Warburg Nature Reserve wildlife walk, Oxfordshire

One of our favourite local places to walk is Warburg nature reserve, which is managed by BBOWT (Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust). The reserve is in the Chilterns, and encompasses a mixture of native woodland and chalk grassland.

Late winter sunshine at Warburg
Late winter sunshine at Warburg

We recently took advantage of a lull in the rain, and spent an afternoon exploring the reserve. It was a lovely sunny day so our visit started with a picnic.  Fortunately, Warburg has a dedicated area with picnic benches right next to the car park which was rather convenient.

Winter picnic at Warburg
Winter picnic at Warburg

There are several footpaths through the reserve; we chose to take the waymarked wildlife walk. This is a mile long trail starting from the visitor centre, which takes you on both sides of the valley. It’s popular with families; there are only a couple of easy uphill sections although the track was incredibly muddy!

Moss at Warburg Nature Reserve
Moss at Warburg Nature Reserve

The wildlife walk covers two different habitats. At the start you’re walking through beech woodland, with plenty of ferns, mosses and lichen to explore. My daughter found this moss covered tree which she decided looks like an elephant with a long trunk.

Warburg walk
Warburg walk

The second half of the walk is along open chalk grassland with views over the surrounding reserve. One of the great things about Warburg is that there’s plenty to see whatever the time of year, from orchids in early summer, butterflies in mid-summer through to fungi in autumn. There are almost always red kites circling overhead too.

Wildlife walk at Warburg
Wildlife walk at Warburg

Back at the car park I popped into the bird hide next to the visitor centre. The hide overlooks a small pond and had plenty of feeders to attract the birds. It’s right next to the entrance road but there were still loads of garden birds to spot. A lovely way to finish up the afternoon!

More info:

  • The reserve is 4 miles north-west of Henley-on-Thames. It can be tricky to find so download the map in advance from the BBOWT website. The road leading to the reserve is single track and rough in places so watch out for the potholes.
  • The nature reserve is free to enter, but there are donation boxes in the car park.
  • There are toilets, a picnic area and small (usually unmanned) visitor centre.

Bird watching at Otmoor RSPB reserve, Oxfordshire

*To see details of our November 2016 visit to watch the starling murmuration at Otmoor click here*

RSPB Otmoor is a wetland reserve a couple of miles from Oxford. The area, originally marshland, was drained and used for arable farming until the 1990s. Since 1997 the RSPB have been returning the farmland to reedbeds and wet meadows. This has involved the planting of over 150,000 reed seedlings by hand!

otmoor

Otmoor reserve is in a remote area (for Oxfordshire) and has limited visitor facilities. Despite this, I’d still recommend a visit to families, as it has some amazing bird watching opportunities.

We visited at the weekend, and for once it wasn’t raining. There are several rights of way around the area but as most of the surrounding fields were flooded we quickly decided on the 1.5 mile visitor trail. This takes in the main bird hide and a couple of screened viewing areas.

otmoor1

The aptly named bird restaurant at the start of the walk was very busy with goldfinch, chaffinch, blue tits, reed buntings and a great spotted woodpecker.

Otmoor has always flooded but during this particularly wet winter it was difficult to know which parts were flooded and which were supposed to be under water!

otmoor5

Bird life abounds, and we saw huge numbers of birds. Whilst I can identify many species I’m not an expert by any means. Fortunately there were other birders around and on several occasions specific birds were pointed out to us. The kids were also lucky and got to see some little egrets through another birdwatcher’s telescope.

Particular highlights were a hen harrier hunting over the reed beds, huge flocks of lapwing and golden plover, a peregrine, several kestrels and a barn owl. There was also loads of water fowl on the reed beds which I’m not very good at identifying!

otmoor3

Otmoor is probably most famous for the flocks of starlings that congregate just before dusk throughout the winter months. This was a spectacle I’ve wanted to see at Otmoor for a long time but with the slightly longer evenings we were there way too early. The kids went back to the covered hide for a while to warm up and came back full of excitement about a kingfisher they’d seen up close.

otmoor2

The reserve became much busier nearer dusk, with groups of people arriving at the viewing spot solely to see the starlings. The others around us were better prepared, with flasks of soup and hot chocolate, whilst we were already cold from an afternoon spent on the reserve.

Our toes were like ice blocks by the time the starlings finally arrived. Despite this, it really was an amazing sight. You see the starlings low on the horizon heading towards the reserve like a giant plague of locusts. As they approach they swoop and swirl in formation (known as a murmuration). I didn’t take photos because of the low light but it was great just to stand and watch. A perfect end to an enjoyable afternoon.

More info:

  • Further details can be found on the RSPB website.
  • Be aware there are no toilet facilities at the reserve!
  • Take binoculars and some refreshments.
  • The visitor walk is flat and if the ground is dry it’s fine for wheelchairs and pushchairs. However, it was incredibly muddy and the track was covered with big puddles on our winter visit.