Sightings and Photos

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Jan 18th Hen Harrier Gramp's Hill...2 Whooper Swans Stadhampton...Caspian Gull Port Meadow...12th Whooper Swan 2 nr Dorchester...10th Black Redstart Harwell...9th Slavonian Grebe Farmoor Res...1st Siberian Chiffchaff Abingdon Sewage Works...

Sunday, 31 March 2013

March Round-up

Avocet at Dusk Andy Last

Weather wise March came in like a lion...and ummm...went out like a lion. The unseasonably cold weather nationally certainly made a difference to numbers of migrant birds arriving in the country and they were consequently very thin on the ground in the county.

Up to 3 Bittern were reported sporadically at Otmoor over the month with at least 2 birds still present at the tail end of March, The wintering Radley bird was still present until at least the 3rd. Mediterranean Gulls recorded included an adult on Port Meadow on the 2nd and the 13th, with two adults residing at Farmoor over much of the month with a first winter bird joining towards the end of the month. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in early March at Cothill remained elusive throughout. Waxwings were still very much in evidence at least in the first half of the month with flocks numbering 60 birds on Stanley Road in east Oxford on the 4th with a second group of 60 in Cumnor on the 10th.

The 7 White-fronted Geese stayed at Otmoor all month with another 12 birds at Shifford on the 5th. 5 Barnacle Geese most likely from one of several local feral flocks graced Otmoor briefly on the 5th. The second Avocet of the year arrived on the 6th at Port Meadow and was joined by 4 others on the 9th. Another bird arriving a day later on the 10th took the total to an impressive 6 individuals. Otmoor hosted a probable Avocet on the 10th,and not to be out done Farmoor scored its own on the 17th which took this years county total of these exquisite pied waders to an impressive 9. The first Ringed Plovers (5) were at Port Meadow on the 9th with 3 at Farmoor on the same date. A noted influx of Kittiwakes through the midlands in early spring included sightings in Oxfordshire with 2 on Port Meadow on the 9th and possibly the same 2 at Farmoor in the afternoon with a further adult at Pit 60 Standlake,a further two birds arrived amongst the roost on the 28th. A 1st winter Glaucous Gull was briefly amongst the Farmoor gull roost on the 9th and the cracking adult Glauc put in a final appearance on the 11th at Port Meadow having been seen over the border in Bucks several times in previous days.

The 1st recorded summer migrant of the year was a Sand Martin at Rushy Common on the 9th (Keith Clack) with at least 8 at Farmoor seen on the same day. The first Wheatear was seen on Lollingdon Hill near Cholsey on the 14th. The first Little Ringed Plovers arrived at South Moreton on the receding floods on the 11th but were rather thin on the ground elsewhere in the county. One of the highlights of the month was the Great White Egret which flew over Pit 60 and was then picked up some 18 minutes later flying north over Farmoor reservoir. This or another individual spent the 12th in the south of the county at Henley Road GP's but was not seen again in the county by the end of the month. Little Gull numbers increased steadily at Farmoor with up to six present on the 25th. The Black Redstart discovered along the causeway near the new hide at Farmoor on the 19th was a superb find which always draws a few admirers. Not quite annual in Oxon, it remained until at least the 31st although frustratingly sometimes ranging quite widely.A second bird was near Preston Crowmarsh on the 29th. Two Common Scoter were an unexpected find at Grimsbury Reservoir on the 24th. A second winter Iceland Gull was a nice find amongst the roost at Farmoor surpased only by the discovery of a splendid adult Iceland on the 29th. A Slavonian Grebe turned up at the res on the last day of the month though unfortunately still in winter plumage...
Drake Ferruginous Duck (c) The Gun-slinger

Undoubtedly the highlight for March (and possibly the year) was discovered lurking amongst the wildfowl and reed beds at Otmoor during the monthly Wetland Bird Survey on the 25th. A fine drake Ferruginous Duck was found by assistant RSPB warden Joe Harris; the first confirmed record of this enigmatic European duck in the county since the 1989 bird on Queensford Pit near Dorchester, therefore making it a real local Mega. The 'Fudge' duck remained until at least the 31st favouring the northern phase of the reed beds viewable from the second screen and was occasionally seen displaying to the female Pochard. 

And last but not least...Congrats to Gareth for cracking 200 in the county.

Back in Time – Skinny dipping on Scilly
by Paul Chandler

Isles of Scilly October 1994, most of us had been going to Scilly every October since the early 80’s and it had become the annual birding holiday to see UK rarities and an excellent social occasion and this year was no exception. However this one had a different twist to it. As usual one night we were down the Mermaid pub partaking in a few beers when a dare was put to us by a Mrs Deborah Lewington which was “who fancies a skinny dip”. As the night was well under way and quite a few drinks had been consumed we agreed, just for a laugh and not expecting what would follow.

At chucking out time we all made our way down to Porthcressa beach, fortunately is was a fairly mild night and the sea was quiet. If I recall correctly there was quite few of us there: Lew and Debs, Martin Hallam, Kim Talbot, Geoff, Roger and Brian Wyatt, Pete Pool, myself and several others. As is usual after consuming a few alcoholic beverages your inhibitions go out the window and four of us (Geoff, Pete, Brian and myself) stripped off in front of the waiting audience, walked down the beach and waded in to the sea. After about five minutes of general splashing around and having a laugh I was just about to come out of the sea when I noticed a red dot in the middle of my chest. My first thought was either I’m being targeted by a sniper or someone had a camera on me. As the former was very unlikely I did a swift u-turn and started to wade back out in to the sea just as a photo was taken though fortunately they only got a rear shot! Geoff stayed in the sea happily swimming around but Brian and Pete were exposed to full frontal shots as they left the sea. It turned out that Debs had arranged with George Reszeter (he of the Oxford paparazzi and well known bird photographer) to capture the episode on camera. These photos were subsequently shown at a later SODOFF meeting during a slide show much to the embarrassment of the few us who had been exposed and to the hilarity of the audience present at the meeting.

I am not sure of the author of the following but someone wrote a poem that was published in a subsequent SODOFF journal along with the photos.

“A plot was hatched one night on Scilly
In a pub by a young lady called Debbie
The dare was given and duly accepted
To streak “cressa” beach with parts presented

At closing time they left the pub
And joined members of the SODOFF club
They staggered down towards the bay
As George and camera came their way

As midnight came on Porthcressa beach
The SODOFF lads did dare to streak
George was there with camera proud
And the SODOFF lads did then unshroud

They streaked the beach and into the sea
As George flashed his camera and smiled with glee
The assembled crowd looked on and hooted
As Pete and Brian were caught undiluted

Paul and Geoff were not so blighted
As George’s camera could not get sighted
The lens scanned the beach in search of privates
But only found rear ends or fuzzy targets

The next day came and photos went around
A few red faces were then to be found
People smiled with knowing looks
We hope the pics don’t get in any books

Another memorable Scilly has been and gone
With ticks and streaks what more could go on
Scilly ’95 is already booked
Let’s do it next year we’re all hooked”

A great poem which captured the moment well!

The birds that year on Scilly were noted for a fair number of scarce migrants but the star of the two weeks was the Yellow-browed Bunting that appeared on St Agnes on the 21st October, it was in a small garden and we had to queue to see it. I was birding on St Mary’s with Martin Hallam when the news came over the CB and we did not hear the “bunting” bit and so assuming it was a Yellow-browed Warbler we ignored the call as we had already seen a few of those but when the follow up message came through we looked at each other and then the adrenalin started to flow and then a quick dash to the quay at St Mary’s to get the boat to Aggie. Also notable that year was a Radde’s Warbler on St Mary’s and a Dusky Warbler on St Agnes.

SODOFF’ers have been going to Scilly since the late 70’s and an honorary SODOFF’er Pete Colston had been going since the 50’s and it’s only in the last few years that we have not been going on a regular basis. Some of us shared a flat for the two week period when we were there that housed six but we have had up to ten in particularly good years and during the 90’s SODOFF had a considerable presence on the islands through October. Scilly still pulls in good vagrants but not in the quantity that it used to but still a beautiful place to visit.