As well as being a wonderful tourist attraction, Blenheim Estate is a favourite wintering spot for some of the country’s rare birds.

In addition to a huge range of the more familiar species, the 2,000-acre Estate is an important breeding and feeding ground for a variety of more unusual birds.

While spring is often thought to be the best time for birdwatching, heading out early in the new year provides clearer views as the trees are still without their leaves, and means visitors can spot rarer birds that are overwintering on the estate.

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Blenheim Estate’s Conservation Manager, Chris Keeler, is a keen birder and says the estate provides ideal habitats to attract a range of birds.

“My role means I am regularly outside and travelling around the estate so there’s often a chance to stop and get the binoculars out,” he said.

“Queen Pool Island now has a healthy number of Grey Heron and Little Egret nesting each year and you can also spot Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebes, Water Rail and Gadwall.

“One of my own personal highlights was watching an osprey fish on the lake one winter and I have also seen a bittern on Queen Pool Island,” he added.

The mix of wetland, parkland and ancient woodland means the estate attracts lots of different types of birds, many of which are becoming increasingly rare due to habitat loss and predation.

Over the weekend of January 27-29 the RSPB is holding its annual Big Garden Birdwatch when people are invited to spend an hour counting the wild birds in their garden or local park to help give a snapshot of how different species are faring.

“The Big Garden Birdwatch is a great initiative and the perfect way for people of all ages to get involved with British wildlife,” said Mr Keeler.

“It also provides extremely valuable data on which species are doing well and which are struggling.

“I will definitely plan to get out for an hour and, although Blenheim Estate’s outdoor space is perhaps a bit bigger than the average back garden, it all helps to paint a more accurate picture of what’s going on,” he added.

Among the birds Chris has spotted on the Blenheim Estate are Gold Crests, Common Crossbill, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Hawfinch, Woodcock, Snipe, Marsh Tit, Spotted Flycatcher, Wood warbler, Goshawk, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Long Eared owl, Peregrine Falcon.

However, his favourite bird is the barn owl whose numbers had been in steep decline up until the 1980s with only 4,500 breeding pairs recorded across the country.

Today there are more than three times that number and signs are good the recovery will continue.


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This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.

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