Sunday 9 July 2023

A Rare Bird and Butterfly Day 9th July 2023

I arrived at Farmoor around ten this morning with the express intention of whiling away a morning in the hide waiting for a Kingfisher to turn up. No sooner had I opened the hide's viewing flap than my phone gave a discrete ping.

Such pings can signify virtually anything so often get left for later but for once I chose not to ignore it but check straight away. It was just as well as it was a message from local birder 'The Wickster' (Tom Wickens) informing everyone on the Oxon Birding Forum WhatsApp Group that while counting some roosting Little Egrets near Abingdon this morning he had found a Black crowned Night Heron amongst them.

The heron was hunkered low down in a willow tree on some floods adjacent to Peep o' Day Lane near Sutton Courtenay, a location vaguely familiar to me from a previous visit earlier this year to see some Garganeys. 

This find was going to prove hugely popular for a number of reasons chief of which was .... 

I have never seen one in the county.

A Black crowned Night Heron was photographed last month flying across a reed bed on the RSPB's Otmoor reserve near Oxford. A gathering of local birders the next evening hoping for a repeat flypast was to be disappointed and the bird was never seen again.

The last Black crowned Night Heron to be seen in Oxfordshire was, I think, in 1978 at Cassington, so many Oxonbirders needed to see this one to add to their county list.

On reading Tom's message I instantly abandoned the hide at Farmoor and made my way back to the car and set off for Sutton Courtenay, calling Tom on the way to get specific instructions as to where was the best place to park to access the lane.

Normally I walk in from the northern 'Abingdon' end but Tom advised it would be far quicker to park at the opposite southern end of the lane and walk in from there.The only problem might be parking which was very restricted..

The weather was rapidly changing from grey cloud to sun and blue skies and it was pleasantly warm as I made the thirty minute journey from Farmoor to Sutton Courtenay. Tom said he would meet me at the end of the lane to guide me to the bird  as I had never approached Peep o' Day Lane this way before.

For once it went according to plan and I even found a parking place  right opposite the entrance to the lane. Tom met me and we wandered fifty metres up the lane to view a somewhat  distant willow off to our right across the flood. This was very much a local twitch and assorted of Oxonbirding's finest were gathered here while others had already been and gone..

l-r Ben, Badger, Gnome and The Wickster at Peep  o' Day Lane

The Black crowned Night Heron, an adult, was perched low down at the side of a small willow.

Atypically it was easily visible, so much so I could clearly see its ruby red eye and at least one long and thin, white head plume.

Peep o' Day Lane doubles as a bridleway, footpath and cycle track and it being a sunny Sunday there were plenty of bike riders passing and for the most part we co-existed without any undue conflict.

The heron did very little apart from indulging in a wing stretch and making some minor adjustments to its position but basically remained where it was. This being the first Black crowned Night  Heron I have seen in Oxfordshire, it was a very welcome addition to my county list as no doubt it was to others, as this more obliging bird was a second chance after the frustrations of the non showing Otmoor bird. Many thanks must go to Tom for finding it and telling the rest of us about it.

Courtesy of Badger.

A half hour spent watching the heron and gossiping with my fellow local birders passed pleasantly enough before I decided to take advantage of the good weather and head for Bernwood Forest to try and see some Purple Emperor butterflies.

A  sunny Sunday is probably not the best time for trying to view rare butterflies in a small car park where it can get very busy with dog walkers and general public but there was little other choice.

These days I tend not to wander far from the car park which, although the main one for the forest, is not very large.My latest ploy is to stand by my car and wait for an 'emperor' to fly down to ground level from the surrounding tall oaks, which one obligingly did today but it can entail a long wait. It is always a heart stopping moment when one does descend and cruises about just above the ground searching for the minerals it wants to imbibe. It will usually be flying at speed and is exceedingly difficult to follow as it weaves in and out of the parked cars but nine times out of ten it eventually settles and assuming you have not lost sight of where it lands, you can approach with confidence.

Today it was around an hour before one descended to examine, of all things, the brake lights of a parked car.What it found there I cannot think but it seemed happy enough. feeling its way around with its yellow proboscis.

Emperors are a law unto themselves and at times can be totally unpredictable  as to where they will go and what they will do..It is what undoubtedly makes them so appealing, challenging and at times downright frustrating.

The emperor on the car brake light eventually flew off but returned twenty minutes later and seemingly with a penchant for cars  meandered around, for a couple of minutes, on another car's white paintwork before flying back up into the surrounding oaks. 

This male had some wear to its right upperwing which made it readily identifiable on the two separate occasions when it visited the cars.Note in the top image the angle of light precludes any sign of purple.

I saw two others which flew high and fast across the car park on separate occasions but were not interested in coming down.

Eventually the continual disturbance became too frustrating and I decided to call it a day. However three Purple Emperors in  the space of two hours was more than adequate compensation.


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