local area.

Merlin, Churn Oxon 09/09/2017

A Cetti's Warbler scolded from the reeds along the bridleway and then presented itself briefly in full view before flitting off, just as I aimed the camera for one of those prize winning shots. We were adding some real quality birds to the list at a fair old rate of knots and a few yards on, we had another totally unexpected surprise. As we neared a bush right by the path I could hear some rustling noises coming from the grass under the tree. Expecting a Fieldfare or Blackbird, of which there were many around the bridleway that morning, to fly out, I was gobsmacked when a Jack Snipe flushed from almost under our feet! I had a terrific view of the diminutive wading bird as it flew in a straight line, no more than 3 feet off the ground towards the ditch to our left. In the sunshine the golden braces of its back showing caught the eye as did the short bill. Just a couple of weeks ago I joined Alan, the warden of our local reserve at Bicester which holds a few Jack Snipes every winter, on a survey of the birds. Surveying Jack Snipe involves flushing them from dense waterside vetch and reeds. I'm not a big fan of purposely flushing birds, no more than I am of mist-netting for ringing, but apparently it's important to know how many there are at the Wetlands so that the main donors to the conservation efforts at the reserve know what their money is being used for. On that walk with Alan, I had noticed that whereas Common Snipe always fly up quite high when flushed and utter a "tch, tch" call as they do so, Jack Snipe always kept low and kept silent as this bird did.

I called Pete, Mr Otmoor, to let him know what we'd seen and if there were any other interesting reports that morning. He told me that he'd seen an Egyptian Goose on Big Otmoor. Almost instantaneously, 3 Egyptian Geese flew high overhead, presumably the same 3 that we'd seen at the end of last year on the moor. It felt like we couldn't miss!

Egyptian Geese

Ewan was stood hunched over his scope looking over Big Otmoor. He will be as frustrated as we are with the New Year lockdown since he is a twitcher of the nth degree. This was however another result for us because The Black Audi Birder is also one of Oxon's finest exponents in the art of fine birding. In the next few minutes he had directed us onto distant Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, which were, obviously, all new for the year. We also found Pintail and Wigeon. Despite much searching though none of us could find the Grey Plover that had been seen on New Year's Day. 

We had a quick look at the Geese flocks on Ashgrave, and picked out a few White-fronted Geese amongst the Greylags and Barnacle Geese. The Brambling didn't show for us at the scattered seed feeding spot by the Wetland Hide but after the morning we'd had we could hardly complain at that. A Water Rail that scurried across the track was another early year addition.

Our last year tick of the day was a Raven that kronked noisily over the woods at the top of the hill. During our walk we had added another 27 birds to the year list which now stood at 68.

The News was full of gloom and doom that evening and we decided that maybe we should reign in our journeys out. Much discussion was taking place online about what was actually deemed "local" and what exactly was considered "essential exercise". Not one member of our Government would put their necks on the line and definitively state what local or essential really meant and it seemed that it was up to the individual to decide. The police however had made their minds up and stories came from many places of fines being handed out to peaceful folk who were just out for a walk. Birdwatchers, it seemed, were coming in for few knocks on social media, particularly twitchers that assembled in one place or travelled a long distance to see a bird. One of the criticisms levelled at birding is that it is considered by many to be a stationary pastime where participants either sit in hides or stand still all the time and therefore isn't really exercise. Neither is of course true, birding involves lots of healthy walking in the countryside as well as in urban areas and contributes massively to peoples mental well being too. But birders were taking stick and not just from outsiders either. Farmoor was closed temporarily, not just to birders but to everybody because of the huge number of folk going there to take exercise which attracted the police to investigate illegal gatherings at the site. The RSPB asked people not to visit Otmoor for the Starling spectacular because of fears over social distancing. Despite all that it was clear that some elaborate and deliberate flouting of the guidelines was being undertaken by lots of the population. The waters were clouded further when the Government, who had decided that only elite sport could take place during lockdown, then said that angling and shooting was fine to continue. Angling must be one of the most stationary sports going! Farmoor then reopened for Fisherfolk to fish so by extension was again open to birdwatchers and everybody else. Confusion reigned. The most annoying aspect from our point of view is that we don't go out to meet other people but actually try to avoid most other folk. We go out to see birds!

So, time for confession number 2. I'm luckier than a lot of people because I've been able to continue working throughout most of the Pandemic, although some of my jobs have been disrupted by the rules and a few have been cancelled. I'm self-employed and work in construction albeit on a domestic scale, and have several jobs in progress at a time in different areas. I had a pressing site visit to make on the outskirts of Aylesbury so decided that once I was there then the Watermead estate close by was then local enough for me to go there and combine my daily exercise with work at the same time. It would save going out again later in the day.

The purpose of the exercise was to take in the lakeside walk that was on offer and maybe, if we were lucky, the Yellow-browed Warbler that we saw there at the end of 2020 would still be there as well. On the same date last year we travelled to a Norfolk beach on a freezing cold and damp day to twitch our first ever Desert Wheatear which had to be one of the most incongruous birds in a setting we'd ever encountered. Until recently an overwintering Yellow-browed Warbler (YBW) would have been considered just as unusual. These days however, YBW's have become rather commonplace and a few winter in the UK every year. We had seen the YBW just the week before on a cold and grey day that was flecked with snow and I had struggled to get any decent images of what is one of my favourite birds. This time, on a similarly horrible day weatherise, I was determined to get improved photos of the bird.

We were in luck too when almost as soon as we arrived in the YBW's favoured spot, it flew over our heads and into the top of the same pine trees that we'd seen it in the week before. By my own admission, I am not the best birder in the world, far from it, but after seeing hundreds of YBW's over the years now, I just instinctively know the bird as soon as I see it, even when it whizzes overhead as a silhouette. I envy those birders who know almost every bird from just a quick view. I guess it's mostly down to experience. I glanced up at the pine where the bird had landed and there was the YBW. Easy!

Yellow-browed Warbler

Getting a photo of the little sprite was more difficult. Just as on our last visit, it kept to the densest part of the trees and moved erratically as they are prone to do. I had at least managed my camera settings better this time though so that when the YBW did stop still for once I was able to grab a few frames that would stand up to editing later on. The YBW was our 70th species for 2021, the Desert Wheatear had been our 73rd in 2020 so were almost on a par with last year and we well ahead on 2019 when we had a concerted effort at a "Big Year", although to be fair those plans weren't engineered until the spring that year.

We watched the YBW for half an hour or so, exercise provided by having to track constantly between the birds favoured pine trees opposite the Nursery and the single pine tree by the road crossing some fifty yards away. My arms ached enough from the continual holding of my camera aloft in readiness for the birds brief appearances in the open, as if I'd been pulling weights. I think birding provides a decent physical workout!

Mrs Caley and I kept a good distance away from the couple of other birders that stood conversing like old friends that hadn't seen each other in some time, which I suppose they hadn't. Our attention was solely focussed on the gorgeous little bird that was so active. The YBW's movements were quicker and less ponderous than the Goldcrest that it shared its space with. Hovering to snare tiny insects from the outermost leaves was frequent but I was unable to capture the behaviour in any great detail owing to the  low shutter speeds necessary in the gloomy light. When you over expose settings on a camera then shutter speed decreases unless ISO levels are raised. High ISO ratings result in grainy images, low shutter speeds cause blurring of movement. There is good reason why nice sunny weather is best for amateur photographers like me. Having said all that though, I was pleased with some of the images that I'd taken.


We left the YBW and walked around the lake where a Goldeneye had been seen recently but there was no sign of it. It was also bitingly cold in the fierce north wind next to the water so shivering we briskly returned to the car. A Sparrowhawk flew low over our heads as we opened the car doors, notching the fledgling year list up to 72. I adore Yellow-browed Warblers but I was very glad to warm up in the car.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Christmas Crackers! End of December 2020

The wind-down to a tricky birding year was reasonably stress free, mainly because the introduction of the Tier system prevented any mad dashing around twitching rare birds. Thus further bolstering to the year list was pretty much impossible since all birding had to be done locally again. I often bemoan the Oxfordshire birding scene, it is a landlocked county after all with little chance of enticing any mega rare, or even relatively rare, birds. Of course we do have our moments locally but even the prime county site of Farmoor has underperformed this year, probably owing to the increased numbers of recreational visitors to the site. Luckily we do still have Otmoor which offers the best chance of a mixed bag of birds owing to the different habitats found there. Otmoor has also suffered under the sheer weight of folk visiting the vast open spaces, but the birds there tend to be further away or have refuge in the reeds and hedges so are less likely to be disturbed by the constant stream of people walking the paths. The reserve offered us a lifeline back in the spring when the country was in full Lockdown, at times we had the entire area to ourselves because other people hadn't cottoned onto the fact that they could go there. Now, however, the secret is out.

As is quite often the case, I had a busy end to the year work-wise so had few opportunities for birding in the run-up to Christmas. I even had to work on the Saturday morning before Christmas. I view my weekends as precious so for me to spend a day of one them working is sacrilege in my mind! The only birding day I had was on the Sunday which dawned clear and bright and we intended to take full advantage of the sunny forecast by taking a good long walk around Otmoor once more. When we arrived just before nine o'clock, we were staggered to find the carpark almost full so it was unlikely to be a quiet stroll. We have become a bit late in going out recently so must resolve to get out earlier in the New Year.

As we walked along the entrance track passing the Closes to our left, a huge flock of Golden Plover erupted off the wet grassland. They made for an awesome sight since lit by the sunshine they resembled a mass of twinkling stars as they banked one way and another. It's impossible to gain an accurate impression of the dazzling spectacle with my camera and lens, a wide angled set-up is required, but even then it is a display that really needs appreciating first hand since the shimmering flocks are constantly moving and changing shape. A lot of people visit Otmoor for the Starling murmuration which is fabulous but I think the vast flocks of Goldies and Lapwings provide an even better show.

Golden Plover

There were people gathered at the feeding station so I only gave the birds there a cursory look and didn't see the Marsh Tit that a few weeks earlier gave us a long awaited year tick. I was more interested in looking for the White-fronted Geese that had been reported on Greenaways but there was no sign of them either. They would no doubt be around the moor somewhere. In truth there was little action while we walked along the bridleway apart from the usual Cetti's Warbler teasing us by yelling loudly that, 'you can't see me'. We looked at the finch and bunting flocks that are taking advantage of seed that has been spread over the path next to the Wetlands Hide. A Brambling had been reported here but again there was no sign of it although we did see some rather smart Yellowhammers amongst the Reed Buntings, Linnets and Chaffinches. A Water Rail ran quickly across the path. Facing into the sun there was little point in taking photos and besides the feeding birds were being constantly disturbed by walkers going to and coming from Beckley via July's Meadow. Some birders, who didn't know the score, were also flushing the birds. So we moved on, knowing that we'll get other chances to study the birds on the track.

female Reed Bunting

We stood at the first screen watching more flocks of Plovers dancing in the air and earnestly searched for any Raptors that may be chasing them but there were none so the Plovers must have just been enjoying the sunny conditions. The lagoon itself held the usual Mallards, Gadwall and Tufted Ducks plus Coots and Moorhens.  Today, however, there was an unusual, but regular, avian visitor to the lagoon since he has been on Otmoor for the last four winter seasons now. "Luke" the leucistic Pochard, named after one of Otmoor's excellent volunteer wardens, was loafing around with a few Teal out beyond the sunken bushes. In his pale shades of cream and grey with just a hint of pink to his head, "Luke" has become a bit of a celebrity here at Otmoor.

"Luke" the leucistic Pochard

A trio of Geese flew directly towards us coming from the North. Nothing unusual in that, there are Geese everywhere on Otmoor, but I instantly knew that these were different so instead of ignoring them, as I tend to do with Greylags and Canada Geese, I swung the bins up to look at them. I was surprised to see three Egyptian Geese bearing down on us. I expected them to drop down onto the water but instead they carried straight on overhead.

Egyptian Goose

Shortly afterwards a couple of male Pintails flew rapidly and high over the lagoon heading out towards the Flood Field. Every time I'm out on Otmoor I wish that the RSPB could somehow open up a pathway that would enable viewing of the Flood Field since there always seems to be lots of activity over there. By walking in from some of the other surrounding villages distant views are possible but the topography of the field with its hidden channels and reed filled dips obscure most of it and makes for difficult birding.

drake Pintail

Peter joined us at the screen and told us that it was hardly worth going to the second screen since there was nothing about at all bird-wise. A visitor had reported seeing the Otter that was making more frequent appearances in the last few weeks. My only view of an Otter on Otmoor was also from the second screen but I know that, just like encountering Bitterns, it's a very hit and miss affair, and a lot, lot more miss than hit at that. We took Peters advice and wandered back to the bridleway and the Wetlands Watch Hide with the intention to look for the Brambling again. It's a good job that we did too! We had just ensconced ourselves into a position from where we could see the feeding birds with the aid of the sun at our backs when Peter received a phone call from one of our friends who reported that a Hen Harrier was currently quartering across Greenaways. The Hen Harrier, a ringtail that had been frequenting the moor for a month or so but had been difficult to pin down, would be a surprise and welcome year tick so I walked as quickly as I could back to the bridleway. Of course there was no sign of the bird at all. The others caught me up and we collectively scanned the field for the bird. Then, suddenly it was there, it must have gone to ground and was now active again, our 241st species for the year. We followed the Hen Harrier as it flew low over the grass and reeds in its quest for a small bird or mammal to prey upon. Although distant the rich sunlight aided me in grabbing a couple of recognisable record shots.

"ringtail" Hen Harrier

The Hen Harrier flew behind one of the stands of reeds and promptly disappeared. Steve, who had alerted Peter to it a few minutes before, reported that he could no longer see it either so the bird must have settled on the ground again. We scoured all over Greenaways but couldn't find the Harrier. Ten minutes later it was airborne again, this time it was purposely hunting along one of the many ditches that traverse the field. I fired off photos continuously as it flew east to west across the field before it flew up and over the hedge and continued onto Big Otmoor. Hen Harriers are much more dynamic than their larger cousins the Marsh Harrier. A Hen Harrier flies closer to the ground and moves more quickly and directly than the Marsh Harrier. Because of that they are clearly more suited to flushing and capturing prey that they surprise whilst racing across the terrain.

After the Hen Harrier had left, the young male Marsh Harrier appeared on Greenaways offering instant comparison to the Hen Harrier. The Marsh Harriers flight is slower and much more bouncy with frequent bouts of levitation and pounces down to the ground. It was interesting to see both species and the differences in techniques of the two birds.

Marsh Harrier

A small flock of Starlings had panicked as the Hen Harrier passed, who could blame them, and had fled into the hedgerow behind us. I turned and fired off a few frames of one of them before they fled further.


We'd had a good morning on the moor, good company as usual and had had the added bonus of seeing the Hen Harrier at last which was the undoubted highlight. Now that Oxfordshire had been placed into Tier 4, the highest level of restrictions, it was likely to be our last year tick of 2020.


Christmas came and went quietly, as it must have for most folk this year, and we didn't "get out" again until Boxing Day when we had a largely uneventful walk at nearby Trow Pool, a small site next to Ardley Quarry which had also provided a lifeline during the first Lockdown period. The next day we traipsed half-heartedly through the mud on Otmoor feeling somewhat despondent. We saw birds of course but we were going through the motions and found that the huge amount of non-birders taking their exercise on the moor was irritating owing to a lot of them not seeming to give a jot for the beautiful area and wildlife refuge that they were walking through. Three times I had to ask people to get down off of the banks around the lagoons, there are signs asking visitors not to walk there, and one chap had walked two dogs, admittedly they were well behaved and looked after, down to the first screen in spite of the sign on the gates that forbids dogs at the screens. I hardly took a photo and put it down to the end of year Blues.


We needed a lift and it came on a drab and gloomy day on Tuesday the 29th. By not taking any holidays this year owing to the travel restrictions we had missed out on some of the birds that we would normally expect to see. Usually we would take a summer holiday to Scotland so this year all of the Scottish specialities, Eagles, Grouse, Skuas etc are absent from our 2020 year list. We also had to cancel our annual trip to Cornwall in October so didn't get the chance to twitch any rare birds in the south-west or to see localised species like the Chough. Every October a tiny little Warbler invades the coastal valleys of Cornwall, a bird that we never tire of watching and seeing and one that always lifts the spirits.

So, with the excuse of having to travel to Aylesbury on essential business, we drove into the delightful Watermead estate on the outskirts of the town. A Yellow-browed Warbler (YBW) had been found there a few weeks before Christmas but had seemingly disappeared quickly after its discovery. Then a couple of days before, Dan Forder, who lives locally, had rediscovered the little sprite in some pine trees that line the entrance road and sightings continued through the following day. We parked next to the pub and walked along the largely deserted path towards the pines. The weather was pretty grim, the dark overcast sky and drizzle was keeping most locals in their warm houses. We walked as far as the entrance to the Crematorium where the last report of the YBW had come from with no sign of anything. With just us out looking for it, we were going to have to find the bird ourselves. After years of seeing the species though, I am pretty locked on to finding YBW's and have become well accustomed to their movements and habits so I was confident that I'd track it down, provided of course that it was staying loyal to the trees along the road. We lingered outside the gates to the nursery, closed of course at this time of year, and watched the few pine trees either side of the road. This had been the most reliable spot to find the YBW on the preceding two days. Once our eyes became tuned in we quickly found some Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits feeding in the trees. We had been looking for nearly forty-five minutes but instead of growing impatient, I had a feeling that the YBW would show itself soon. As soon as that thought was shared with Mrs Caley, a small bird flew over my head to the other side of the road. I knew instantly that it was the YBW!

The Yellow-browed Warbler had flown into the top of an isolated pine tree next to a crossing slightly further down the road and nearer to where we had left the car. We walked quickly to get a closer view of the tree and within seconds were watching the YBW in the top of the pine. YBW's are very active birds and flit from branch to branch continuously and can be tricky to track. This bird elected to stay right at the top of the small pine. For the most part it managed to remain hidden in the wispy fronds of the tree but occasionally broke cover enough to allow for clearer views. Unfortunately the sky was dark and threatening rain, or maybe even snow, so mostly we were watching a small dark shape in the tree. At least the camera and, later editing, was able to brighten up the images although they were marred by the high ISO settings.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Despite the cold and awkward viewing conditions, there was no way I was going to leave a YBW until I'd watched it at length, they are definitely one of my favourite birds after all. The YBW moved back to the pines opposite the nursery and then into denser pine trees on the other side of the road where it was much harder to see. At times it would disappear for a few minutes before returning to its favoured trees by the road. In all we watched it for around an hour and for most of that time, apart from fielding the usual question of, 'what are you looking at' from interested passers-by, had the bird to ourselves.

Throughout that hour the sun had threatened to burn through the gloom and mist, well we could just about make it out as a feint disc to the South  but never actually managed it. The only time that a small patch of blue sky appeared and the conditions brightened, the YBW disappeared and then returned again to the pines once the murk had set in again. Still I had some photos and we had added the 242nd species to our year list and one of the most well received ticks of the year since the spring. There isn't much that beats a Yellow-browed Warbler.

Wednesday the 30th promised to be a much better day weather-wise and we did indeed wake to brighter skies although there was a touch of frost on the ground. I had already determined that we'd travel the short distance to Chipping Norton and look at a large flock of finches that were feeding on a set-aside field alongside a minor road. A local birder from Chippy, Steve (famous for playing host to the Oriental Turtle Dove), had been keeping tabs on the flock for a few weeks and had reported healthy numbers of Brambling mixed in amongst the more prevalent Chaffinches and Linnets. The only Bramblings we had seen this year had been the couple at Balscote Quarry NR at the end of October and I had got absolutely drenched for my troubles when obtaining photos. The forecast sunshine this morning would make viewing and photographing much easier. 

Brambling, Balscote Quarry 31/10/2020

Before we had left our own local environs though, after turning around, I pulled up in a small lay-by near to Middleton Stoney because I had noticed a covey of four Grey Partridges feeding in a sparsely vegetated field close to the road. We don't see many Grey Partridges in our area and these were illuminated by the early morning sunlight so just couldn't be ignored. By using the car as a mobile hide I was able to get some decent record shots of three of the birds. They were only the second group of Grey Partridges that I'd seen in 2020.

Grey Partridge

As we got closer to Chipping Norton which sits on much higher ground than Bicester, the roads became more and more treacherous with thick ice coating many of the minor roads. I was reminded of the roads the day when we twitched the Blue Rock Thrush at Stow-on-the-Wold in similar conditions and at the same time of year in 2016, which were very difficult to stay upright on. We managed to arrive at the set-aside field unscathed though and were greeted by our friend Mark who had also decided to look for the Bramblings. He had already seen a couple of the winter visitors and set us onto the likely spots straight away. The finch flock were using the trees of a small copse to rest on in between feeding bouts in the field. Views were distant but, unusually for once I had taken my scope with me, so we had good views through that. 


Our luck changed for the better just as we were debating whether to walk alongside the copse to get closer views when a chap turned up and said that, 'you're looking from the wrong place' and, 'the best spot is on the other side of the trees where there is access into the field'. We followed him around the copse and entered the field through a small gap in the roadside hedge  The Brambling along with the other species were using a tall hedgerow as a staging post between feeding sorties. The hedge was lit up beautifully by the sunshine so the only issue photography wise was finding an angle on a bird that wasn't obscured by branches.

There were Greenfinches, Goldfinches and a male Bullfinch also feeding in the hedge and the field, and a couple of Marsh Tits also flitted through the trees, but it was the Bramblings that grabbed our collective attention. I estimated that there must have been around twenty in total although it was difficult to be sure since there was constant comings and goings to and from the field.

After having our fill of the Bramblings we followed Mark to his own wildlife refuge near to the village where he lives where he showed us the impressive feeding station that he's set up. Very much his own personal project Mark has already been rewarded by shelling (ha!) out his own money on bird food by attracting Siskin and a Redpoll to the waterside site. We didn't see those but did enjoy close views of commoner species especially a flock of adorable Long-tailed Tits. 

Long-tailed Tit


The paddocks along the lane contained a good number of Redwing which were seeking worms in the sodden ground. There were more back at the carpark and we watched a female Blackbird take the last sloe berry from a bush above the stream, and she looked pretty pleased with herself too. 


female Blackbird

We were pretty pleased with ourselves too considering that we had ended such an awkward and frustrating year with some much welcomed Christmas Crackers!