|Cuckoo at Thursley Common
I spent the morning on Friday with a friend, Nick Watts, from Racing Post at his family's farm near Oxford. The 300-acre City Farm, near Eynsham, is taking part in a government-backed Higher Level Stewardship environmental scheme funded by Natural England, which will see much of the acreage adapted and managed for the conservation of wildlife.
Nick wanted to know what bird species they had and whether the habitat, much of it untouched hedgerow and old and new woodland, had the potential to be a site of interest to birdwatchers.
The farm certainly has potential. It has a diversity of habitats with plenty of scrub and hawthorn, a wetland area, meadows with ponds and streams, fields and woodland.
During the walk of the farm in brilliant sunshine – which again reduced the likelihood of any unusual migrants dropping in – we still saw some pretty decent birds. Lesser Whitethroat was probably the best of the bunch, and there were numerous Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. A pair of Red Kite hunted around the area, as well as a number of Common Buzzards and a Kestrel. Lapwing look like they breed here, plus there were plenty of Yellowhammers dotted around the place, as well as a number of Reed Bunting. Corn Bunting have been seen here as well as a pair of Barn Owls, of which we saw evidence in a disused caravan at one end of a field which had plenty of owl pellets inside. A flock of Tree Sparrow were another highlight, using the feeders set up close to the farmhouse. Of the passage migrants, three Wheatear were on one of the fields. We also saw a Badger sett and a young Brown Hare on the walk.
|A Red Kite at City Farm
After a fine brunch cooked by Mrs Watts, it was time to go. I was going to head straight back home but as I had time, I took a little diversion, to Haw Wall...
OK, it's not exactly around the corner but I'd yet to see the long-staying Pied-billed Grebe so this was the one chance to go for it.
It was only going to be a tick-and-run visit and knowing how elusive it can be I had an open mind as to whether this fleeting visit would be successful.
But never mind. I'll catch up with some Cranes next month on a trip out with the Tice's Meadow gang to Suffolk.
The RSPB reserve at Ham Wall is a fantastic place, with masses of wetland. If I had the time I'd have had a good look round. There were plenty of warblers singing, including Cetti's Warbler, and a few Bittern could be heard booming in the reeds.
It was a bit of a walk to the viewing platform where the Grebe was best seen from but when I got there it was clear the Grebe was out of sight. In fact, it hadn't been seen since early that morning. I had spoken to a photographer in the car park when I arrived who mentioned the grebe often migrated to the reeds further east and that the best option if that happened was to walk a bit further along the path, walk over a wooden bridge and head back towards the platform and look in the reeds there.
I could see three birders who'd obviously had that in mind, so I thought I'd join them. They had already given up and were heading back down the path when I met them. They hadn't seen anything, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway.
A scan of the water didn't revel much but walking on for about 50 yards I caught sight of some activity. It was just a Coot, but a smaller bird next to it with a flash of white somewhere on its head had just dived.
About a minute later I relocated the bird in the reeds. It was preening itself and one thing stood out. The bill, which was a distinctive white with a black band. It was the Pied-billed Grebe.
|The Pied-billed Grebe – sleeping
|The Pied-billed Grebe – sleeping some more...
|...and some more
|The Pied-billed Grebe awakes!