Sunday, 3 July 2022

Garden Foxes & a Hummer!

We're very lucky to have up to four Foxes on show every evening on the school playing field next to our garden - lured in by a nearby neighbour putting food out for them. While I have mixed views about feeding them, I can't deny it is really fantastic to see them everyday and be able to watch their behaviour and interaction, at very close quarters.

Generally, the light is quite dim by the time they're active, however more recently the foxes been out a touch earlier. As a result I've had plenty of unmissable opportunities for photos, as I wait patiently the other side of the fence!

I'd had two, all too brief garden records of Hummingbird Hawkmoth, but was keen to get a more prolonged one. I was hopeful number 3 wasn't far away, having built up quite a decent sized patch of Red Valerian (a favourite of hummers). And so, I was super chuffed to see one buzzing the valerian from my upstairs bedroom window on the morning of 21/06! I shot downstairs, grabbed my camera and was able to get a better view and a handful of photos before it shot off over the fence and away. It was part of a decent influx of them across the country, coinciding with winds from the south.

The valerian has also pulled in a few butterflies with a couple of Painted Ladies, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral.

Finally, I've dusted off the moth trap a couple of times, on particularly warm nights. This has produced a haul of 6 Elephants and only my second ever Eyed Hawkmoth. I've also had a first Shark for the garden, plus Scarlet Tiger and a super smart Buff Arches among other things.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Little Owl

Luckily I have a regular Little Owl site not too far from home. Recent warm, sunny evenings have coaxed me out to check in on them and I'm glad I did as one of the adults is so super chilled, performing beautifully!

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Bicester's purple patch

This time of year is generally super quiet on the birding front around here, as we hit the summer. It can though, also be a time for the unusual as illustrated on the evening of Monday 06/06 as news broke of two Spoonbill at the Bicester Wetland keyholder reserve! A great local record and only the 3rd ever for the BOS recording area. Frustratingly I couldn't get out to see them initially, with my grocery delivery imminent and also my son deciding he didn't fancy going to sleep at the normal time! However eventually, I managed to fire up the car and scoot over to Bicester to enjoy these scarce local visitors in the fading light, joined by fellow local birder Mike Pollard.

As is pretty standard for Spoonbill, they spent plenty of time sleeping, however they did start feeding very actively in the near darkness just before we left.

Sadly, after being seen first thing the next day, they departed soon after.

But Bicester was not done there. The following day, I had another quick look after work, with a vague hope that the Spoonbills were just hiding somewhere out of sight. No Spoonbills, but was pleased to come across a cream crown Marsh Harrier sat in a willow bush by the main pool, being mobbed by a couple of Black-Headed Gulls! Not at the level of Spoonbill, but still a very notable bird locally. It spent the next 15-20 minutes hunting the reserve, actually catching a frantic Moorhen for a short while, before it wriggled free!

Friday, 17 June 2022


Last year I was itching to go and see the amazing Black-Browed Albatross that decided to spend the summer amongst the throngs of seabirds of Bempton Cliffs in east Yorkshire. But for one reason or another, I couldn't get there - mainly because it's a bloody long way away!

To see that the bird had returned this spring, wetted my appetite once more to see this spectacular ocean wanderer - and this year I was determined to see it!

So with the added bonus of an extra Bank Holiday for the Queen's Jubilee, I decided it was time to go for it before it was too late. I couldn't persuade Gareth to join me so went solo for the day, leaving home at 05:30am (a pretty normal time to be up with my little son to be honest!).

The drive went well and managed to park up on site a couple of minutes before 9...quickly finding out I'd just missed 2 Bee-eaters heading over the car park!

I got my stuff together and set off down towards the Staple Newk viewpoint, enjoying Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings and my first view of the incredible seabird spectacle.

The viewpoint was already pretty busy but I did still manage to gain a good spot to enjoy the toing and froing of the Gannets below me, as well as a few on the ledges nearby.  

Fulmars & Kittiwakes were also in abundance, cruising by at close range.

An hour and a half went by and while the Albatross had not yet showed (last seen early on heading out to sea), I felt pretty relaxed, with plenty to enjoy and distract me. Then the shout went up, "ALBATROSS!" and after a brief, panicked scan, there it was, gliding on stiff wings, circling the rocky Gannet-laden outcrop below. It repeated this several times, before disappearing around the corner to land on the cliffs. Oh my word, I had actually seen Black-Browed Albatross in the UK - get in!

The bird went on to perform really consistently every 5-10 minutes for the next hour or so, often with several attempts needed to get up onto the cliffs! Towards the end of the hour I kept saying to myself 'ok one more fly about, then I'll leave it'. But just couldn't drag myself away! On a couple of occasions it gained a bit more height and came pretty close, giving everyone the opportunity to appreciate it's shear size. You could probably count on one hand, the number of times it actually flapped it's wings - such an impressive bird and very much the master of the oceans!

Eventually I dragged myself away from the Albatross and went for a walk along the cliffs further south. After having a Bonxie pointed out to me out on the sea, I spent some time enjoying some confiding Razorbills, as well as the only Puffin I actually saw settled!

As time was ticking, I headed back to the car, enjoying more Tree Sparrows close to the visitor centre. Annoyingly news then broke of a continental Swallowtail showing well at the southern end of the reserve having flown in off the sea. Would love to have seen it, however it was a long walk back that way and I was also keen to get over to see my other target for the day...Honey Buzzards!

I took the 40 minute or so drive over to the Wykeham Forest raptor viewpoint, inland and west of Scarborough. The sun was still very much out, but with a nice breeze which was hopefully of benefit to seeing HBs.

After a short walk, I arrived at the viewpoint to straight away be pointed out a dark morph Honey Buzzard pretty high overhead - wow that was quick and very fortunate! Unluckily for me though, it was one of a pair that cruised really low right over the viewpoint and by all accounts providing astounding views. But hey, I'd seen my long-overdue first UK Honey, plus there was plenty of time for more sightings! Sure enough, a few minutes later I had amazing but tantalisingly brief views of a pale morph male over the trees behind us. It soon though disappeared out of sight.

In the end, there were just two more sightings up until I left at about 17:30. One of which showed pretty well, performing the butterfly display which was really cool! Other birds seen during the vigil included a couple of Crossbill, 2 Red Kite and lots of Siskins, as well as my first and probably last Green Hairstreak of the year!

It was then time to hit the road on the long journey back south. A fantastic day, with two particularly sought after lifers and a worthy supporting cast too.

Garden Foxes & a Hummer!

We're very lucky to have up to four Foxes on show every evening on the school playing field next to our garden - lured in by a nearby n...