Natural History Diary : April 2017
Sunday 30th April
After the best part of a week of poor butterfly weather, I saw five species at the allotment this morning: Orange-tip (2), Small White (6+), Small Tortoiseshell (1, very tatty), Peacock (1) and Holly Blue (1). It's amazing how they are able to bounce back like this. I also saw a Greenfinch, and the Blackcap was still singing in the A34 embankment scrub.
Saturday 29th April
The poor weather of the last few days continued. Although it wasn't cold, there was virtually no sunshine until late afternoon. The garden Blackbirds were still taking food into the nest, which was good to see.
I went down to Otmoor. A Common Whitethroat was singing near the start of the roman road. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were much in evidence. I heard two (maybe three) Cuckoos, but didn't manage to spot one. Sedge Warblers was singing every few yards along the bridleway, but most were invisible in the reeds. A Snipe flew over. Cetti's Warblers were quite numerous - I heard at least six calling. Along the path to the first screen a Sedge Warbler was singing from a tree, so was much more visible. While looking at this a small flock of Golden Plovers flew over. On Big Otmoor Lapwings kept taking to the air to see off Red Kites (I saw one Lapwing chick so that's why the adults were so quick to defend their airspace). I saw my first Hobby of the year over Greenaways, and eight Common Lizards trying to warm up near the first screen. A pair of Common Terns flew over the lagoon. There were two male Pochard to be seen. On the way back I saw my first Swift of the year over Big Otmoor. Finally, I walked along the roman road again and flushed a hardy Speckled Wood.
Later at the allotment I heard a Blackcap and saw a Common Whitethroat.
Sedge Warbler | Otmoor Common Lizard | Otmoor  
Friday 28th April
I had to rescue a very juvenile Blackbird in the garden this evening. A predator had pulled it right out of the nest and it was hanging upside-down in the Pyracantha bush. I managed to put it back into the nest. There were also two juvenile House Sparrows in the garden.
Saturday 22nd April
The first butterfly sighting today was a female Orange-tip in the garden. I went to Bagley Wood to walk through the bluebells. There weren't any birds about but I did see a Chiffchaff, a pair of Blackcaps and a couple of Jays. On the butterfly front I saw more Orange-tips, at least four Green-veined Whites, a Holly Blue, at least seven Speckled Woods (one was a female; I watched her lay an egg on a blade of grass), and two Peacocks.
I the afternoon at the allotment a Blackcap was singing from the scrub on the A34 embankment. A Brimstone and a couple of Small Whites were among the butterflies seen.
Friday 21st April
I went to Farmoor again this morning. The juvenile Bonaparte's Gull, which had been around for a couple of weeks, was showing well along the south shore of F2. It was catching small fish, which it landed on the water to eat. Other birds of note were at least four Common Terns, a Cuckoo (heard), three White Wagtails, one Common Sandpiper, one Grey Plover and an Oystercatcher. There was no sign of any Yellow Wagtails, though.
Despite it being a cloudy day, I saw a Holly Blue in the garden again.
The day was rounded off by a trip to the MoD site at Arncott to see the conservation work that had been carried out there, and to listen for Nightingales. Unsurprisingly they did not oblige, but we did hear all seven warblers which are found at the site. The ones new to me this year were Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler. There were three of the latter singing, and one was tempted to reveal itself when its call was played on a mobile phone (by the tour leader, who was licenced to do this). Mammals seen were a Muntjac deer and a Brown Hare, and some Great Crested Newts were found in a pond. After dark there was a search for bats using suitable receiving equipment. There was virtually no activity until the end of the walk, when a probable Brown long-eared bat lit up the detectors. It was a worthwhile visit to an interesting site, but access is difficult because it is an active Army training area.
Bonaparte's Gull | Farmoor
Tuesday 18th April
A pretty chilly day but at least it was sunny. I went to Standlake Common (Pit 60) in the morning. There were about thirty Sand Martins over the lake. I found two House Martins and one Swallow amongst them. Greylag Geese were very noisy and occasionally aggressive, particularly when goslings were involved (two pairs had them in tow). Eventually a Redshank and then a Common Sandpiper came close enough to the hide for photos. A couple of male Orange-tips flew past the hide, and I found a male Green-veined White in Shifford Lane.
Back at home I saw a Holly Blue, and a male and a female Orange-tip. At the allotment I saw another Orange-tip, another Green-veined White and a Small Tortoiseshell.
Common Sandpiper | Standlake Common Redshank | Standlake Common Green-veined White | Standlake Common
Monday 17th April
Despite it being cloudy and cool today, I spotted a male Holly Blue fluttering around my garden ivy patch at lunchtime. Later I saw the pair of Grey Partridges again in the field next to the allotments.
Holly Blue | Abingdon    
Sunday 16th April
I stopped at Farmoor on the way home from Eynsham and had a walk around F1. I flushed three Common Sandpipers and a Dunlin from the eastern shore. At last there were dozens of hirundines to be seen. Most of them were Sand Martins, with fewer Swallows and just a few House Martins. I was surprised to find a female Goosander in the NW corner of the reservoir; normally this species is a winter visitor in the south of England. Going back down the causeway I spotted one of the Sandpipers on the nearest raft. There was a White Wagtail in amongst the Pieds again.
Goosander | Farmoor    
Saturday 15th April
Although it was a fairly cool morning, I saw a Holly Blue in the garden at lunchtime. In the afternoon I visited Aston Upthorpe Downs. Although it was mostly sunny, it was still fairly cool. However there were some butterflies about in the more sheltered spots. I saw a couple of Orange-tips and Small Tortoiseshells. The next butterfly I saw was a Grizzled Skipper, which was my twelfth species of the year (I've never seen that many by mid-April before. It was also the earliest I'd ever seen a Grizzled Skipper). I headed up the bridleway towards the Fair Mile. A Buzzard was very obliging, doing a couple of low-level circuits before climbing to altitude. There wasn't much else to see until I got to the top of the slope, when Linnets, Skylarks and a Corn Bunting appeared. I heard a Curlew and had a brief glimpse of it as it disappeared over the ridge line. I returned via Juniper Valley. I spotted a couple of Northern Wheatears, and eventually saw five of them together. By using a Juniper bush as cover I was able to get fairly close to them. Other species of note were a couple of Muntjac deer (the first time I'd seen them at Aston Upthorpe Downs) and quite a few Dark-edged Bee-flies.
Wheatear | Aston Upthorpe Downs Blackcap | Aston Upthorpe Downs Grizzled Skipper | Aston Upthorpe Downs
Buzzard | Aston Upthorpe Downs
Thursday 13th April
I visited Otmoor this morning. As I was driving down Otmoor Lane I saw a Red-legged Partridge and a Jay. The lack of rain since my last visit on 25th March meant that all the paths, and even the Roman road, were dry. On getting out of the car I heard Blackcaps, Wrens and Chiffchaffs singing. I saw a Muntjac as I walked up the Roman road. Up on the bridleway Cetti's Warblers were calling frequently. I head a Reed Warbler and several Sedge Warblers singing, but I didn't see any of them. Up at the hide there were still quite a lot of Linnets about, and a Sparrowhawk tried to grab one. Redshank were calling quite a lot, and I saw two of them. At the first screen there was a pair of belligerent Canada Geese which were unwilling to share with another pair. A Great Crested Grebe was diving right in front of the screen. A couple of Swallows were the only hirundines seen. I heard a Bittern booming, something I had never heard in this country before. I saw one Marsh Harrier. I spotted two Grey Heron nests - one in the dead tree on Ashgrave, and the other in the reedbed. Back at the feeders I saw a pair of Greenfinches. By 1pm it had warmed up a bit, and when the sun came out butterflies immediately started to appear along the roman road. First up was a Green-veined White (my 11th species of the year - pretty good for mid-April), followed by several male and one female Orange-tips, and several male Speckled Woods. When the sun went behind cloud they all disappeared again. I looked for damselflies but couldn't find any.
Back at home there were two juvenile Blackbirds in the garden, both demanding food from their male parent. I looked in the nest at the front of the house after seeing the female leave. There was only one chick there.
Linnet | Otmoor Greenfinch | Otmoor Wren | Otmoor
Green-veined White (m) | Otmoor Green-veined White (f) | Otmoor Orange-tip (f) | Otmoor
Tuesday 11th April
I saw a male Orange-tip and a Holly Blue in the garden at lunchtime today. Later in the afternoon I went over to Farmoor. There was little to see on the way across the causeway, but at Pinkhill the male Garganey which had been found earlier was still present, and eventually showed quite well. I didn't notice at the time, but the photos showed that it only had a functioning left eye. While in the hide I heard at least two, and maybe three, Cetti's Warblers. On the way back down the causeway I saw a couple of Little Egrets, a pair of Gadwall and a White Wagtail. (The continuing lack of hirundines is strange. Where have they got to?)
Garganey | Farmoor Little Egret | Farmoor Black-headed Gull | Farmoor
Sunday 9th April
The warmest day of the year so far - up to about 23°C. I went to Aston Rowant NNR to see if there were any Ring Ouzels on Linky Down, but there weren't. All I saw was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Green Woodpecker and a pair of Jays. I then headed to to the north side of the reserve. On the way down the slope I found a couple of Green Hairstreaks, and half-a-dozen more elsewhere on Beacon Hill. I also saw at least fourteen Brimstones, three Peacocks, two male Orange-tips and two Holly Blues. The female Brimstones I saw were busy either ovipositing or looking for suitable places. (This is the earliest date I've ever seen a Green Hairstreak.)
Green Hairstreak | Aston Rowant NNR Orange-tip | Aston Rowant NNR Brimstone | Aston Rowant NNR
Saturday 8th April
This morning I saw a Greenfinch singing from the top of the sycamore tree near my house. I was at the Northcourt Centre in Abingdon all day. While there I saw a Chiffchaff, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Brimstone and at least two Orange-tips. Later at the allotment I saw my first Holly Blue of the year, as well as a Small White and an Orange-tip. When I got home I saw another Holly Blue near the house. (This is the earliest date I've ever seen a Holly Blue.)
Thursday 6th April
This morning on the way to work a Sparrowhawk flew very low in front of my car for a few yards before pulling up to the left. A nice start to the day!
I had a walk in the University Parks at lunchtime. I nailed a couple of species I hadn't yet recorded this year: a pair of Treecreepers and a singing Greenfinch (although I only heard the latter). Butterflies were out in reasonable numbers: at least five Brimstones, one Orange-tip, two Peacocks and two Speckled Woods.
Speckled Wood | Oxford    
Tuesday 4th April
I visited Farmoor in the late afternoon today. Again there was nothing along the causeway, but I did see a single Yellow Wagtail and a single Common Tern, as well as six Swallows and three Meadow Pipits near the old water treatment works. A female Mallard had ten ducklings in tow on F1.
Sunday 2nd April
I visited Farmoor this morning. There was nothing on the causeway as I headed towards the river. A Grey Heron landed on one of the platforms and was mobbed by Black-headed Gulls. Down near Pinkhill there were several singing Chiffchaffs. There was nothing of note visible on the Pinkhill lagoon, but I did hear a Water Rail squealing. There were are least two Cetti's Warblers calling. As I left the hide I heard a Blackcap singing - my first of the year. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was hammering on a willow tree. I went further along the river, past the reedbed, and there were more Blackcaps singing from the hedgerow. On the way back a Black-necked Grebe was pointed out to me, but it stayed a long way out on F2. A solitary Swallow was flying around the old water treatment plant. There had been a huge hatch of midges, and their swarms were so dense that they looked like smoke. There must have been millions of them.
I stopped off at Dry Sandford Pit, but it was still too cold and cloudy for butterflies. I heard a Willow Warbler, though.
In the afternoon the sun came out more, and I saw a male Brimstone and a male Orange-tip in the garden. The pair of Long-tailed Tits have now become regular garden visitors. The Blackbird nest under my bedroom window has got three eggs in it.
Later in the afternoon I saw a Peacock at the allotment.
Saturday 1st April
I saw my first Small White of the year at the allotment this morning. I saw a probable second one in the garden, but it didn't settle so I couldn't confirm its identity. I heard a Chiffchaff singing at the allotment. A Kestrel flew over and two Red Kites were engaged in aerobatics over the A34.
Small White | Abingdon