Thursday, 26 February 2009

Waxwings - Henley on Thames, Oxon. 26/02/2009

I was in Henley on Thames this afternoon to take a look at some gardening work I've been asked to do and whilst chatting with the owner I could hear an unmistakable "trilling" noise coming from nearby. Knowing the call to be Waxwings I was itching to get back to my car and grab my binoculars and after explaining what I could hear we both wandered round the house to find 12 perched in a tree top on the south east corner of Damer Gardens(SU762817). Just as I got them in view 2 Wood Pigeons flew in to the tree flushing the Waxwings which hastily flew over our heads calling with their trilling "sirrrr", they then headed off in a northerly direction and out of sight.

As I grew up in the area I know it very well and searched all of the known berry bushes including the train station, supermarket car parks and the old Woolworth's car park where I first spotted the invasion flock in February 2005, despite checking many locations I had no luck in relocating them. I returned to Damer Gardens in the hope they had returned but there wasn't any sign of them. Most of the berry trees in the area are now bare so I'm not sure if there likely to hang around long.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tawny Owl - Xylophone Trill

On a number of occasions I had heard a sound that I just couldn't figure out what it was or what was making them, only heard late at night I was sure it was an Owl. With all three common Owls being present in the area it had to be either Barn, Little or Tawny Owl that was making this strange quiet warbling noise but despite researching and trying to track the culprit down I still had no answers. I finally managed to record it out of our bedroom window late one night and heard a Tawny Owl which seemed to be replying? in the background whilst the warbling/trill continued. After searching many websites I found the God's Own Clay website which has a large selection of recordings including the "Xylophone Trill" which finally told me that is was a Tawny Owl. The Tawny Owl calls and vocalizations can be found on their website here

Collins Bird Guides(Mullarney/Svensson/Zettertrom/Grant) describes the following - During courtship either sex utters a low-pitched,shivering tremolo(the so called 'xylophone trill'), o'o'o'o'o'o'o'o'o'o'o'o....., audible only to c.50m.

It's quiet so you'll need to turn the sound up and perhaps your speakers to hear it.

Tawny Owl's "Xylophone Trill".

Monday, 23 February 2009

In & Around The Garden.

Coal Tit

We've had some interesting sightings in and around the garden over the last week and with a glimpse of warmer temperatures and perhaps the first signs of Spring bird activity has been very high. After nearly a 3 week absence one of our local Marsh Tits has returned to the feeders, it's great to see they survived the cold weather and snow and I guess they are much tougher than I give them credit for. 2 Coal Tit's and a Nuthatch are also regularly in the garden.

On Wednesday 18th I spotted a large Finch flock in Horse paddocks whilst driving along Parmoor Lane, Frieth (SU793900). Quite a varied selection of species that included Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Linnet, Brambling, Chaffinch and a couple of Pied Wagtails all feeding in the paddock but very mobile. A lone male Kestrel perched on top of a telegraph pole and 7 Red Kites circling over Little Frieth were also seen. Early Thursday brought views of an extremely pale Buzzard perched on the fence posts of a boundary fence outside our cottage, it was so white it was more reminiscent of an Osprey in appearance and although I have seen a couple of pale individuals a few miles away I have never seen one this pale around the cottage before. It was perched hunched up on a fence post looking in to the field which I have never seen them do here before, if there not circling above with Red Kites they can often be seen sat on telephone posts or some of the tall trees that overlook the mass of open fields so I was surprised to say the least. Although I could see it with the naked eye I thought it certainly needed closer inspection and with a number of Rough legged Buzzards turning up in neighbouring counties I rushed off looking for my binoculars, by the time I had found my binoculars it had moved to the next post and was partly obscured behind a small tree. I started to look for some of the key features to separate the Common and Rough-legged Buzzard by firstly looking at the tail which did seem very pale, the Buzzard then tuned side on and I decided to run upstairs and view it from the bedroom window with my scope. I ran upstairs with the elegance of Todd Carty from Dancing on Ice and grabbed my scope and proceeded to put up the tripod, I made my way over to the window and looked out only to find the bird had gone and despite going outside and scanning the skies, hills, fields and woodland it was nowhere to be seen. It hasn't been seen since and I'm kicking myself for not getting a good view of it, with daily sightings of both Red Kite and Common Buzzard I have got a bit used to seeing them and don't always check each individual out, perhaps a valuable lesson. To be honest these days I see more Red Kites on a daily basis than I do House Sparrows!!

I was woken in the early hours of Friday morning, 5am to be precise by the hooting calls of a Tawny Owl perched on the chimney. It continued for over 10 minutes before it fell silent and I drifted back off to sleep. There seems to be at least 3 or 4 calling most nights from the woods in the surrounding valley and due to our remoteness and distinct lack of traffic noise they can be heard clearly as they claim their territories and potential mates.

Our resident Little Owls have also become very vocal calling during both day and night, I was watched sternly by one individual which was sat in a tree overlooking my car in the week and we've also had a few brief sightings of single birds sat on the paddock fence posts overlooking the adjacent fields.

I returned home on Friday evening and was immediately halted in my tracks as I approached the front door, hearing the eerie drawn-out screech of a barn owl nearby I stopped and listened patiently. Within 30 seconds I heard it again but this time it seemed closer but due to the light it was impossible to track it down, being miles from civilisation there are no street lights here and no ambient light so it's dark to say the least, our 500watt security light does light up the area around the cottage but not in to the fields. I tracked it by it's calls to the field next to the cottage and listened next to the fence, it continued calling on and of for about 5 minutes but by this time was moving further away. Barn Owls aren't uncommon in the area and I've seen them in at least 4 nearby locations including a incredible experience I had in our orchard where I managed to film the individual in the films below.

At 4am Saturday morning nature called and I made my way downstairs to take a leak, I always switch on the outside light in the hope that I might catch a glimpse of something interesting, often the early hours give great views of Owls, Deer and other wildlife going about their nocturnal activities. Looking out of the living room window and out in to the paddock I noticed a grey lump hunched over in the long grass, thinking it was a Rabbit I started to pull the curtains but as I did a black and white striped face looked up from the grass and stared back at me. It is my first Badger sighting in the garden this year and I watched intently for 10 minutes as it snuffled it's way through the grass and towards the edge of our garden, it certainly looked like the Brock that visited regularly and brought his family to the garden to feed during 2006-2007

Common Gull

Saturday was a glorious day weather wise, finally the grey cloudy skies made way for blue skies with outbreaks of warm sunshine and the first signs that Spring is on it's way. A Red Kite perched outside the cottage was whistling away from the top of a telephone pole and with the weather being so nice I decided to have a good look around the garden to see what was about. I watched the feeders from the bedroom window and spotted Great, Blue, Coal and Long Tailed Tit, only 3 Chaffinches feeding beneath the feeders, a Robin and 2 Blackbirds occasionally popped in and out of the garden and a Dunnock which continually broke in to it's sweet warbling song from the edge of the bushes in the garden. Walking out in to the garden I could soon see 2 Common Buzzards and 5 Red Kites circling above and from the surrounding fields the squabbling Corvids could be heard as they searched the fields for food. No sign of any Black-headed gulls today but 12 Common Gulls were joining a small flock of Jackdaws that were feeding in one of the Sheep fields off Shogmoor Lane. After viewing the surrounding fields I made my way back towards home hearing a small flock of Long-tailed Tits as I walked, they soon flitted overhead and into the hedgerow next to me and as I watched them I soon heard the contact calls of 2 Goldcrest that were in the hedgerow as well. As I was watching them I began to hear a Bullfinch calling nearby and leaving the Tit flock I carried on further along the hedgerow and towards the calling Bullfinch, it didn't take long to see both male and female Bullfinches feeding in the hedgerow but they soon noticed me and flew further along the path and back in to the hedge. I slowly approached where they were feeding and this time inched myself into a good viewing position and watched as they ate new shoots and buds in the hedgerow, they stayed for a good ten minutes mostly deep in the hedge but now and again came to the top to clean their beaks on a number of thicker branches giving exceptional views of this normally shy species. I wandered back to the cottage and immediately picked up on 2 large black birds flying south-east towards Hatchet wood, they soon called and before I had time to look at them through my binoculars I knew they were Ravens. They continued flying over without stopping but I could still hear "Kronking" even with them out of sight. I'm certain that there is at least one pair in the area and with fairly regular sightings over the cottage there's a good chance that they are resident and possible breeders.


A Red Kite returned to the top of the telegraph pole near the garden and from the bedroom window I could see it was eating something, being curious I headed outside again . I managed to hide behind a large Laurel bush which meant I could get relatively close view without flushing it, I was a bit taken back when I saw what it was eating as I had at first thought that it would be probably feeding on a dead Rabbit or some other road kill. After doing a double take I realised that I wasn't going mad and that the Kite was eating what looked like a sponge cake(make and origin unknown!), I have often had them swooping into the garden after I have put bread out for the birds but never seen them take anything so this came as a bit of a surprise. It finished everything and then took off and began circling the fields with 3 other Kites and a Common Buzzard. It had a metal leg ring on it's left leg but it wasn't possible to read it.

The Cake Eating Kite

Red Kite

Monday, 16 February 2009

In Memory Of Nigel Richard Stow 9th Oct 1941-16th Feb 2004.


Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn's rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush;
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A Winters Tale. 2nd Feb 2009.

With the heaviest snowfall for 18 years covering most of the south east of England the Chilterns were no exception. Even with weather reports informing the whole of the UK that severe weather was on it's way I wasn't totally sure what to expect, On Sunday evening I was still trying to track down a Woodcock that had been seen briefly near the cottage and as dusk approached the temperature dropped and the first snow started to fall leaving me in no doubt that something was on it's way. The first snow showers were quite aggressive with an inch or two laying very quickly before 6:30pm when as quickly as it had started the snow ceased to fall, nothing much happened for the rest of the evening and it wasn't until the early hours of Monday did things really get going. By 3am there was already a good covering of snow and it wasn't stopping, I couldn't believe the amount of snow and the speed at which it was falling. By morning the valley was covered by a layer of snow that stretched as far as the eye could see and the distant windmill at Turville Heath famed for it's starring role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was now partly obscured during occasional bouts of snowfall.

I had filled the feeders the night before ready for any early morning arrivals in search of food and after surveying the surrounding countryside I watched to see what the garden had in store. Great, Blue and Coal Tit were already in situ along with Robin, Dunnock and Chaffinch, 3 male and 1 female Blackbird were surprisingly well behaved amongst each other with the female again taking charge of any unruly behaviour. I decided it was time to put out a few treats for the ground feeders and after finding a selection of wholemeal bread, fruit and the remainder of a rather expensive panettone cake I braved the elements outside. After scattering the food across the lawn and refilling the bird bath I scanned the orchard and fields next to the cottage. Our now regular pair of Red Kites were sat in the top of an old Apple tree viewing the fields, they looked rather cold and I did wonder how well these beautiful birds of prey would adapt to this weather that would certainly hamper their feeding, despite the area having an abundance of Rabbit and Pheasant the snow would have soon covered anything that hadn't made it through the night and the fields were now baron wastelands devoid of any life. Of course after getting my scope and attempting to get a photo of them they flew off, I thought it best to leave them rather than pursue them for the perfect snow shot as they would certainly need all the fat reserves they had to get them trough the severe weather.

I wandered back to the cottage hearing a Meadow Pipit calling as it flew overhead, it dropped down into a nearby field and I headed off to investigate. Although Meadow Pipit is quite a common species of bird I have never heard or seen one near the cottage before, I was lucky to see one perched on wires about a quarter of a mile away from the cottage earlier this year. After negotiating a number of hidden Rabbit burrows I set my scope up to view the field, the glare from the snow made it difficult to find anything and I was about to give up when I saw a flock of about 50 or more birds take to the air from the centre of the field which included both Skylark and Meadow Pipit. I watch ed as they swirled round the centre of the field coming down almost the same place they had taken of from. It does seem that there are good size flocks of both Skylark and Meadow Pipits in the area at the moment.

unsurprisingly the Black headed and Common Gulls that are present most days around the nearby fields were nowhere to be seen, a mixed flock of Carrion Crow, Rook, Jackdaw and Magpie were doing there best to forage in the downtrodden snow that the local sheep had carved across the snow covered fields.

We are pretty remote at the best of times and with the heavy snowfall the area seemed very cut-off to say the least, fields and woodland were covered with a blanket of snow as far as the eye could see and they were beckoning to be explored. Finding as many layers as we could get on we headed out in to what felt like Narnia and after traversing the fields we headed north east towards Adam's Wood stopping a the entrance of the wood to grab a few photos. The wood itself was eerily quiet, no sight or sound of any bird life and the silence was strange to say the least, it was almost like every living creature in the wood had be exiled leaving an incredible silence.

As we continued through the wood the first signs of bird life became obvious, a Red Kite perched in the tree tops took flight sending a cascade of snow from the branches to the woodland floor, a Nuthatch called from nearby and after tracking it's call we found it with a small flock of Blue and Great Tits as they searched the woodland for food. A Common Buzzard called as it drifted over and shortly after the delicate contact calls of a number of Goldcrests could be heard from the woodland interior.

After following the footpath through Adam's Wood we arrived at Little Frieth and soon encountered 4 Red Kites circling the fields, Blackbird, Robin, Blue and Great Tit were in good numbers along the gardens and hedgerows. Leaving Little Frieth along Shogmoor Lane a number of birds were scattered along the hedgerows, Dunnock, Blackbird, Blue & Great Tit and a possible male Blackcap, I say possible as the view was so brief I just didn't get a good enough view. The pond at the top of Shogmoor Lane was almost all frozen over with a number of Mallards keeping the remaining water unfrozen by swimming in it, 2 Moorhens were also present searching round the pound fringes for food. A good size flock of Greenfinches has been present in this area recently and along with Chaffinch and a few Goldfinches must have numbered somewhere in the region of 60 birds, feeding in 2 separate groups either side of the road they soon took flight as we walked the road between them. They sat nervously in the trees along the field edges and the noise of all these Finches calling together was incredibly loud.

At the top of shogmoor lane we could see a distant group of Red Kites circling over Fingest Wood, it was difficult to count exactly how many there were due to the snow showers and mist that was caused by the wind blowing surface snow across the fields. They seemed to be circling one particular area with some intent and on occasions would drop suddenly out of the sky and out of view behind the trees, I estimated that there were roughly 16 Kites but it could have been more.

We made our way along the footpath and in to Hill's Wood which like Adam's Wood was silent at first, a number of Blackbirds both male and female were encountered on the footpaths before they hastily flew deeper in to the woods and now and again the contact calls of Goldcrest could be heard. Finally a Robin appeared next to the footpath as if to see if we had anything to offer before it too disappeared in to the wood. 2 Common Buzzards passed over calling as they went and shortly after a Red Kite followed them but there was still little to be seen in the woodland itself. As we approached Hatchet Wood a Nuthatch was heard calling and at least 4 Goldcrest were calling to each other at the tops of nearby Conifer trees. We came to a clearing and watched as a Brown Hare suddenly shot out from the woodland in front of us, we obviously startled it from it's daytime resting place and it raced across the clearing with the speed and agility of a Olympic sprinter, it's long legs pushing it at great speed through the wood with it's long black-tipped ears held tightly against it's shoulders. Within 30 seconds it was gone and the only signs that it was ever there were the far spaced footprints that it left in the snow.

We continued along the footpath through Hatchet Wood walking on previously un-trodden snow, an almost fairytale landscape greeted us with snow covering the countryside and adorning almost every bow and branch throughout the wood. 2 Red Kites drifted over calling as they went and the odd cackling flock of Fieldfare passed across the tree tops overhead. Suddenly we noticed a bird take flight from the undergrowth just in front if us, we stood and watched as a dumpy looking bird with a long bill flew along the edge of the wood before dropping down again. We approached slowly only for the bird to take flight and fly further into the woods but this time it was clear to see that is was a Woodcock. I know they often can be found in open areas in times of severe weather and perhaps this was the reason why one turned up in the garden on the previous day, I was delighted to see this species so near to our home and will certainly be on the look out for Roding males in spring.

By the time we reached home we had added Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Redwing to our sightings for the day and our regular male Pheasant was tucking in to the leftovers in the garden

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

January's Garden Sightings.

Red Kite

The garden has been busy especially in times of very cold weather, Still no sign of Brambling and Siskin in the garden as we have seen in previous years but with temperatures dropping and snow covering the fields and surrounding countryside there's always the possibility of something turning up.

Regular sightings of Blue, Great, Coal, Marsh & Long-tailed Tit. Wood Pigeon, Robin, Wren, Dunnock, Chaffinch and the odd Greenfinch,(a large flock of 40+ Greenfinch has been seen on numerous occasions at the top of Shogmoor Lane), a Treecreeper returned to the garden and was seen briefly climbing tree trunks before it flew off towards the trees in the orchard. Both Red Kite and Buzzard are daily sightings as are large flocks of corvids, Carrion Crow, Rook, Jackdaw and Magpie all present in large numbers feeding with Black-headed and Common Gulls in the surrounding fields. A Raven was seen and heard in early February flying south-east over Hatchet Wood and perhaps one of the birds that has been seen at nearby Marlow Common. A Collared Dove that stopped in the garden in late January was a first, occasionally seen flying over they are not a common sighting around the garden but just 600 yrds down the road in Skirmett village can be seen sat on the overhead wires. Perhaps they just don't like what we have on offer, anyway the Dove stayed minutes before it flew off, brief visit to say the least!.


We still have a good number of Blackbirds in the area and numbers probably reach the mid twenty's , 3 or 4 visit the garden to see what's on offer with a particularly dominate female keeping the males in order. Both Mistle and Song Thrush are present in and around the surrounding fields and a small number of Redwing remain, only a few small groups of Fieldfare are in the area and are often heard but not seen. Our regular visiting male Pheasant has spent the last couple of nights roosting on the garden wall, i found him sat on the wall with his head tucked under his wing at 6:45am on the 3rd Feb looking rather cold.

The resident Little Owls are staying out of sight at the moment and are only seldom heard unlike the Tawny Owl which seems to have started calling from the top of the cottage chimney again. It obviously favours this spot as it has done for the past couple of years, as we have an open fire which is in use most nights through the winter I'm wondering if it uses the chimney as it knows it's going to be nice and warm.

The most exciting news came on the 1st February when my girlfriend told me she had just flushed a unusual bird from the orchard, she was walking through the orchard when a bird took flight in front of her and zig-zaged its way past the garden. Louise got a good view of the bird and after she told me this I sat her down and the Spanish inquisition began. what did it look like I asked?, to which she replied it was a dumpy wader looking bird with a long bill. I was intrigued and requiring more information I continued the questioning, where exactly did you see it? it was in the overgrown area at the side of the filed and it looked like a Woodcock as the bill was too long for a Snipe, I was taken back by her observations even though she has accompanied me on many of my birding adventures. Every year we go to Padworth, Berks on the TABCG Nightjar walk and often see this species a number of times as they rode overhead, we have also seen this species up close at Titchwell, Norfolk when on a Focus on Birds weekend trip with Tom McJannet we were gifted extremely close views of a single bird sat in the undergrowth next to the car park. I was disappointed at missing this very unusual sighting in the garden but have no doubt that Louise saw was a Woodcock and this would be proved the following day...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Aston & Remenham, Berkshire. 30/01/09

Ring-necked Parakeet

An afternoon visit to Aston and Remenham, Berks on what was a cold cloudy day with brief spells of sunshine. Amongst the more common and regular sightings were-


Ring-necked Parakeet (6)
Red Kite (26)* Largest number ever recorded at this site
Buzzard (4)
Kestrel (1)
Siskin (30+)
Marsh Tit (1)
Nuthatch (1)
Song Thrush (1)
Grey Wagtail (2)
Kingfisher (1)


Egyptian Goose (2)
Red-legged Partridge (19)
Stock Dove (2)
Redwing (9)


Great Crested Grebe

Black-headed Gull

You Have Been Warned!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Pink-footed Goose - Streatley, Berkshire. 18/01/09

Pink-footed Goose.

I decided to take a trip over to Streatley in Berkshire today to see the Pink-footed Goose Found by Neil Bucknell in early January. Although the weather was a bit chilly the sun was out and I hoped for the chance to get a few photos of this rare visitor to the county of Berkshire.

After parking the car my girlfriend and I headed along the Thames Path towards Cleeve Lock, a gathering of Black-headed and Common gull were congregating on a large flooded area of the fields and on the opposite bank of the River Thames a large flock of Canada Geese were grazing on a large riverside lawn. Arriving at Cleeve Lock we met a departing Adam Basset and his daughter, after having a quick chat we said our goodbyes and wandered off another 400yrds towards the Pink-foot.

The Pink-footed Goose was with 2 Egyptian Geese by the ditch on the Berkshire side of the Thames path and roughly 400 yrds north of Cleve Lock, the unringed Pink-foot did seem wary to me and often sat looking around, even when it was grazing it stopped to look around before carrying on eating. At about 3.15pm 2 more Egyptian Geese flew in from the boathouse on the Oxon side of the Thames. These 2 Egyptian Geese were very territorial, very vocal and plenty of outstretched wings with heads pointed to the sky, perhaps a pair and early signs of breeding display?. They proceeded to chase firstly the original 2 Egyptian Geese and then the Pink-foot, this went on for at least 30 minutes before the Pink-foot took flight and circled round the field and then landed 100yards south of it's take off point.

Pink-footed Goose.

Egyptian Goose.

A Year of Birding 2008.

2008 Year Review Coming Soon