Sunday, 2 December 2012

A perfect storm

The best birds are found in Cuddesdon after flooding has produced some decent habitat and then a cold snap brings in some birds. Today saw exactly that sequence of events. Temperatures on Saturday night fell to -3 degrees, following a week of flooding:

The roads were sheets of ice:

A male Blackcap was the first bird of note, around gardens to the north of the village. The fields to the north-east were frozen but empty, the real action was in the flooded Thame valley. The cold had brought in another influx of Lapwing and Golden Plover, with an estimated 500 Lapwing and 150 Golden Plover:

100s of Fieldfares and 10s of Redwing were mixed in with the swirling masses of Lapwing and Golden Plover; Siskins and Lesser Redpolls called as they passed over, Woodpigeons milled about in their 100s. I catch a glimpse of a distant flying flock of what I first thought were waders, but turn out to be small ducks, surely Teal? They disappear towards Chippinghurst. I head closer to the floods...

And then, in local birding terms, things went absolutely mental. A Barn Owl jumped out of hedge, not 2 metres in front of me, far too close for my camera to focus on:
This is a huge local rarity, with only 3 previous records, all in mid-winter in cold spells and one of those was dead (see here)! It jinked off over the hedge and disappeared. Next a flock of duck appeared from the north - and they weren't Mallard! 24 Wigeon:
I take a single step into the flooded fields and flush a Snipe. Nice. Then 16 more! The local day record of 20 Snipe, aka "the record that will never be beaten" was almost within reach.
Then 4 more Wigeon pass over. This is getting crazy, there are more birds to be seen than I could cope with. This is completely abnormal for Cuddesdon. I walk the ditches around the floods in a state of shock, think Peter Alfrey on the Azores in October 2005, but imagine he had been going for years without actually finding anything first. My search was for the Mecca of ditch birding, Jack Snipe or Woodcock. Assuming you can have two Meccas, which I am fairly sure you can't. Instead I had four cardiac moments, but each was merely a Pheasant, exploding from the ditches and cannoning away. And no more Snipe, so the record remains intact. As I drag myself away from the floods, raptors replaced the waders and duck:

Red Kites, such... powerful birds (!):

Buzzard, stalking rock:

Phew, what a morning. 88 species for the year and the fourth consecutive outing to produce a new species for the year. Winter really is the best season.

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