Thursday, August 29, 2013

Strimming Day

Good to hear a couple of Tawny Owls calling at the marina last night. Also worth a mention, a Sedge Warbler on Wednesday morning, with the local birds moving on a few weeks previous, this one a possible passage bird.

Long-tailed Tit bathed in the early morning sun
Today an early search of the local area just after sunrise. Firstly, the marina grounds and the surrounding hawthorn and bramble produced a nice Long-tailed Tit flock, which included Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler within.

One of three Yellow Wagtails around the pontoons today.
A juvenile Little Grebe suddenly appeared from within the reed bed adjacent to the Oxford Canal and a Greenshank was heard in the locality but not seen. More Yellow Wagtails dotted around the pontoons, three this morning and these accompanied by a smaller number of Pied Wagtails of late, with around fifteen birds or so.

Spotted Flycatcher enjoying the early sunshine.
Spotted Flycatcher numbers have begun to build up with at least eight seen around the Napton area first thing. Nearly all the birds seen were high in the canopy taking advantage of the early morning sun.

Painted Lady near the Nature Centre
Today was the annual strimming of the Islands and banks at Brandon Marsh, backbreaking stuff but a necessity if we're to keep control of the vegetation, better for observation too. During lunch the team were treated to a couple of Hobbies over East Marsh Pool, also recorded Common Sandpiper, several Snipe and a single Yellow Wagtail flew south mid morning.

After strimming it doesn't take long for the birds to return and Jim, Trevor, Mike and I spent a little time in the hides before heading off, on route a Painted Lady butterfly on the buddleia near the nature centre.

Highly cropped photo of Garganey on East Marsh.
Teal Pool produced (8) Green Sandpiper and a single Greenshank, but the surprise of the day was an eclipse Garganey, which Jim picked out among the Teal near willow Island, a top find!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Local 'STILL' Best

An early morning visit to Brandon Marsh began in autumnal conditions, with fog somewhat hampering my search for passage migrants.

Juvenile Shelduck
Birds of note included Greenshank, (3) Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher and a lone Snipe on Teal Pool, while on East Marsh Pool a slight surprise, with the addition of juvenile Shelduck. Also recorded over the course of the morning were a single Hobby over Newlands, Sparrowhawk and 5 more Snipe along Wigeon Bank. Still warblers to be found around the reserve with Blackcap, Reed Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler all recorded, the latter two still in full song.

Red Kite
Leading on from my previous post, 'local is best', a good search of the patch after lunch finally produced my first Spotted Flycatcher, with three recorded around Napton. A distant Whinchat was visible from the windmill but unfortunately by the time I made my way down for closer views I was unable to relocate. A couple of the local Raven were quite vocal, (2) Buzzard flew north towards the reservoir but the highlight was a dazzling Red Kite, which drifted over me as I was making my way back towards the churchyard.

The marina grounds continue to yield with a couple of Wheatear on the top meadow, along with (5) Tree Sparrow, (17) House Sparrow, (4) Reed Bunting, ♂Bullfinch, (2) Yellowhammer and (3) Greenfinch. The evening Pied Wagtail roost held over 40+ birds and Yellow Wagtails continue to be a regular feature, with three birds recorded on the west side bank at dusk.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Local Is Best

Out and about locally over the last few days and of course my usual Sunday visit to Brandon Marsh this morning. To be honest nothing too exciting to report, not even a single sighting of Spotted Flycatcher down at Napton churchyard. The churchyard Buddleia did however provide Red Admiral and Large White butterflies to photograph. It was also nice to catch up with Kevin Groocock, who I bumped into during my visit.

Red Admiral - Napton Churchyard
In fact anything of interest has actually been seen right on my doorstep, or pontoon as the case may be. On Friday afternoon while giving the boat a well earned wash, four Common Tern were fishing around the marina for most of the afternoon, this shortly followed by two of the local Ravens over and a single Greenshank, which circled overhead calling for a short time before heading off east.

A trawl of the marina grounds this morning before heading off to Brandon yielded (35) Pied Wagtails, (2) Yellow Wagtails and (2) Linnet feeding on the west side bank, plus juvenile Blackcap and a Chiffchaff in full song. Swallow and House Martin numbers have depleted considerably over the past several days and it's over a week or so since I had my last Swift sighting.

Poor light record shot of Greenshank on Teal Pool @ Brandon 
Brandon was dank and overcast when I arrived this morning and an early tour of the river meadow and the farm field area was extremely quiet, save for Buzzard, Willow Warbler, Bullfinch and Whitethroat. Although East Marsh Pool was heaving with geese and ducks this morning, (Teal and Shoveler numbers now building), the best of the bunch were my first two Wigeon since late spring. Waders consisted of (4) Snipe, single Greenshank and Little-ringed Plover, plus (4) Green Sandpipers on Teal Pool. Among the Swallows passing through were a half dozen House and at least three Sand Martin, a Common Sandpiper was also heard but not located!

On route to the screen area fresh Otter spraint was found in one of the usual hot-spots and indeed an Otter sighting was forthcoming, when a gentleman was kind enough to show me a picture he'd taken at Carlton Hide mid-morning.

Finally a pleasant hour or so sky watching at the marina produced of note: Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, (3) Common Tern, numerous Swallows and (2) Yellowhammer.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pleasant Tuesday

Purple Hairstreak butterflies are like buses, you wait for ages and then two come along at once! Having never quite managed to connect with this shy and elusive species at Brandon Marsh before, I've now managed two separate sightings in the course of three days.

Purple Hairstreak - So difficult to pick out in the Oak!
A quick tour of the marina this morning before heading off for my regular Tuesday visit to Brandon Marsh had the long staying Yellow Wagtail on the west-side bund, plus (2) Yellowhammer, (5) Linnet, (17) Pied Wagtail and the usual congregation of Swallows and House Martins on the phone wires.

Young Blackcap - Feeding up on the elder berries
Brandon started off pretty slow but things improved as the morning wore on, lots of mixed flocks feeding up on the ripening berries, in particular the Elder fruit and these included Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. In fact even at this late stage in the breeding season both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were both heard in song today.

Although East Marsh Pool was initially quiet, Water Rail, two Snipe and a single Greenshank were found after we returned from the screen area, where the only species of not were Reed Warbler and Kestrel.

By mid morning plenty of butterflies and odanata were on the wing, providing the perfect opportunity for a good troll of the reserve. Goose Pool was awash with Red-eyed Damselfly, which were mainly resting on the floating patches of vegetation. Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker, Brown Hawker and Common Darter were also noted throughout the reserve.

The River Meadow provided my second Purple Hairstreak of the week and on the river Avon itself, two Water Rail were also recorded. The walk past the farm area had two Hobby hunting over the farm pool reedbed and butterflies of note included various numbers of Whites plus: Meadow Brown, Brimstone, Small Copper, Common Blue, Brown Argus and Small Heath, which are now showing in good numbers.

Small Tortoiseshell at Napton Reservoir
Finally, a last look at Teal Pool before leaving had an increase in Green Sandpiper, now six and a cuppa in the nature centre before heading off had the only two Small Tortoiseshell of the day, which were seen on the Buddleia from the window.

Young Great-crested Grebe at Napton Reservoir
A stop off at Napton Reservoir before home threw up a pleasant surprise in the form of a single Clouded Yellow butterfly. I'm sure the fisherman thought they were watching a demented birder, as I spent a good 15 minutes chasing around for that all important record shot, which I duly failed to secure! Four juvenile Common Tern came through during my stay and a single Grey Wagtail was another highlight. I spent a final few moments taking shots of two very young Great-crested Grebe before ending a really enjoyable day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Barren Spell

As expected for the time of year were currently going through a barren period on the birding front, both locally and at Brandon Marsh. It's also time to note your Swift sightings too, as these wonderful birds are leaving UK shores in droves, it won't be long before their finally gone for another year!

Common Tern at the marina
The best birding I've managed personally over the last week or so has been a long staying Yellow Wagtail and a pair of Common Tern at the marina, plus (7) Green Sandpiper (a year best) at Brandon, along with a brief Greenshank visit last Tuesday and a solitary Dunlin on east Marsh Pool on Thursday. Also worth a mention were (5) Sparrowhawk on the 'Tip' area during the week, this a family which have successfully bred in Horsetail Glade and are constantly on the prowl around the locality.

One of a number of young warblers foraging today!
Today's visit to Brandon produced Muntjac Deer and more foraging flocks, including Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Blackcap and Long-tailed Tit, all taking advantage of the early ripening fruit, a bumper berry yield is definitely on the cards. A couple of juvenile Bullfinch were also noted, a good breeding record for Brandon.

Of course while the birding is slack the bumper butterfly year continues and there's always plenty to find around the reserve, including plenty of damsel and dragonflies. Common Blue, Meadow Brown and Peacock butterfly are all abundant throughout and today more Small Heath around with a count of (8).

Purple Hairstreak
Also of note: (5) Small Copper, (20+) Small White, (2) Red Admiral, (2) Brimstone, (2) Green-vein White, (5) Gatekeeper, (3) Large White and (1) Brown Argus. The surprise of the day came as I was leaving the reserve around lunchtime. As I unlocked the goudy gate a small butterfly took my eye and after a brief search turned out to be a Purple Hairstreak, amazingly my first on the reserve.

Migrant Hawker
Dragonflies today included Southern Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Brown Hawker, Common Darter and Black-tailed Skimmer, lets hope the birding picks up soon as birds begin their journey south.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


In true tradition Dee and I have been out on the canal over the weekend in the hope of catching up with the Perseid meteor shower, something we do every year. Finding an area of sky with the least light pollution is always a challenge but the canal offers better options than most.

Perseids peak on August 12th
Although the peak is in the early hours of Tuesday morning there's still plenty of opportunity to see one of these usually bright meteors streaking across the sky. Although the signs looked good around dusk on Saturday evening, it wasn't long before the cloud cover came and although we managed around a half dozen meteors during several breaks in the cloud, it was disappointing.

Still, it's always a real pleasure to be out on the canal and over the course of Saturday evening we were treated to an amazing passage of Swallows just before sunset. Around 200 or so circled overhead chattering away, first flying south and then surprisingly returning overhead, before heading south once more. Orientating themselves for migration or just looking for a place to roost I'm unsure! Barn Owl, Little Owl and Tawny Owl were all heard, plus lapwing in the nearby fields. One or two, what I assume to be Pipistrelle bats, were constantly flying around the boat, and some eerie rustling at the base of the hawthorn behind us may well have been a Hedgehog.

Silver Y Moth - Not the best picture but you get the gist!
Lots of butterflies on the wing during the day, the best of which was a Silver-washed Fritillary and really large amounts of Silver Y moths too, which seem to be everywhere at the moment. Of course being on the canal both dragonfly and damselfly are always to be found and these included Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue and Blue-tailed damsel, plus Southern Hawker, Common Darter and Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly.

The usual selection of farmland birds were also noted, including Linnet and Yellowhammer, but sadly no further signs of any Turtle Dove in the area, having checked my usual hot-spots it's looking like a disastrous year locally.

Arriving back at the marina Sunday around 6pm, after a slow breezy cruise home, a couple of young Buzzards entertained us for the remainder of the evening, constantly calling from the large oak tree in the field opposite. They finally quietened down at dusk and thankfully, unlike Saturday evening the sky cleared. After the crescent moon set shortly after sunset a very bright pass of the ISS, which passed close by to Arcturus before moving almost directly overhead, finally dimming as it moved east. At last I managed a 45 minute vigil on the pontoon with a couple of hot chocolates managing 9 Perseid meteors, 2 sporadic and 6 satellites before the cloud returned!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Draycote Stroll

I'm not sure as to why I don't visit Draycote Water more often than I do as it's almost on my doorstep, but each time I do I thoroughly enjoy my time there. During today's visit I met up with Keith Foster and Bob Hazel for a morning and early afternoon stroll around the perimeter.

The overnight rain and remaining showers had just about cleared when we set off along Farborough Bank, bumping into the dynamic duo of Richard and Dave. A good breeze and cloud cover to start had low flying Swift and Swallow. It wasn't long before Bob picked up the first of two Yellow-legged Gulls during our visit, with one perched atop one of the buoy's. A couple of Common Tern were busy fishing and a juvenile was also seen during our walk.

Small Copper
Plenty of Pied Wagtail to be found and it wasn't until we'd passed Farborough Spit that the first wader of day was sighted, with a lone Dunlin feeding along the waters edge. The tree lined area just after the hide held Song Thrush, Goldcrest and Treecreeper and as we progressed along towards Grays Barn the sunshine had broken through with: Large White, Small White, Green-vein White, Common Blue, Small Copper and Peacock butterfly on the wing.

As we approached Biggin Bay the first raptor of the day was a Hobby, when one came in from the north, a second Hobby, possibly the same bird was seen much higher up as we passed Dunns Bay a little later. Just prior to the turn at the Valve Tower a small cluster of waders ended up providing (5) Common Sandpiper and (1) Green Sandpiper.

Grebe Family 
As we progressed along Draycote Bank some lovely views of a family of Great-crested Grebe, with one of the three young being carried in typical grebe fashion on the mothers back. The Inlet was literally awash with Trout basking on the raised sections, unfortunately far too big for a Kingfisher, which dropped in briefly.

Brown Argus - Not in the most pristine condition!
Pausing for a while along Hensborough Bank, while Bob made numerous attempts to digiscope a Brown Argus butterfly, under the able supervision of Keith#2, a distant Osprey flew low over the inlet, unfortunately dropping down before I managed to get Bob and Keith onto it. Yes I know, that old chestnut, but sadly we were unable to re-locate the bird after a good while waiting for it to re-emerge. During our vigil at least (3) Common Buzzard, lots of House Martins which had a lone Sand Martin among them, a very enjoyable day.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Norfolk Away-day

An opportunity to borrow the Trust's minibus on Monday and a trip to RSPB Titchwell and NWT Cley on the north Norfolk coast, along with 16 of the Brandon volunteers. Despite the poor forecast the team enjoyed an almost perfect day with glorious sunshine and only one short shower encountered.

Little Gull - One of several around the reserve.
First stop was RSPB Titchwell arriving around 10am and as we made our way along the West Bank Path the first species of note was Little Gull, followed by 3 Marsh Harrier and Little Egret across on the wet meadow. With waders now on the move the freshwater marsh was literally teaming and here good numbers of Avocet, along with various counts of Golden Plover, Red Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Ruff and Oystercatcher. A single Spoonbill flew in at the top end of the pool and a search along the reed bed perimeter yielded Green and Wood Sandpiper feeding on the mud.

A stop off at the Parrinder Hide for coffee gave an opportunity to have a good scan locating Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Little-ringed Plover and several Spotted Redshank, with a few birds still looking stunning in summer plumage. As we left and made our way down towards the beach a single Whimbrel flew across the wet meadow and just prior to arriving at the sea shore a brief view of Stonechat, before the now strong breeze sent it on its way.

Wall Brown
The sea watch was a real treat with good views of Sandwich Terns diving for fish, along with a small passage of Little Tern. The shore produced of note: Sanderling, Common Tern, Bar-tailed Godwit and a lone Grey Plover, which was still showing signs of summer plumage and was probably one of the first early migrant adults. Further out to sea Gannet and Common Scoter! Also of note on route back to the centre was a Wall Brown butterfly, which thankfully posed just long enough for a photo.

A brief stop at Cholsey Barns failed to yield our target birds, Turtle Dove and Corn Bunting, but a Grey Partridge, sadly missed by me, and Yellow Wagtail were worth the stop.

We arrived at Cley Marsh mid afternoon and several of us took the walk along the east bank past Arnold's Marsh, where 2 more Spoonbill were easily identifiable among a large flock of Cormorant. The walk along the shingle north produced Skylark, Sandwich Tern, Yellow Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and a single Grey Seal. We took shelter for a while during the one and only shower of the day in the hide overlooking the north scrape. Here Wood Sandpiper, Little Gull, Whimbrel, Yellow Wagtail, Shelduck, lots more Dunlin and distant views of young and adult Bearded Tit.

The migratory Painted Lady!
Finally the walk back to the nature centre had Hobby, several Sand Martin, 4 Marsh Harrier and a good passage of Swift. Running short on time the briefest of visits to Pat's Pool produced  of note: single Wigeon and one of my highlights of the day, at least 3 Painted Lady butterflies, one of which posed nicely for a photograph and ended an excellent day out!