Sunday 26 November 2023

April Adventures 2023; Part 1

Saturday 1st April; Tickety-boo

On recommendation from Kev we travelled to the little known RSPB reserve at Winterbourne Downs in Wiltshire where, if you're Kev, you can get good close views of Stone Curlews. If your Old Caley those views are of distant birds about two fields away. And you get drenched to the skin as well by standing out in driving rain for an hour.

Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)

We drove to Upavon from where you can gain access to the public areas of Salisbury Plain. There is also a really nice cafe in the village where we were able to dry off a bit. We were in search of Great Bustards, a reintroduced species that are thriving on the vast and unspoilt grassland of the army training area. By driving slowly on the perimeter road I found the Bustard flock, comprising thirty-one birds in all. Again not close but Great Bustards are big birds so views were good through the scope.

Great Bustard (Otis tarda)

We also came across a hunting Barn Owl at midday, which is not usually a good sign and may indicate that finding prey was difficult, probably because of the non-stop rain. We went back to the cafe where finding our own food was easy.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Year List additions;

175) Stone Curlew, 176) Great Bustard

After getting back to Oxfordshire we acted upon reports of several new migrant birds at Grimsbury Reservoir. Truth be told we had to make a trip to Banbury anyway so we only had to throw one stone into one bush. We added five new birds for the year in a little over an hour on site including a Kittiwake which is pretty scarce species around Oxfordshire. There was also a Common Tern and the first hirundines of our year, plus we had a very brief Little Ringed Plover land next to us for a second before flying off.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

However, it was a gorgeous little Dunnock that captured my attention for longest.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Year List additions;

177) Common Tern, 178) Little Ringed Plover, 179) Sand Martin, 180) Swallow, 181) Yellow Wagtail

Sunday 2nd April; Not Much at Otmoor

On a chilly morning, we enjoyed a relaxed stroll around our favourite local hotspot. We saw plenty, nothing remarkable, and I took hardly any photos. I was fortunate though to grab a couple of shots of a fabulous Cetti's Warbler that unusually ventured right out into the open for a few seconds.

Cetti's warbler (Cettia cetti)

Thursday 6th April; Royal Diggers, A Family Saga!

A trip to our go-to place in Oxford to see Kingfishers up close and personal. The Kingfishers nest in the bank of a tributary of the Thames right next to a parking place so by watching them from inside the car, they remain undisturbed. That's if nobody else is around of course, and this part of Oxford is very busy with recreationists of all persuasions. Most folk don't even notice the birds going about their own business just feet away from the footpath and the traffic that trundles past.

We spotted the male bird first, perched in an overhanging tree. The males have all black bills, while the female has a red base to the lower mandible. He was clearly waiting for his royal and loyal partner to arrive.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

When the female of the pair arrived, she also perched on a branch overhanging the water. She was clearly unhappy about something because she began to utter her high pitched whistling call. She sounded impatient too.

That was the cue for the male to fly into the riverbank just metres away from the car. I couldn't see the bird but assumed it must have entered the nest hole. A minute or so later it emerged and found a branch over the river again to perch on. He had been excavating and had soil stuck to his bill. A quick shake of the head and he went back in for some more. His mate still perched nearby watching.

The digging was interrupted by a pair of Magpies that were collecting grass strands to line their own nest. They seemed too particularly keen on the tufts of grass right above the Kingfishers nest. The regal birds had flown off under the bridge and away while the Magpies gathered their own material.

Magpie (Pica pica)

The Magpies left and the Kingfishers returned almost immediately. Excavating continued apace but only the male was employed. The queen had flown off again.

Friday 7th April; Peep Show!

Peep-o Day Lane in Abingdon became famous in Oxfordshire birding circles early last year when a Pallas's Warbler was found at the Water Treatment Works there. With a day off, we headed there to look for a trio of Garganey that had been spotted the day before. They had been swimming on a flooded field quite close to the cycle path that runs all the way from Abingdon to Sutton Courteney. We couldn't find them anywhere at the place they'd been but after an hour of searching received a message that the ducks had relocated to the Sutton end of the floods. We ended up walking far too far to year tick a species that no doubt we'd see several times over the course of the next few weeks. At least it was a sunny day.

Garganey (Anas querquedula)

Warblers had begun to arrive in good numbers over the past week or so. We added our first Willow Warbler for the year, saw double figures of Chiffchaffs, many of which were already singing. Best of all was a male Blackcap singing full pelt from a low branch which afforded us fantastic views.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

After a nice coffee and cake, we found some male Red-crested Pochards at Standlake. We used to see far more of these beautiful ducks in Oxon than we seem to nowadays. I wonder where they've gone.

Year List additions;

182) Willow Warbler, 183) Garganey, 184) Red-crested Pochard

Saturday 8th April; Double Crown!

A trip to West Yorkshire to see a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons, part of a nationwide influx of the species. Has its own blog here.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Year List additions;

185) House Martin, 186) Black-crowned Night Heron, 187) Bittern

Sunday 9th April; Ringing it!

Another sunny day (remember those) and reports of a Ring Ouzel had us driving out to Ivinghoe Beacon to year tick it (just in case we didn't get to Scotland this year). Ring Ouzels are special birds. Special because they are birds of upland areas which we don't have much of around our way. However, and fortunately, the species picks out the higher and more open land of hills and commons to feed upon when on migration. They can be frustratingly difficult to find, owing to their furtive habits, and also just as hard to approach. The sole male bird, often referred to as the "Mountain Blackbird" was luckily feeding on a steep slope of the hills directly below the main carpark. By watching from the bottom of the hill it was possible to get a passable view.

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)

On the drive home, taken along country roads in order to avoid Aylesbury (always a good move), we had a chance encounter with a Polecat that ran across the road just ahead of us as we passed through Aston Abbots. At almost midday too!

Year List addition;

188) Ring Ouzel

Monday 10th April; The Real King Fisher!

I looked out of my kitchen window and noticed a Grey Heron stood on my opposite neighbours roof. We've had trouble with Herons before, one virtually emptied my own pond's stock of fish a few years ago. Now we have a net over the water, although that doesn't deter the Heron from having a good look at the fish. This night it behaved itself and flew into somebody else's garden.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Wednesday 12th April; Little and Large!

I didn't have work so acted upon reports of a Kentish Plover that had been seen at Summer Leys Nature Reserve, near Wellingborough, the day before. After news of the birds continued presence was received early morning, we drove the hour or so to the reserve to get it on the year list. It would save us having to track the Burnham-on-Sea bird down this time around. There was the added bonus of an unringed White Stork that had been seen on the reserve in recent days too.

We saw the White Stork before we'd even reached the Double-decker Hide. It was visible by peering over the bund that surrounds the scrapes. I have now seen as many White Storks as I have Black Storks in Britain! Four of each.

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

The Kentish Plover was a tad harder to find. It was frequenting an island about seventy-five metres away from the hide. The Burnham bird shows much closer at times. However, and whatever, I was happy to find the bird and watch it darting around the loafing Cormorants on the island. The male bird was only the third we'd seen of the species.

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

While peering into the distance and trying to get some passable shots of the Plover, we chatted to our mate Ady, and enjoyed the sunshine. A shadow passing overhead indicated that the White Stork was directly over our heads! For the next few minutes the Stork circled above us allowing us to take a multitude of photos of the bird. It even treated us to a couple of almost level flypasts so that we didn't only have to look at its underparts. Definitely a candidate for bird moment of the year.

Year List additions;

189) White Stork, 190) Kentish Plover

Friday 14th April; Wet at the Wetlands

When it rains heavily we often go and sit in the hide at our local reserve. It's a nice place to sit in poor weather and it was pretty grim on this morning. We noted our first Sedge Warblers of the year which were furtive in the small reedbed but showed occasionally.

Green Sandpipers, the reserve speciality (there is no better place to see the species in Oxfordshire than at Bicester Wetlands), and Snipe were feeding in the pools despite the deluge.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)

A fine pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls took over the scrape for a while. Possibly the same pair that frequent our neighbours roof just before teatime. Probably not but hey, who knows?

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii)

In a short period of respite from the rain a Wren snag heartily from a gatepost by the hide. It was amazing how many flies appeared once the rain had abated too. We always enjoy spending a bit of time at the Wetlands. 

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Year List addition;

191) Sedge Warbler

Saturday 15th April; Gone For a Burton and Magic Merlin!

We headed north to the RSPB's Dee Estuary reserve at Burton Mere. Our target bird was a Savi's Warbler that had been showing really well on the previous few days. I only have one Savi's Warbler on my list, a bird that we watched, and listened to, for a prolonged period at Eastbridge near another RSPB reserve at Minsmere. I still only have one.

As well as the Savi's which was clearly gone, we also dipped a Grasshopper Warbler that had been singing next to the visitor centre just before we arrived. We did get a couple of year ticks in the shape of half a dozen summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks and a Reed Warbler.

Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)

The reserve is an excellent place to spend a few hours though and there were many photographic opportunities.

Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Spotted Redshank, left & centre, Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), right

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Homeward bound we diverted slightly to a well known Black Grouse site in North Wales. We hadn't bothered to make it to see the birds lekking this year but knew that we should find some late in the afternoon when the day-trippers had gone home. We stopped on the approach road to admire a pair of Wheatears that were setting up home for the summer in an old stone wall.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Next we had a very welcome surprise close to the Black Grouse lekking ground when I spotted a female Merlin stood atop a grassy mound. Merlins can be tricky birds to observe well, so I was delighted to get some snaps of this bird.

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

We found a few Red Grouse first and then followed them up with seven male Black Grouse who were still going through the motions on the opposite side of the valley.

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica)

Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) 

The most photogenic bird of the day prize belonged to a Skylark that sauntered past the car without a perceived care in the world.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Year List additions;

192) Spotted Redshank, 193) Reed Warbler

Sunday 16th April; Arctic Weather at Farmoor

A quick trip down to Farmoor to year tick an Arctic Tern that bombed around F1. Never close enough for a photo, the bird had brought some pretty horrible weather with it. Ice cold drizzle is never much fun. 

The Lesser Scaup was still in residence too, over six weeks since we ticked it for our county list.

Year List addition;

194) Arctic Tern

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