Thursday 31 March 2016

Farmoor & Lark Hill 31 March


With the prospect of sunnier conditions today, I went back to the southern edge of Farmoor 2 again to try for more shots of the Red-necked Grebe. However there was a cool northerly breeze causing the water to be very choppy, right up to the edge. The grebe was generally keeping its distance and being less obliging than it can be. Just once or twice it briefly came close enough for worthwhile photos but getting sharp pics was difficult given the waves.

Just before I left I was surprised to see one of the Great Northern Divers bobbing around in the swell off the SW corner of F2 - quite close to the grebe.

Red-necked Grebe (again!)
Click here for a larger image of the upper photo

Lark Hill, Wantage

On the way home, I decided on the spur of the moment to call in on Lark Hill as it can occasionally produce interesting sightings during passage. Even before I arrived at the water works area I came across a Swallow over the buildings, and then  almost immediately I saw a brief glimpse of what looked remarkably like a Wheatear on the top of the green water-works mound. I stayed around for a little while to be sure, and out it popped again giving better views this time. So a remarkably productive visit!

Tuesday 29 March 2016

LWVGPs & Farmoor: 29 March

Dix Pit was my first destination today where I was trying to find the Black-necked Grebe and Redpolls reported by others recently. Along the north shore I didn't find any sign of either of these so I drove round to the small car park by the recycling centre. The views here are now very restricted but, by following the footpath that runs further round the pit in a counterclockwise direction, I soon came to a spot which gave a pretty much uninterrupted views of the pit. This must be one of the viewing areas that have been created recently.

From here, with the assistance of my 'scope, and with the sun at my back, I managed to pick out the Black-necked Grebe right out in the middle.

My next stop was the Langley Lane Hide of nearby Pit 60. The water here was very windswept, and there was nothing in photo range. A couple of Oystercatchers were hunkered down on the far (southern) side and I had a brief view of two Sand Martins hawking over the water.

With nothing doing so far on the photo front, and the weather briefly improving, I decided it was time to try for the Red-necked Grebe again at Farmoor which was exactly where I expected it to be - in the SW corner. I managed to get a few shots with the sun more or less shining before it clouded over and I called in day, being mindful of the heavy rain forecast for later in the afternoon.

Red-necked Grebe

Click here for a larger image of upper photo

Monday 28 March 2016

Wellbottom & Sparsholt Downs: 28 March pm

We went for a walk this afternoon around Wellbottom Down, which is just over the border in Berkshire. The most interesting bird was a bubbling Curlew. There were also about 50 Fieldfares still around and various Linnet flocks. Skylarks were singing away.

Threatening skies over Wellbottom Down (click for larger image) 

On the way back, as posted on the Oxon Birding Blog, back in Oxon, there was a pale Buzzard sp over Sparsholt Down at about 17:00, viewed from the minor road that runs south from Kingston Lisle towards Lambourn. It was initially over the wood at about SU330843, before drifting off to the north.

It appeared very pale underneath and most interestingly the upper tail showed a large white rump with dark terminal band. Unfortunately, it was too far away for my available reserve bins to see any dark belly patch and I didn't have my camera with me. I can't claim Rough-legged given these views but it was a possibility I couldn't rule out.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Farmoor: 26 March

I arrived at Farmoor reasonably early this morning, and succeeded with my aim of getting some belated pics of the Red-necked Grebe which has turned up for the third spring in a row.

It was off the southern end of F2, near the "bus stop" and periodically coming in to fish and then retiring further out for a rest and preen. Surprisingly I had the bird pretty much to myself, probably due to the very poor light, and perhaps because of this it came in quite close a couple of times. It was remarkable how successful it was being - virtually every dive resulted in a catch of a small fish.

A few Sand Martins were about but I saw no sign of the Swallows and House Martin seen by others.

Click here for a higher res image
Identify the fish! Stickleback?

Red-necked Grebe

Friday 25 March 2016

Berkshire: 25 March

My only notable sighting today was of my first butterflies of the season - a few Brimstones in Hermitage.

Later on Snelsmore Common was very quiet in the afternoon sun without any notable wildlife.

Snelsmore Common in the afternoon sun

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Norfolk trip: Late February

At the end of February we went on a long weekend trip to Norfolk, which produced rather more birds than Oxfordshire!

The photographic highlight was this most obliging Barn Owl right by the road at dusk which allowed its picture to be taken using the car as a hide - one of my favourite methods of bird photography!

Barn Owl by the road

For a larger image click here

To see the full collection of my photos from this trip, go to my website at

Farmoor: 22 March

This was my second afternoon visit in a week to try to photograph Barn Owls by the Thames at Pinkhill, Shrike or Buckthorn Meadows. Unfortunately, as on Saturday, I failed completely - without seeing any sign of them. However it was a reasonable outing in other ways...

Walking over the causeway I failed to see any sign of the Great Northern Divers, so it is possible they have finally departed. At least one Rock Pipit and a few Meadow Pipits were present, as was a surprisingly high number of Reed Buntings - I counted at least 13.

Pinkhill was pretty quiet apart from the welcome sound of a Chiffchaff in the distance. I heard another one on the way to Shrike Meadow for the abortive wait for Barn Owls to show. During this wait I heard a Cetti's Warbler and at least one squealing Water Rail. All was not lost though as, at around 4pm, I suddenly spotted a charming group of Sand Martins hawking over the zigzag path. Great to see my second summer migrant species of the year (the first being the Garganey at Otmoor last Friday).

Returning over the causeway in the gloom I came across a couple of Dunlin way down along the water's edge - both reservoirs are quite low at present. Perhaps good for the forthcoming spring wader passage?

Heron on Buckthorn Meadow

Sand Martin over Shrike Meadow

20 March: Woodway & Churn

We went on a reasonably productive walk this morning up on the Downs. About half wave round, a splendid Short Eared Owl flew low over the Ridgeway in front of us. It was then harassed by a Buzzard before drifting off towards the derelict (and now devastated) old Field Studies Centre.

On the home straight back towards Woodway, it was great to hear the evocative bubbling calls of Curlew and to see 2 of them.