Wednesday 28 May 2014

Oxfordshire: Farmoor and Otmoor

As is becoming the norm of late, I've been neglecting my blog. Quite often because I've been using spare time for other things, like work. But if I don't get it down I'll forget it, so here I am.


It made a change for me to head to Farmoor in Oxfordshire. I have often heard it mentioned by other wildlife enthusiasts, especially by locals at Otmoor, so when a red-necked grebe was reported, I took the opportunity to take a look. Unusually for me, I didn't spend a great deal of time planning and researching the site, preferring to drive down and work it out for myself on site.


Foolishly I assumed that the 2 reservoirs would be labelled in terms of size, with F1 being the largest, and F2 where the grebe was favouring, the smaller. Hence I strode purposefully across the causeway to where I had confidently worked out where the grebe would be. A returning birder then pointed out, as I asked where the grebe was, that the larger pool was F2, and hence I was miles from where I needed to be. D'oh!

Hot-footing it to where the grebe was, I bumped into some more togs, who had set up on the actual concrete basin of the reservoir, so as to get low-level shots. After a short period of waiting for the bird to wake up, it approached and with a few sprints to new locations when it was underwater, I managed to get a few decent images.

I have seen one before in such lovely plumage, over at Gailey reservoir. But this was much closer.

It was very good at catching fish, and after wolfing down a few, it headed back out for another snooze. Which became the pattern of the day, though the light wasn't really in the best direction, and with the boats coming out on to the water, it tended to move to the end of the reservoir nearer the causeway, which was convenient for me to wander back when finished.


I try to keep an eye on reports from Otmoor and when the hobbies arrive back, I head down to see them. Despite being fairly early on site, the car park was very busy, and I tried to head to areas with the fewest folk, though to be fair, Otmoor is a big place, so can still appear to be empty even with so many cars parked up.

As usual, I checked any sun-drenched logs or stumps for reptiles, but failed to see any, though a singing wren near the bridge made me stop and grab a few shots.

On the pools behind the main path, I could see a distant little egret poking around, striking at anything disturbed as it walked through. And the hedges were a mass of singing whitethroats and warblers. I could also hear cuckoos calling, though way off somewhere else!

Near the hide I could see lapwings swooping over something in the conservation area, so peered over the gate for a closer look. A brown hare. It moved to an area where it was more peaceful, and I tried to get some shots. Even at this time though, the heat haze was up and most images were soft. Then the hare started to approach where I was standing, so I remained stood dead still. Closer. Grabbing shots all the time. Would I get some decent images at last?

No. Because a birder approached, and despite me whispering to him that there was a hare nearby, he then recounted a tale of how one had walked up to him one day, with the sort of volume one would need to fill a theatre with sound, and surprisingly enough, the hare buggered off. I think a trip east might be needed for that photo opportunity, perhaps.

As is often the case at Otmoor, insects provide as many photo opportunities as the birds and mammals. I spotted lots of butterflies around and managed to get shots of orange-tips and others.

Hares aren't really the main concern for the lapwings though. Red kites are, and as with last year, they were (in greater numbers this year) hunting the meadows where the lapwing chicks were trying to grow up. Probably 19 times out of 20, the lapwings, gulls and corvids would succeed in chasing the red kites away, but the more determined raptors were diving right down, and flying off with unfortunate chicks.

Hobbies didn't seem to attract the attention of the lapwings, so were busy taking out any insects on the wing they could target. Mostly they were high up, but every so often they would descend together, and I'd try to get images. Again, the haze affected the focus, so most were binned.

I saw a couple of cuckoos flying around, but never perching in view. And a lesser whitethroat also teased, singing from a hedge but never appeared. A reed bunting sat atop of the same hedge, so I settled for shots of him instead.

The remainder of the day was spent photographing the rather swanky-looking male pochards from the end hide.

And on the way back to the car, aside from avoiding the clouds of flies, grabbing occasional shots of the red kites when they circled overhead.

I'm hoping for another bright day soon, to head back down for another go at everything.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

The Hungry Gap

The gales, rain and cold seem to have finally made way for what can I guess be described as less windy, less rainy and slightly warmer weather, at least here in the Midlands. I look forward to Spring each year as everything takes on a fresh look and with the leaves appearing on trees, I can enjoy more privacy in my garden as the hedges fill out and obscure the views of the houses behind.

Along with the greenery has come an abundance of flying insects, and any that enjoy a drop of blood seem to be feasting on me every time I venture out. I really am a Midge Magnet, though they also attract goldcrests, which are always a treat to see.

So with all the better weather, leaves, flowers, insects around, you'd perhaps be forgiven for thinking nature can now provide all the food needed for your garden birds, so no need to put anything out until winter returns... and that would be a mistake, judging by what I have seen of late.

If anything, the birds are consuming more food now than they did over the winter months, especially the house sparrows. I am fortunate to have a healthy population of these "little brown jobs" and they are constantly flying back and forth to the feeders.

The issue is, while everything looks fresh, green and full of life, in terms of actual naturally-available food for the birds, we are in something of a void or as some call it, the hungry gap.

And if you consider that as well as looking after themselves at the moment, a lot of our garden birds have hungry beaks to fill at their nests, the need for food is greater than ever.

From my observations, I can see that the general mixes of seed are most popular currently, perhaps because the number of sparrows around my feeders is such that other birds can't get a look in, though I have seen blue, great and coal tits darting in for a black sunflower seed or a heart. And the suet balls seem to have at least one sparrow attached to them at all times. They were also attracting blackcaps a couple of weeks back too, though never when I had a camera at hand. And of course robins battle their way to the feeders, preferring the seed trays to the hanging feeders generally.

There are of course numerous online articles covering this subject in far greater scientific detail than my musings, but one of the best I have seen is here at Vine House Farm on their blog. Might have to try some sultanas actually... for the birds, not for me. As a child I remember always being disappointed to discover that the dark blobs in a cup cake were actually sultanas and not chocolate chips!

I am also about to get some live meal worms, (definitely not for cakes) as despite spending my lunchbreaks poking around in the shrubs and bushes of my garden, I am yet to find any caterpillars out there, which are definitely a favourite of tits to feed to their nestlings.

I'm sure most readers of my blog are aware of the message about feeding birds all year round, but for any that aren't, please consider this time of year; winter is over, and while summer is round the corner, natural food is actually scarce for wildlife, and we really need to continue to feed the birds.