Local Reserves - Oxford

Guilty as charged.  

I really do spend too much of my Oxford time thinking, planning and plotting ways to spend time elsewhere.  But just occasionally I have a Oxford weekend when I spend time enjoying the bits of Oxford I really like.

I'm not talking about the dreaming spires and gated colleges, although these are what draw most visitors to Oxford.  

I'm talking about the local nature reserves.

Over the weekend I spent time at 'my' two local reserves. One day at the RSPB Otmoor Reserve, and one at the BBOWT C S Lewis Reserve.

RSPB Otmoor has been developed since we've been in Oxford - it's been a major restoration project, returning drained farmland to the reed beds of the past.  The reed beds are now a fantastic wildlife draw - and we visited late in the day to see what I really think is Oxford's best wildlife attraction.

Late in the day at this time of year there are huge gatherings of starling - murmurations - that can completely fill the sky.  As we walked from the car park we saw what looked like mini-murmurations of both golden plover and lapwing, and as we got closer to the reed beds a pair of marsh harrier were swooping low over the reeds too.  

The main attraction, though, are the starlings.  

As the light starts to fade small groups of starlings start to swing low over the reeds looking for somewhere to roost, and as if by magic the groups coalesce, slowly building into huge dark clouds of birds.  Sometimes the birds spread out until they almost seem to disappear, at other times they come together until it seems impossible that something so dark and huge can fly so silently.  If you get really lucky the flock (which might be up to 75,000 individuals) will pick a spot close to the edge of the reed bed, gradually the birds spin down to the roosting spot, the silence becomes the white noise of 150,000 wings beating and then the raucous chatter of the birds jostling for position alongside each other.

Otmoor Murmuration, February 2016
Otmoor Murmuration, February 2016

My other entertainment - on the first Sunday of most months - is at the BBOWT C S Lewis nature reserve just outside the Oxford ring-road in Headington.

This reserve, once part of the author C S Lewis' back garden, is a little sanctuary between houses on one side and farmland on the other - it's nice to think that Lewis might have taken inspiration for the Narnia stories from spending time sitting around the filled-in clay pits on the reserve.  The reserve is somewhere I've regularly visited over the years, and a couple of years ago I spotted the signs (goodness knows how many times I must have wandered past them without looking) mentioning the regular volunteer work parties that help maintain the reserve.

It always feels good to spend a few hours chopping, picking or digging on the reserve - and there is real satisfaction from walking up steps that you've helped build or reinstate.

The reserve is another local sanctuary for wildlife - there are muntjac deer around (at least some of the work is about making it difficult for them to eat new growth), there are regularly kingfisher and heron around the pond margin, along with mallard, moorhen and coots and, if your timing is right, bats swooping across the ponds too.  On this visit I was able to spend ages watching a great spotted woodpecker around the tree tops. February is a splendid time to spot woodpecker - they are really active and they don't have so much foliage to hide behind.

C S Lewis Reserve, February 2016

Neither reserve is easy to find, or particularly well sign-posted, but both are worth the effort!  

There are directions to Otmoor on the RSPB website, and to the C S Lewis Reserve on the BBOWT website.  Maybe see you there!

Shetland 365

As some of you might know I've been doing this photo-a-day malarky for rather a long time - I've taken at least one picture each day since late 2004, sometimes on a phone but usually on one of the numerous cameras digital cameras I've contrived to own.

When I look back through the collection of photographs of the day I get reminder of what I've been doing, the projects I've been working on, the mood I've been in - and very often where I've been.

As I was picking through the latest batch of pictures from Shetland, I realised that I've reached the 365 day landmark for pictures taken around the Shetland Islands.

My first picture of the day from Shetland was taken in January 2007 outside the Sumburgh Hotel looking towards the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse.

Sum burgh Head Lighthouse, January 2007
And Number 365 was taken earlier this week (January 2016) on Scat Ness, less than a mile (as the puffin flies) from Number 1.

Waves at Scat Ness, January 2016

In the intervening 9 years I've taken pictures on almost all the Shetland Islands, from Fair Isle in the south to Unst in the North, and from Foula to Whalsay.

South Harbour, Fair Isle, June 2010
Da Noup, Foula, September 2014 
I've taken pictures of the Sumburgh Head Light and Muckle Flugga Lighthouse.

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, August 2015

Muckle Flugga Light, Unst, June 2007

I've seen lots of boats - of various vintages and in various states of repair.

Europa off Sumburgh Head, July 2011
Solas, Olna Firth, October 2011
Subsea Viking, Lerwick, February 2011

Quendale Shipwreck, January 2007

I've got pictures of beaches covered in snow, and bathed in sunlight.

Quendale Beach, November 2010

St Ninian's Beach, August 2015

I've taken pictures at sunrise (occasionally) and sunset (regularly).

Sumburgh Head sunrise, February 2014

Hestingott sunset, January 2015

I've photographed wild days and calm days.

Scat Ness, April 2014

Scat Ness, January 2012

I've seen the Northern Lights and several Up Helly Aas.

Mirrie Dancers, January 2012
Up Helly Aa, January 2014

I've seen Shetland ponies, Shetland sheep, Shetland seals - and a beached pilot whale.

Whalsay, March 2012
Scat Ness, February 2015
Seal (outside Tesco, Lerwick), October 2013

Quendale Beach, June 2013

I've seen lots of birds - and taken an awful lot of puffin pictures.

Oystercatcher, June 2013
Gannets, May 2010
Arctic Skua, June 2013
Puffin, April 2015
Puffin, June 2013

Since 2010 my pictures of the day have appeared on Blipfoto - and if you want to explore more (without the one-a-day limit) there are lots more pictures on Flickr.

Shetland January 2016

The first trip to Shetland of 2016 turned out to be between the weathers, or at least between the storms.

For a few days the wind didn't blow (two much) and low cloud sat sullenly over the south end of Shetland - this mean that both the boats and the planes were, for a few days at least, able to go back and forward on time.

The weather this didn't offer too much in the way of photographic excitement but it did ensure that I had plenty of chance to walk the south end beaches to see what changes the early winter storms had brought.

The southern headlands of Scat Ness and Sumburgh Head both point due South, and between them attempt to catch the waves from half the compass. Scat Ness and Quendale Bay catch the waves from the southwest of Shetland, West Voe piles up when the wind is from the south and the cliffs around Sumburgh see winds and waves from the southwest, south and southeast.

In January the sea cliffs at Sumburgh are quiet - a few fulmar are always around with one or two early guillemots driven in the from sea.  Around the bays and beaches are turnstones and oystercatchers with a few curlew floating overhead.

Waves rolling in from the South into West Voe of Sumburgh
Flotsam on Scat Ness
Waves from the southwest on Scat Ness
Waves from the southwest on Scat Ness
Loch of Gard's on Scat Ness with Quendale Bay and Fitful Head in the background
High Tide and Low Clouds on Quendale Beach
Low Cloud at Sumburgh Head - and somewhere in the cloud, the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse
Lady's Holm and Quendale Bay from the office window at Hestingott - on a clear day Fair Isle is visible on the horizon

Pictures from 2015

Another 365 pictures of the day - and another 12 pictures of the month.

January - Rothiemurchus Forest, Cairngorms National Park
February - Scat Ness, Shetland
March - Loch an Eilein, Cairngorms National Park
April - Kelpies, Falkirk
May - Sumburgh Head, Shetland
June - Flow Country, Sutherland
July - Lairig Ghru, Cairngorms National Park
August - Scat Ness, Shetland
September - Loch an Eilein, Cairngorms National Park
October - Lochan Deo, Cairngorms National Park
November - Melbourne from the Eureka Tower
December - Lairig Ghru, Cairngorms National Park