Monday, 9 January 2017

Bringing home the Bacon 9th January 2017

A belated bit of birding news filtered through to my phone on Sunday afternoon courtesy of Badger, informing me that two Cattle Egrets had been found in a pig field near Middleton Stoney that very afternoon. Just lately a number of good birds have been reported from the County and an hour or so before this report Badger had sent out an alert about some Waxwings feeding on berries in a tree on the Marston Road in Oxford.

I resolved to go and see the Cattle Egrets first thing on Monday morning as the location was only some twenty five minutes drive from my home and across traffic lite, rural roads. Monday arrived blustery and relatively mild, but grey skies threatened rain. The Cattle Egret location was a large field full of pigs and piglets on Caulcott Farm just outside Middleton Stoney. Fortunately there was a restricted access footpath running from the road and when followed this would bring you right along the side of the pig field.

Donning my wellington boots I slithered my way up the muddy track to find Nick already looking at the Cattle Egrets which, much to my delight, were still present. Cattle Egret is a very scarce species in Oxfordshire so it was good that these were still here and many birders would now have the opportunity to add it to their list of County birds. Nationwide there has been an influx of Cattle Egrets recently so it was nice to see Oxfordshire getting a share of a bird that is common in southern Europe and beyond.

Nick informed me that contrary to the earlier report there were actually three Cattle Egrets in the field although currently I could only see two in separate locations, each dutifully following a pig as it turned the earth over with its snout. Eventually all three egrets were surrounding one pig but soon parted and went their separate ways. The pig's vigorous rootling of the earth certainly rewarded the egrets as they were constantly seizing prey exposed by the pig's earth turning endeavours.

As Nick and I watched we were joined by a succession of Oxonbirding's finest in the form of Barry, Peter and finally Badger, and we all stood and admired the Cattle Egrets, sharing what was agreed by one and all, to be a very special moment

Peter and Badger
Just as entertaining were the antics of the piglets, which like all young things with energy to spare ran around chasing each other and sometimes the egrets, with at one point a Cattle Egret standing stoically as a line of  piglets hurtled by squealing in delight.

Two of the egrets departed for an adjacent wet grassy field but eventually came back and then the farmer arrived to feed the pigs which caused the egrets to disappear over to the far side of the field.When his huge tractor came level with us as we stood on the track he stopped and Badger went over to tell him what these strange camouflaged men were up to looking at his pigs. For once this particular farmer was friendly and chatty and informed us that the Cattle Egrets had been here for over a month!

So it just goes to show that even in these days of intensive birding coverage unusual birds can be easily missed. I for one would never have dreamed of going birding here as apart from the egrets it was a bit of an agri-desert but maybe a little lesson has been learned.

Some video by Badger megabrock161

After about two hours I was feeling cold from the strengthening wind and it began to rain.The Cattle Egrets were still favouring the far side of the pig field and were only giving distant views. It was surely time to go?

Two Cattle Egrets and guest appearance by Donald Trump

Peter rang to tell me the Waxwings were still in the berry tree on Marston Road so bidding farewell to Badger I made my retreat to the car and drove to the outskirts of Oxford. Whilst en route Peter rang again to tell me the Waxwings had been driven off by a territorial Mistle Thrush. Great. Just my luck but I was undeterred  and resolved to go and have a look anyway despite this unwelcome news.

It was wet, dull and drear on Marston Road, an unremarkable urban road of semi detached houses now temporarily made exceptional by the presence of the Waxwings. The berry tree they were feeding from was by the footpath, adjacent to number 283 but when I arrived there was no sign of either Waxwings or any birders. I parked the car by the kerb where I could view the berry tree from the warmth and security of the car although a sign said the parking was for permit holders only. However as it was raining I was in little danger of any official arriving to chivvy me off. Just a few minutes passed and then five starling like bodies dropped from the leaden sky, fluttered into the tree and proceeded to gobble up berries as fast as they could. The Waxwings were back!

I was out of the car in a flash and with camera at the ready managed to virtually walk up to them as they frantically stripped the berries.They never remain long, maybe five minutes in this case and then they are off, stuffed with berries to perch in a larger tree where they feel more secure and until they feel hungry again.

I waited and they returned after about twenty minutes and repeated the same performance but seemed now to be more nervous and left quite suddenly after about a minute or so. I waited and sure enough back they came and so  the same procedure repeated itself over and over. Interestingly the flock size varied on each visit, commencing with five, then seven and finally settled on six

I gave it one more go and then decided I had seen enough, if it is ever possible to say such a thing about Waxwings. Rather a good Monday morning for a change!

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