I got a call from a fellow Oxon birder who, like me, is keenly working on his Oxon year list. He suggested that we go looking for the hawfinches at Blenheim Palace at the weekend and needless to say I didn't need much persuading.
We were due to rendezvous at 08:45 at the Bladon gate of the park and whilst waiting I saw a nice male goldcrest in a yew tree, a nice year tick. The ground was pleasantly frosty though the weather was much warmer than the recent long spell of arctic conditions that we'd been enduring. We walked over to the Palace Gardens to the "usual" viewing point and set ourselves up watching the tree tops. I was keen to get a photo so had my digiscoping gear all set up and ready. Whilst waiting we saw several stock doves and a green woodpecker both year ticks. After only about 30 minutes we both simultaneously picked up a single hawfinch which flew into the tree top we'd been watching. It stayed for a little over a minute or two, enough to get the scope on it and even to fire off a few digiscoping efforts though unfortunately the bird was facing away from us so I didn't get its impressive bill in the shot.
A hawfinch in the Palace Gardens
Pleased with our success we next drove round to Combe Gate to see if we could find the Blenheim Mandarins. Regular readers of this blog (if there are any!) will know that I had a great deal of trouble seeing these birds towards the end of last year so I was keen to have another go. I was a bit concerned about whether the pond might be frozen over though parts of the main lake were now ice free. As we pulled up at the gate we met a fellow Oxon birder so we went round to the pond together. On the way we managed to find a nuthatch and a jay for the year lists.
The pond itself was completed frozen over and duck free so we decided to head back the other way to see if they were on the main lake. On the way we had a good look out for willow tits which this other chap reckoned could be had in the area though they are now a very scarce county bird. We walked slowly carefully inspecting all the small birds and managed to see a marsh tit (conveniently calling to identify itself), a few coal tits and a sparrowhawk which made a kill. There were also a couple of circling buzzards making their mewing calls.
We next decided to walk in a circuit around to the bridge and back again hoping for, amongst other things, some bramblings. We managed a couple more close marsh tits and by the monument I picked out a huge corvid which we all agreed was a raven, a county first for me. The lake itself held lots of gadwall and a few tufted ducks but the arm of the lake which often holds the mandarins when they are not on their pond, was frozen solid and there was nothing to be seen there. There were also no bramblings to be found anywhere. We headed back to the cars slowly, hearing another marsh tit calling as we did so.
There was one other trip to report on: down to Otmoor but still during the big freeze. Everything was covered in rime frost (frozen fog) and was very beautiful but the reserve was almost complete birdless, the highlight being a trio of redpolls seen at very close range from the car on the drive down Otmoor Lane. I did manage to see a greater spotted woodpecker on the feeders which was a year tick for me.
So a few more year list ticks, all also Oxon ticks:
2008 Year List (National)
069 bullfinch 09/01/2009 Chalbury Rd, Oxford
070 pheasant 09/01/2009 Oxford Canal
071 greater spotted woodpecker 10/01/2009 Otmoor
072 goldcrest 11/01/2009 Blenheim
073 stock dove 11/01/2009 Blenheim
074 green woodpecker 11/01/2009 Blenheim
075 hawfinch 11/01/2009 Blenheim
076 nuthatch 11/01/2009 Blenheim
077 jay 11/01/2009 Blenheim
078 sparrow hawk 11/01/2009 Blenheim
079 marsh tit 11/01/2009 Blenheim
080 raven 11/01/2009 Blenheim
My Oxon year list is identical to the national one except for not having bittern and so is currently standing at 79.