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...

Friday, 31 January 2014

January 2014 Review

Great Grey Shrike by Andy Last

Firstly, it's worth noting that we've now done a whole year of monthly reviews with this one kicking off a second year. Since they've been well received (at least no one has complained too bitterly about them!) we shall carry on with them. So here goes!

There have been quite a few good birds this month to liven up what is traditionally a rather quiet month in the county. The star of the show was a 1st winter Glossy Ibis that turned up in Bicester in a rather small flooded area behind the local garden centre on the 7th. Indeed with so many Glossy Ibises currently knocking about the country it was only a matter of time before one turned up in Oxon. Apparently it was actually seen the previous day at Bicester Wetlands NR nearby though word only got out to the wider county birding community the following day. Fortunately the bird stayed one more day and offered nice close views and good photographic opportunities.

(c) Derek Woodard

The Great Grey Shrike has been gracing us with its presence still up by Balscote Quarry. First reported on the 7th of the month it was still there until the 25th at least.

(c) Andy Last

Another good find to liven up the month was a pair of Siberian Chiffchaffs at Abingdon Sewage Works on the 11th. Fortunately they stayed around for quite a while, being last reported on the 22nd.

(c) Roger Wyatt

As if that wasn't enough on the good bird front, a superb Mealy Redpoll turned up in south Oxford on 18th, coming to feeders in a private garden and offering close views. Sadly the bird only stayed until the 19th.

(c) Mark Chivers

Apart from these birds it was a case of scratching around for birding scraps really. Up to three Smew were seen in Henley Road GP's between the 10th and the 30th, with an accompanying Red-breasted Merganser on the 16th. A Rock Pipit was seen at Farmoor on the 11th and was still present on the 30th in what was otherwise a quiet month for the Reservoir. Otmoor provided the usual suspects with Hen Harrier and Bittern and good counts of wild fowl.

It was a quiet month for gulls with a juvenile Iceland Gull at Didcot on the 15th and an adult Mediterranean Gull on Port Meadow on the 23rd the only noteworthy sightings.

A Short-eared Owl was seen at Harwell on the 15th and a possible Rough-legged Buzzard on the downs on the 18th though sadly that sighting wasn't ever firmed up.

There has been a smattering of winter waders in the county with an Otmoor count of 40 Ruff worthy of note.

Finally there have been various Brambling sightings around the county, always a difficult target for county year listers.

(c) Roger Wyatt

Looking ahead, a trawl through past county Scarce or better birds on RBA shows that February is not exactly known for its good birds with Great White Egret and a couple of Lesser Scaup the only things of note apart from of course a certain Oriental Turtle Dove which livened up 2010. Let's hope for something just as exceptional for this coming month.


Back in Time – Northern Waterthrush Saga and more!
by Paul Chandler

The first Waterthrush twitch I went on was 31st August 1989. I'd arrived on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly 2 days before. Geoff Wyatt and I decided to go for it so we managed to get a day off from work and drove to Penzance to catch the Scillonian to the islands. Once we arrived we then took a boat from St Marys to St Agnes only to find the bird had gone!

It was a lovely sunny day and as there was not much else around we just sat around on the beach and eventually fell asleep for a few hours. On waking we began to realise we had gotten sunburnt and had sunburnt eyelids also, a little painful. We then caught the inter-island boat back to St Marys, back on to the Scillonian and sailed back to Penzance, then the long drive back home to Oxfordshire. By the time we got back we were back to high spirits again and the disappointment of an expensive dip was a thing of the past.

October 1996 saw the Oxfordshire team on the Isles of Scilly as usual; it was a good Scilly with a Black & White Warbler the star of the show that year and as we got into the second week rarities started turning up on the mainland including a Northern Waterthrush on Portland. Normally we regarded it as a sin to leave Scilly mid holiday but there was more than a Waterthrush on the mainland so Geoff and I decided to fly off and give it a go.

We landed at Lands End airport and immediately set off for Portland along with another crew from Manchester who was also tempted off and we were hoping we could make it there before dark. We hit the A30 and settled down for a long drive to Dorset, around halfway along the A30 we suddenly noticed a fox hound running towards us on the outside lane of the dual carriageway, definitely a dangerous situation! Immediately we phoned this in to the police on my mobile and 10 mins later a couple of police cars were seen speeding to the location we gave them so hopefully all ended well as we never knew the outcome.

We made good time to Portland but unfortunately it was dark by the time we arrived and the Obs at Portland was full, but the good news was that the bird was seen to “presumably” go to roost. We managed to get in to a B&B down by the coastguard cottages so we were in with a good chance the following day. That night we sat and watched several Foxes from the B&B patio window feeding on the left overs from that evenings dinner and turned in later that night feeling ever hopeful of seeing the bird the next day.

Dawn the following morning we made straight for the Obs and saw the bird almost immediately in the Obs garden and then subsequently in some of the gardens in the coastguard cottages and even from the B&B where we stayed. Finally a Waterthrush in the bag along with a Subalpine Warbler and a few Firecrest that were also present so well worth the trip.
As there was another species in the country that we needed we decided to go for this also. So a brief trip back to Oxfordshire for a few hours sleep and then set off early the next morning for the Great Knot that was up at Seaton Snook near Hartlepool which we also got. 2 days later with both Oxfordshire crews in action we went for an Indigo Bunting on Rhamsey Island, South Wales, then again 2 days later I was off to (just me) Broadstairs in Kent for a King Eider and 3 days after that (with Lew & Martin) a Little Bustard on the Lizard in Cornwall. What an autumn and what a year with a Cedar Waxwing in Nottingham in February, a Redhead in Nottinghamshire in March, American Coot in Stodmarsh in April, a Spanish Sparrow in Cumbria in July and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler in Norfolk in September.