Natural History Diary : March 2018
Saturday 31st March
After yesterday's awful weather, it was dry this morning. At the allotment I saw two Red Kites, and heard Skylarks, a Robin and a Chaffinch singing.
Thursday 29th March
I went over to Farmoor this morning. The weather wasn't great - cold, cloudy, with rain on and off. I reckon the season is at least two weeks behind schedule. Anyway, birds didn't think much of it either as there wasn't a lot about. The Goldeneye was still present, associating with a small group of Tufted Ducks. The Snow Geese were still at the south end of F2, and two Gadwall were at the northern end. I stopped at the allotment on the way home, where I saw one male and five female Pheasants.
Monday 26th March
I went down to Otmoor this morning. Since my last visit a lot of Blackthorn had been cut down, and there was a lot of water on Greenaways. Several male Reed Buntings were singing their scratchy song along the bridleway. I spotted two Green Woodpeckers in the Oak tree along the path to the first screen. I heard a couple of Cetti's Warblers, but didn't see either of them. There were still lots of finches and buntings feeding on the seed at the hide. A couple of Oystercatchers were on the lagoon on Ashgrave. I saw something I'd never witnessed before - a Grey Heron despatched two Common Frogs in quick succession. At the first screen the water level on the lagoon was very high. I saw three Pochard, and a Pintail flew over. Three Marsh Harriers were airborne at the same time. On the way back to the car park I saw eight Grass Snakes sunning themselves on the dead reeds along the bridleway. I walked up and down the old roman road looking for butterflies, but found none. I did see a Fox and a couple of Chiffchaffs, though. Later at a friend's house in Horton-cum-Studley I saw at least three Brimstones, a Peacock and a pair of Treecreepers.
Reed Bunting, Otmoor, 26-Mar
Linnet, Otmoor, 26-Mar
Yellowhammer, Otmoor, 26-Mar
Reed Bunting | Otmoor Linnet | Otmoor Yellowhammer | Otmoor
Grey Heron, Otmoor, 26-Mar
Marsh Harrier, Otmoor, 26-Mar
Grass Snake, Otmoor, 26-Mar
Grey Heron | Otmoor Marsh Harrier | Otmoor Grass Snake | Otmoor
Sunday 25th March
The clocks went forward this morning, but spring is slow in coming. I visited Standlake Common this morning. The rookery at the start of Shifford Lane was very busy. I saw three Redwings in the horse paddock, and heard a Green Woodpecker. On the '3Ts' pit I saw three Goosander, and two Grey Herons were in the trees on the far island. I saw a Greenfinch, and towards Pit 27 I saw my 100th British species of the year, a Chiffchaff. There were lots of small flying insects about, so it had plenty of food. On Pit 60 I saw two more Goosander, a pair of Oystercatchers and a Redshank from the north shore hide. At the Langley Lane hide I was looking at the feeders, and suddenly noticed a female Brambling in the hedgerow, but she disappeared before I could get the camera on her. I saw another Chiffchaff here. A couple of Redshank had a noisy encounter on the lake shore. A number of Lapwings were busy with their courtship flights. On the way back to the car I saw a Buzzard high up, a singing Skylark, and a Wren.
Oystercatchers, Standlake Common, 25-Mar
Redshank, Standlake Common, 25-Mar
Oystercatchers | Standlake Common Redshank | Standlake Common  
Wednesday 21st March
The Spring Equinox today, and it actually felt a bit like spring. I went over the Farmoor in the morning. Both Great Crested and Little Grebes were starting to show their breeding plumage. There were still several dozen Tufted Ducks about, and a single Goldeneye was with one of the flocks. There were nine Gadwall on the reservoir (4 pairs and one on its own). At Pinkhill the feeders were still doing brisk business with tits and buntings. A Water Rail showed from time to time, but a Brown Rat and two Grey Squirrels kept putting it off. A Barn Owl was sitting on a post in the rough area south of Shrike Meadow. There was no sign of any migrants.
On the way home I saw a male Brimstone flying in north Abingdon (my second UK butterfly of this year), and later as I was returning from Oxford a Sparrowhawk shot low along the path near the bus stop and disappeared into a hedge.
Goldeneye, Farmoor, 21-Mar
Gadwall, Farmoor, 21-Mar
Little Grebe, Farmoor, 21-Mar
Goldeneye ♂ | Farmoor Gadwall ♂ | Farmoor Little Grebe | Farmoor
Monday 19th March
I heard a Greenfinch at the allotment this afternoon.
Saturday 17th March
During my overseas trip the garden Common Frogs had been busy; there was a load of frogspawn in the pond this morning.
Thursday 15th March
A change in the weather today - a south-westerly wind and some rain. We headed back to Barranco de Rio Cabras for another attempt at the Dwarf Bittern, but unfortunately it didn't show any better than it had last Saturday. I found a couple of female Epaulet Skimmers, an Emperor Dragonfly and Saharan Blue-tailed Damselflies at the bottom of the barranco.
The next stop was at Vallebrón, where we had to eat lunch in the minibuses because it was raining. After lunch we had a walk along a track, where a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes, a Turtle Dove, a Spectacled Warbler and a Stone-curlew were seen.
Finally, we returned to Tindaya Plain to try to find a Houbara Bustard doing its powder-puff impression. We didn't see this, but we did see one in flight, and later a group of five birds. We also has another Cream-coloured Courser.
Stone-curlew, Fuerteventura, 15-Mar
Cream-coloured Courser, Fuerteventura, 15-Mar
Houbara Bustard, Fuerteventura, 15-Mar
Stone-curlew | Fuerteventura Cream-coloured Courser | Fuerteventura Houbara Bustard | Fuerteventura
Wednesday 14th March
Before breakfast the Grasshopper Warbler was singing behind the hotel. It was visible but wouldn't come into the open.
After breakfast we headed to the south of the island to look for over-wintering birds. The first stop was at El Matorral, just south of the airport, where Plain Swifts were known to use a half-finished building as a nest site. Somewhat surprisingly, two birds turned up on cue and gave good views flying in and out of the building, before departing to the north. I saw a a Greenish Black-tip here.
We continued the long haul down to Costa Calma, found somewhere to park and went trying to find the birds. Eventually the reported Olive-backed Pipits were sighted, but promptly disappeared. We had lunch, hoping that they would come back, but they didn't. I saw a Song Thrush, a European Robin, some Goldfinches and a Blackcap here. There were lots of Small Whites and a Clouded Yellow.
We headed northwards to Pajara, and stopped there for a while. I saw an African Blue Tit, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff here. There was also an Emperor Dragonfly flying about.
Heading east, we drove onto a small airstrip near Majada Blanca. I spotted a couple of Fuerteventura Green-striped Whites from the minibus. There were also four a Black-bellied Sandgrouse; I managed an in-flight shot of one of them. Eight Egyptian Vultures were spotted hanging around near a sheep pen. They flew up as soon as we got close, but gave good views as they circled upwards.
African Blue Tit, Fuerteventura, 14-Mar
Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Fuerteventura, 14-Mar
African Blue Tit | Fuerteventura Black-bellied Sandgrouse | Fuerteventura  
Tuesday 13th March
I had a pre-breakfast walk down to the old builders' yard, and was rewarded with views of a dozen Stone-curlews and a Southern Grey Shrike.
The first stop of the day was at a gravel pit on the Antigua plain. A Marsh Harrier was spotted in a bush, and took off as we approached. Corn Buntings could be heard singing, and were eventually located. A couple of Barbary Partridge and an Egyptian Vulture were seen.
We headed to the Barranco de la Torre, where a Tristram's Warbler had been reported. We couldn't find it, but there were several Turtle Doves singing. Dragonflies did better here. I found a female Violet Dropwing, and then male and female Broad Scarlets.
Southern Grey Shrike, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Stone-curlew, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Broad Scarlet ♂, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Southern Grey Shrike | Fuerteventura Stone-curlew | Fuerteventura Broad Scarlet ♂ | Fuerteventura
A bit further down the road we came to a spot on the barranco I'd been to in 2009. On the small lagoon I saw a pair of Common Sandpipers and a pair of Black-winged Stilts. There were lots of Saharan Blue-tailed Damselflies about, and there was a line of their exuviae on a drain pipe. In the barranco itself I saw two male Violet Dropwings and an Emperor Dragonfly. There were some Trumpeter Finches and a pair of Fuerteventura Chats here as well.
Next we went to Salinas del Carmen for lunch. There were three Whimbrel, three Turnstones and two Common Sandpipers out on the rocks, and a group of Yellow-legged Gulls in the harbour. A Redshank was perched on a wall in the salt works, and two Sandwich Terns flew past. There was a family of Barbary Ground Squirrels here; the youngsters were using the salt pans as a playground.
Black-winged Stilt, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Violet Dropwing ♂, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Barbary Ground Squirrel, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Black-winged Stilt | Fuerteventura Violet Dropwing ♂ | Fuerteventura Barbary Ground Squirrel | Fuerteventura
We drove north on the FV-1 motorway to get on the Villa Verde desert track at Don Pepe. There were four Cream-coloured Coursers here. We stopped at a goat farm, where we saw four Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Remarkably, one of the trip leaders picked out an Audoiun's Gull among dozens of Yellow-legged Gulls loafing on the desert.
Back at the hotel, a walk around the block produced a couple of Small Whites, a Spectacled Warbler, two Laughing Doves and two Cattle Egrets. We had a dusk visit to the farmlands to look for a Barn Owl, but this was unsuccessful. A Corn Bunting was singing here, though.
Whimbrel, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Laughing Dove, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Cattle Egret, Fuerteventura, 13-Mar
Whimbrel | Fuerteventura Laughing Dove | Fuerteventura Cattle Egret | Fuerteventura
Monday 12th March
This morning a Grasshopper Warbler was found at the back of the hotel. It showed quite well at times.
The first stop today was the reservoir at Los Molinos. As the largest body of fresh water on the island, it attracts a lot of birds. There were numerous Little Egrets along the water's edge, also a Glossy Ibis, several Black-winged Stilts, two Common Sandpipers, a single Snipe, and a Greenshank. There were lots of Ruddy Shelduck - I counted at least a hundred. Other species on the water were Coot, Teal, a male Garganey and even a pair of Mallard and a solitary Tufted Duck! Further along the shore a quartet of Spoonbills were asleep. At least half-a-dozen pairs of Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew over. There were quite a few Saharan Blue-tailed Damselflies in the rocks, as well as the usual Haria Lizards. After a couple of hours here we headed to the coast at El Puertito de Los Molinos for lunch. For some reason there were lots of Muscovey Ducks here, but not much else of interest.
Little Ringed Plover, Fuerteventura, 12-Mar
Ruddy Shelduck, Fuerteventura, 12-Mar
Saharan Blue-tailed Damselfly ♂, Fuerteventura, 12-Mar
Little Ringed Plover | Fuerteventura Ruddy Shelduck | Fuerteventura Saharan Blue-tailed Damselfly ♂ | Fuerteventura
We headed back inland to the plain at Aguas Corrientes, which is on the other side of the mountains from the reservoir. A pair of Barbary Partridge were seen, but as usual were very wary. There were quite a few Lesser Short-toed Larks here, and a single Houbara Bustard.
Spoonbills, Fuerteventura, 12-Mar
Hoopoe, Fuerteventura, 12-Mar
Lesser Short-toed Lark, Fuerteventura, 12-Mar
Spoonbills | Fuerteventura Hoopoe | Fuerteventura Lesser Short-toed Lark | Fuerteventura
We returned to La Oliva to have a look at the so-called farmlands to the south-east of the town. This area used to be irrigated, but it isn't any more. However there was a small lake there, which had a few Moorhens on it. Another unidentified dragonfly was seen here. Out in the abandoned farmland we saw a Spectacled Warbler, a Southern Grey Shrike and a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse.
Sunday 11th March
This morning we went out to the coast straight after breakfast, and were rewarded with much better views of the Red-billed Tropicbirds.
After that we headed to Betancuria, where the barranco was the best butterfly spot of the week. Here I saw Greenish Black-tip, Small White, Geranium Bronze, Clouded Yellow, Common Blue and Fuerteventura Green-striped White. There was also a Southern Migrant Hawker and a possible Vagrant Emperor flying around, but they were disinclined to settle. A pair of Sardinian Warblers gave better views than they usually do. An African Blue Tit was seen in the car park.
Red-billed Tropicbird, Fuerteventura, 11-Mar
Fuerteventura Green-striped White, Fuerteventura, 11-Mar
Geranium Bronze, Fuerteventura, 11-Mar
Red-billed Tropicbird | Fuerteventura Fuerteventura G-S White | Fuerteventura Geranium Bronze | Fuerteventura
We headed back to La Oliva via the village of Vallebrón, which is in a relatively sheltered valley. A pair of Fuerteventura Chats were spotted as we climbed up the road into the valley. Linnets, Trumpeter Finches, Southern Grey Shrikes and a Turtle Dove were seen as we drove through the valley. There was also a Stone-curlew, which was incredibly hard to spot. There was another stop once we'd gone through the village, as a number of Pallid Swifts were spotted at low altitude.
Back at the hotel a Monarch appeared again, as well as several African Grass Blues.
African Blue Tit, Fuerteventura, 11-Mar
Turtle Dove, Fuerteventura, 11-Mar
Southern Grey Shrike, Fuerteventura, 11-Mar
African Blue Tit | Fuerteventura Turtle Dove | Fuerteventura Southern Grey Shrike | Fuerteventura
Saturday 10th March
This morning at the hotel I saw a Laughing Dove and a pair of Cattle Egrets. The first stop was at Barranco de Rio Cabras. There was a bit of a walk from the road to the barranco. When we reached the edge, Trumpeter Finches started to appear. At the bottom of the barranco a number of Black-winged Stilts were feeding in the water, and a pair of Ruddy Shelduck turned up. Also seen here were a Hoopoe, a Green Sandpiper and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers. The reason for visiting here was to try to locate the long-staying Dwarf Bittern, which we eventually did although it never came out into the open. A pair of Fuerteventura Chats were collecting food, so they must have had a nest nearby. I found a female Epaulet Skimmer, and an Emperor Dragonfly was seen flying around at the bottom of the barranco. While we were eating lunch an Egyptian Vulture was seen circling over the island's rubbish dump.
Epaulet Skimmer ♀, Fuerteventura, 10-Mar
Fuerteventura Chat ♀, Fuerteventura, 10-Mar
Trumpeter Finch ♂, Fuerteventura, 10-Mar
Epaulet Skimmer ♀ | Fuerteventura Fuerteventura Chat ♀ | Fuerteventura Trumpeter Finch ♂ | Fuerteventura
After lunch we headed up to El Cotillo in the north-west of the island, and spent a bit of time by the lighthouse. Here there were a couple of Kentish Plovers, a Ringed Plover and a Whimbrel on the rocks. A bit further down the coast some patient sea-watching turned up a couple of largish groups of Cory's Shearwater out on the water, four Northern Gannets, and a couple of distant Red-billed Tropicbirds - very unexpected! On the cliffs we saw a Kestrel and a Barbary Falcon.
Then we headed to Tindaya Plain to look for desert species. We saw a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, a Cream-coloured Courser, a couple of Houbara Bustards and several Lesser Short-toed Larks. There were quite a few Haria or Atlantic Lizards around; this species is endemic to Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.
As we were returning to the hotel, a Southern Grey Shrike was seen sitting on a wire in Tindaya village. Back at the hotel the Laughing Dove posed nicely for photos.
Kentish Plover, Fuerteventura, 10-Mar
Black-bellied Sandgrouse ♂, Fuerteventura, 10-Mar
Spanish Sparrow ♂, Fuerteventura, 10-Mar
Kentish Plover | Fuerteventura Black-bellied Sandgrouse ♂ | Fuerteventura Spanish Sparrow ♂ | Fuerteventura
Friday 9th March
Today was the first day of a week's trip to Fuerteventura. On arrival the sun was shining and it was warm! A quick look round the hotel at La Oliva produced Spanish Sparrows and Collared Doves, as well as a Monarch and several Small Whites. We had a trip out to the desert plain at Rosa de los Negrines. The first bird of note was a Barbary Partridge, but it was so wary it was impossible to get close to it. There were several Ravens and Yellow-legged Gulls about, and also a Grey Heron. Eventually we found a single Houbara Bustard, which gave good views.
On the was back we stopped at an abandoned yard near the hotel, where three Stone-curlews were seen. We also had a Spectacled Warbler and a Berthelot's Pipit here. On returning to the hotel I found some African Grass Blues behind the hotel. These tiny butterflies (a new species for me) were not easy to photograph.
Houbara Bustard, Fuerteventura, 09-Mar
Stone-curlews, Fuerteventura, 09-Mar
Berthelot's Pipit, Fuerteventura, 09-Mar
Houbara Bustard | Fuerteventura Stone-curlews | Fuerteventura Berthelot's Pipit | Fuerteventura
Monarch, Fuerteventura, 09-Mar
African Grass Blue ♂, Fuerteventura, 09-Mar
African Grass Blue ♂, Fuerteventura, 09-Mar
Monarch | Fuerteventura African Grass Blue ♂ | Fuerteventura African Grass Blue ♂ | Fuerteventura
Tuesday 6th March
I had a trip over to Baulking Pit this afternoon. It felt almost spring-like when the sun was out. Needless to say there was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike. There were the usual ducks on the lake, about thirty Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Little Grebe. Over the field to the east of the lake I watched a Sparrowhawk trying to take down a small wader (not sure which species it was). The Sprawk eventually gave up the chase and the wader escaped. The only other species of note was a calling Green Woodpecker (but I couldn't find it).
Sunday 4th March
Much milder this morning. A male Starling, resplendent in his breeding plumage, perched on top of the garden feeder pole to proclaim his territory.
In the afternoon I went over to Farmoor. This was to see a Black-necked Grebe which had been found in the morning. It gave quite close views off the causeway. There was a Dunlin on the F1 side of the causeway - the first wader I'd seen at Farmoor this year. The Pinkhill lagoon was mostly frozen. A very obliging Water Rail was probing the mud underneath the feeders for some time, even through he (or she) had to share with a couple of Moorhens and a pair of Mallard. There was a male Wigeon on one of the islands. On the way back I saw a few thrushes on the grass and a Grey Wagtail on the causeway. I also saw nine Gadwall on F1 and five Shoveler near the sailing club on F2. Both these species are uncommon at Farmoor; they'd probably been forced off shallower lakes by ice.
Starling, Abingdon, 04-Mar
Black-necked Grebe, Farmoor, 04-Mar
Water Rail, Farmoor, 04-Mar
Starling | Abingdon Black-necked Grebe | Farmoor Water Rail | Farmoor
Saturday 3rd March
The big thaw started today. The Fieldfare spent most of the day guarding his apples. I spotted the Wren with a fair-sized caterpillar in its bill, so it is managing to find food. In the afternoon a Grey Heron was perched on the roof of a nearby house. Presumably it is having problems given that everything is frozen.
Friday 2nd March
The wintery weather continues! The Fieldfares made short work of the remaining berries this morning. I counted at last twenty birds foraging on the ground under the bush. I put out some apples for them, but one bird decided he was going to have the lot and chased everything else off. A couple of Redwings flew into the Ash tree at one point. I also saw a Wren in the garden - it must be really hard for small insectivorous birds to find enough food in these conditions.
Fieldfare, Abingdon, 02-Mar
Redwing, Abingdon, 02-Mar
Redwing, Abingdon, 02-Mar
Fieldfare | Abingdon Redwing | Abingdon Redwing | Abingdon
Thursday 1st March
The first day of spring, according to meteorologists at any rate. In Abingdon at 9am it was snowing and the temperature was -3°C! At around 12:30 a flock of about a dozen Fieldfares landed in the Ash tree at the front of my house, and started feeding on Cotoneaster berries. Despite being flushed from time to time by people walking past, they kept coming back until dusk.
Fieldfare, Abingdon, 01-Mar
Fieldfare, Abingdon, 01-Mar
Fieldfare, Abingdon, 01-Mar
Fieldfare | Abingdon Fieldfare | Abingdon Fieldfare | Abingdon