Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Dove from Above

Yesterday was a day of twitching with Andy, Malc and Nobby. Guess where we went first?

The Oriental Turtle Dove in Chipping Norton of course! After parking up in the town centre, a short walk to The Leys, and down the hill to the fabled number 41 where the bird had arrived once again in the back garden.

No queue outside the house this morning! Sometimes it pays to bide your time a bit. But notice the pile of boots, shoes and tripods outside the front door. On entering the house there was a kitchen full of birders looking out through the patio windows, where the bird was sat in a bush.

Frustratingly the sudden change of temperature, from the cold of outside to the warm inside, caused my binoculars to steam up. So even though you knew it was the Oriental Turtle Dove, and albeit a chest-on view, it could've been a Collared Dove for all you could tell. You'd want a better view than that, but you're also wary that other people are coming into the house and also want a view. So it was decided to make way and try again a little later.

All was not entirely lost however, as one clever chap managed to set up his scope along the drive at the side of the house, and had managed to get a view of the Dove. That was a much improved view, as you could now see the bird's marking along the back and side of the neck.

After a short break and returning to the house, much better views of the Dove were had, as the bird fed on the lawn and perched on a pole for a while. That's better! And with that, we left Chipping Norton and what must be the oddest twitch I've ever done. To go into a complete stranger's house to see a bird is a strange experience. But the homeowner, Steve Akers, was very friendly. Many thanks to him and his family from me, and I'm sure a lot of birders owe them a lot of gratitude.

Looking through the pager, there was also a drake American Wigeon in Oxfordshire, but we also had an eye on a White-tailed Eagle at Old Basing, just outside Basingstoke in Hampshire. Now once you're on the A34 in Oxfordshire and past Newbury, Basingstoke isn't all that far away.

So a quick try for the Wigeon first, at Rushy Common just south-east of Witney (which happens to be the constituency of someone called David "call me Dave" Cameron!). I'm not sure we had the right spot in the end, as although we found a flock of Wigeon, no sign of the American Wigeon. There was a redhead Smew though.

But never mind, lets try for the Eagle. Eventually arriving at Blacklands Farm, just outside Old Basing.

There were a group of birders already present, including a famous face who was featured in a BBC4 documentary a few months ago. George Michael I think his name was, or something like that?

Anyway. Over the course of the wait around the farm there was plenty of birdlife to be seen. At least a couple of Red Kites flying around and plenty of Buzzards, 3 Little Egrets in a field and a large Chaffinch flock which contained a female Brambling and a couple of Yellowhammers, and duly attracting the attention of a male Sparrowhawk. All the kind of stuff I would be pleased to find around home, but that's not the reason we're here.

After about an hour and a half, and one heafty shower, the sun came out and the immature White-tailed Eagle started to soar over the woodland. And what a magnificent sight it was too! I've seen them before, in Poland last year of course, and when I went to Mull in 2004. But the sheer size of them never ceases to amaze, as it was mobbed by Buzzards and Rooks, it just dwarfed the lot of them!

So a successful day, with a new lifer in the form of the Oriental Turtle Dove, and the first White-tailed Eagle I've seen in England. After all that, been a bit bushed today, so feet up and watched England v India in the Cricket World Cup, and Birmingham City beating Arsenal in the League Cup final.

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