Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Aston, Berks. 21/04/09


A lunchtime visit to Aston proved very fruitful today, with the glorious sunshine beating down I made my way from Remenham Lane and along the footpath towards Hambleden Lock. A male Kestrel was hunting in the fields adjacent to the footpath and while watching it 2 Red Kites drifted over shortly followed by a Common Buzzard, while waiting for the opportunity to digiscope the Kestrel I was soon distracted by at least 3 Skylarks singing from high above me. I listened transfixed to their fast rolling song which duly reminded me of summers gone by until in the distance I heard a faint drumming coming from the backwater copse near Hambleden Lock, I picked up my scope and headed off on the direction of the drumming.

I arrived at the copse and waited for the drumming to begin again, as I waited a Chiffchaff began to sing nearby and before long it flew to the trees above me and into view, here it started to sing again and as I watched it something caught my eye. I quickly scanned the trees next to me to find a Nuthatch in full view, I watched it inch it's way along the tree branch until it sat looking at me, it was soon joined by it's mate which fed it something and then flew off. After eating it wiped it's bill on the tree and then sat patiently in view which gave me a chance to grab a few photos, as it shuffled up the tree I did the same to give me a clear view between the branches and this continued for about five minutes. The other Nuthatch returned and fed it's mate again and then they headed off further along the tree and out of view.


During this time a Blackcap had started singing nearby and by the time I had finished watching the Nuthatches it was close-by, after at least 3 or 4 minutes of scanning the bushes it appeared at the top of a bramble thicket before flying further into the copse and to begin it's song again. This seemed to alert another Blackcap which joined in the chorus.

The drumming started again but this time sounded stronger but shorter, it could only be Great Spotted Woodpecker and despite not being able to see the bird I was pretty sure i knew what it was. I walked down towards the River Thames to look back towards the backwater, from here I could view the tree tops and any possible Woodpecker activity. There seems to be a few favoured trees and perching spots along the backwater which I got to know when I lived at Hambleden Marina some five years ago.

I reached the River and looked back along the tree tops, the first tree I looked at is a large Pine/Spruce tree and within seconds I found a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, he soon started to drum and within a minute or so of drumming a female flew across the Rver Thames from the island at Hambleden Marina and joined him in the next tree along. He seemed buoyed by his attraction skills and looked her up and down, he then hopped down the down the tree and started drumming again. It was while I was watching him drum that I suddenly picked up on the faint drumming I had heard earlier, it was a great comparison as both birds drummed together and I know knew that a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was in the vicinity, I hadn't seen one here since 2005 and I was eager to see if I could locate it and even better get some photos.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. (Aston 30/08/05)

The male Great Spotted Woodpecker seemed angered by the intruder in his territory and went to investigate, he flew along the copse and out of sight. Moments later anxious calls echoed from the copse from what seemed to be both Great & Lesser Spotted arguing over territory, the last call came from the male Great Spotted Woodpecker which called twice before flying over the river to the island with the female following close behind it. Believing I had seen the last of them all I wandered slowly back towards Aston getting no more than 40ft before I heard the faint drumming again, 'one last look' I thought as my lunch hour ebbed away and walking back to the river front for one last time I scanned the trees. It must have been fate as the first tree I set the scope on had a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker hanging on the underside of a branch towards the top of the tree, seeing one of these birds is always quite a feat and I was delighted to get a good minutes view of it before it flew off further along the backwater, good to know there still here. Before heading off 2 more Red Kites drifted over the county border from Buckinghamshire and into Berkshire airspace, 2 Ring-necked Parakeets flew along the river and at least 7 Red-legged Partridge crossed the footpath near the Flowerpot Pub, Aston and later in the day a female Sparrowhawk was seen circling high over the fields.

Kestrel - 1m
Buzzard - 1
Red Kite - 4
Nuthatch - 2
Skylark - 3
Chiffchaff - 1
Blackcap - 2m
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - 1m
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 2 m&f
Ring -necked Parakeet - 2
House Sparrow - 6+ Nesting Material
Red-legged Partridge - 7
Pheasant - 16 m&f
Blue Tit - 6
Great Tit - 4
Long-tailed Tit - 2
Dunnock - 2
Pied Wagtail - 1
Sparrowhawk - 1f

Monday, 20 April 2009

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) - Old Winchester Hill, Hants. 19/04/09

White-throated Sparrow.

I couldn't resist the lure of going to see the White-throated Sparrow at Old Winchester Hill in Hampshire, having seen an array of superb photos on Birdguides I decided that as soon as the weather improved I would take a visit to see it. Sunday brought fine weather and with the sun high in the sky I headed off to Hampshire in search of the White-throated Sparrow.

We arrived at Old Winchester Hill and after finding a space in the car park we headed off to see the Sparrow, a dozen or so birders were standing just inside the gate to the reserve viewing the pathway to our right as we entered the reserve.


I set my scope up and got talking to an nice old chap who told me he had originally found the bird in November and had been feeding it from his car. We were talking for a couple of minutes and then the bird appeared briefly on the pathway in front of us, I struggled to see it a first and was kindly put on to it as it hid behind a dock leaf on the side of the path. It continued to eat seeds from behind the dock leaf only briefly popping it's head up and then flew back in to the bushes. I hardly had time to see the bird and after learning that it disappeared for an hour at a time and then returned I decided to wait for another view, I certainly didn't want my first ever sighting to be a brief view and quick tick. I waited patiently for the Sparrow to return getting the chance to digiscope Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch and Robin while I waited. A Marsh Tit appeared in the bushes next to the pathway and not being able to resist free sunflower hearts it dropped to the ground to feed. True to fashion it didn't hang around long and as I went to take a photo it flew off.

Willow Warbler.



For about an hour I scanned the bushes watching everything that moved, Blue & Great Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch and Robin all coming to feed on the seed and raising everybody's hopes when they did so. Suddenly the White-throated Sparrow appeared on the pathway and it quickly began feeding on the seed, I was desperate to get some decent photos and didn't know whether to digiscope or view the bird through the scope, whatever I was going to do I had to do quick as I was advised that the bird can often stay for a couple of minutes before disappearing. I decide to get as many photos as I could and having the camera set up on continuous shoot I placed it against the scope eyepiece and snapped away, after taking 50 or so photos I viewed the Sparrow through the scope getting some fantastic views as it fed in front of us. After being on view for a couple of minutes it disappeared back in to the undergrowth and out of sight. A very enjoyable day to say the least.

White-throated Sparrow.

The Viewing Area.

Old Winchester Hill.

Awaiting The White-throated Sparrow.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)

I managed to digiscope a few photos of this very obliging Red-legged Partridge sat on the garden wall. They are often around the garden and surrounding fields but don't hang around to have their photo taken so I was more than pleased when this individual sat long enough for me to get a few photos.

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) - Linkey Down, Aston Rowant. 13/04/09

Ring Ouzel.

I returned again to Aston Rowant late afternoon today to see if I could get any better photos of the male Ring Ouzel that was still present. Unfortunately it was rather nervy and remained out of sight for long periods and when it did show it was at distance for most of the time, it spent much of it's time feeding close to the fenced paddocks in the middle of Linkey Down before disappearing out of view behind the fenced pens. Other than a few Blackbirds, Red Kites, a pair of Buzzards, an over-flying Meadow Pipit, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler it was quite quiet. I learnt later that somebody had seen a birder walking along the bottom of Linkey Down which isn't a public footpath and perhaps may account for the rather nervy Ouzel.

Linkey Down, Aston Rowant.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) - Linkey Down, Aston Rowant. 09/04/09

I made an early evening trip to Aston Rowant to see the male Ring Ouzel that had been found on Linkey Down SU726962 today. After stopping off a number of times last week with no success I was eager to see if I could get any good photos of him. It is an extremely difficult place to get decent photos due to the distance away from the birds but always worth a try.

View map of SU726962 on
Get directions to or from SU726962

Leaving the car at the lay-by I headed off towards Linkey down, at the entrance to the reserve a single Willow Warbler was singing from the pathway near the picnic tables and 3 Chiffchaffs could be heard calling from further afield. The usual Red Kites were circling overhead as were a pair of Buzzards that later were seen perched in the trees in the western woods at Linkey Down. Approaching Linkey Down a few Skylarks were in full song hovering high in the sky above the fields and the hedgerows hosted both Blue and Great Tit.

I met a gentleman who was on his way up the path after watching the Ring Ouzel and he told me the last seen location, after a quick chat I headed off to view the reserve. I set up my scope and scanned the area mentioned without any luck.

I was then joined by another birder and we continued to scan the juniper thickets without much joy, a distant pair of blackbirds proved difficult to immediately identify as they disappeared behind the fauna giving poor views. After sometime we finally got good views of them and hoped that the male Ring Ouzel would be with them. it wasn't and I scanned the vast area across the downs starting at the point it was seen earlier, as I scanned the fenced pens on the eastern slope I spotted the Ring Ouzel moving in to view. it must have been there all along but out of view from where we were standing. It continued searching for food amongst the juniper thickets and grass whilst moving slowly down Linkey Down, a few worms were seen to be taken no doubt aided by the wet weather we had earlier in the day softening up the ground.

The male Ring Ouzel continued to feed around the fenced pens for 30 minutes before being flushed by 2 Roe Deer running across the down. I left at 19:15 with the bird still present.

I normally view Linkey Down from the footpath tat leads down to Hill Farm SU727963, from the lay-by follow the path towards the picnic tables, then through the gate which leads to Linkey Down. After walking along the path you will see the busy M40 in front of you and a short walk down the hill will take you to another gate at the side of Linkey Down. After opening the gate as quietly as possible (it's noisy and alerts everything to your presence) walk 50-75yards and then over to the barbed wire fence on your left, from here it is possible to look down and view the reserve. Over the years I have noted that the Ring Ouzels seem to have a few favoured spots which include the long strip of juniper bushes directly below the viewing spot mentioned above, Along the fence line that stretches north-east to south-west and dissects Linkey Down with the open grass fields. failing that the fenced pens of trees and juniper bushes on the eastern slope are also a good spot but can be difficult to view from some areas.

Earlier in the day whilst working in Chalgrove, Oxon I had seen small numbers of Swallow passing through with one small group including a lone House Martin.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 07/04/09

Male-Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

I got a bit of a surprise on Tuesday evening when a couple of friends arrived a the door with a bird they had found unconscious in the road at a nearby village. Un-cupping his hands he showed me what they had found and I was shocked to see a Goldcrest sat in his palm.

It was obviously stunned as it sat quietly in my hands not moving, I checked the wings, body and feet for damage which all seemed fine. It was a male and at first it seemed a bit dazed when I put it down on the top of a chest height tool shed where it sat hunched up but all of a sudden it came to life, flew back to me landing on my t-shirt and then flitted up to my shoulder where it perched. I was pleased to see it could fly although it was a still a bit unsteady on it's legs and after removing it from my shoulders I decided to release him as quickly as possible. I placed him carefully on the tool shed where after 10 seconds he sat up and flew over to a row of evergreens where he started to search for food amongst the bows. I stood next to the tree and watched him closely to make sure he didn't have any problems, he continued to flit between the bows just inches away from me stopping every so often to stretch his wings and preen. I was just about to leave him to it when he flew out of the tree and on to my head, then down on to my chest where he clung to my fleece leaving a little message on my sleeve before returning back to the tree bows. I managed to get a short clip of him before I left him to it.