Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Waxwing, Botley, Oxon. 27th Feb 2007.

On a cold, damp and fairly miserable day the news that a single Waxwing was still present outside a church hall in Botley near Oxford was too much to bear.As i approached the church hall in Botley i could see the unmistakable silhouette of a Waxwing perched in the top of a Rowen tree, i parked up and started watching the bird as it plucked a few berries and began eating them.I set up my camera and managed to get a few shots before a couple of thoughtless birders stood under the tree in an attempt to get a good view, the Waxwing flushed immediately and disappeared over the back of the church and didn't return.The Waxwing takes my year list to 100.
The Waxwing is one of my all time favorite birds and during early 2005 a large invasion culminated with a flock of 300+ being present at Bracknell, Berks and later a flock of 100+ turning up in Henley-on-Thames, Oxon.They are amazing birds to watch and can be very approachable as they gorge themselves on Rowen and Hawthorn berries, with their trilling calls they are certainly a bird that can brighten any winters day.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba).

This video was filmed in our garden in March 2006, when i finally added Barn Owl to the collection of common Owls that i had seen in the garden.I had heard the mechanical screeches late at night on a few occasions but had to wait till March to get my first sighting as one flew through the garden and out in to the surrounding fields, grabbing my binoculars i ran outside and watched as it flew across the fields hunting before it headed out of sight.It continued to fly through at the same time each afternoon completing laps of the fields before heading back up the valley towards Frieth.I then had a close encounter with what i presume to be the same bird, as i drove up the road towards Frieth a Barn Owl flew out from a hedgerow and continued flying in front of the car, it was so close to the windscreen i had to tap the brakes a number of times to avoid hitting it.We travelled up the road together before it peeled off in to a adjacent field and i can only imagine that it was hunting and was having trouble finding food in what was a poor vole year.It was a few days later when i waited patiently with my camcorder hoping that it might pass through on it's daily visit that i spotted it hunting through our orchard, i couldn't believe my luck when it flew towards me and perched on the fence in front of me.I stood as still as i could so not to scare it off and marvelled at what i was seeing, it glanced over at me and then continued searching for food, i know that there are Voles here as i have seen them on a number of occasions and the Owl obviously knew that too as it watched their tracks along the edge of the fence.After an unsuccessful hunt it took flight and disappeared over the fields back towards Frieth.

Although not rare the Barn Owl has become scarce and is on the Amber list which means it's a species of conservation concern.Over the last 50 years they have suffered large declines mainly due to degradation of prey-rich habitats through intense farming and a lack of suitable nesting sites.They favour open country with rough grassland especially farmland with barns, and coastal marshland.Mice, voles and shrews make up the majority of the Barn Owls diet but they will also take small birds and mammals.The Barn Owl prefers to lay it's eggs in barns, church towers, derelict buildings or holes in trees but makes no nest, with many derelict barns being converted in to living accommodation the need for Barn Owl nest boxes has become much needed to sustain the breeding population.The 4-7 eggs are laid at intervals to give the oldest chicks the maximum chance of survival during a food shortage, during a good breeding year when food is plentiful the parents have the capacity to rear the whole brood.If there is a bad food shortage it's not uncommon for the older chicks to eat the youngest and weakest chick in order to survive.

For more information on Barn Owls please visit the Barn Owl Trust website at http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/index.html

Monday, 26 February 2007

The Partridge Family.

Red-legged Partridge.

Grey Partridge.

Red-legged Partridge.

Grey Partridge.

I was delighted to find a pair of Grey Partridge wandering through the garden mid-afternoon today, 26th Feb.I crept quietly towards were they were feeding and managed to take full opportunity of the glorious sunshine that shone over the surrounding countryside by getting plenty of photos.They stayed for over an hour before wandering off across the fields.
I first saw a pair at the end of 2006 as they crossed a nearby field but were soon off over the horizon and out of sight, since then i haven't seen any in the area until today.We are lucky enough to have both Grey and Red-legged Partridge in the area but the Red-legged vastly out numbers the Grey.The Grey is not a rare species but are becoming harder to see and are on the Red list meaning that there has been a rapid decline in the UK breeding population in the last 25 years.The Grey Partridge has a grey/brown mottled plumage, it's back is streaked and flecked with a grey breast and rusty orange face.They prefer cereal and pasture fields with hedges and wide field margins, hopefully the environmental stewardship offered to farmers will help stop the decline of the "English Partridge" by giving them back some of their natural habitat.Their favored diet is leaves, shoots, buds, insects and other vegetable matter and can be found feeding in stubble fields during winter.
The Red-legged Partridge on the other hand is a commoner species and originally introduced from Europe.It has a striking black and white face with red bill, plain brown back,barred flanks with a spotted neck and is larger than the Grey Partridge.It also favours farmland and feeds on seeds, roots and shoots.Can often be seen in large groups or "Coveys" crossing open fields.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Little Marlow GP's. 19th Feb 2007.

A quick stop at Little Marlow GP's late afternoon gave me my first year sighting of Yellow-legged Gull, no sign of any Mediterranean Gulls within the roost.
Back in Frieth i counted 14 Red Kites circling and the pair of Little Owls were sat on the farm roof together.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Red-crested Pochard, Dinton Pastures. 18th Feb 2007.

Red-crested Pochard.

An afternoon visit to Dinton Pastures, Wokingham, Berks today hoping to catch up with the Drake Red-crested Pochard.At Dinton I walked around White Swan Lake and caught up with the Red-crested Pochard feeding in the North-West corner, a pair of Coots shot out from the bank as I approached and disturbed everything including the R C Pochard, slowly it made it's way back towards the bank and began feeding again.The male is easily identified with it's flame red head, pink bill and white flanks.
With Lavell's Lakes a stone throw away I decided to pop in and see what was about, a Green Woodpecker called from the car park as I walked in to the reserve and a handful of Redwings were busy feeding on berries before flying off at the sight of me walking towards them.I entered Tern hide and set up my scope, the lake was fairly quiet and I concentrated on looking for the Bitterns.Looking through the reeds for what seemed like ages I needed to take a break as my eyes started getting "reeditus", a common problem encountered by bird watchers that have been staring through a scope at reed beds for too long, while I waited for my eyes to regain normal vision I spotted a male Roe Deer feeding on the bank, I could clearly see the velvet growing from his head that would in time form his Antlers, he only stopped his search for food to sniff the air and check for danger and when he knew he was safe he continued slowly along the bank.
After my vision had returned to normal I started looking through the reed beds again, concentrating on areas that the Bitterns had been seen previously in the main island, I was just getting to the point where I had seen them on my previous visits when I noticed the tops of the reeds slowly bending over before springing back up again, I watched closely as finally a Bittern appeared, it moved to one of it's usual locations and started preening deep in the reeds.This Bittern is the darker of the two birds that have been present and it's dark crown and markings stood out well through the reeds.It never ceases to amaze me that a bird this size can disappear in to reeds, their markings camouflage them perfectly and when the bird is motionless it can be extremely difficult to pick them out.I watched it from 3.30pm till 5pm when it slowly made it's way through the reeds and out of sight.
Back in Frieth the pair of Little Owls that were seen on Saturday were sat together on a farm gate.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Local Countryside. 17th Feb 2007

I decided to take a drive round the local countryside this afternoon and headed off towards Chisbridge near Bovingdon Green.As I drove along the country lanes I noticed a Red Kite perched in a tree by the roadside and decided to stop and see if I could get a photo or two, just as I set my camera up off it flew but I suddenly heard the call of Lapwing, turning round and looking in the fields next to me I spotted a single Lapwing running across the fields, it ran in to a ploughed section of field where it joined up with the rest of it's flock.Looking through the flock I noticed a few browner birds with them and closer inspection showed there to be at least 8 Golden Plover with the 50+ Lapwings, at this point a Skylark burst in to song from way above me and I searched in vain to find it, I hadn't seen one this year and I scanned the sky hoping to see it but with no luck, I pricked my ears up hoping to put a location on it's song when a bird flew down in the furrows of the field metres in front of me, I quickly got my binoculars on it to find a Skylark looking for food, it continued along the furrows and out of sight.I looked back across to the field to where the Plovers were only to find they had gone but a covey of 7 Red-legged Partridges were crossing the fields in hot pursuit of each other.
Heading back to Frieth through Chisbridge I stopped as I watched a flock of 500 Starlings fly over the car and start feeding in a field next to the road, a flock of 150+ Fieldfares joined them and a small number of Redwings.A female Kestrel flew over and perched on a telephone pole but was ushered on by 3 extremely agitated male Blackbirds that were feeding on berries in the bush below.In the fields 3 Hares were feeding and while I watched them 3 Red Kites flew in to view performing aerial combat, one of the Kites then dropped something in to the field and they all wheeled down to get it, two landed in the field and the third perched on a fence post at the side of the field.Within moments another 4 Kites and 2 common Buzzards were circling above and as I watched them a large pale raptor flew in to view and headed off across the fields, I wasn't too sure at what it was at first but as it came to rest on a telegraph pole I realised that it could only be a very pale common Buzzard, there have been a number of reports of a pale Buzzard in the area and can only guess that this could be this bird, it preened for a matter of seconds and headed off in to the distance. I have seen a number of pale individuals over the years but never this pale.
Back in Frieth the local Little Owls looked to have paired up, I found them sat on a farm gate preening each other.

Little Bunting, Amwell GPs. 11th Feb 2007

Water Rail.

Little Bunting.

Water Rail.

Little Bunting.

The Little Bunting was still at Amwell, GP's in Herts so that was the next trip.I've never seen Little Bunting before so to see that and the Yellow-browed Warbler in the same weekend would be a great weekend for me.A viewpoint looks out across the gravel pits and in front of this a large reed bed that circles the edges of the lake.At the viewpoint from which the bird had been seen a handful of people stood looking and chatting, they confirmed it was still about and had been watching it until it flew in to the reed beds, a long strip has been cut down through the reeds and seed had been put down to attract finches etc.
Looking out from the viewpoint a Dunnock flew down and started to feed followed by a few Chaffinches, i set up my scope and looked across the strip and as i did so a Water Rail popped in to my scope view, it slowly walked towards the reeds and disappeared in to them.It was at this moment i decided to get my camera ready in the anticipation of a good photo opportunity and while i did so the Water Rail walked out of the reeds and straight towards the viewpoint, it stood below the viewpoint and began it's search for food it stayed for sometime probing in the mud before running off in to the reeds again.
A few Reed Buntings had flown down and joined the feeding birds on the reed strip and within a couple of seconds the Little Bunting had joined them, it was difficult to get good views as the flock kept flying in to the reeds every few minutes, it was if they knew something was about!.I managed to get a few photos as the Little Bunting fed on the floor and it seemed a bit less jumpy, i spoke to soon, the birds suddenly panicked and flew in to the reeds and from out of nowhere a Sparrowhawk dived in for an attack, it was unsuccessful and rose back in to the sky and continued to soar higher and higher before it drifted out of sight on the far side on the lake.Within a few minutes feeding continued as normal and the Little Bunting was back on show and feeding below the viewpoint.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Hawley. 10th Feb 2007

Finally i get round to going to Hawley, Hants in the search for the Yellow-browed Warbler which is a species I've never seen before, this bird in particular has been seen since the 28th December 2006 behind a Industrial estate near the River Blackwater.Parking up at Admiralty Way Industrial estate the first thing to be heard was a Goldcrest calling and it was soon seen catching small flies as it clung to the Ivy which was growing around a Birch tree.Crossing over the bridge which straddles the River Blackwater the Yellow-browed Warbler soon appeared feeding in the ivy clad trees and Dogwood that encumbers the riverside, it was feeding on the abundance of small flies that were present along the river and only stopped to chase Goldcrests round the bushes.It didn't stay still for too long but gave really close views and there seemed to be a good number of Goldcrests present.
At home a Red Kite was perched on the fallen Walnut tree next to our cottage, i was interested to see a stick clenched in it's talons and would presume that nest building may have already begun.On a similar note i watched a pair of Coal Tits getting fruity last weekend in the trees by our garden.

Aston. 7th Feb 2007

I decided to take a visit to Aston this afternoon before the coming snow storm took effect.Driving past Remenham Church and along towards Aston i stopped and checked the fields beside the road, i counted 60 Mute Swans but very little else, no Lapwing or Golden Plover.
As i parked the car at Aston the first sound i could hear was the resident Ring-necked Parakeets calling to each other and as i walked along the towpath towards Hambleden Lock i soon found a pair inspecting a tree hole together.A flock of Redwing and Fieldfare were feeding in the fields alongside the river Thames towpath and were joined by 3 Mistle Thrushes, Tufted and Mallard Duck were present in good numbers on the river as were Canada Goose.Looking out across the fields towards Remenham both Red Kite and Buzzard were soaring low over the fields and a Green Woodpecker took flight from in front of me, i soon spotted a Grey Heron as it flew over shortly followed by a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
On my way back to Hambleden Lock i stopped at a wooded clearing which has a small stream/backwater passing through it, in the past i have seen Kingfisher using this stream during winter and was also extremely lucky to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker while watching Spotted Flycatchers.I waited patiently and before long a Robin flew in to the bush next to me and looked me up and down, after satisfying it's curiosity it continued on it's way, it was then a Wren burst in to song and suddenly the clearing came alive, a second Wren flew down to the streams edge and began to forage in the undergrowth and was soon joined by another, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits passed overhead and began hanging off the Alders as they fed.As i watched motionless i became aware of a single bird flitting through the bushes with them, it flew in to the bush in front of me and made it's way to the top of a branch, i soon got a close up view of a Marsh Tit which seemed to be eating seeds and i would imagine that it would have been from the Alders.It preened for awhile and then disappeared off through the bushes, the "pitchoo" calls could be heard as it disappeared in to the thicket.A passing dog walker soon flushed everything else so i headed off towards Hambleden Lock.At the edge of the field overlooking the lock i looked along a backwater ditch where a Little Grebe was diving for food, 2 Egyptian Geese and another Grey Heron flew over.Walking along the path towards the Lock a Song Thrush flew to the tops of the trees and began to sing, it's song filling the air.By the Lock a large flock of 150 plus Finches were feeding in a stubble area of the field, including Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Linnet, Greenfinch and Chaffinch.
As i walked back along the towpath towards Aston i noticed a flock of birds feeding in the bushes of a nearby copse, i walked over and soon picked up on a couple of Blue Tits and 4 or 5 Great Tits passing through the trees and bushes feeding as they went, i waited patiently in the hope that something good would be in the ever growing flock, the calls of Long-tailed Tits could be heard long before they arrived in the trees in front of me, i counted 12 in one tree before they continued on their journey through the trees.A Marsh Tit appeared in a tree and while i watched it through my binoculars a Treecreeper slowly climbed the underside of a fallen tree behind it, i did a quick double take and looked again, it was still climbing the tree and continued to give good views until it flew to the next tree and disappeared out of sight.I was cursing not bringing my camera with me when a bird caught my eye as it flew in to bush close to me, i watched it fly to the next bush alongside the stream and slowly followed it, it perched up on the bush and i believed that it was another Marsh Tit but closer inspection proved me wrong.It showed a large black untidy bib, dull sooty black crown and had a thick neck appearance, getting a better view as the bird turned i noticed it had pale wing panels.All these point to the Willow Tit but identification of the two species can be extremely difficult and the call can sometimes be the only certain way to separate the two birds, i waited quietly and listened for the call as the flock slowly passed through the bushes and within a couple of minutes the Willow Tit proved it's identity with it's harsh and nasal call.

Once Bittern, Twice Shy. 3rd Feb 2007

I made a mad late afternoon dash to Lavell's lake near Wokingham, Berks today in the hope that i might see a Bittern.I really like Lavell's, it's has a good bird feeder viewing area, two good hides and the hard work that has been put in to the reserve has started to pay off with as many as 5 Bitterns being present in December 2005.
Upon arrival at the hide overlooking the lake a number of local birders had already been watching a single Bittern moments earlier and i believed that i was too late and had missed out.I set up my scope and within a couple of minutes of waiting a single Bittern moved through the reeds and onto the edge of the lake, it slowly stalked it's prey in the margins before striking and catching what looked like to be a good size Perch, after swallowing it's catch it sat in the open and digested the fish.I have never had such a good view of a Bittern and for over 10 minutes the bird sat in the open.As all of this was happening a second Bittern appeared further along in the island reed bed, it slowly climbed the reeds, stretched it's wings and got ready to roost.As the light slowly faded they both disappeared in to the reed bed.To see one was great but to see two at the same time was fantastic!.A Cetti's Warbler burst in to song a number of times while i was in the hide and while watching the scrape before the light finally got the better of everybody a Water Rail crept through the reeds.

Burnthouse Lane. 2nd Feb 2007

A quick stop at Burnthouse Lane near Theale, Berks today, Burnthouse used to consist of a number of gravel pits which sadly are being slowly filled in, a number of rarities have been seen there in the past which include Slavonian Grebe, White-fronted Goose, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dotterel and Red-footed Falcon.
After climbing the bank to the pits i was disappointed to find a number of workmen crossing through the pits which flushed almost everything except a Shelduck which was asleep and two Grey Herons.A few Gulls stayed on the far side of the pit which included a small group of Black-headed Gulls, a squabbling Herring and Great Black-backed Gull, before long the ducks circled back round and landed back on the water, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall.