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Springtime Hobbies

by Andy Harris

The lockdown 'end of times', a cold and dry April and a wet and wild May have made Spring 2021 barely recognisable, however it is ... undoubtedly .... Spring!

Still working away at my home wildlife photography projects, I decided it was also time to venture further afield to places where I've enjoyed the sights and sounds of Spring, in more 'normal' times. Off I set then to Otmoor in Oxfordshire, on one of the rare dry(ish) days May has presented this year.

Otmoor is a huge expanse of old school 're-wilding'; a restoration / creation of reed beds, mixed wetland and moorland environment where wildlife can prosper. The RSPB site hosts both resident wildlife and transitory visitors on their way to and from Summer breeding grounds, such a Turtle Doves. These once abundant birds are now almost extinct in this country because complete idiots in Malta (and other European countries) blast them out of the sky in the name of 'cultural tradition' .... Muppets ! I didn't see them on my visit, so let's hope the dopey hunters have a long lunch, miss their targets as they fly North and allow a few to make it here.

Cuckoos were present as fleeting glimpses and distant calls, but not near enough for photography purposes (some shots of our own 'home' Cuckoo will come later in compensation).

The star species of the day was the Hobby, a medium sized Falcon that visits our shores from late April though to September, their presence officially classed as 'scarce', with less than 2000 pairs each year making the trip nowadays.

How great then, to look up to the sky and see (by my count), double figures of these graceful birds hawking the skies for early emerging dragonflies, on which they prey. The cold and late Spring has meant that their preferred food source is temporarily as scarce as they are, however they can feed on other flying insects and that day, the sky was full of St Marks flies, as seen in the shot at the top of the blog.

I have to confess that I'm quite proud of that header shot and whilst 'extracting the Michael' on my own work is my default setting, I'm giving myself a small ripple of very British restrained applause for that one ha ha!

Whilst it's tricky to capture these speedy birds in flight, I benefitted from the sheer number of chances they gave me as the sped through the chilly Spring air.

I love their striking markings and especially their stylish 'posh-chap-red-trousers' worn by the mature breeding birds, as opposed to the more muted Chinos sported by the juveniles we see in the late Summer.

Otmoor has watery ditches, reed covered margins and lots of dense hedgerow, the perfect home for Summer warblers. I managed three different types of LBJ's (birders term for small brown birds - Little Brown Jobs), whilst having reasonably different markings to help you identify who is who, their calls make the job that bit easier.

Reed Warbler ( their nests are a favourite target for female Cuckoos)

Sedge Warbler

Cetti's Warbler (the ace Hedgerow 'shouting skulker')

The larger Raptors were on show too, with Red Kites virtually ignored by local birders as 'common or 'nuisance' birds, but admired by this slightly more Northerly visitor and Marsh Harriers, universally enjoyed by everyone albeit as a more distant view.

Red Kite

Marsh Harrier

All in all a great visit and a 'must-go-again-soon' feeling as I drove home.

My second visit 'away from home', was a shorter journey and a quick pop 'round the corner to Morton Bagot in Warwickshire. I am a regular reader of a 'patch blog' written by Richard Harbird and had always wanted to meet him and on this occasion, he appeared to be waiting for me to arrive as I pulled up in my car!

A super experienced birder and ex Twitcher, Richard is a fount of knowledge and I really enjoyed wandering around with him for part of his walk.

It was a quiet day on the bird front, but I did enjoy watching the local Hares chasing each other around the fields with love it seems, still very much in the air.


So back to Harris Acres to close this Springtime Blog.

Readers of previous years Blog posts will know that we are incredibly fortunate to have Cuckoos visiting Harris Acres every year since we've been here (well over a decade now). I'm not really a big list maker, but I do try and keep a note of when our regular wildlife visitors show up here at home.

I was worried that we might not receive a Cuckoo visit this year as the days passed by beyond the historical average date of the first sighting. I've noted that in previous years we tend to hear and see Cuckoo's for the first time in mid April, often around the 15th / 16th.

It was 5th May this year before we heard the unmistakable call of the Cuckoo but once heard and seen, this years determined visitor has woken us at c 04:30 and called until we can take no more and stagger into the shower and an early breakfast ha ha! This bird seems to prefer joining the dawn chorus, returning only around dusk for an encore.

I had great plans for enticing the Cuckoo to perch somewhere in the meadow so I could take to photos, had mealworms, and other cunning plans all ready however .... as ever ... the wildlife is usually way ahead of me and has other ideas.

I did manage a few in-flight shots from our balcony as he whizzed between the Ash trees around the house in sun, wind and rain.




I haven't heard the females burbling call as yet, although they can be a week or two (or three it seems), later than the males in arriving. If our plucky male is lucky and they arrive within earshot of his call, I could be treated to the sight and sound of 4 or 5 Cuckoo's chasing each other around Harris Acres - what a treat that would be!

So finally, let's close with another shot of the Foxes that are now visiting every single night from around 21:00hrs, offering the prospect of some late daylight shots as the days elongate approaching mid-Summer.

Careful not to let these truly rural Foxes see me leave the supplementary food for them (we don't want them to make the association 'humans = food'), they nonetheless have learnt that Harris Acres is a good place for an early doors feed on their nighttime journey around the Warwickshire countryside.

These last two pictures on this Blog post are probably my favourite Fox pics so far - such handsome creatures!

Happy Springtime wildlife watching everyone - it can't be too long before the Sun shows up .... surely!


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