Long-tailed Duck Farmoor (c) Andy Last
A Red-necked Grebe arrived at Farmoor on the first day of the month and was still present at the month's end. Even in winter plumage these birds look smart and its protracted stay coupled with October's Slavonian still in residence, meant this Grebe double act was a popular draw through the month.
Red-necked Grebe courtesey of B.B
Last month's Long-tailed Duck was also still present at the very start of November with another pelagic duck, a drake Common Scoter, staying for the day at Farmoor on the 5th. A drake Scaup was seen at the Henly Road GPs on the 24th with perhaps the same bird at Sonning Eye on the 26th.
The purple patch continued at the county's star reservoir when the sixth Skua of the autumn, this time an Arctic, was discovered looking somewhat beleaguered along the causeway on the 11th. After roosting overnight and harrassing a few of the local gulls the next day, the juvenile Skua flew off strongly mid-morning. Last month's Great Skua which was taken in to care, went on to make a full recovery and was later released along the south coast. Somewhat over shadowed by the Arctic Skua's presence on the 11th were three Kittiwakes and an adult Caspian Gull.
Arctic Skua courtesey of Gnome
There was larid action away from Farmoor too with an adult Mediterranean Gull amongst the Black headed Gulls on Port Meadow on the 17th. An adult Caspian Gull was another great find roosting on the flood meadows on the 28th. Another superb Caspian Gull was again concealed within the Farmoor roost on the afternoon of the 15th, this time a fine second winter bird.
Hen Harrier Otmoor courtesey of Terry Sherlock
A male Hen Harrier was seen all too briefly on Otmoor on the 12th joining the wintering female bird.
A second ringtail was seen at the RSPB reserve on the 28th.
Merlins increased in numbers and were seen at Lark Hill on the 2nd, Cholsey Hill on the 3rd and the 7th, at Farmoor on the 17th and Otmoor on the 19th and 28th. More of these diminutive falcons were seen near East Hanney on the 23rd and at the Devil's Punch Bowl on the 24th.
Bittern Otmoor courtesey of Terry Sherlock
A pale plumaged Short-eared Owl was noted on Otmoor on the 15th - are we due another good 'Owl year' this winter? The Bittern was again playing hide and seek amongst the reed beds at Otmoor on the 14th, 15th and 19th with the two remaining Bearded Tits seen on the 16th and 23rd.
The returning winter flooding to Port Meadow attracted 25 Dunlin on the 11th along with a pair of Ruff, with five of the latter on Ashgrave Otmoor on the 30th. More unseasonal waders included a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Grey Plover at Farmoor on the 15th and 20th respectively and a very late Greenshank over The Devil's Punchbowl on the 25th.
A Hawfinch was a fantastic discovery at Stonefield Common on the 16th and a great record away from their Blenheim stronghold. A late Whinchat was seen on Lark Hill on the 2nd. There was a belated report of a female Black Redstart in south east Oxford on the 12th. A Firecrest at Cothill added a splash of colour to the mixed feeding flock there on the 17th.
Great Grey Shrike near Alkerton
The Great Grey Shrike continued its residency in the north of the county between Balscote and Alkerton all month although sometimes ranging widely.
Red-necked & Slav Farmoor (c) Alex Berryman
An unseasonal Hoopoe was discovered in the south of the county near Harpsden on the 5th and was perhaps the individual that was seen just north of Banbury in Northamptonshire a few days prior. Unfortunately despite searching it could not be relocated.
upwards of 30,000 birds. As to why and when the murmurations choose to 'dance', it still remains a mystery.
RSPB Vols completing the rather splendid new screen on Otmoor (photo Richard Ebbs)
As the days continue to shorten and temperatures gradually fall here and on the continent, December could deliver displaced wildfowl, white-winged gulls or perhaps the epitome of the coldest season: winter Swans.
Back in Time - First Scilly!
Saturday October 13th 1984 was my first visit to the fabled Isles of Scilly. Brian Wyatt and I spent a week the previous October ('83) in Norfolk seeing a Roller and a couple of other rarities but also hearing about all the Scilly rarities so we then decided to go there for a week next autumn ('84) to see what all the fuss was about. We left Oxfordshire early morning for an uneventful drive to Penzance and then took the 2½ boat trip over to Scilly on the Scillonian III, being rewarded with several Great Skuas and Sooty Shearwaters and other sea birds on the way across. Back in the 80’s there were a lot of birders, maybe a thousand or so on the islands in October so a lot of birds got found and little escaped attention. Arriving on Scilly around 12:30 we made for the camp site on the Garrison on St Mary's to put the tent up before getting straight down to some birding. As the technology was not around at that time we would ask anyone with a CB “what’s about?” or look on the notice board outside the Porthcressa cafe to find out what was where. As there were some Dotterel on the golf course we decided to take a walk up there first and were rewarded with 3 of them feeding on the fairways; we also had a Red-breasted Flycatcher on the way up there. As we had time we then did some of our own birding and subsequently found a juvenile Ortolan Bunting that we did not know was present and then bumped in to a Short-toed Lark that had been around on Peninnis head for a few days. Not a bad start to the first day of birding on Scilly, so off to the Mermaid pub for a few pints and a meal and then the weary trek up to the Garrison and the tent. The final entry in my notebook for that day just says “knackered”. Sunday dawned with news of a Yellowthroat on Bryher, so an early boat over to catch up with an American vagrant and was then seen frequenting an apple tree close to one of the beaches, then another boat for a visit to Tresco where we caught up with Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest, then St Agnes for a Blackpoll Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and a Little Bunting and then back to St Marys for Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit and Common Rosefinch. Not bad for 2 days on Scilly so far and even more knackered!
The rest of the week proved just as fruitful with Monday furnishing a Pectoral Sandpiper on St Mary’s and a “Grey-headed” Wagtail (possibly of Scandinavian origin) and then a Dusky Warbler on St Agnes frequenting the fruit cages. Tuesday was another amazing day with the Short-toed Lark and Dotterel again, also 2 Turtle Dove and a Lapland Bunting and another mega of an Olivaceous Warbler on St Marys, which I believe subsequently turned out to be an “Eastern Olivaceous Warbler”. And so it continues with Wednesday bringing a Bluethroat and a Rock Thrush and on Thursday a Rustic Bunting and a Richard’s Pipit of note and back home on the Friday. Along with other common late migrants such as Whinchat, Black Redstart, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Swallow, Firecrest, Redstart, all of the common warblers, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Snow Bunting etc seen throughout the week, it made for a brilliant weeks birding. Also that week falling in love with the islands - I have been to many islands and archipelagos throughout the world and Scilly remains one of my favourites. That week also started my “triad” of species that I sought on every visit to Scilly; they were Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest and Red-breasted Flycatcher and I managed to see them on all but one visit. With 11 new species seen and 104 species seen in total that week I was thinking “I will definitely be coming back again” which I duly did every October for the next 25 years!