Friday 29 December 2017

Ardington: 29 December

Ever since Leo first started posting records of Hawfinch from Ardington, I have been making sporadic brief visits to try to see them but without any success. Today, with more specific instructions I was resolved to try a bit harder. So I parked opposite the pub and walked back to the lane which runs parallel with the turn to the Lockinge Estate office. About 100m up this lane on the left is a wooden gate that affords reasonable views over a small field/paddock surrounded by tall trees on 3 sides (at about 51.593342,-1.379923).

On arrival, there was nothing to be seen, so I waited around for a bit.  After perhaps 1/2 hr, a Hawfinch flew into the top of a tree on the north edge of the field. It didn't stay there long, and then flew over the field to a v tall tree in the SW corner (which is adjacent to the driveway up to the Lockinge Estate office), where it was joined by a second bird. They stayed there for only a few minutes before flying left and vanishing.

It then started to rain hard, so I decided to try a walk around the village, which produced nothing, neither did a brief foray into the church yard, nor a quick return to the wooden gate.

The photos I got were definitely in the record shot only category:

Distant Hawfinches
For slightly larger images, go to my website.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Harwell etc 16 December

Last week I'd had an unproductive visit to Pit 60, so today I thought I'd just briefly investigate some local sites instead, in between family committments. Following recent BirdGuide reports of Hawfinch at Ardington, I tried there first but a brief visit to the churchyard and a slow drive around the village produced no sign.

I then tried the publicly accessible areas of Harwell Lab which can be good at this time of year for winter thrushes. Sure enough, as last week, there were plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares around. But both were quite wary, even when trying to use the car as a mobile hide. In the limited time available,  I had only one brief encounter with a fairly close Redwing.


Saturday 2 December 2017

Hawfinch hunt: Barnard Gate 2 December 2017

Having failed a couple of times to connect with the Hawfinch invasion, I was resolved to try to make this third time lucky. So having got some useful info from Gnome, I headed to the Eynsham Hall Gate House. Naturally come the weekend, the weather had changed so instead of the lovely blue skies and sub-zero temperatures during the week, it was now dank, very grey but still cold.

Arriving at c. 09:30 there was a Fieldfare in the laden berry bush in front of the Gate House, but no sign of anything resembling a large finch in the tree tops. And so it stayed. An hour passed without a lot happening, apart from Great-spotted and Green Woodpecker fly pasts. Another hour passed and I began to think about giving it up, but I resolved to give it until 12:00.

Just before I was going to leave, I made a phone call, whereupon midway through the call I spotted a couple of birds that looked just right for Hawfinch fly into a distant tree, behind the ones behind the Gate House! Cutting the call short, I was able to confirm the ID but they were not easy to photo, being obscured by a tree in front. After just a few minutes they flew down lower and disappeared. A good time to go and warm up in the car!

Hawfinch record shot

Sunday 5 November 2017

Pit 60, Letcombe Bassett 4 Nov & Australia (all of Oct)!

In case anyone was wondering where the Tall Birder was... Well, I'm now back in Oxon after a great month in Australia! The contrast has been pretty marked, in terms of weather, season, temperature and birds! From a hot early spring, we have fast forwarded to typical dank, cool mid autumnal English conditions, while the birds have gone from being exotic, colourful and above all NEW, to the usual...

Pit 60 in the rain was not the greatest welcome back, being very quiet with only a fly past Kingfisher (showing no sign of stopping at the perches in front of the LL hide) and a distant Little Egret of any note.

The cress beds at Letcombe Bassett were slightly better with a closer Little Egret, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail.

Little Egret (c) Letcombe Bassett

Now we also saw Little Egrets in Australia, but they weren't exactly the highlight of the trip! More later on this superb birding destination in a trip report on my website - once I've waded through all the masses of images I took!

However, here is short taster of things to come:

Crimson Rosella

Satin Bowerbird  at bower

Regent's Bowerbird

Rainbow Pitta

Saturday 23 September 2017

Farmoor: 21 September

A helpful text from Badger, received while at work, first alerted me to the Red-necked Phalarope that had been found earlier that day. As I still work full time, it is difficult to drop everything and chase after rarities, unlike many others in the county it seems!  But having missed the one at Bicester two years ago, I was keen to add this one to my ailing county list. So managing to escape slightly early from work, I  had to first dash home for all my optics and then head up to Farmoor. Consequently it wasn't until around 17:45 that I arrived in the car park (i.e. only just over an hour before sunset).

Walking up onto the reservoir bank, it wasn't long until I found a departing birder who told me that the bird had fortunately moved away from the NW corner of F1 (which is about the furthest point from car parking there is at the res) to the much closer NE corner. Arriving shortly afterwards, the phalarope was characteristically bobbing around in the "surf" at the water's edge. Only two others were in attendance. They then shortly departed, so I had the bird all to myself briefly. 

Initially the bird was very much silhouetted against a low sun which wasn't conducive to good photography, but when this sank into cloud, the light was much softer which helped with these shots. Unfortunately I only had about 30mins on the bird before it became too dark for pics - even so these were taken at ISO 3200, in an effort to keep the shutter time to a minimum.

This bird was rather more cooperative, and just a bit closer than last weeks Osprey!

 Go to my website for a larger image
Go to my website for a larger image

Red-necked Phalarope (juv)

Saturday 16 September 2017

Radley Lakes: 16 September

With the Grey Phalaropes having departed, an early-ish morning visit to Radley Lakes seemed the best idea. Arriving at the Osprey's favoured site just before 8am, I found a number of birders had already arrived and were looking at the bird which was sitting in a tree over the far side of the lake:

Osprey in tree

At around 08:45 it took off, caught a fish (out of sight behind an island) and then disappeared, all in a remarkably short space of time (about 20 sec)! Photos were somewhat distant, so heavy cropping was needed. 

Osprey in flight
See also my website for larger images

Sunday 10 September 2017

Thin pickings: 9 September

Ever hopeful of migrants at this time of year, I again tried Farmoor, where, unlike last week, it was feeling distinctly autumnal. Walking over the causeway, I met Bob & then  Dai who reported a Ringed Plover at the far end, a Common Sand somewhere about and a couple of Wheatears, as well a Shag or two. 

Well by the time I reached the causeway end, I had seen no waders and the weather at the Pinkhill hide was apparently too cool for any dragonflies. Walking the long way back round F2, I found nothing within photo range, so departed without having taken a single shot!

The day was however partially saved by a last minute diversion to the lay-by at Letcombe Bassett cress beds, where I found that the Little Egret was back, probably for the winter. As I arrived it was very close, but it took fright before I could get the camera on it. Fortunately,  it didn't fly too far though...

Little Egret

While I was waiting in vain for it to come closer, a Kingfisher flew past and a Grey Wagtail appeared. 

Sunday 3 September 2017

Farmoor & Folly Park Pond: 2nd September

A quick call to Dai on arrival at Farmoor confirmed that up to 5 Shags present, with one on the F1 side of the far end of the causeway. En-route along the causeway there was a male Yellow Wagtail. The Shag was very inactive, just sitting (or lying there) and very tame. Not the most exciting subject, but a genuine Oxon rarity.

juvenile Shag 
Go to my website for a larger image.

Thereafter, I tried the Pinkhill Hide which was again good for hovering Migrant Hawkers. As last week, there were also a few Common Darters around.

Migrant Hawker

It then clouded over and the dragonflies disappeared, so I retraced my way to the causeway, to find two Shags including the original in exactly the same spot (was it unwell?) and a more lively individual in the water. This allowed photos of the whole bird without the concrete, but they would have been better if the sun had been out.

A more lively juv Shag in the water.
Again go to my website for a larger image.

I then walked back the long way round F2 and spotted two Wheatears on the western side, one initially on the fence.

At Faringdon Folly Park Pond, the sun had come out again and the placing was buzzing with Odonata! The usual Small Red-eyes were again out on the floating vegetation but better was a single male Emerald Damsel in the vegetation on the near side of the pool. Other species included Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker and Brown Hawker, as well as the usual darters (Common & Ruddy).

Emerald Damselfly

Migrant Hawker

Sunday 27 August 2017

Farmoor & FFPP 26 August 2017

Very very quiet birdwise at Farmoor today, but at least I finally caught up with the Ruddy Shelduck which was loafing around in the NW corner of F2, commuting between the causeway and the western bank.
Ruddy Shelduck
Go to my website for a larger image

There were also almost zero birds at Pinkhill, but as the morning wore on and it got a little warmer and sunnier, out came various dragonflies, including 2-3 Migrant Hawkers, Brown Hawker and Common Darters. The hide seemed to be the place to attempt flight shots, as one was sometimes hovering reasonably close for a few seconds at a time.

Migrant Hawker

On my way back, I again  diverted to Faringdon Folly Park Pond, but whenever I go there it seems to cloud over.  Even so, there was some Odonata activity with more distant Small Red-eyed Damsels on the floating vegetation, plus both Ruddy and Common Darters closer too. When the finally the sun came out, so did the hawkers, with several Migrant Hawkers and one Brown Hawker. Not the best site for photography though, and all the locals attempting to fish don't help - not a good substitute for the much lamented Shellingford Pit.
Ruddy Darter

Sunday 20 August 2017

Pit 60 & FFPP: 19 August

Pit 60 from the Langley Lane Hide was really quiet this morning and produced almost nothing of interest in a wait of about 1.5 hrs. A good number of Sand Martins over the water was about it. Even the Little Egret, reported earlier, didn't show.

So I then tried the North Shore hide which is usually even worse, but this time there was a bit of interest in this solitary Common Sandpiper on the island in front of the hide, and a brief fly through Sparrowhawk

Common Sandpiper
Go to my website for a large image.

Thereafter I paid a brief visit to Faringdon Folly Park Pond, but this was during a dull spell and Odonata activity was limited to a few Small Red-eyes on the floating vegetation, a couple of Ruddy Darters and some Blue-tailed Damsels. No sign of the Emerald Damsels reported recently by Ian Smith and Bill Haynes.

For all the latest Odonata news in the county, go to my latest news page on my website.

Sunday 13 August 2017

Farmoor etc 12th August

I arrived at Farmoor slightly after its opening time to be told there had been no sign so far of the adult WWB Tern seen yesterday up until the evening. It sounded like it had gone, and sure enough nobody on the causeway had seen any sign of it.

After some time there, there didn't seem to be much point in staying any longer - despite a good number of hirundines and the odd Swift zooming about. Hence I made my way down to the Pinkhill Hide and, forewarned, entered the code now needed for the new lock. The scene before me was very different from earlier in the spring - with tall vegetation and several new pools immediately in front of the hide. Consequently, the views of the main area of water at the back were very obscured. The pools looked promising for dragonflies but the conditions were nothing like good enough for them, so as usual there was nothing to see!

I then decided to head down to the southern end to try to find the rather smart Ruddy Shelduck that had been present recently. However there was no sign of that either, so I had to make do with the pair of Egyptian Geese.

Egyptian Goose. Go to my website for a larger image

Thereafter I visited Ewelme Watercress beds for the first time, but of course there was no sign of the Great White Egret seen yesterday - hardly surprising given the compact size of this site, and its proximity to some surprisingly busy local roads.

On my return, I stopped off very briefly at Lark Hill in Wantage and was pleased to find a couple of Wheatears hopping around on the mown gross that covers the underground reservoir. It is a shame it is surrounded by a tall chain link fence! 

Sunday 6 August 2017

Faringdon Folly Park Pond: 5 & 6 August

This is a new site for me, which I decided to try this weekend, following Bill Haynes' stunning records of 60+ Small Red-eyed Damselflies, and various other Odonata, just a few days ago.

It is in a somewhat surprisingly urban location, very close to the new housing estates that have appeared recently in Faringdon. There is a small parking area at SU294948 from where is a short stroll to the pond which is used for fishing. There is a path that circumnavigates it, but the best spot for the SREs seems to be on the floating weed/moss off the nearest bank.

On Saturday morning, in a brief visit, abruptly curtailed by heavy rain, I found only 1 Small Red-eye but there were several other species around, including 2 late Emperors (one ovipositing) over the far side, Common Darters, inc a tandem pair also ovipositing, and Azure and Blue-tailed Damsels.

This afternoon there was no rain but conditions were far from ideal with only occasional sunny intervals. Nevertheless there were several SREs on view (perhaps 20+).  I spent some time trying for photos which were far from easy as they were some way out on the weed, and rarely presented themselves sideways on. Also there was one Brown Hawker, a few Blue-tailed Damsels and the odd Common Darter.

So with the sad demise of Shellingford Pit, it seems that this urban pond is now the premier site in the County for Small Red-eyes!

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

For all the latest news on dragonflies and damselflies in Oxfordshire, see the current sightings page on my website.

Sunday 16 July 2017

Pit 60: 15 July 2017

A dull morning at Pit 60, with a heavy shower of rain which failed to bring in any migrants apart perhaps from several Sand Martins hawking over the water.

Interest today was mainly limited to the 5 Oystercatchers present, that were being very vocal at times with much excited displaying taking place. It seems a bit late in the season for this! When I arrived at the LL hide, two were on the island just in front of the island and I managed to open the shutters cautiously without disturbing them. One briefly posed under the wooden "archway" before they both flew off:

Under the arch!

In flight - at a challenging speed for the 500f4 & x1.4TC!

In the middle of another display "run"

Just as I was about leave, one of the Common Terns, that had hitherto been right down the far end, suddenly alighted on one of the posts in front of the hide, which allowed this shot to be taken (from inside the hide!):

Common Tern - go to my website for a larger image

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Northern Scotland in June: Coast to coast

I've got a bit behind with my blog entries due to a couple of UK trips. So here is my entry covering the first of these in June.

With a business commitment in Aberdeen in June, some time in advance I decided to stay on for a few days afterwards, with the main aim of getting a better photo of the elusive Northern Emerald. So I booked a couple of nights in Gairloch well in advance. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperative and any hopes of this rare dragonfly were extinguished by a forecast of low temperatures, rain and high winds - quite the opposite of what is needed!

So I modified my plans a little, and spent my first night in Speyside where the forecast was a little better. Arriving in the late afternoon after driving over from Aberdeen, I found the temperature to be about 17C and calm, but pretty overcast, so I decided to try the pool with boardwalk just to west of Loch Garten which is a known site for the very localised Northern Damselfly. I was fortunate to find a few in the vegetation near to the boardwalk with one in particular quite close, but low down.

Northern Damselfly - for a larger image, click here

Round the far side I found this female Emerald Damselfly:
Emerald Damselfly

It was then time to find my hotel - the Fairwinds in Carrbridge which was very small (only 4 bedrooms) but economical and a very pleasant, peaceful place to stay. It didn't serve dinner so I had to walk to the nearby pub, but the breakfast was excellent. The grounds had a nice pond, and a Red Squirrel coming to feeders, as were masses of Siskin. Crested Tit had also been seen here, but I couldn't find any. 

The following day the weather was poorer, with wind and cloud to start, but I spent as much time as possible in Speyside reckoning that it would be even poorer to the north west (which it was)!

Changing to birding mode, I tried the minor road along the southern shore of Lochindorb which can be good for photography from the car. Sure enough, despite the near gale force winds, I found several Red Grouse families, some with very small young, and a confiding group of Oystercatchers hunkered down at the waters edge.

Red Grouse

I then tried a small loch where I have previously found Slavonian Grebe and was again successful, but this time it came much closer than before. Shame about the light and wind, though!
Slavonian Grebe - for a larger image click here

While I was waiting for the grebe to appear, this Common Sand appeared:
Common Sandpiper

After this, I headed further south to a well known, accessible Osprey eyrie and found an adult and juv in residence but views were distant. 

With the weather improving later in the day, I again tried for some dragonflies at the Loch Garten pool - but it was very wind swept and no Northern Damsels were showing. All I could find was a few Four-spotted Chasers. I then tried the larger pool in the middle of Tulloch Moor, where in 2010 I had found many immature White-faced Darters in early June. This time, I found the road closed, and so had to walk in to find nothing except more Four-spotted Chasers.

Thereafter it was time to head over to Gairloch, where the weather was poor, as I had feared. The next day, the temperature was no higher than 11C, with gale force wind and some very heavy and prolonged showers. Nothing like dragonfly weather and even finding birds was difficult. It is however a great part of the world, with magnificent scenery. 

My birding highlights were few. Great Skua on a wet walk round the headland at Redpoint, and some Black Guillemots in the nearby bay were about it. Plus Red-breasted Mergansers in the bay at Poolewe, I suppose. I spent some time looking for divers in bays and fresh water lochs without any success, and didn't take a single shot with my Canon 7D mkII!

Panorama from Redpoint beach

The following day the weather was also similar, so I headed east as soon as possible. Tempted by a favourable forecast in Speyside I diverted from the direct Aberdeen route to try for dragonflies again. But when I arrived I found it to be about 12C and overcast, instead of the forecast 16C and sun! So I got straight back in the car, and decided to try the east coast first at Collieston. The small headland here is a pleasant spot, and again provided me with views of various seabirds, including Razorbill, Guillemot, Sandwich Tern and best of all, an Arctic Skua harrying the terns. 

With my return to Aberdeen airport for the flight back to Heathrow looming, I tried the Ythan Estuary for breeding terns. I first parked in the main car park and walked through the dunes to the estuary mouth to find a very full tide, and very distant terns. So I quickly decided to back-track to the road bridge over the estuary, where the terns were coming very close in the strong wind. Unfortunately I only had about 15mins here, but with longer I could have probably got some good Arctic and Sandwich Tern shots. 

Arctic Tern. Click here to enlarge

Sunday 9 July 2017

8 July: Shellingford Pit RIP

I visited Shellingford Pit for the first time in many months today. Given its declining water levels over recent years, and the lack of rain last winter and spring I was fearing conditions might be poor. However what I found was the worst possible - all the pools had completely dried out, so there was nothing left other than rapidly hardening baked mud:

A bone dry Shellingford Pit

This will have destroyed all the dragonflies and damselflies that used to inhabit what was a nice little site. It was the stronghold of Small-red eyed Damselflies in the county and was a great place to get close to a good collection of other species. In its heyday, it even had a Lesser Emperor once. Going back several years, when the water levels were much higher, it was also a good spot for birds with highlights including Ring-necked Duck, Jack Snipe, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear.  Lapwing & Little Grebe bred here in some years.

No more I fear. It is not completely clear why this site has gradually dried out, but lack of recent rain and the pumping activities at the working quarry over the road are the most likely causes. 

Prospects for the future look bleak here...

Saturday 17 June 2017

North East Poland - May Trip Report

I spent 5 nights in the famous birding region of north east Poland in May, with three in the Bialowieza forest area and two in the marshes of Biebrza. I didn't come across any widespread devastation in Bialowieza and managed to see my three target species (Collared Flycatcher, River Warbler and Thrush Nightingale), although views of all were frustratingly brief with limited photo opportunities.

In Biebrza, I found Aquatic Warbler at the renowned Dluga Luka boardwalk without any difficulty. My first visit in the late afternoon was successful - so no real need for my subsequent dusk and dawn returns.

A trip report is now available on my website, with full details of sites visited and illustrated with some of the photos I took.

Here is a brief taster! To see a gallery of my better trip images, click here.
Red-backed Shrike in Bialowieza 
White-winged Black Tern in Biebrza
Aquatic Warbler in Biebrza
Citrine Wagtail in Biebrza

Sunday 11 June 2017

Upper Thames Valley: 10 June

I went on another walk along the Thames today mainly looking (unsuccessfully again!) for Clubtails - although I did get a glimpse of a dragonfly flying away at bush-top height that might conceivably have been one!

Despite the wind and not particularly overcast conditions there were some damsels and one Emperor to be seen, but nothing unusual.

Birds provided more interest with a pair of Curlew coming quite close to the path briefly.

Curlew - goto my website for larger images

On my return, I tried for a few rather closer pics using the 100-400 mk II lens with an extension tube, which seemed to work OK hand held, demonstrating what a versatile (and portable) lens it can be:

Banded Demoiselle (showing signs of wear)