Wednesday, 22 February 2017

University Parks and Pit 60 - Sat 18th Feb

Apologies for the delayed posting on this one. I have only recently returned from a great trip to Texas, and have been busy wading through the pics I got there - more of which in a later posting!

Back in good old Oxon, on Saturday, the temperature was a tad down on the 30+C we had been enjoying for some of the time in Texas but I felt the need to get out. The University Parks had attracted my attention due to the great recently posted Goosander pics from there, so I tried it first thing.

It wasn't easy to find a way through the "works" by Lady Margaret Hall at the northern end of the Parks, but it does exist and allows the most convenient access from the nearby roads that have (expensive) metered parking. However unfortunately I walked the full length of the riverside path through the park, well beyond the weir and "rollers" and saw no sign of any Goosander nor much else besides - apart from some Wigeon on some floods on the other side of the river.

After this set-back I tried the more familiar Pit 60 Langley Lane Hide. The highlight here was the two Great White Egret already reported by Jim Hutchins. There wasn't much else of note around while I was there, apart from this Goldeneye that came reasonably close - perhaps due to the higher than normal water levels.

Goldeneye (c) Stephen Burch

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Gloucs & Oxon mini tour 14 January 2016

Waxwings are always a good, albeit challenging photographic subject. With the Oxford birds seemingly gone, the most reliable location appeared to be Cheltenham where a flock of about 40 birds had been reported everyday from the same location for at least the last week.

So I set the alarm clock fairly early, and arrived before the shops opened and the roads started to get congested. On arrival, I first drove past a small group of birders apparently staring at an empty tree, before spotting the Waxwing flock nearby in the top of another. This early, parking was no problem and I could start taking photos immediately from behind the open car boot!

These birds appeared to favour 3 locations within about 100m of each other - the tree on the corner, a group of trees and bushes down a quieter side road by Buildbase and the main tree with berries over the main road - that needed to be viewed from the opposite side. As the morning progressed, this became hardly the most peaceful spot with a constant stream of cars (and larger vehicles) going between the lens and the birds! Later on a thin stream of pedestrians began to add to the disturbance. Not surprisingly, the Waxwings only came down to these berries very briefly and I found it difficult to get onto them in the time available before they all flew off for the next half hour or so. This was however probably the best place for photos as a few of the berries were in sun (when it was out) and hung down from the rest of the tree giving a clean background. Only once though did I get a shot of a bird feeding there - but the shot was rather spoilt by the shadow across the birds head:

Waxwing with berry - goto my website for a larger image

This is another photo of a bird in the same tree, but slightly higher up and with a more cluttered background:
Waxwing without berry - goto my website for a larger image

Birds resting in trees are much easier targets, as they spend a lot of time hanging around not doing very much, but often the view is then somewhat distant and from below. Just once, some birds appeared in a tree just behind us, on the same side of the road, and I managed to get this well light shot:
Goto my website for a larger image

I also spent some time down the side street that was a good deal quieter to start with at least. Here the bushes included mistletoe:


Goto my website for a larger image

Dropped it!

After the better part of 3 hours here, the intermittent sun seemed to finally disappear into cloud and with more and more people around, it seemed time to go. 

My next destination was Middleton Stoney where I walked down the muddy track to the pig farm to find a Cattle Egret quite close - but it flew before I could deploy the lens and the chance was missed. Thereafter views were very distant, and I heard with interest that several other birders there had just come from Dix Pit where the male Smew as apparently "showing well". Having dipped on this at Pit 27 last week, this sounded like a good chance to connect with it. 

So I decided to truncate my viewing of pigs and distant white blobs and headed off to Dix while there was still a bit of daylight left. Arriving there, I parked as directed at the recycling centre end and walked the short distance along the gravel path to the viewing area where the Smew had been performing earlier to find... nothing! After some time here without any sign, I decided to walk further on, and passed the restored stone circle (a bit bizarre) to another viewing spot closer to the northern end. From here there was no sign either, so I retraced my steps to give the first viewing area another go. At last I spotted it briefly way over the far side, and close in to the shore, but by the time I had set the lens up it had almost reached the nearer island. It then disappeared behind the island, to eventually appear at the other end. But it showed no sign of coming any closer, and with the light fading it was time to call it a day.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Standlake 7th January


Having failed to see the Bean Geese and Smew on 2 January, and with the weather poor, I decided to have another go today. Arriving around 10am, I parked in Standlake village (unlike most others, it seems!) and walked in along Shifford Lane. Unlike last time, the goose flock was present in their favourite field, and arriving at the viewing spot I was told by Nick Truby et al that the Bean Geese were present. However they were quite distant and it was misty so none of my photos are worth showing here!

After awhile, something (or somebody) spooked the geese and they all flew off in the direction of Pit 27, so I followed them hoping for a view of the elusive Smew. But the lake was shrouded in mist with zero visibility at the first viewing spot, and not much better elsewhere. It seemed at that stage that nobody else had seen the Smew either, so I tried Pit 38 instead. As on 2 January, this had a distant GW Egret but no small white sawbill unfortunately. Returning to Pit 27, there was still no sign so I headed off to the Pit 60, North Shore hide. Here I quickly spotted another GW Egret down the far north eastern corner, feeding in the little bay there. Now this wasn't too far from the Langley Lane hide so I quickly made my way there.

Arriving at the deserted LL hide, I settled in to see what the GW Egret would do - hoping initially for some shots of it, and its smaller companion together - a Little Egret. But most of the time they were almost invisible from the hide, feeding in the corner bay, although from time to time, there would be glimpses of one or other of them. After sometime, however, both appeared briefly in the small bay visible from the hide, albeit rather distantly.

Both egrets together - better viewed on the larger image on my website

After this glimpse, they rapidly thought better of it, and disappeared from view back into their favourite corner, which is pretty well where they stayed for some considerable time. During this longish wait, there was some diversion in the form of Teal that would approach reasonably closely from time to time. This one swam in front of the hide, giving a nice reflection in the still water.

Teal and reflection

As well as the awful light, another problem today was the mist that kept on rolling in and then dispersing. Just as I was thinking it was time to call it a day, the GW Egret again appeared in the small visible bay, which kept me interested for a bit longer. An aggressive Grey Heron then appeared which seemed to intimidate the larger Egret, and remarkably it began to move away from the danger and towards the hide. It rapidly got closer & closer until it more than filled the field of view!

Goto to my website for a larger image


Goto to my website for a larger image

Goto to my website for a larger image

Closest approach!

After this remarkable stroke of luck, there was still a bonus in the form of this charming Stonechat that suddenly popped up reasonably close.

Stonechat

With the end of the afternoon rapidly approaching, it was now definitely time to leave and try for the Bean Geese again that had now apparently relocated to the field off Croft Lane. Walking down this lane, the views were very obscured but eventually a gateway provided an unobstructed but a slightly more distant vantage point to scan the flock. The Bean Geese were not easy to pick out to start with, as they were right in the middle of the Greylags and hangers on of dubious parentage. Eventually though I located them and further waiting provided unobstructed if distant views in the fading light. A good end to a productive day - shame about the light and intermittent fog though!

Bean Geese at last!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Standlake - 2 January 2017

What brilliant weather today! Unfortunately my birding didn't do it justice... At Standlake, despite a fair amount of tramping around, I managed to miss the Smew and Bean Geese, but did see a very distant Great White Egret on Pit 38.

I found little within camera range, apart from this moderately obliging Red Crested Pochards on Pit 28 (the one on the other side of the track from the Pit 60 North Shore Hide).

Red-crested Pochards

Red-crested Pochard

Pit 60 (both hides) was particularly quiet, with little of much of note and nothing at all in photo range.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Stow-on-the-Wold 31 December 2016


Given all the other recent accounts of trips by Oxon's keenest birders, it seemed high time that I also headed to Stow-on-the-Wold, although for me it was nearly an hour's drive away.

New Year's Eve dawned dull and overcast as predicted, but with none of the tiresome fog that had been so troublesome recently. Waiting for a positive report that the bird was still present, I wasn't on the road until about 10am. Driving north from Burford, I was dismayed to find the fog was still present on high ground - or was it simply low cloud?! As Stow is also elevated, sure enough it was a pretty dull and misty there as well. Dreadful light for photography!

Parking in the recommended pay & display car park I walked the short distance up to the Fisher Close area only to be told that the bird hadn't been seen since 9am - some two hours ago! Not good... But remarkably within less than five minutes, it was clear that it had been seen again as a large herd of birders rushed (stampeded?) into a small area of pathway, all peering over a high garden fence. Being tall on such occasions has its advantages, and even being right at the back, I eventually managed to work my way into a position to the view the bird - which was on the far side of a tree very much silhouetted against the leaden sky. In such conditions it was difficult to make out any blue at all and a hopeless photographic subject!

After a short while it dropped down into its favourite garden, and out of view. I then followed some others round to the other (lower) side of the houses, where the views were potentially better and there was a slightly larger grassy area. There then followed a considerable wait of around 1.5 hours during which time there was no sign of it. Two rather unfriendly residents even emerged with a couple of dogs from the adjacent garden and still nothing showed. Had it managed to fly off without being spotted? Fortunately not, as eventually there was a sudden movement and the top of the bird suddenly appeared on the adjacent fence!

Blue Rock Thrush taking a quick look at its admirers

However it clearly wasn't impressed by the horde of onlookers and beat a hasty retreat to a more distant bush, on the far side of the small garden. Here it was pretty obscured by branches, but by working my way into the far left hand corner of the viewing area I eventually managed to get a reasonably unobstructed view. But the conditions were truly dreadful for photography - the light was awful and the mist/fog was still present! Despite these challenges the new lens acquitted itself quite well, again.

Blue Rock Thrush looking left
Goto my website for a larger image

Clearly the bird was as unimpressed by the conditions as I was, and was remarkably inactive. It stayed put in this tree for a long time, with its only movement being to look left and then right and then back again. 

Blue Rock Thrush looking right!

After loads of shots, and little action, it seemed time to depart and try the nearby Union Street for the Waxwing(s) that had been seen there earlier today. Sure enough my luck was in, and I saw a bird or birds in flight, in the vicinity of a Rowan Tree that had a good crop of tempting berries. However it didn't seem settled, and I needed to get back. 

Friday, 30 December 2016

Scary Hill, Oxon 30 December 2016

With the thick fog this morning it didn't seem worth going out birding, so I went for a walk on the Downs instead. Afterwards as the fog had mostly cleared and the light was again superb, I went the long way home looking for suitable photo targets from the car.

Driving along the Lambourn to Kingston Lisle road I came across a flock of small birds on some rain water filled pools, where it was possible to park off the road. Of course all the birds flew off as I pulled in, but they didn't go far and shortly one or two actually came back!

I didn't have long as they soon flew off again, and the flock gradually dispersed up the lane. Nevertheless, with the low winter sun behind me, I was pleased with this brief c. 10min stop. How different from the 4 hours waiting for Bittern shots yesterday!

Yellowhammer - go to my website for a larger image

Yellowhammer bathing - go to my website for a larger image

Linnet drinking - go to my website for a larger image

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Calvert Lakes BBOWT 29 December 2016


With our Christmas visitors having departed and the weather unexpectedly good, I was at last able to get out with the new lens again! But where to go? After a short deliberation, I decided on the small BBOWT reserve of Calvert Lakes near Bicester, where the Black Audi had clearly had a profitable visit just before Christmas.

With the good weather I was a bit concerned that the hide would be full, as it was last time I visited. In the event, I had no need to worry as I arrived late morning to an empty lay-by and a deserted hide. The light in certain areas was absolutely brilliant, with golden reeds and bright blue sky & water, especially along the left edge of the small "lagoon" in front of hide. But would any birds appear here?

Very shortly afterwards, a Water Rail rushed over the ice from one area of reeds to the next, in front of the hide. It was mostly in shade, moved quickly and was reasonably distant, so not easy to get a sharp image of.

Water Rail on thin ice! 

Only a short while later, a Bittern appeared briefly  at the end of the right hand side channel, again walking on the ice. Unlike the high velocity rail, the Bittern took its time, but was far too distant for really good results.

Bittern also on ice
Goto my website for larger image

After this promising start, there were unfortunately no further photo opps in the almost 4 hours I spent there. The Bittern, having crossed the side channel, appeared about half an hour later at the far left corner of the right-hand triangular patch of reeds. However it remained almost motionless for at least an hour, well withing the reeds. I was hoping it would then emerge and walk around or across the small "lagoon" in front of the hide. But it didn't and instead just vanished back into the same triangle of reeds and never showed again.

While it was visible, another Bittern rose from the back of the same reed triangle and flew a short distance before pitching into the middle of the left hand reed triangle, where it appeared to remain for the duration of my visit!

During the long wait, attention tends to drift to anything avian. Unfortunately the feeders to the left of the hide were empty, unlike my last visit when Marsh Tit(s) were coming to them. Nevertheless a few tits put in brief hopeful appearances, including this one:

Great Tit - note the setting sun next to a tree in the reflection in the bird's eye!

As well as an elevated hide position, the other draw-back with this site is that the light goes off the area in front of the hide very early in the afternoon at this time of year (2pm or even earlier), and so by shortly after 3pm it was pretty dull and clearly time to leave. Nevertheless, it is one of the few places within reach that I know for close(ish) views of Bittern.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Pit 60: December 10th am

Despite the rotten forecast today, the Langley Lane hide seemed the place to start so that if the forecast rain arrived it wouldn't be too problematic. Arriving around 08:30 I was faced with a particularly bleak, grey and uninspiring scene! The light was poor and although there were plenty of the usual winter birds around there was nothing close enough to the hide to get interested in.

The only mildly notable bird was way off in the distance down the other end - a fine male Goosander.

With nothing much doing after more than an hour, I headed off to the North Shore hide to find much the same scene and the light seemed to getting worse by the minute, especially when the predicted rain duly arrived. About the only bird close enough to be of interest was a humble Gadwall.

Gadwall from the North Shore Hide
Click here for a large image on my website
Crop of image above

The Goosander was a bit closer from this hide, and two Red-crested Pochard appeared as well. Returning to the Langley Lane Hide, there was again little nearby action, but the Kingfisher did put in a visit - with a momentary perch on the "branch" before speeding off into the distance. 

Cormorant also from the NS hide
Also quite sharp!

Out in the middle of the pit was a single Yellow Legged Gull with a very striking white head, given the time of year. 

Distant Yellow Legged Gull

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Otmoor: 19 November pm


It was good to be back in the field today after a few blank weeks due to a combination of the weather and a notable happy family event. For something a bit different today, I thought I would try the Otmoor Starling roost, for the first time ever!

Mindful of the problems with car parking at the weekend, I arrived around midday to already find the place full! Happily a couple of cars left while I was getting ready to head out, so I could park in a proper space. With quite sometime to wait, I wandered down the bridleway and chatted to the Roby's and Tezzer for a few minutes, who put me on to the distant Whitefront family party out on the eastern side of Greenaways. Arriving at the first screen, there was some seating available and I settled in for a wait. Quite soon a fly past Bittern appeared but it was too distant for good results with my current lens.
Somewhat distant Bittern
Unfortunately that was about it in terms of action from the first screen, apart from a distant Marsh Harrier that was, as usual, too far away to be of much photographic interest. 

After sometime I decided to head off to the second hide which was too full of people and so I didn't say long. With the seats occupied, this place is incredibly uncomfortable for tall people since the viewing cutouts are too low, requiring me to stoop to see anything much! There was however plenty of distant Bittern activity to keep the others happy. 

So after this brief interlude, I headed back to the first screen to wait for the Starlings which duly appeared from about 15:40 onwards (just when Tezzer had forecast!). Viewing was  less than peaceful with several families including small children. One even had a baby while there was another group of people in high vis clothing! Still everyone seemed happy enough with the display (apart from the baby, who made his/her feelings abundantly clear). 

There was a brief murmuration before the first big group dived down into the reeds, right in front of the screen but thereafter later birds just went straight in. Others caught a brief glimpse of a ringtail Hen Harrier at the back, but I missed it unfortunately. Switching lens to the kit standard lens I got with my first DSLR in 2006, I tried several Starling shots, of which the one below probably shows the limited murmuration best. 

Limited Starling murmuration
Goto my website for a larger image.

Others reckoned there were of order 50,000 birds present. It was almost completely dark by the time I got back to an emptier car park, having passed a couple of birders who had had brief views of an SEO and a Barn Owl emerging from the car park field. 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Pit 60 etc: Saturday 29th October


There seemed no point in an early start on this dark, dank morning! In fact, I wasn't sure of the wisdom of venturing out at all. However Badger's helpful text, and the post on the Oxon Bird Log of a Snow Bunting were sufficient to get me moving. Nevertheless, it wasn't until well after 11am that I reached the Farmoor car park. I then decided to call Dai to check for the latest info, only to be told it had probably gone some time ago!

Badger also confirmed its absence, so I made an abrupt change of plan and headed off to Standlake - once out I could really just turn round and go back home, could I?! Arriving in due course at a deserted Langley Lane hide at Pit 60, a very grey scene presented itself. But almost immediately some colour in the form of a Kingfisher flashed past, so I settled in for a wait, hoping for a return visit.

Nothing else came remotely close enough to be worth photographing, and I tried to pass the time by counting the Mute Swans - there were about 75 of them, plus the Black one still. After some time, the Kingfisher suddenly re-appeared and landed on the top of the "branch", which is a bit closer to the hide than the "post". It then almost immediately immediately dived into the water, caught a fish, and returned to the branch, albeit lower down. It stayed for just long enough for a few shots, before zooming off again, with its fish - which looked a remarkably large one for it to swallow!

Posting this pic on the Oxon Bird Log soon elicited the ID of the fish - a perch.

Kingfisher with Perch
Kingfisher before catching the Perch

Thereafter, it was pretty quiet, apart from some very distant snatches of song that sounded to me like a Cetti's Warbler, but I couldn't be sure as they were very brief and distant.

There were plenty of the usual ducks to be seen, including Wigeon (now coming out of eclipse) and Teal. A Buzzard landed on the north shore, but with the light getting even worse after a couple of hours, it seemed time to head back.