Tuesday, 4 January 2022

New Year's runaround

Before heading back to work, I had the day on Monday 03/01 to get around some sites and kick off my 2022 local birding. It turned out to be a very decent day , with several potential banana skins added to the list already.

I began at Grimsbury Res for sunrise, teaming up with Gareth B. A steady start with a couple of flyover adult Great Black-backed Gulls (a scarce bird in these parts), a Redpoll amongst several Siskin. Potentially tricky patch birds such as Kestrel, Jay and Pheasant were also seen.

Beyond the res, the Upper Cherwell Valley provided more interest with 2 Jack Snipe, 4+ Snipe, 1 Woodcock, a pair of Stonechat and a flyover Peregrine too.

Late morning, I moved onto the Mid-Cherwell valley, south of Aynho Wharf.

On the way, I paused for a short while at the floods at Kings Sutton, noticing c200 large gulls loafing here. A single adult Yellow-Legged Gull was the best I could pick out, plus at least 2 big beasty adult argentatus Herrings.

The recent floods between Aynho & Somerton had produced great numbers of wildfowl and gulls in recent days and again, the long walk along the canal there didn't disappoint.

Large numbers of duck were soon visible, consisting of at least 9 Pintail, several hundred Wigeon, c30 Shoveler, c100 Teal, several Gadwall and big numbers of Greylag and Canada Geese. It was a real sea of birds!

Further on, where the floods had receded a little, several hundred Lapwing were in situ also making for quite a sight. With a bit of effort, 13 Golden Plovers and 2 Dunlin were picked out among the throng, while a pair of sleeping Shelduck were an unexpected bonus.

The day was slipping away fast, but I still had a good couple of hours left. Firstly I stopped off at a bit of set-a-side / game cover near Aynho, that had recently caught my eye. Whenever I drove past, there always appeared to be quite a few passerines about and as luck would have it, a short stop-off revealed the hoped-for presence of at least 11 Brambling, among Chaffinches, Linnets and Yellowhammers.

With the weather looking a bit suspect, I decided to give Hinton Airfield a miss and instead head across to Boddington Res for the gull roost, in the hope of perhaps picking out a Med Gull or something rarer. The roost was underwhelming, however a redhead Goosander was about for a bit and 2 Green Sands came through south calling loudly - an unexpected bonus bird, making that 7 wader species for the day!

Finally on the drive back, I was lucky to see the familiar dumpy silhouette of a Little Owl in the fading light, at a regular site close to home. That completed a very satisfactory start to 2022!

Friday, 31 December 2021

The 2021 12-mile challenge - how did it go?

My birding focus for 2021 has been a realistic one with the arrival of my awesome son in January. Inevitably, it has been about staying close to home, largely focusing on a handful of sites within 12 miles of Brackley.

For the most part, my 2021 birding has been a case of begging, stealing or borrowing the odd hour or two here and there. However, I've really enjoyed getting to know and understand a few more sites a lot better than I did before. In previous years, I've overlooked sites such as Hinton Airfield and the Lower Cherwell valley, however this year I've found that at the right time of year or in the right conditions, both can produce some great birds.


I set myself what I thought was a realistic but potentially tough target of 130 species for the year which as it turned out, was a solid benchmark. I finally reached 130 in mid-November and in fact went on to add several last minute additions, to sneak onto 137.

Highlights have included a possible Baltic Gull, Pale-Bellied Brent Goose, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Cattle Egret, Hawfinch, Merlin, Common Scoter, Wood Sandpiper, Garganey, Corn Bunting, multiple Caspian Gulls, Black and Arctic Terns, Rock Pipit, Gropper, Crossbill, Med Gull and Little Owl to name but a few!

I'm encouraged to see many others adopting a similar birding focus for 2022, spurred on by Birdwatch magazine's #LocalBigYear. I've found it to be a really enjoyable way to go, reducing travel distances and unearthing potentially new sites. There's also nothing more rewarding than finding good birds on your doorstep and so I'll definitely be going again for 2022 - the question is, can I crack 140!?

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Glorious gulling

With varying degrees of reliability, the Upper Cherwell Valley, N/NE of Banbury has produced some decent numbers of big gulls in recent years during the winter months.

Considerable quantities of cattle feed, put out by the local farmer appear to be the main draw, in some years pulling in 100s of birds to the fields along the A361 Banbury - Daventry road, both sides of the Oxon/Northants border.

This current late autumn / early winter period appears to be the most productive yet, with stacks of large gulls lingering in the area for several weeks, creating some welcome interest. While the gulls tend to feed in the valley cattle fields, they also come to the relatively small Borrow Pit by the M40 to bathe, allowing excellent views.

Numbers began to build from around the 2nd week of November onwards and Gareth B began picking up multiple Caspian Gulls, a big deal for the humble Grimsbury / Borrow Pit patch!

Keen for a slice of the action, I proposed a family walk down to the Borrow Pit on the afternoon of 13/11! Great numbers of gulls were on show and luckily, I managed to pick out a very smart 3w Caspian Gull. But before I could see anything more, a dog walker flushed the lot!

Keen to dedicate more time to the gulls than a fleeting walk, I freed myself up on the morning of Sunday 28/11, joining Gareth at the Borrow Pit. We did very well, picking out 3 Caspian Gulls in total - x1 1st-winter, x1 3rd winter and an adult; plus several Yellow-Legged Gulls.

Then, on Sunday 05/12 - I spent a brilliant couple of hours again at the Borrow Pit with Gareth and Mike Pollard et al. Despite the very 'fresh' and breezy conditions, we picked out SIX Caspian Gulls in total, made up of x3 1st-winters, x1 3w and 2 adults (all below). The most Caspos I've had locally at any one time, by quite some distance!

Around about 7+ Yellow-Legged Gulls were also noted.

A county 'first'

The first named storm of the autumn, Arwen, hit our shores on Saturday 27/11 and delivered a local and county mega.

A female Common Scoter, followed by a 'Brent Goose', were both reported from Boddington Res and so after the snow had subsided, I had a hour or two spare during the afternoon to have a look at what are both good birds for the area.

On arrival I was pleased to see birding friend Dylan Parry-Davies who had earlier found the Scoter. He pointed out the Brent Goose and Common Scoter, pleasingly swimming together on what water there was - the site has been considerably drained, in order for some heavy works to be carried out.

I was super surprised to see the Brent to be a Pale-Bellied - a very scarce bird inland. Pinging the news out to Northants birders, it was soon clear that this was the first ever occurrence of Pale-Bellied Brent in Northants! So a super find by Jon Bowley. It was in fact one of several dotted around inland counties over the course of the weekend.

So what else has been going on in November?

Other than gulls (which I will post about in more detail very soon), I haven't seen a huge amount, although I haven't been out a great deal either! I have though seen a couple of nice bits and pieces.

On 03/11 I had a prolonged walk around Hinton Airfield and again enjoyed views of a Merlin - but a new bird, this time a female, allowing great views as it cruised past me, again sussing out the local Skylarks. A surprise lone Tree Sparrow hanging around with some Linnets and at least 2 Brambling made for a good visit!

Other than than, the first week of November also finally saw a decent arrival of Fieldfares. A Crossbill was a nice surprise during a shortish vis mig session from the garden on 08/11. The odd visit to Grimsbury Res didn't yield too much, however a group of 3 Raven on 03/11 was good - not a frequent bird at the soap dish! Finally an afternoon walk at Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham, also on 03/11, produced a female Tufted Duck with a French nasal saddle, which interestingly turned up at Draycote Water later on in the month!

New Year's runaround

Before heading back to work, I had the day on Monday 03/01 to get around some sites and kick off my 2022 local birding. It turned out to be ...