Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Some county life ticks

I've been dutifully birding away in the county during the wilderness months of June and July. This year it seems to have been particularly tough, partly because the flood waters on my local patch, Port Meadow, have completely dried up. Nevertheless I've managed a few ticks for the county year list recently so I thought that I would do a blog update to cover these.

Waders are my favourite birds which is why I like Port Meadow so much. When I was getting extreme wader withdrawal symptoms I would head over to Radley GP's where good numbers of green sandpipers have been coming through. I love these little birds and can always happily spend time watching them. Unfortunately they were on the far side of the ash pit but I did manage some rather blurry video footage of some of them.

Green Sandpiper at Radley GP. In the audio you can hear my three year old son chatting away to me about some caterpillars.

Despite having already seen a spotted flycatcher this year in the county I was keen to see them again and when I was offered the chance to photograph a pair that were nesting in someone's private garden in Kingston Lisle I jumped at the chance. I only had my digiscoping gear as usual so I had to wait for the right opportunity but I managed quite a decent shot in the end even if I say so myself

Kingston Lisle spotted flycatcher

Common redstart has been a county bird which so far during my two years of active Oxon birding has eluded me so when one turned up at Farmoor I was keen to find it. I went down as soon as I was able a couple of days after it was first found but it was nowhere to be found. I then had to go away on holiday and so assumed that I'd missed the bird but on my return I was pleased to discover that it was still around and frequenting the same hedge. I therefore decide to go on a lunch-time run back to Farmoor to see if I could find it. I met up with a fellow birder who'd seen it some five minutes previously and even pointed out to me its favourite bush but despite watching this location for a good twenty minutes it didn't show. Eventually I had to leave in the company of one of the Farmoor regulars and as we walked back along the path low and behold there was the redstart further along the hedge flashing its red tail away. It was a shame that I didn't have my digiscoping gear with me but it was very nice finally to get this for my county life as well as county year list.

All birders deserve a bit of luck and I freely admit to getting a good portion of this recently when I was out on a family outing one Sunday. We'd gone for tea with some friends in the Wytham village post office and then wandered down to Wytham Mill to mess about down by the river. The kids were wading in the stream and I'd just wandered down to see how they were getting on when on the way back I saw a large long-winged bird coming towards me. Initially I thought that it was a large gull but as it got nearer I could see the tell-tale extended primaries of a raptor. It was quite close by now, perhaps 75 yards flying low over the trees and I could clearly see from its colouring and markings that it was in fact an osprey. These are hard birds to find in the county as they don't seem to hang around at all even at Farmoor and one generally has to be lucky in catching a fly-over. This spring I'd missed one that flew over Port Meadow about one hour after I'd left there but that's the luck of the draw with these things. This all meant that I was most pleased to have seen this bird which was another county life tick for me. This bird seemed to be following the river south and the spring bird had been following the river north so perhaps this is a common tactic for migrating ospreys.

With a crossbill irruption occurring throughout the country I was keen to catch up with these birds within the county. I was told that Bagley Wood was a good spot to try for them and it's not too far to go so I went and applied for a permit (from St. John's College Bursar's secretary). Armed with this I got up early one morning and went and loitered within the wood just near the entrance opposite the sawmill where a fellow county year lister had seen a couple of birds a few days earlier. However I didn't manage to see any though I did see three juvenile hobbies and managed a digiscoped photo of one of them.

Juvenile hobby at Bagley Wood

Another county year lister then managed a flock of at least 30 a few days after that so I decided to try again. He gave me detailed instructions of a hot spot to try so a few days later I again got up early and wandered further into the wood to the favoured location. There was nothing there when I first arrived but it was rather early so I decided to have a bit of a wander around and then to return later. I had several sightings of roe deer and found a juvenile buzzard squawking away demanding to be fed. There were also quite a few marsh tits "pitchooing" away at various places. I retraced my steps and returned to the hot spot to find several finches flying away and making quite a soft "jip" sound, almost chaffinch-like though these birds were too large for chaffinches. I was expecting the familiar very harsh "jip jip" call but nevertheless these were definitely crossbills. One of them conveniently stayed put at the top of a tree and allowed me to get quite close and indulge in a digiscoping session. The bright sunlight and the relative proximity of the bird meant that I was able to get some good shots. You can see that the bird is clearly a juvenile still with some soft downy feathers.

The confiding juvenile crossbill...

...and again even closer up.

So three county year list ticks to add to the list which is a bit of a relief as things had got rather bogged down recently with no ticks for far too long. In fact all three birds are actually county lifers though since I've only been birding actively in the county for two years there are quite a few of the relatively common birds that I still need to get.

2009 County Year List
170 Common Redstart 11/08/2009 Farmoor Reservoir (County Lifer)
171 Osprey 23/08/2009 Wytham Mill
(County Lifer)
172 Crossbill 25/08/2009 Bagley Wood (County Lifer)

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