Natural History Diary : April 2018
Sunday 29th April
A Blackcap was singing in the scrub on the A34 embankment at the allotment this morning.
Saturday 28th April
The first juvenile Blackbird of the year made an appearance in the garden this morning. A second one appeared in the early afternoon.
I had an unexpected afternoon trip to Farmoor because a couple of Great Skuas had turned up, but they had gone before I got there. Conditions were not great, with a low cloud base and a chilly northerly breeze. Despite this there were thousands of hirundines over both reservoirs, of which about 60% were Swallows, 30% House Martins and 10% Sand Martins. There were also about a hundred Swifts. As I walked along the causeway, martins were zipping along at low level. There were lots of Pied Wagtails and eight Yellow Wagtails feeding on flies. A group of six Common Sandpipers were feeding at the water's edge by the hide, and a bit further on were four rather flighty Dunlin. I went down to Shrike Meadow, but there weren't many warblers about. I heard a Cetti's Warbler, a Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap, and saw a Chiffchaff. On the way back along the causeway the Swifts had come down to low level and were zipping past at head height. I counted at least nine Common Terns picking flies off the water's surface.
When I got home a Sparrowhawk landed on top of one of the garden bird feeders, but by the time I'd got the camera out it had gone.
Blackbird (juv), Abingdon, 28-Apr
Swallow, Farmoor, 28-Apr
Blackbird (juv) | Abingdon Swallow | Farmoor Common Sandpiper | Farmoor
House Martin, Farmoor, 28-Apr
Yellow Wagtail, Farmoor, 28-Apr
Common Tern, Farmoor, 28-Apr
House Martin | Farmoor Yellow Wagtail ♀ | Farmoor Common Tern | Farmoor
Thursday 26th April
Another breezy day and not all that warm either. I visited Bagley Wood in the late morning to see the annual display of English Bluebells - they didn't seem to have been affected by the cool weather. The fragrance was exquisite, but impossible to capture with a camera! Butterflies did quite well within the wood, but not so much on the western edge, which was more exposed to the wind. Species seen were Orange-tip (6 males), Large White (1), Green-veined White (at least 5), Peacock (1), Speckled Wood (4) and Holly Blue (3). Birds were a bit elusive, but I heard Chiffchaff and Blackcap, and saw at least four Jays. I also saw a Muntjac.
Speckled Wood, Bagley Wood, 26-Apr
Holly Blue, Bagley Wood, 26-Apr
Green-veined White, Bagley Wood, 26-Apr
Speckled Wood ♂ | Bagley Wood Holly Blue ♂ | Bagley Wood Green-veined White ♂ | Bagley Wood
Wednesday 25th April
A breezy and quite cool day, but at least it was sunny this morning. I went over to Farmoor again. As I got to the top of the causeway I spotted a small flock of Common Sandpipers flying out over F1. I also saw a couple of Sand Martins and three Dunlin. I headed for the area south of Shrike Meadow, since Dai told me that a Grasshopper Warbler was singing there. In fact there were two bird singing, but I couldn't locate either of them. While I was there I heard, and then saw, a Cuckoo. There were a few hardy Green-veined Whites about. Heard singing were Cetti's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Willow Warbler (I did manage to spot one of the Blackcaps). As I walked towards Pinkhill I saw three Speckled Woods. At Pinkhill there was a pair of Red-crested Pochards and a male Tufted Duck. The Tuftie had taken a shine to the female RCP, and kept chasing the male RCP away. A hybrid between the two species could be interesting, but probably unlikely.
Pied Wagtail, Farmoor, 25-Apr
Green-veined White, Farmoor, 25-Apr
Red-crested Pochard, Farmoor, 25-Apr
Pied Wagtail ♀ | Farmoor Green-veined White ♂ | Farmoor Red-crested Pochard ♂ | Farmoor
I headed back to the causeway, where a fourth Dunlin has joined the other three. They looked very smart in their breeding plumage. I then spotted my first Common Swifts of the year. There were quite a lot of them, probably at least fifty birds. I tried to get some shots of them, but as usual it was pretty difficult, especially as the wind was quite gusty. Near the sailing club I saw two Common Terns, which were joined by a third bird.
Dunlin, Farmoor, 25-Apr
Swift, Farmoor, 25-Apr
Common Tern, Farmoor, 25-Apr
Dunlin | Farmoor Swift | Farmoor Common Tern | Farmoor
Tuesday 24th April
There was a Buzzard over the allotment this morning.
Sunday 22nd April
The thunderstorm last night put an end to the unseasonably warm weather. However it was sunny and still fairly warm this morning. A trip over to Standlake Common was quite productive. A male Greenfinch was singing down by the 3Ts lake - sadly, an increasingly uncommon event. I heard a Cuckoo here; it seemed to be in one of the willow trees by the river. I also saw my first Speckled Wood of the year here. There were quite a few Brimstones, and some Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites about. Despite the masses of ivy along the lane, I only saw two Holly Blues. A Blackcap was singing along the footpath between the two hides. Having forgotten the hide key, I could only see part of Pit 60 from Langley Lane, but it was enough to spot a Green Sandpiper, a pair of Oystercatchers, a couple of Lapwing and an Egyptian Goose.
Back at home I saw a Green-veined White and a Small White in the garden.
Greenfinch, Standlake Common, 22-Apr
Speckled Wood, Standlake Common, 22-Apr
Speckled Wood, Standlake Common, 22-Apr
Greenfinch ♂ | Standlake Common Speckled Wood ♂ | Standlake Common Speckled Wood ♂ | Standlake Common
Saturday 21st April
I visited Aston Rowant NNR this morning. There wasn't a lot of note on the south side of the reserve; a couple of male Brimstones and a pair of Jays was about it. It was better on the northern side. I saw at least nine Brimstones, two very fresh Green Hairstreaks (which kept engaging each other in fierce battles), a Small Tortoiseshell and a Comma. Notable birds were two Chiffchaffs and a Raven.
In the garden in the afternoon I saw a male Orange-tip and a Holly Blue. At the allotment I saw several Small Whites, a Peacock and another Holly Blue.
Green Hairstreak, Aston Rowant NNR, 21-Apr
Green Hairstreak ♂ | Aston Rowant NNR    
Friday 20th April
Not as warm as yesterday, but still a very pleasant day. Garden butterflies today were a couple of male Orange-tips coming to feed on Honesty flowers, and a couple of male Holly Blues were flying around the Ivy bush. I also saw two Peacocks at the allotment.
Blackbird, Abingdon, 20-Apr
Orange-tip, Abingdon, 20-Apr
Blackbird ♂ | Abingdon Orange-tip ♂ | Abingdon  
Thursday 19th April
Today was warmer than yesterday. My first trip today was to Aston Upthorpe Downs. The bridleway from the cottages up to Juniper Valley was unrecognisable - the Hazel stands had been coppiced about 20 feet into the wood. Complete devastation! Birds were pretty unremarkable. The only migrants I could find were a pair of Blackcaps. Otherwise a pair of Stock Doves and a singing Yellowhammer was about it. Butterflies, on the other hand, did quite well. Brimstones were by far the most numerous - I counted at least ten males and fifteen females. There were also a few Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Commas, and my first Green-veined White of the year.
In the garden at lunchtime I was surprised to see a Bat fly over! Garden butterflies today were singletons of Brimstone, Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Large White.
My second trip of the day was to Farmoor, where I head my first Cuckoos and Sedge Warblers of the year. A Cetti's Warbler and several Chiffchaffs were also calling. I found seven Yellow Wagtails along the causeway, including the flava x flavissima hybrid. A pair of Kestrels have nested in a box attached to the water inlet building at the west end of the causeway. From the sounds coming from within they have chicks. Finally, despite the heat, the male Goldeneye was still present.
Green-veined White, Aston Upthorpe Downs, 19-Apr
Yellow Wagtail, Farmoor, 19-Apr
Yellow Wagtail (hybrid), Farmoor, 19-Apr
Green-veined White ♂ | Aston Upthorpe Downs Yellow Wagtail | Farmoor Yellow Wagtail hybrid | Farmoor
Wednesday 18th April
The warmest day of the year so far (but about the same as Fuerteventura a month ago!). This morning a male Brimstone spent some time feeding on Marsh Marigold flowers in the garden. A couple of Commas also turned up.
I spent an hour at Dry Sandford Pit at lunchtime, where I saw at least five male Orange-tips, nine male and two female Brimstones, five Peacocks, three Commas, two Small Whites and one Large White. A singing Willow Warbler was quite obliging for photographs. I also saw a pair of Jays and a Green Woodpecker.
At the allotment later in the afternoon I saw several Small Whites, a male Orange-tip, two male and one female Brimstones, and two Peacocks.
Brimstone, Abingdon, 18-Apr
Comma, Dry Sandford Pit, 18-Apr
Willow Warbler, Dry Sandford Pit, 18-Apr
Brimstone ♂ | Abingdon Comma | Dry Sandford Pit Willow Warbler | Dry Sandford Pit
Tuesday 17th April
Yesterday a bird which people thought was a Iberian Chiffchaff was found at the South Hinksey Golf Club. This afternoon I went there to try to find it. After a wait of around 40 minutes the bird appeared and flew into a large Sallow tree. It looked pretty similar to a Common Chiffchaff, but its song was different - but apparently not different enough, as the county recorder decided that it wasn't an Iberian Chiffchaff (although its actual identify isn't known).
Monday 16th April
This morning I saw a Kestrel soaring quite high above north Abingdon. Not its usual behaviour or habitat!
I went to Dry Sandford Pit, but it was too cloudy for any butterflies to appear. I did quite well with birds, including two Chiffchaffs seen (and more singing), a Willow Warbler (heard), and a pair of Blackcaps (male singing). Other species of note were three Jays, a Treecreeper and a Goldcrest.
Sunday 15th April
Thanks to the rain today I visited Farmoor in the late afternoon. There were quite a few Swallows and House Martins, and a few Sand Martins over the reservoirs. I saw at least four Yellow Wagtails, including a hybrid "channel" bird, but they were quite difficult to approach. There was a female Mallard with nine ducklings on F2; somewhat surprisingly she was attended by two drakes. A solitary male Red-crested Pochard was poking around in the surf. The male Goldeneye was still present; surely he should have left by now? As I was making my way back to the car, two very noisy Common Terns arrived; one took exception to an innocent Black-headed Gull, and pursued it aggressively. I also saw a pair of Coot mating on the sailing club pontoon.
Swallow, Farmoor, 15-Apr
Yellow Wagtail, Farmoor, 15-Apr
Red-crested Pochard, Farmoor, 15-Apr
Swallow | Farmoor Yellow Wagtail | Farmoor Red-crested Pochard ♂ | Farmoor
Saturday 14th April
Decent weather for a change, but I was at a horticultural show all day. However I spotted a Brimstone in Abingdon, and my first Holly Blue of the year in the garden. Other garden sightings were a Dark-edged Bee-fly and a Pine Ladybird.
Wednesday 11th April
Today there were two Long-tailed Tits in the garden, feeding on fat balls, and two Goldfinches, feeding on teasel heads (which must have lost all their seeds a long time ago).
Tuesday 10th April
After two wet days, it was a relief that it stayed dry today, albeit with 100% cloud cover and a chilly NE wind. A trip over to Farmoor in the afternoon produced five new species for the year: I heard a Willow Warbler, and saw a female Black Redstart, several Swallows and Sand Martins, and a male Common Scoter. There were quite a few calling Chiffchaffs and one or two singing Blackcaps. The male Goldeneye was still in with the few remaining Tufted Ducks. There were masses of insects, probably more than last time.
Pied Wagtail, Farmoor, 10-Apr
Common Scoter, Farmoor, 10-Apr
Pied Wagtail | Farmoor Common Scoter ♂ | Farmoor Black Redstart | Farmoor
Saturday 7th April
The warmest day of the year so far (20°C), but it was pretty cloudy so there wasn't much butterfly activity. I saw a Peacock at the allotment, and a Brimstone and a Small Tortoiseshell in the garden.
Small Tortoiseshell, Abingdon, 07-Apr
Small Tortoiseshell | Abingdon    
Friday 6th April
There were three Red Kites and a Buzzard over the allotment this morning. I saw another Small Tortoiseshell at home.
Thursday 5th April
I went to Farmoor again this morning. For a change it was sunny with light winds (but wasn't all that warm). I heard several calling Chiffchaffs, and managed to find two of them. After failing to find any Little Grebes on my last visit, two were down at the south end of F2. A Common Tern flew past, my first of the year, and it was later joined by a second bird. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls and a Common Gull on the flooded fields on the other side of the river. The Barn Owl was sitting on a fence post at Buckthorn Meadow. There were masses of midges (but no hirundines to feed on them).
Barn Owl, Farmoor, 05-Apr
Little Grebe, Farmoor, 05-Apr
Dark-edged Bee-fly, Farmoor, 05-Apr
Barn Owl | Farmoor Little Grebe | Farmoor Dark-edged Bee-fly | Farmoor
My next stop was at Dry Sandford Pit, where eventually a few butterflies appeared. I saw at least three Brimstones (there were probably more), two Commas and two Peacocks. In the afternoon I saw another Brimstone in the garden, and a Small Tortoiseshell flew past. I saw Dark-edged Bee-flies at Farmoor, Dry Sandford Pit and in the garden.
Comma, Dry Sandford Pit, 05-Apr
Peacock, Dry Sandford Pit, 05-Apr
Brimstone, Dry Sandford Pit, 05-Apr
Comma | Dry Sandford Pit Peacock | Dry Sandford Pit Brimstone | Dry Sandford Pit
Tuesday 3rd April
A milder day then recently, but showery. I had a walk round Thrupp Lake in the afternoon, once the showers had abated. I was expecting to find some hirundines, but there were none. The only migrants I could find were three Chiffchaffs. I spotted a Treecreeper, which was the first time I'd seen one at Radley Lakes. I heard both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, but couldn't find either of them. Duck numbers were well down, but Canada Geese were very vocal, Great Crested Grebes were getting territorial, and an Egyptian Goose flew in and went to sleep on on of the islands.
Great Crested Grebe, Radley Lakes, 03-Apr
Egyptian Goose, Radley Lakes, 03-Apr
Great Crested Grebe | Radley Lakes Egyptian Goose | Radley Lakes  
Monday 2nd April
A female Blackbird was taking food away from the garden bird table this afternoon. That's a sure sign that she's got youngsters to feed.
Sunday 1st April
It was quite bright at Farmoor this morning, but there was still a chilly NNE wind. The male Goldeneye on F2 was displaying to Tufted Ducks. Not surprisingly, they ignored him. I spotted a solitary Little Gull picking insects off the water in the middle of F2. A couple of Chiffchaffs were busy in the hedgerow at Pinkhill. There was also a Redwing on the grass here. I spotted a Barn Owl hunting, but couldn't get close to it until I reached Shrike Meadow. Down at the southern end of F2 I looked for the immature Iceland Gull, but couldn't find it. There were two Common Gulls out on the water. The Snow Geese were out on the grass (most of them were asleep), and the Barn Owl turned up again. There were two pairs of Gadwall at the southern end of F2. Later I saw a Goldcrest in the garden.
Great Crested Grebe, Farmoor, 01-Apr
Barn Owl, Farmoor, 01-Apr
Gadwall, Farmoor, 01-Apr
Great Crested Grebe | Farmoor Barn Owl | Farmoor Gadwall ♂ | Farmoor