Oxfordshire is a county I normally visit in late Spring, as the RSPB reserve of Otmoor tends to attract good numbers of hobbies returning to the UK to breed. But in need of a walk, I decided to zip down the M40 to make the most of a bright day. I hoped that I might perhaps see the marsh harriers reported from the reserve, or catch a glimpse of a brown hare. If nothing else, the walk around the place is worth it most days.
A pair of red kites circled the car park as I gathered my kit for the stroll. They drifted elegantly off towards the marshes, and I followed, albeit somewhat more clumsily, getting a leg of my tripod caught in the swinging entrance gate! Along the path the air was filled with birdsong, with linnets, blue and great tits and wrens battling for airtime. The feeders were a hive of activity, including goldfinches and a variety of tits. Amusingly there was a grey squirrel desperately doing battle with the squirrel-proof feeder, and not getting a great deal of joy from what I could see. Alas I failed to see any of the bramblings that had been seen recently.
It felt a bit strange to be wandering along without any hope of seeing or hearing the purring turtle doves that are often present during the summer months. I didn't take a shot until I peered through the first screen, when a grey heron approached the back of the pool, seemingly performing a relay race with its partner as it took off immediately as the other one landed on their nest.
Around the pools were good numbers of wildfowl, including tufted ducks, mallards, coots, teal, moorhens and closest were some shovelers. The males of these ducks seemed pretty restless, and were paddling out from the cover of the reeds, then taking flight, only to circle the pools briefly before landing back where they started. This gave me the chance of some flight shots, and I was pleased to see the gorgeous patches of colours on their wings on the photos.
The hedgerows were occupied by numerous small birds, singing or searching for grubs to eat. I saw reed buntings, robins, finches and heard a few chiffchaffs belting out their signature calls. The surprise of the day was waiting for me as I reached the far screen. I was just lifting my camera off my shoulders when I spotted a pale bird with dark wing-tips heading across the back of the pool. Something about it made me look harder... a male hen harrier!!
The pool in front was quieter than the other one, with a pair of swans drifting gracefully across it. I was glad of my UniqBall head to ensure the water would be on the level for any images taken, which is especially helpful when the subject fills the frame and limits any cropping that might need to be done to correct such a problem in post-processing.