Saturday, 31 May 2014

Pitsford CBC


A Common Bird Census took place on the reserve section of Pitsford Reservoir today in rather dull, sultry conditions.  Nothing remarkable was seen, although a singing Spotted Flycatcher in the Scaldwell Bay may be holding territory.  The singing Cuckoo is still present, being quite mobile around the Scaldwell and Walgrave Bays.  A few Gadwall remain on-site plus a drake Shoveler and of course the breeding Oystercatchers remain.  A single Raven flew through.

Only small numbers of Reed Warblers seem to be present this year and I only logged a single Sedge Warbler territory.  The Blackbirds on-site are quite curious inasmuch that there is very little in the way of territorial singing early in the season but they are particularly vocal later in the season associated with the attempts at second and third broods.  However the Song Thrush shows no such subtlety and their strident and far-carrying songs can be heard throughout the breeding season.


Neil M

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Not much!


Not much to report during a very soggy week, but Eleanor again saw two Turtle Doves at Harrington Airfield today; the best I could manage was a Hobby near Brixworth...


Neil M

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Ringing today


A ringing session today at a private and restricted site in the county was successful, the weather conditions causing many hirundines to fly low over the ringing area.  In total 104 birds were caught which included:-

71 Swallows, 69 of which were new birds and 2 were controls (previously ringed birds from elsewhere)
19 new House Martins
1 new Blue Tit
4 new Pied Wagtails
1 new Reed Bunting
3 new Magpies
2 new Green Woodpeckers
1 new Great Spotted Woodpecker
2 new Starlings


Neil M

Monday, 26 May 2014

Pitsford CES ringing


A Constant Effort Site (CES) ringing session took place at Pitsford Res this morning, as led by Dave Francis.  Using established rides in the Scaldwell Bay for lines of mist-nets, some 48 birds were captured and processed as part of a long term study.  The captures of 12 juvenile Robins was very significant, strongly suggesting that early broods of this species had fared well this year.  A female Willow Tit sporting an active brood patch was also an important catch, suggesting that a pair of this very thinly distributed resident are again breeding in the Scaldwell Bay.  Three Chiffchaffs and five Bullfinches were also processed, Pitsford remains a good place to see Bullfinch despite declines elsewhere in the region and country.

A Cuckoo has remained very vocal in the ringing area in the Scaldwell Bay for a couple of weeks now - there are very few birds in the NN6 postal area these days - and a singing Reed Warbler and a singing Lesser Whitethroat remain in the area of the Old Scaldwell Road Feeding Station.


Neil M

Pitsford Res & ringing update


Typical Bank Holiday weather - heavy rain!

An Osprey was fishing on the reserve north of the causeway at Pitsford Res late morning, much to the annoyance of the summering Great Black-backed Gull there!  Surprisingly, of the two it seemed that the gull has the longer wing-span.

The pair of Oystercatcher hatched four young on one of the tern rafts last week, and the adults were ferrying worms to them today. Common Terns have now started laying eggs on the same rafts.

Details have emerged in recent days of some more ringing returns:-

A Blackbird controlled at Pitsford Res on 1st December 2013 was first ringed in Holland as a youngster on 10th September 2012 at a site called Hollum, Ameland.  The distance between the two sites is 454 km with the bird having moved in a traditional WSW direction (and presumably over the North Sea). Whether this bird wintered in the UK during the 2012/13 winter is not known.
Also an adult male Lesser Redpoll that was ringed in East Hunsbury, Northampton on 25th February 2013 was subsequently controlled at Market Drayton, Shropshire on 15th March 2014. This little chap had no doubt clocked up many hundreds of kilometres in that time, a straight line between the sites is 131 km over a duration of 383 days.


Neil M

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Top Lodge, Fineshade


Barrie Galpin (BTO rep for the county), has kindly forwarded details of a Planning Application for Fineshade Top Lodge which if successful is likely to have an impact on the local wildlife in this section of the Rockingham Forest complex. As many will know, this area is one of the few available to us in the county where reptiles such as Adder and Common Lizard thrive.  There are also several species of orchid, including one rare variety, which grow within a couple of hundred metres of this site.

I think most local naturalists would agree that the current visitor numbers, usage of the current Caravan Club site and the shop complex does not adversely affect the diverse and sensitive wildlife that Top Lodge and the adjacent land is renown for.  However, the development of this site as below-indicated is likely to create a local ecological collapse of a number of sensitive and fragile species which appear not to be replicated anywhere else in Northamptonshire.

Please read on and respond as you feel appropriate...

Urgent - another plan to develop Top Lodge, Fineshade

Since the end of the last year we've been aware that the Forestry Commission have been working on a plan to build a Forest Holidays site in 70 acres of  what's almost certainly ancient woodland here. However, last week a planning application has been submitted for another, completely different, development here. This will not affect the woods directly but will have a big impact on Top Lodge.

The application is for a "Change of use" of the privately owned field immediately in front of the Top Lodge offices and Visitor Centre. See picture attached. It is a proposal for:

"Change of use to lodge camping facility including 30 'glamping' pods, car park, wardens residence, reception, welfare building and associated works."

The entrance and two main buildings will be located close to the Whitebeam tree on the left of the picture.

The reference number for the application is 14/00195/FUL and it can be found online at http// applications
or use the direct address:

You will find the Design and Access Statement, Ecological Survey and maps in the External Documents.

Comments can be made online, or very simply emailed to
Or by letter to: 
Planning comments, 
East Northamptonshire Council, 
Cedar Drive, 
Thrapston NN14 4LZ. 

All comments must include your name and address and the reference 14/00195/FULThe consultation period ends on 2nd June

For more information about responding to this planning application, or to be kept informed of further developments please send an email to

Back to the county!


We arrived back in the county early this morning after the long drive down from Scotland in very wet weather!

However sunny Northants lived up to it's reputation today with some superb sunshine for much of the day.

Eleanor took a walk at Harrington Airfield late this morning and located two 'purring' Turtle Doves in the bushes on the north west side of the complex.  This is a regular site for them but they are often very elusive and don't call particularly loudly.

A hunting Hobby was noted between Old and Pitsford Res and another pair were seen in NN6 clearly checking out a crow's nest.

I checked on the NN6 Raven nest today and found the adults with just one fledged juvenile in evidence.


Neil M

Mallard & ducklings

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Wednesday and Thursday


The weather has turned cooler up here during the last two days, together with some drizzle and light rain.

We have spent the last two days exploring areas close to us and on both the Glenmore and Rothiemurchus estates.  These last two estates contain some of the best pristine Caledonian forest still in existence.  Despite being a popular area for tourists, it isn't long before you lose people and can immerse yourself in some fabulous habitat.  Some of this old forest with ancient Scot's Pines and waist-height heather is difficult terrain to find wildlife, such is the cover and scarcity of our quarry.  The Crested Tits are moving around in pairs, collecting food for their nestlings.  Their calls are more subdued but they have moved up a gear or two in their frantic search for caterpillars and grubs.  Crossbills of one variety or another can be heard all the time as they fly over in small groups, but it hasn't been possible to obtain really good views of perched birds.

Damp depressions in the heather and mud-fringed pools are home to Snipe, Green Sandpiper and Teal.  It's not often you see a Snipe perched on top of a century-old Scot's Pine, and the Woodcock are roding in day-light conditions.  Interesting passerines in this habitat include the old favorites of Meadow and Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Willow Warbler.

A couple of visits to the car parks just below the Cairngorm Mountain ski-lifts and funicular railway provided plenty of Red Grouse, a single male Black Grouse and up to three pairs of Ring Ouzel.

A walk along the entire length of the Badenoch footpath this afternoon was very pleasant but only managed to provide repeats in the shape of Osprey, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Stonechat, Redstart etc.


Eleanor and Neil

Crested Tit

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Valley of the Eagles


Yesterday (Tuesday 20th May), and we drove north on the A9 to the Findhorn Valley.  This deep-clefted valley marks the passage of the River Findhorn and contains a rich mixture of habitats which becomes wilder and more extreme the further you travel up it.  On the top, heather moors dominate and the slopes are a mix of birch woodlands, rough pasture and juniper.  The river valley is green and luxuriant, with a variety of plantations, grass fields and a few lakes and ponds.  Very large numbers of Red Deer dominate the valley.

In general it is the easiest place to see eagles in the Highland area and away from the west coast, but sightings are not assured.

On our way to the Findhorn, we checked out Loch Vaa.  Typical birds included Little Grebe, Goldeneye, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Common Sandpiper but not much else of note.

In the Findhorn we walked several sections which took most of the day, in pleasant sunshine and a warm breeze.  A juvenile White-tailed Eagle took to the wing over the valley a couple of times, a mobbing Common Buzzard looking ridiculously small in a direct size comparison.  A juvenile Golden Eagle showed well at the top of the valley, with a pair of harrying Kestrels keeping it active!  A hunting adult Golden Eagle on the top moors was only seen briefly.

Other raptors included Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and several Peregrines.  It was great to see as many as four or five pairs of Kestrels on territory, probably the only place in recent times where I would comfortably call them common!

Passerines included plenty of Meadow and Tree Pipits, Redstart, Wheatear and Ring Ouzel.  Common and Black-headed Gulls breed here in small numbers and their calls rang out continually, blending with the chipping of Snipe, 'bubbling' Curlew and shrill trilling of Oystercatcher.  A couple of Raven remained high up, Dipper and Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper bobbed and careered along the river and mammals included both Brown and Mountain Hare.

In the late afternoon, we took the single track road to the small settlement of Farr, which crosses grouse-managed moorland.  Red Grouse were obvious but there was very little else.  Mobile grouse chicks seemed very early.

We visited the nearby Scottish breeding stronghold of Slavonian Grebe, namely Loch Ruthven.  Three resplendent but unfortunately distant Slavonian Grebes were actively displaying and weed-carrying, but it was a pair of Little Grebes that stole the show, feeding their four young close up in the shallows.  A Peregrine flew over but otherwise there were no further birds of note.

We finished our day again at Insh Marshes, and Eleanor witnessed a Pine Marten balancing supremely on a narrow birch branch before jumping down and bouncing away.  In the meantime I was watching a Fox trying to catch Rabbits and counted nearly twenty Roe Deer munching on aquatic vegetation.


Neil M

Tor on tour!

Little Grebes

Lapwing chick

Red Grouse

Insh Marshes

Carn Ban Mor

Bazra enjoying the snow!


Much of Monday 19th May was spent clambering up to the summit of Carn Ban Mor and then walking the Cairngorm high tops before descending late in the afternoon.  For the first half of the day it seemed we were the only people up there, but by mid-afternoon we had met a few other trekkers.  We were also lucky with the weather, as we later found out that there had been some heavy pulses of rain at lower altitude.

Despite the warm spring, there is plenty of snow at higher elevations, the first snow that Tor the hound had ever seen!

The high tops were mostly barren for birds but we saw a couple of close Ptarmigan on our way up, several Red Grouse and several attendant Wheatears.  The Dotterel were quite skittish and didn't allow for a close approach.  Of the eight we saw, the majority were vocal females that were trotting rapidly after the duller couple of males.  The rocky outcrop of Sgor Gaoth was home to a pair of Ring Ouzel, and providing a very dramatic overview of Loch Eanaich.  A new mammal for the both of us in the UK was the distant sighting of five Reindeer, these animals now seemingly ranging across the uplands of Cairngorm National Park.

On our way back to 'home', we called in at a nearby Osprey nest and could confirm a pair in residence again this year. Several Goldeneye on the loch there included a female with ducklings, at the same stage in life as we saw ducklings up here in July last year. Further confirmation that spring this year is warm and early and last year was cold and late.  Also there appears little difference in the breeding season timing from Northants and the Highlands, as we have seen plenty of fledged birds including Treecreeper, thrushes, Robin etc.

We spent the early part of the night looking for nocturnal mammals and after plenty of Red and Roe Deer, we added Badger and then finally the sought-after Pine Marten.  A roding Woodcock showed before it became too dark and then it was finally time for a couple of hours of sleep before the next early morning!


Eleanor and Neil

Loch Eanaich from
Sgor Gaoith,
Cairngorm National Park




Apologies for the lack of updates over the last few days.  Our Internet connection now appears to be finally resolved!

On Sunday 18th May it was an early 4.30am start as we motored over to Loch Garten.  As expected no Capercallies were on show (apparently it has been a very poor season for them showing this year), but we were privileged to witness (with the assistance of a high definition camera), the first-hatched Osprey chick take it's very first feed from mother!  The egg hatched overnight but the female brooded the nestling before finally offering it some carefully manipulated slithers of best trout as acquired by the male bird called Odin.

A pair of Redstart were busy in a nest-box right in front of the visitor centre, the female already brooding a clutch of eggs.  A couple of Red Squirrels showed and a scat on the track outside the centre showed that a Pine Marten had been about while we were in there, but no-one saw it!

Next was a walk through the Abernethy Forest and in to Nethybridge.  Crossbills were heard calling and the deep tones suggested they were not of the Common variety.  As with much of the woodland up here at this time of the year, the trees played host to incredible numbers of singing Willow Warblers and good numbers of Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Siskin, and with plenty of Tree Pipits singing in the glades and edges.   Quite different to the English Midlands where such sounds are pretty isolated and the populations fragmented.  Cuckoos too are a common sound here, frequently on the moorland and woodland edge.  Both Grey Wagtail and Dipper were on territory at Nethybridge.

After a well-deserved brunch at the excellent Rothiemurchus Estate cafe, we next birded an area close to Aviemore.  A couple of singing Wood Warblers included an apparently unmated male singing and vibrating his heart out plus more Tree Pipits and Spotted Flycatchers.  A female Peregrine remained well-concealed on her clutch of eggs.

We finished the day at an old favourite venue of ours which is the very extensive Insh Marshes, which is made all the more accessible due to the Bradenoch Way footpath.  The RSPB manage the area and there is an excellent viewpoint which provides a commanding view over a section of the marsh.  Large numbers of Roe Deer are always on view, the aquatic habitat with it's lush vegetation much to their liking.  Breeding waders include Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank and Snipe.  Redstarts and Tree Pipits sing from the birch-covered slopes and resident raptors include Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk.  It is thought that this area represents one of the key sites in the UK for breeding Spotted Crake, but it is another thing seeing one!

We finished the day with an Osprey, common woodland birds and a Large Red Damselfly, and providing some food on the grass by our woodland cabin induced the local wildlife to banquet, including a couple of Badgers.


Eleanor and Neil

Tree Pipit

Highland Toad!

Many of the adult male
Chaffinches in this part
of the world are incredibly
Spotted Flycatcher trying
out a possible new home!

Bird of the Day - a stunning
Wood Warbler

Ruthven Barracks standing
proud before the Insh Marshes

'Peanuts are OK but is
there any more jam sandwiches?'

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Perth and Tay


After a very pleasant guesthouse accommodation in the village of Luncarty north of Perth, we spent the day exploring the fabulous landscapes and habitat west of the A9 and Pitlochry.  Before leaving Luncarty we noticed Tree Sparrows on the adjacent farm-land and coming to the guesthouse bird feeders.  We visited a number of venues including Loch of the Lowes, Tumnel Bridge and a couple of Forestry Commission woodlands, but the best venue was certainly the single-track road along Glen Quaich which almost borders Loch Freuchie.

Unlike further south, the weather in this region was dull during the morning with low cloud, and first drizzle and then light rain settled in for much of the afternoon.

Nevertheless there were birds to be found and we duly notched up Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Goosander, Osprey, Red Kite, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, lots of common waders, Wheatear, Tree Pipit, Redstart, Wood Warbler and Crossbill.

After tearing ourselves away from this very picturesque area we drove north to Newtonmore, purchased some provisions and found our self-catering cabin in the village of Insh, Speyside.  And tomorrow is a whole new day!


Eleanor and Neil

A herd of Fallow Deer
included a cream-white individual.

Swallow - including one
with nesting material

These black-faced variety
of Sheep are common in the
Perth area and all look
particularly clean-looking.

Brown Hare

Friday, 16 May 2014

The drive north...


Early this morning the McMahon clan drove north to Scotland, as part of a short break centred around Speyside.

Our first venue after three hours solid driving was the excellent Westmoorland Tebay Services off the M6 in the Lake District.  Not only was the cooked breakfast excellent but there were some birds there as well, which included 'bubbling' Curlew on the adjacent moorland, nine Crossbills and singing Willow Warblers, Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher.  On next to the outskirts of Edingburgh, where a committed animal lover took in our physically disabled foster dog Theo for a week.  With our friend Diane taking in the other foster dog Joseph and Eleanor's parents looking after Bobsie, it left just Tor and Bazra with us to explore Scotland!

Birds seen and heard by the roadside included plenty of gulls and corvids, Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Oystercatchers and a Wood Warbler.  We motored over the impressive Firth of Forth bridge and on to Loch Leven, a large freshwater loch near Kinross.  Here the RSPB maintain the Vane Farm nature reserve.

Siskins and Blackcaps were in good voice on our arrival, and other warblers included Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.  Some chattering Tree Sparrows was a sound from sunny Northants, and some of the birds visible from the hides was very much Nene Valley-like, with a drake Garganey, a pair or two of Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank,a Pink-footed Goose, Black-headed Gull colony etc.  A Glossy Ibis feeding close to a flock of Greylags sadly does not reflect the current Northants scene however!

A Temminck's Stint had been seen earlier in the day but couldn't be found by us or those there in the latter part of the afternoon, but a Red Squirrel coming to bird feeders in the shadow of the foliage will hopefully be the first of many on this trip!


Neil M

Loch Leven

'C'mon Mum, when
are we going for a run?'

On-territory Lapwing

Red Squirrel

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Pitsford CES


Dave Francis completed another Constant Effort Site (CES) ringing session in the Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res this morning.  This produced a good total of 56 birds of which 23 were re-traps, some of these re-traps being trans-Saharan warblers.

Perhaps the most noteworthy birds were 6 Chiffchaffs, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, a Reed Warbler, 3 juvenile Robins and a Linnet.  As the bay and other areas of the reserve become more established with secondary woodland, the scrub and low-foilage species such as Whitethroat and Willow Warbler become less numerous.  However the on-going woodland management of the plantations provides glades and opportunities for re-growth of ground-hugging plants, thus the birds of scrub still occur in low numbers.


Neil M

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Pitsford Nest-boxes


I spent much of the day at Pitsford Res today as part of a team monitoring nest-boxes on the reserve.  We managed to check the majority of the big boxes and some selected small boxes.  Dave Francis has designed a Treecreeper nest-box with a high take-up rate and several of these boxes are erected in the plantations. Pictures of a first-brood are as below.

We checked on a pair of Marsh Tits using a nest-box in the Scaldwell Bay and they had successfully hatched eight young from eight eggs and were busy feeding them while we were nearby.

Most of the bigger boxes were rather disappointing with Grey Squirrels inhabiting many of them.  None of the first breeding efforts of Stock Doves and Jackdaws in the boxes had succeeded but we did find a Jackdaw nest in a natural site which contained two young.

Four pairs of Tawny Owls have used the nest-boxes at Pitsford this year, with the latest of the nests being visited today.  The adult female owl sat tight to protect her single nestling.  Cached food for the owlet included Brown Rat and Wood Mouse.

Other birds noted on our way around included at least one Oystercatcher, Cuckoo and plenty of Common Terns.


Neil M

Nestling Treecreepers

Tawny Owl nestling

Adult female Tawny Owl

All pictures courtesy of Chris Payne.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Tuesday afternoon...


Eleanor was able to spend some time out and about today, trying to dodge the showers but not always being successful!  At 2pm what must be a summering Osprey again flew in to the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton, heading in the direction of Haselbech. An evening walk at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell located just a singing Grasshopper Warbler of note...


Neil M

Illegal slaughter of migrants in Cyprus


Please take time to read the below introduction from local naturalist John Boland concerning the slaughter of migrant birds in Cyprus:-

'I've started the petition "Ministry of Defence: Stop the illegal bird trapping on MOD land in the UK sovereign Dhekelia base at Cape Pyla Cyprus" and need your help to get it off the ground.

If we send this email to all our contacts, hopefully we can convince the MOD to stop this activity on UK soil.

It will not remove the problem totally but will make a big difference to the migrating populations.  A lot of the birds are just pulled out of the nets to die.  The Blackcap is the most lucrative catch, six Blackcaps sell for €80 Euro in restaurants.

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the link:

Here's why it's important:

This is illegal bird trapping on MOD land netting criminal gangs millions of pounds a year. It is estimated 500.000 birds were trapped last year and sold for £4 per bird. This level of trapping is unsustainable, all the trapped birds are migrants using Cyprus as a rest area on their migration route.

The MOD is allowing illegal activity on sovereign property for the benefit of mainly Russian mafia gangs.

The practice can be halted instantly by cutting down the rows of Acacia trees planted illegally on this site. This is an MOD site totally controlled by the Ministry of Defence who in my opinion should not stand by and ignore this practice.

We have until September to prevent this mass killing taking place again, as the European-bred birds, travel south for the winter.

Please sign up to stop it now 

You can sign my petition by clicking here.

If you Google maps and type in Cape Pyla Cyprus zoom in and you will see the rows of Acacia tress quite clearly.


John Boland

P.S. If the link doesn't work direct from this blog, please cut and paste and enter in to your favoured search engine.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Afternoon update...


A follow-up visit to Cottesbrooke this afternoon (1.40pm) failed to locate the singing Wood Warbler.  Two Hobby high up over the village were seen instead.

Eleanor noted a few birds of note at Harrington Airfield this afternoon the best being a pair of Grey Partridge, a Turtle Dove and a Grasshopper Warbler.


Neil M

Clive Bowley Wildlife Images

Local photographer Clive Bowley has kindly provided wildlife images over the last six months or so, and now he has his own Tab on this blog-site.  Enjoy!

Carrion Crow

Cream-streaked Lady-bird


Wood Warbler


Well Eleanor has just arrived in from a lengthy two hour run with Tor the hound!  She spent some time running around the Cottesbrooke/Haselbech/Blueberry Farm area in search of the wandering White Stork but no luck!  However a trilling (and thrilling!) Wood Warbler was in full song in Cottesbrooke village (at about 11am), in trees on the opposite side of the road to the church, and a Spotted Flycatcher was by the stream bridge on the Brixworth Road in the village.


Neil M

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Another Windswept Walkies!!

Another day spent trekking around the bean fields and the Blueberry Farm complex, whilst competing with the strong wind and trying to dodge the showers, not very successfully.
The bean fields were quiet and I'm sure the beans have grown inches overnight as even the Lapwing were more difficult to locate.
Around Blueberry there was at least one singing Grasshopper Warbler and a Reed Warbler.  A newly fledged party of Long Tailed Tits were vocal , as were 2 Curlew as they flew over.  As I neared the highest point of the big field, battling against the wind I saw a Turtle Dove doing likewise. 
It is actually well worth the climb to this highest point as the views across the countryside are stunning and it is a good game to identify some famous landmarks, eg Cottesbrooke Hall, Express Lifts Tower and Borough Hill. If you are feeling weary then have a rest on the old garden furniture kindly placed there by Mr Mrs Knowles for all to enjoy.  It is a good place to watch for raptors as so much sky to look at, and again today there was Osprey, Red Kites, Kestrel, Hobby and Common Buzzard.

Regards  Eleanor

Long Day Count SP54


Today Mike Pollard ( and I completed a BOS Long Day Count in SP54 which is in the south west of Northamptonshire.  From our 5am start it was a very strong wind all day, sometimes with light showers, but also occasionally with some intermittent brighter periods.

Our first birding venue was in the Thenford area, a couple of lakes here attracting some common water birds and also a migrant Common Sandpiper.  Broken woodland was sufficient to attract Nuthatch and the traditional Lapwing breeding fields contained at least three birds struggling to cope with the fast-growing wheat crop. Field edges and margins and the village sewer works near to Middleton Cheney claimed some additional species which included Grey Wagtail and the locally scarce Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler.  A fast-moving Hobby was the pick of the birds at Farthinghoe Local Nature Reserve.

We explored some minimal aquatic and wet woodland on the outskirts of Marston St Lawrence, and were rewarded with a pair of Mandarin Duck, a pair of Marsh Tits, plus another territorial male Grey Wagtail and a Sparrowhawk.  Two Ravens at Thenford, Farthinghoe and at Marston were presumed to be the same far-ranging birds.

A couple of hours in the afternoon wandering a mixture of habitat at Edgcote and Trafford Bridge and Trafford Marsh was rewarding with an adult Grey Heron on a nest, Raven, one or two Kingfisher, further singles of Sparrowhawk and Hobby and a fabulous cute huddle of just-fledged Long-tailed Tits!  Yet another on-territory Grey Wagtail was located and a single Yellow Wagtail was seen in flight and it took us nearly twelve hours to finally locate a single Pied Wagtail in the 10k square!

An inspired visit to Moreton Pinkney, one of Mike's local patches, yielded breeding Tree Sparrow, a pair of Raven with three fledged young and a super Tawny Owl.  This demonstrated the value of Mike's excellent local knowledge, in addition without which we would not have seen a subsequent and only Garden Warbler.


Neil M

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Long Day Count SP55


Today was spent completing the Banbury Ornithological Society Long Day Count in the 10km square of SP55 south of Daventry. Helen Franklin joined me for a wet exploration of Fawsley Park from 5am, and a less wet trundle around Badby Woods afterwards, in our efforts to see as many species of birds as possible. 

Calling Tawny Owls were one of our first birds and there were several each of both Sedge and Reed Warbler singing during the grey cloud dawn.  Fawsley also provided Nuthatch and a singing Spotted Flycatcher as well as reasonable numbers of common birds.

Dripping Badby Woods with its impressive carpet of Bluebells was as stunning as ever despite the scudding storm clouds overhead.  As we left the wood the weather broke to provide blue skies and sunshine.  Raven and more Nuthatches were the birding highlights.

On then to Catesby and Hellidon which yielded a Hobby and another Raven.  A pair of Marsh Tits collecting food at Byfield Pool were a treat and the first of our Yellow Wagtails flew over calling.  Things really slowed up in the afternoon and we finished with a low total of 63 species located in the 12 hours!

Must re-charge the batteries for another go in SP54 tomorrow... !


Neil M

Windswept Walkies !!

I must admit that the thought of wet and muddy dogs did not fill me with much enthusiasm this morning, but the dogs were keen to go out. Anyway the rain soon stopped and we were quickly dried out by the ever increasing wind.
The bean fields below Hanging Houghton continue to "look good" so I covered quite an extensive circuit. I feel as if I know each bean plant intimately !!!, but all I could find was a rather splendid male Northern Wheatear and a couple of pairs of Lapwing.
As I reached Blueberry Farm I picked up a large bird flying away from me, typical, but thankfully it banked and circled around before heading off towards Cottesbrooke. It was a White Stork. It was flying quite low when I initially saw it, which makes me wonder whether it had been on the ground.
I continued to wander around the Blueberry Farm area and saw a Whinchat and two singing Grasshopper Warblers.  When I reached the highest point at Blueberry I stood for a while and scanned the skies, much to the dogs relief as they were glad of a rest, and it wasn't long before I picked up Osprey, Hobby, Red Kites and numerous Common Buzzard clearly enjoying the bright and breezy conditions.

Regards Eleanor

Friday, 9 May 2014

More wet weather to come...


My apologies for the lack of blogs over the last two days. Numerous commitments for us both have ensured that birding opportunities were minimal.  The wet and cooler temperatures of the last few days is causing problems with the earlier broods of tits in nest boxes, as demonstrated today with a dead brood of Great Tits at Pitsford Res.  Tits still at the egg stage will be faring better, but this wet weather comes at a time when Long-tailed Tits are feeding youngsters in the nest with the very earliest broods even at the fledging stage. Dave Francis and Lynne Barnett were checking boxes there today but on a happier note were able to confirm another brood of Tawny Owls on-site.  So far this year, we have located four pairs of Tawny Owls using the boxes there, at least three of which have owlets.  However, lengthy spells of rain severely reduces the ability of adults to find sufficient food so we hope they manage their way through what is forecast a very wet week-end.

Visits to the Brampton Valley and Harrington Airfield over the last couple of days have failed to locate any birds of note.  Locally I am concerned at the apparent low numbers of Swallows, House Martins and Yellow Wagtails at their usual breeding haunts and just hope that some more individuals have yet to arrive.  Most of the warblers seem to be in reasonable or good numbers.

This week-end I am destined to commit to Banbury Ornithological Society Long Day Counts down in the south of the county and I think by this time tomorrow I might be a touch water-logged!


Neil M

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Wednesday update...


This morning Eleanor completed her customary perusal of the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and extending up towards Blueberry Farm and the fields adjacent.  An Osprey again flew up from the valley heading towards Pitsford Res at about 7.40am.  Two Curlew were flying around and calling and passerines on the ground included a Whinchat on the Blueberry Farm complex and two Wheatears again on the bean fields.

Later this morning a Quail was audible from a wheat field adjacent to the Brampton Valley Way at Draughton Crossing.

In the meantime a small team of us spent the morning putting up large nest boxes at Pitsford Res for the 2015 season and taking down/repairing those that have seen a number of years service.  We didn't notice any birds of note but the Common Tern community is slowly increasing in number with birds loafing on the rafts in the Scaldwell Bay.  A pair of Marsh Tits are utilizing a nest box on-site this year, and we netted a 10 year old female Tawny Owl from a nest-box, being first ringed as a nestling on the reserve way back in 2004.


Neil M

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Post Skokholm


On Sunday evening the Northants Ringing Group contingent left Skokholm and set off back home to sunny Northants.  We had travelled down in three cars and one contingent decided to stay overnight in Wales and complete some birding in the Forest of Dean on the way home.

So on Monday afternoon, three of us found ourselves enjoying a sandwich and cake at the cafe at Symonds Yat (again) in Gloucestershire.  We then waddled to the rock itself and scanned over the River Wye and surrounding countryside to espy Peregrine, Common Buzzard and Red Kite.  Nuthatch and Siskin provided views and we then left to take a short but enjoyable walk around the RSPB reserve at Nagshead which is deeper in the forest.  Here six elusive male Pied Flycatchers proclaimed their territories and a singing Redstart showed briefly.  Plenty of Nuthatches and Treecreepers were a good indication of the health of this veteran forest.  Three Hawfinches were heard calling but remained hidden. A couple of brief stops at Parkend and New Fancy View was sufficient to see common woodland birds and we then travelled east to the rose of the shires and home.

Today (Tuesday) and some time at Pitsford Res yielded a Ruddy Shelduck in the grounds of the yacht club, a Little Ringed Plover on the shingle near Catwalk Bay and a half a dozen Common Terns south of the causeway.

Please be aware that if you are contemplating walking/running/cycling around the area between the dam and the causeway, the access track along the dam is currently closed for maintenance.  This section will remain closed until 21st May and prevents the opportunity of a typical circular route between the dam and causeway.  The reserve to the north of the causeway is unaffected.

Eleanor saw four Wheatears in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this morning but didn't see anything of note at Harrington Airfield this afternoon (apart from lots of dog-walkers).

Provisional numbers of birds captured and processed by the Northants Ringing Group on Skokholm for the six days we were there were as follows:-

403 Manx Shearwaters
1 Herring Gull
25 Chiffchaffs
63 Willow Warblers
22 Sedge Warblers
7 Blackcaps
10 Whitethroats
2 Grasshopper Warblers
4 Wheatears
1 Whinchat
6 Wrens
1 Dunnock
1 Black Redstart
3 Meadow Pipits
1 Rock Pipit
2 Reed Buntings
1 Blackbird
1 Goldfinch


Neil M

Whinchat - Skokholm
Courtesy of Chris Payne

Northants Bird Club meeting


This is a reminder to Bird Club members and an invite to non-members that on Wednesday evening (tomorrow) we meet for an indoor meeting at The Fishing Lodge, Pitsford Reservoir (on the Brixworth Road just outside Holcot).  John Showers will be providing us with a presentation on Hoverflies and I will be providing an illustrated bird quiz to conclude the evening. 

Hopefully we will have an opportunity to chat and nibble some biscuits and sip some hot drinks afterwards!  Ideally please meet at 7.30pm for a 7.45pm start, parking in the car park at The Fishing Lodge.  There are a couple of parking places by the entrance if it becomes full, with a further overflow option being parking on the causeway and taking a short stroll back to the Fishing Lodge.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Neil M

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sunday continued

For me, it has been a lean time for birds and until today I had failed to connect with anything of note.
This morning at 07.30hrs an Osprey flew over my head as I neared Blueberry and appeared to be heading towards Pitsford Reservoir, probably in search of breakfast.  
I've continued to check as many bean fields as I can. There appears to be 2 pairs of Lapwing taking an interest in one of the fields.  It was whilst checking more of these fields early afternoon that I saw a female Black Redstart and 2 male Northern Wheatears gradually work their way up the field and simply melt away !   As I was scanning the skies I watched 2 Hobby flying around together and give a short display.  Plenty of other raptors enjoying the sunshine and breeze, namely Red Kites and Common Buzzard.
A slow walk at Harrington produced a single Whinchat, but nil else.
A walk at dusk around Blueberry was quiet apart from a Barn Owl

Regards Eleanor

Sunny Sunday on Skokholm


The sunshine has finally broken through here on Skokholm and the visibility is excellent with clear views possible of the mainland and the islands of Skomer, Grassholm and Ramsay.

The migrants were a little slow this morning but new arrivals included small numbers of common warblers, and another Wheatear was trapped and ringed.

Aerial skirmishes between big gulls, corvids, Common Buzzard and Peregrine continue all the time, with Oystercatchers piping and shrilling at all of them!

Puffins are flying in small swarms as they master the strong head-wind and avoid the hunting male Peregrine, and the cliff edges and vegetated areas are the constant haunt of singing Rock and Meadow Pipits.

The Pembrokeshire islands at their best!


Neil M

Hand-caught Manx
Shearwater  by Lynne Barnett!

Northants Ringing Group
contingent on Skokholm

Heligoland Bird-trap

NRG catering logistics meeting!