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...

Thursday, 1 May 2014

April Round-up

Swallow - Andy Last
April is always a very exciting month for birding: spring migration really kicks off and each day brings with it the possibility of re-aquainting oneself with old friends as the summer migrants return. In addition of course there is always the chance of something really good turning up and this sense of possibility always adds a certain frisson to the daily visits to the patch. Fortunately for us here in Oxfordshire, the month didn't disappoint: as well as all the usual migrants there were some pretty good birds though sadly many of them were single observer sightings or frustratingly difficult to connect with.

The star of the month of course has to be the Whiskered Tern that was found on the 25th at the first screen at Otmoor. The only other county record being in 1970 in what was then part of Berkshire this was essentially a county first. Sadly it only hung around for a short time after the news was finally released at 6pm meaning that only those lucky enough to be able to drop everything on Friday evening were able to see this dusky beauty. Despite news of it returning to roost at last light there was sadly no sign of it the next day.

(c) Ian Lewington above & Roger Wyatt below

The next bird which was of particular interest was very much a county lister's bird, namely a Wood Warbler that was found in a small copse just north of Shipton under Wychwood on the 21st. This is an amazingly hard bird to get in the county: there have been only six previous records since 2001 and all but one of those was untwitchable so when this bird stuck around for the whole of the next day there was naturally going to be some interest. Fortunately the bird was faithful to a very small area and even sang occasionally to give away its presence so it was relatively easy to see and well visited.

(c) Ewan Urquhart

There were also a couple of White Stork sightings in the county. Up until recently this would have got all the county listers suitably lathered up but the six long staying birds in April of 2012 meant that this species is no longer the mega rarity that it once was. Both sightings this time were just single-observer flyovers with one at Otmoor 22nd and another at Kennington on the 26th, possibly of course the same bird.

(c) Mark Chivers

To add to the list of untwitchable large white birds, a 1st winter Spoonbill put in a five minute appearance on the floods at Port Meadow on the evening of the 27th before being flushed. Also on the same untwitchable list were a pair of Cranes were seen flying in the Abingdon area on the 29th.

(c) Gnome

A Pied Flycatcher was found on the 21st April south of Chipping Norton though sadly this too didn't linger. This species until recently had the same elusive status as Wood Warbler though a couple of recently birds that stuck around meant that it has somewhat lost it mystique.

A male Spotted Crake was heard singing away in Kennington on the 27th in a field by the river near the railway bridge. Although not seen it was still singing away by the end of the month.

Some video of the singing Spotted Crake (c) Gnome

A very smart summer plumage Red-necked Grebe turned up at Farmoor on the 5th and stayed until the 14th in the same south-west corner as the autumn bird leading to speculation of course that this was in fact that same bird. Talking of Grebes we had a nice influx of Black-necked Grebes with a single bird on Pit 60 from the 18th till the 21st and a trio which put in a one day stop at Dix Pit on the 19th.

(c) Steve Burch
(c) Roger Wyatt

Apart from these star birds there was plenty to see of interest in the supporting cast. April is traditionally the month for Ring Ouzels and this enigmatic mountain thrush was seen in small numbers from about the 10th until the 23rd, mostly of course at Linkey Down.

 (c) Mark Chivers
What by now seems a relic from winter, Iceland Gulls were still being reported at the start of the month with sightings on the Downs and at Farmoor from the 2nd to the 9th and a late record on the 19th at Port Meadow.

(c) Gnome
A Garganey spent several days at Otmoor from the 2nd to the 6th, with one afternoon spent at Port Meadow on the 4th. Two drakes were seen at Otmoor on the 11th

(c) Derek Woodard
There were quite a few Osprey sightings this month, at Farmoor on the 6th, 8th and 22nd, Deddington on the 3rd and Tackley on the 21st.

(c) John Reynolds
Mopping up the rest of the sightings we have the usual feral flock of Snow Geese have been seen on several occasions over the month mostly at Farmoor. There were a good number of Redstart records for the month in a variety of locations from the 9th onwards. 16 Sandwich Terns flew through Farmoor on the 7th with a singleton at the same site on the 9th. Arctic Terns started to move through towards the end of the month with a nice flock of 30 passing through on the 19th. A Smew was at Sonning Eye GP on the 9th. A Hawfinch was reported at Blenheim on the 10th and a late Short-eared Owl on the same date in Burgess Field NR by Port Meadow. A Firecrest was seen at Shrike Meadow at Farmoor on the 11th. All wader action in what so far has been a rather poor spring for these birds has been at Farmoor with an Avocet on the 12th, a Turnstone on the 22nd and a Bar-tailed Godwit on the 26th. A Nightingale spent a couple of days at Radley on the 16th and 17th. A Tree Pipit spent a day in Burgess Field by Port Meadow on the 17th. The female Bearded Tit is still lingering at Otmoor - let's hope she finds a mate. Talking of Otmoor both Marsh and Hen Harriers have been seen there this month as well as a Bittern.

Arctic Terns (c) Roger Wyatt

We now have May to look forward to: the best month in the first half of the year for rare and scarce birds. Looking back over past records on RBA since 2001 the following birds have been seen in the county: Ring-necked Duck (twice), Glossy Ibis, Temminck's Stint (three times), Dotterel (twice), Roseate Tern, Red-backed Shrike, Common Crane (five times), Bonoparte's Gull, Scops Owl, White Stork (four times), GW Egret, Spoonbill (three times), Pratincole sp., the Oriental Turtle Dove and Red-rumped Swallow. So large birds such as Storks, Cranes, Egrets and Spoonbills definitely seem on the cards and of course it's possible that anything could turn up - that's the beauty of birding!

(c) Stephen Collier

Golden Days
by Keith Clack

It may be thought, from earlier scribblings, that my attempts to see rare birds always ends in a ‘tick’ and a celebratory breakfast in addition to watching one of natures delights.

Failed trips to Scotland for Belted Kingfisher and White Tailed Lapwing and equally painful visits to Wales for Little Blue Heron and Glaucous Winged Gull, begin to tilt the scales of success. Fortunately, both Lapwing ( Slimbridge) and Gull (Cleveland) tipped them back to my direction in later years.

However, 2009 produced one of the golden spells that one can treasure and look back on whenever birding despair looms.

Since 1999 I have spent 3 days, in late April, based in Weymouth, birding mostly on the Isle of Portland. Always interesting, sometimes frustrating, but from time to time magical, if a visit coincides with fall of migrants, I’ve got to know the area pretty well and have made a number of friends among the locals.

Our usual team of Jon, Andy and myself was joined by John Hilsdon, a long time friend and one time work colleague at Blackwells. John was only able to make the Thursday as he had to return to Oxford on family business, but on his day with us was able to enjoy great views of the Collared Flycatcher that spent some time in a garden in the Southwell area of Portland. A beautiful and rare bird for John to see, it performed perfectly and was a fantastic bonus for him on his one day trip.

The following day, with John on his way home, the 3 of us decided to pass on another visit to the Flycatcher and carried on past to work the ‘top fields’ hoping for incoming Redstarts or a Ring Ouzel.

Hardly had we begun when news came on the pager of a ‘ possible’ Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler at Avalanche Hump just a short drive away. After an hour or more in prime position and no sign of the warbler, we decided to move to the Verne cemetery, a noted migration stop off point before birds leave the island, where we‘d enjoyed good birds before.

Once again, within minutes of arrival, the pager announced that the Bonelli’s had been refound, so it was back in the car and return to the Hump, this time successfully as the bird fed avidly with a number of Chiff Chaffs that had joined it in a pre migration feed up. Discussion by the great and good on the merits of Eastern or Western Bonelli’s were resolved when the bird gave its diagnostic call several times. Only the eighth for Britain, this was a remarkable stroke of luck for us, following yesterdays great bird.

Over our usual curry that night there was much celebration (and wine) and Jon suddenly said ‘ the Crested Lark’s still at Dungeness ‘. After very little discussion it was back to the B&B to settle up early with our landlady. This was quite bewildering for her and entailed her trying to deduct next mornings breakfast from the calculations, and failing.

Early next morning saw us on a long but uneventful journey to Dungeness where we joined a good number of other hopefuls overlooking the area of scrub and shingle at the end of the picturesque row of wooden bungalows, including the once home of Derek Jarman, the famous director and set designer with its incredible garden, built in the pebbled, arid landscape.

The finding of the Crested Lark was almost an anticlimax. It kindly flew in front of us all several times and landed close enough for all to get hazy but excellent views. With only 20 or so previous sightings, despite being quite common just across the Channel, this was the icing on a tremendous weekend and the final piece of a puzzle that included great friends, food and fortune.

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