Last week Farmoor seemed to turn some reasonable photo opportunities, judging by the Oxon Bird Log, so I thought it was time for a visit - my first in some time.
Arriving just after the 08:00 opening time, the causeway was shrouded in mist with almost zero visibility. However by the time I'd got half way across it had mostly lifted but didn't reveal much. A Common Tern flew past, and the light was absolutely superb for photography, but all I could find to point the lens at were Great Crested Grebes, none of which were particularly close-in. Disappointingly, there were no waders, wheatears, nor any wagtails (other than Pied) - probably due to the splendid sunny, settled weather!
Reaching the western bank and turning south, there was a Willow Warbler in the bushes at the top of the zig-zag path, and a Blackcap near the concrete path. Walking past Shrike Meadow, I was surprised to hear the unmistakable song of a Lesser Whitethroat. Even more surprising was that it was singing from an exposed, if distant perch, in the still fairly early morning sun.
Pinkhill had little of interest near to the hide but there were distant Cetti's and Sedge Warbler songs. Returning along the causeway there were five Red-crested Pochards (4m & 1f). That was about it!
From the latest reports on the Oxon Bird Log, it seems I could well have walked past the Bonaparte's Gull!
As it was still only mid/late morning, I decided to head over to Rushy Common to see if the Avocets were still present. They weren't, but Tom Wickens kindly pointed out a lone Mediterranean Gull among the Black headeds. There were also two Egyptian Geese over the far side, and then flying around. Also, from the car park there were several Sand Martins over the new pit on the opposite side of the road when I arrived, but they didn't appear to stay long and were gone when I returned to the car.
Looks like I guessed right - the Black-necked Grebe had gone from Farmoor this morning, and I went for these delightful birds instead. It is several years since I've seen one in Oxon - well before my camera days!
It was good to be able to get out again today after a couple of family commitments had kept me away from my lens for the last couple of weeks!
On the basis that there didn't appear to be anything else compelling within easy reach, I decided on a return visit to the University Parks in search of the Goosanders, despite the lack of recent news either way on their presence. Arriving a bit later than last time, the place was even fuller of people - especially joggers. However when I got to the pool just above the rollers and weir, I immediately spotted a female lurking near to the island just upstream. The male also made a brief appearance but was unsurprisingly scared by someone walking right along the bank by him.
Still it seemed worth a try, so I settled in to see if they would re-appear. Fortunately, the walkers and joggers kept away and my little corner was relatively undisturbed for a little while. I had remarkably close encounters with one male and two females before they all disappeared at around 12.
After this delightful encounter (the closest I have ever been to Goosanders), I made the mistake of heading to Farmoor in the hope of some early summer migrants. It turned out there was a major fishing competition underway and the causeway was completely full of them every 5-10m. On the way out, they were all getting ready for the off, but on the way back it was like running a gauntlet between castings - with everyone having the potential for injury.
Also, I couldn't see or hear any sign of migrants - no Sand Martins over the water, nor Chiffchaffs singing. Also the Barn Owl wasn't about at Shrike Meadow nor Pinkhill.
By the way, does anyone know what those enormous new tall poles are for at the bank of Pinkhill - Ospreys?!
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.
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:
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.
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!
After this remarkable stroke of luck, there was still a bonus in the form of this charming Stonechat that suddenly popped up reasonably close.
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!
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).
Pit 60 (both hides) was particularly quiet, with little of much of note and nothing at all in photo range.
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.
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.