Natural History Diary : January 2018
Tuesday 30th January
I visited Otmoor this morning (my first trip there for nearly two months). It was sunny and quite cold. On the way up to the feeders I saw five Bullfinches eating Blackthorn buds. At the feeders the main patrons were Blue and Great Tits, and there was also a Coal Tit and a Marsh Tit. Up on the bridleway I saw my first Skylark of the year. A solitary Raven drifted across Greenaways. At the hide there was a large mixed flock of mainly Linnets and Reed Buntings, with a couple of Bullfinches, three Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and tits. Most of the bird action was on Big Otmoor, where large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwings kept taking to the air. There were also many Wigeon feeding on the grass, and three pairs of Pintail. A female Marsh Harrier was active over the northern reedbed. I flushed a Green Woodpecker while walking up towards the second screen. Mammals seen today were three Grey Squirrels underneath the feeders, a Brown Hare on Big Otmoor, and most surprising of all a Muntjac deer in Moorley's, which came out into the open to eat some fallen seed under the feeders. It was only about 20 feet from me at the time.
Yellowhammer, Otmoor, 30-Jan
Reed Bunting, Otmoor, 30-Jan
Muntjac, Otmoor, 30-Jan
Yellowhammer | Otmoor Reed Bunting | Otmoor Muntjac | Otmoor
Monday 29th January
I saw a pair of Grey Partridges in the field next to the allotment this afternoon. In the garden pond I found two frogs, with the male in the amplexus position.
Sunday 28th January
A mild and breezy day. As the sun had come out in the afternoon, I headed over to Farmoor. Of couse, the sun went behind cloud as soon as I arrived! There wasn't much to see as I walked along the causeway, other than a couple of Little Grebes, several Pied Wagtails and a Meadow Pipit. Duck numbers were well down - I only saw around forty Tufted Ducks. A flock of about twenty Lapwings flew over. There wasn't a lot in the Pinkhill hedgerow either - a male Bullfinch was about it. I had a look at the rough area south of Shrike Meadow, but no owls appeared. As I walked back to the causeway I suddenly saw a Barn Owl, and then a second one appeared over Shrike Meadow. I managed to get a few shots, but the light wasn't good. The Owls disappeared as quickly as they'd appeared. Back along the causeway I saw a male Goldeneye, which was moulting into its adult plumage. I'd never seen a Goldeneye in this state before. The gull roost was quite large.
Meadow Pipit, Farmoor, 28-Jan
Barn Owl, Farmoor, 28-Jan
Goldeneye, Farmoor, 28-Jan
Meadow Pipit | Farmoor Barn Owl | Farmoor Goldeneye | Farmoor
Saturday 27th January
I saw my first Kestrel of the year in Shippon this morning.
Thursday 25th January
My first trip out for a week thanks to poor weather. Today it was sunny, fairly breezy and around 9°C. I spent a couple of hours in the Oxford University Parks. The first birds I saw were two Mistle Thrushes out on the cricket pitch. I walked down to the rollers, but there was no sign of any Goosanders. I walked down to St Catherine's College and back, but there was nothing on the river except for Mallards and Canada Geese. I spent a bit of time looking for butterflies between the pond and the main gate, but there was no sign of any. I went back to the area where I'd seen Winter Aconites earlier, and flushed a number of Redwing from the grass. While looking at the Aconites I heard a Mistle Thrush call, and realised that it was in the tree above me. This was presumably one of those I'd seen earlier. There were at least half-a-dozen singing Robins - a sure sign that spring is on the way.
Robin, Oxford, 25-Jan
Redwing, Oxford, 25-Jan
Mistle Thrush, Oxford, 25-Jan
Robin | Oxford Redwing | Oxford Mistle Thrush | Oxford
Thursday 18th January
I visited WWT Slimbridge today - the first time I'd been there in over 4 years. The weather was mostly sunny. I spent most of the visit looking at the multitude of birds on the Tack Piece. There were hundreds of Lapwing, Wigeon, Golden Plover and Teal, at least eighty Pintail and Curlew, about sixty Bewick's Swans, and also good numbers of Shoveler, Shelduck, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank. I only saw a few Snipe, but there were almost certainly a lot more. I counted twenty White-fronted Geese, which were part of the larger flock. I saw one Oystercatcher. Birds kept taking to the air en masse, in response to real or imagined threats.
From the top of the Holden Tower I saw a large flock of Barnacle Geese feeding on the grass; with them was a Red-breasted Goose (which was ringed, but its provenance is unknown). Also visible from the tower were five Common Cranes, which were reared by the Crane re-introduction project and then released.
At the Willow hide a Water Rail gave excellent views, and stayed out in the open for some time. It seemed to be using its feet to stir up the mud, and then probing with its bill for anything edible. A quick look at the south lake revealed a large number of Pochard and a few Cormorants.
Pintail, Slimbridge, 18-Jan
Red-breasted Goose, Slimbridge, 18-Jan
Bewick's Swan, Slimbridge, 18-Jan
Pintail | Slimbridge Red-breasted Goose | Slimbridge Bewick's Swan | Slimbridge
Lapwing, Slimbridge, 18-Jan
Water Rail, Slimbridge, 18-Jan
Pochard, Slimbridge, 18-Jan
Lapwing | Slimbridge Water Rail | Slimbridge Pochard | Slimbridge
Wednesday 17th January
Sunny, but significant windchill from brisk NW wind. I went over to Standlake. On the way I saw a Pheasant in Tubney village. At Standlake there were the usual waterfowl on Pit 38, but no sign of the Great White Egret. On Pit 28 I saw a couple of dozen Red-crested Pochards and a single male Pochard. From the Langley Lane hide on Pit 60 I saw a male Goldeneye, and a Peregrine which was harassing ducks. It eventually disappeared eastwards, pursued by gulls. There were lots of ducks: Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted. Yesterday a Green-winged Teal was also on this lake, but it couldn't be found today. As I walked back to the north shore hide, a Sparrowhawk came out of the hedge and flew in front of me down the footpath, only about a foot off the ground. From the hide I saw another Pochard, and also a pair of Goosander. There weren't many small birds about, just a few tits, a Goldcrest, two Goldfinches and a couple of Redwing.
As I was in the area I headed to Northmoor, where I saw a couple of Hawfinches flying around the churchyard.
Hawfinch, Northmoor, 17-Jan
Hawfinch | Northmoor    
Monday 15th January
Finally a change in the weather occurred today: rain in the morning, followed by sunshine and showers in the afternoon. I went down to Radley Lakes. Among the Black-headed and Herring Gulls on Thrupp Lake I spotted a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The number of Cormorants increased steadily while I was there, and there were at least thirty of them all told. I saw a Sparrowhawk near the north shore. There were two Little Egrets on the western shore. There were a few ducks and a pair of Mute Swans on Orchard Lake, and two more Mutes on Thrupp Lake.
Coot, Radley Lakes, 18-Jan
Herring Gull, Radley Lakes, 18-Jan
Mute Swan, Radley Lakes, 18-Jan
Coot | Radley Lakes Herring Gull | Radley Lakes Mute Swan | Radley Lakes
Saturday 13th January
Still dull and cold! I saw four Long-tailed Tits in the garden this afternoon.
Wednesday 10th January
I went to Northmoor again this morning. During the hour I was there I saw about a dozen Hawfinches, but they were very mobile and none came into camera range. I also saw a Goldcrest, and a small flock of Lapwings flew over. Later in the morning I saw a male Blackcap in my garden.
Blackcap, Abingdon, 10-Jan
Blackcap ♂ | Abingdon    
Monday 8th January
A dull and cold day. At dusk there were eight Long-tailed Tits in the garden.
Sunday 7th January
Cold but sunny today, with a brisk NE wind. My first stop was at Northmoor. After a 30-minute wait a flock of about nine Hawfinches flew out of the churchyard and were not seen again. However a solitary bird was then found perched in a low tree, whence it flew to the top of the highest tree in the churchyard. So on the seventh time of trying I finally got some (record) shots of these elusive birds! While searching for Hawfinches I also saw a Song Thrush, three Greenfinches and a Coal Tit.
I then drove to Standlake and walked down Shifford Lane (with another birder who hadn't been to Pit 60 before). There were a couple of Redwings and a Fieldfare in the horse paddock, and a Goldcrest was poking around on an ivy-covered tree. There wasn't anything of note on Pit 27 or 28, but there were lots of birds on Pit 60. They were mainly up against the north bank to keep out of the wind. The most noticeable were at least twenty drake Pintail (and probably the same number of females), and there were quite a few Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and geese as well. There was no sign of the Great White Egret here, or on Pit 38. On the way back to the car I saw a Buzzard and a Green Woodpecker.
Hawfinch, Northmoor, 07-Jan
Hawfinch, Northmoor, 07-Jan
Pintail, Standlake Common, 07-Jan
Hawfinch | Northmoor Hawfinch | Northmoor Pintail ♂ | Standlake Common
Saturday 6th January
Slightly better weather than forecast encouraged me to pay my first visit of 2018 to Farmoor Reservoir. There was a chilly NE wind, and it was quite cloudy when I got there, but the cloud cleared for about an hour. I passed Dai on the causeway, who said he'd seen a Water Pipit, but I couldn't find it. There were several Little Grebes diving close to the shore, and I spotted a Common Gull sitting on a buoy. I also saw a Great Black-backed Gull in flight. The female Scaup was with a group of Tufted Ducks on F2. Along the Pinkhill hedgerow I saw a Song Thrush and a male and two female Bullfinches. There was suddenly a lot of noise overhead - the flock of feral Snow Geese arriving from the north. At the Pinkhill hide Blue and Great Tits were making good use of the feeders. A single Reed Bunting, three Robins, two Grey Squirrels and a Brown Rat were picking up scraps. A Water Rail made a brief appearance, but never came out into the open. Back at the reservoir, the Snow Geese were not on the water, so I started back to the car park. When I'd reached the sailing club, the Snow Geese flock reappeared and this time the birds did land on - in the southwest corner of F2! I didn't go back for them.
Common Gull, Farmoor, 06-Jan
Little Grebe, Farmoor, 06-Jan
Bullfinch, Farmoor, 06-Jan
Common Gull | Farmoor Little Grebe | Farmoor Bullfinch ♀ | Farmoor
Thursday 4th January
I went to Ardington today, following Stephen Burch's directions. I stayed there for over an hour in an increasingly blustery wind, but there was no sign of any Hawfinches. I added Song Thrush and Goldfinch to the year list, though.
Wednesday 3rd January
A very windy day thanks to storm Eleanor. I went down to Thrupp Lake in the late morning. When I got there a group of Black-headed Gulls were loafing near the shore, when suddenly a Sparrowhawk appeared and flushed the lot! After that bit of excitement I picked up a pair of Egyptian Geese in the scope. On the north bank I saw a Jackdaw, a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the dead tree on the other side of the road, and a Buzzard flew over. I spotted a Little Egret but it wouldn't allow a close approach. There were very few small passerines about, presumably because of the wind. Back at home I saw a Collared Dove with nesting material in its beak.
Great Crested Grebe, Radley Lakes, 03-Jan
Little Egret, Radley Lakes, 03-Jan
Black-headed Gull, Radley Lakes, 03-Jan
Great Crested Grebe | Radley Lakes Little Egret | Radley Lakes Black-headed Gull | Radley Lakes
Tuesday 2nd January
There were two Long-tailed Tits in the garden this morning.
Monday 1st January
A dull start to the year weatherwise. I saw eight bird species in the garden and three more overhead in the morning (including a Red Kite with only half a tail). In the afternoon I had a walk in Bagley Wood, where I saw seven more species, including a Nuthatch, a Coal Tit, two Jays and three Great Spotted Woodpeckers. But the most unexpected species I saw was a Red Admiral. Although there was some sunshine at 2:45pm the air temperature was only about 7°C. The RA flew around for a bit and then landed about 20ft up a fir tree, where it fully opened its wings. It appeared to be in pretty good condition.
Wood Pigeon, Abingdon, 01-Jan
Blackbird, Abingdon, 01-Jan
Starling, Abingdon, 01-Jan
Wood Pigeon | Abingdon Blackbird | Abingdon Starling | Abingdon