Sightings and Photos

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Feb 25th Garganey, Smew and 3 Scaup continue to overwinter at Dix Pit...2 Whooper Swans Benson...24th 5 Whooper Swans Old Shifford...Crane Buscot...Knot Farmoor Reservoir"

Friday, 1 August 2014

July Highlights

Painted Lady by Andy Last

So we've come to the end of the summer doldrums and, as far as the birds are concerned at least, autumn is starting to kick off. We've got another article on insects this month with Peter Law giving a review of the Oxon butterfly year so far and with this in mind Andy has once again turned his brushes away from birds this month. Also Ewan Urquhart has provided us with a report of a trip to China. But how was July in terms of county birding?

The highlights for July have been pretty much what one might expect for this time of year with big scarce (or what used to be scarce) birds being the best that the county could muster.

coutesy of Tezzer
The headline bird of the month was probably a Great White Egret which started its tour of Oxfordshire from the Rushy Common reserve on the 4th before showing up at the Pinkhill reserve adjacent to Farmoor reservoir the next day. On the morning the 7th it had flown to the RSPB Otmoor reserve before relocating back to Pinkhill by the afternoon and then finally back to the Tar Lake/Rushy Common complex on the 8th-12th.

The Glossy Ibis was still very much at home on Otmoor and regularly coming in to roost by the first screen each evening. It has been with us since the 13th May, an amazing 10 weeks!

There was a fly-over White Stork record at Abingdon on the 20th but sadly it wasn't seen again.

Best of the Rest

courtesy of John Reynolds

A pair of Black-necked Grebes graced F1 at Farmoor from the 27th with at least one of them staying until the month's end.

courtesy of Andy Last

The first summer male Marsh Harrier remained on RSPB Otmoor throughout July being joined by a second juvenile bird mid month.

Little Egrets continued to build in numbers over July throughout the county with an impressive thirty birds present within the Otmoor basin.

Courtesy of Badger
Rushy Common delivered the goods once again on the 5th with an unseasonal and unusually showy Bittern. Not to be out done, Otmoor hosted not only one bird on the 17th but two 'Bog-thumpers' by the 20th, testament to all that hard work carried out by the RSPB and its dedicated volunteers.

courtesy of The Gun Slinger
So what's been at Farmoor this month? Well, a Sandwich Tern was seen there on the 16th and two Black Terns also stopped in on the 18th in what has so far been a rather poor year for these enigmatic marsh Terns. The juvenile Mediterranean Gull passage kicked off on the 12th with a singleton at the reservoir; another was seen on the 26th and two birds were see on the 18th and 20th.

Courtesy of Stephen Collier
The autumnal wader passage started to built over the course of July starting with an all too brief a visit from two Little Stints along the causeway at Farmoor on the 5th. Little-ringed Plovers were reported at Grimsbury reservoir on the 9th and 29-30th and at Farmoor reservoir on the 24th with a single bird at Rushy Common on the 3rd and two birds present on the 26th. A Ringed Plover at was Farmoor on the 19th and a Ruff was briefly on Otmoor on the 12th. Whimbrel were seen at Farmoor on the 14th, 18th, 19th and the 20th. An impressive 25 Black-tailed Godwits rested up at Farmoor on the 22nd, mirroring other multiple numbers at several other inland sites. Sanderling were at Farmoor on the 23rd and 29th with a Turnstone putting in an appearance at the reservoir on the 31st. 

Ring-necked Parakeets were to be seen away from their usual haunt of Henley with single birds in Cholsey on the 22nd, Oxford city on the 25th, Littlemore on the 27th and Steeple Aston on the 28th.

In what seemingly is a 'bad Quail year'  the only 'lip wettin' came from Aston on the 16th.

Two Garganey arrived on cue on the 29th at Otmoor with the two Wigeon still present at the same location.

courtesy of Dai
Redstarts were well recorded with up to three birds present on Lollingdon Hill near Cholsey and two birds present at Farmoor on the 11th with three birds present near Shrike Meadow on the 14th and sporadic sightings continuing at the reservoir until the month's end. Two 'Fire flirts' were present in Long Meadow on Otmoor on the 12th with this number rising to three by the 20th. Two birds were also noted near the Joseph Stone field on the 27th with singles also noted at the Devil's Punchbowl on the 13th and at Pit 60 Standlake on the 27th.

Grasshopper Warblers were still reeling from Moorleys on Otmoor sporadically over the month. Other reports consisted of three birds at the BBOWT Chimney Meadows reserve, a single bird near Lollingdon Hill on the 16th and one at Sandford-on-Thames on the 5th.

Looking Forward
So, with the summer doldrums now behind us what can we expect from the next month? Historically it’s been good with Wryneck (2), Sabine’s Gull (2), American Black Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Marsh Sandpiper, Purple Heron, White-headed Duck and Franklin’s Gull all appearing in August in Oxon (from 2002 onwards). In addition we've had August records of what have now become more commonplace scarce birds, namely Great White Egret, Spoonbill, Common Crane and White Stork. In terms of good county birds, Honey Buzzard (3 records) and Roseate Tern have both been recorded and are certainly worth looking out for. So with plenty to play for it's time to get back out there and find that next rare!

The Oxon Butterfly Year, 2014

by Peter Law

We are blessed in Oxford with being within an hour’s drive of more than 40 different butterfly species, though not all of these are to be found within the Oxon county boundary. This summary is derived largely from the sightings page of Butterfly Conservation’s Upper Thames Branch where Oxfordshire in my view is reported on less thoroughly than neighbouring Bucks and Berks.  Moreover, much of the recording tends to be from certain well-watched sites, whilst the north and west of the county receives very little mention. So in including this piece here we are hoping to encourage more observers to watch and record butterflies in their local areas.

Amongst those species that need to be gone out and looked for, Dingy and Grizzled Skipper are both found in late April and early May in grassy places on the Chilterns escarpment, Oxon Downs and elsewhere. Both were reported this year from 13 April at BBOWT’s Hartslock reserve to 8 June at Hagbourne railway embankment. Highest counts were David Hastings’ 14 Dingy at Aston Upthorpe Downs and Ewan Urquhart’s 8 Grizzled at Aston Rowant (N).

Green Hairstreak (c) Peter Law
My personal spring favourite is Green Hairstreak that I always look for first at Linkey Down, that of Ring Ouzel fame. Unfortunately their habitat here has been cut severely by English Nature in the last two years, though there does seem to have been a partial migration across the M40 motorway. Myself and other observers located the species at Aston Rowant NNR (N) between 15 and 18 April, and modest numbers were also reported from the Devil’s Punchbowl near Wantage at this time. Later sightings came from Swyncombe Down near Ewelme and Aston Rowant (N) in mid-May, and in Wytham Wood as late as 2 June.

Those three species are undoubtedly under-recorded in Oxon, and though understated in their appearance are well worth looking for. The striking and much sought-after Adonis Blue receives a lot more attention, however. Aston Rowant (N) has become a very reliable location for this species, and Ewan’s count of 18 there on 11 June suggests it continues to increase at this site. Other species such as Common and Small Blue, Brown Argus, Small Copper and Small Heath are all active at this time in similar sites to those discussed above.

Black Hairstreak (c) Peter Law

Woodland areas between Oxford and Bicester are nationally important for the rare Black Hairstreak and so attract a lot of visitors. Wayne Bull made this year’s first sighting on 8 June in the usual stronghold of BBOWT’s Whitecross Green Wood, from where there were several more sightings over the species’ short flight period. There is usually a record or two from Otmoor, and Paul Greenaway found one in Saunders’ Field on 23 June. Black Hairstreak was also reported in June at BBOWT’s Upper Ray Meadows reserve and Gavray Drive Meadows, Bicester.

Purple Emperor (c) Ewan Urquhart
By the end of June and early July, national attention in Oxon switches to the majestic Purple Emperor. Early, usually treetop sightings each year come from established territories in Little Wood near Stanton St John and Waterperry Wood, and 2014 was no exception. These sites, where no car parking is available, are at the southern end of the Bernwood Forest complex most of which lies in Bucks. Little Wood again produced the year’s first record for BC UTB on 20 June. David Hastings recorded 2 Purple Emperors in Whitecross Green Wood on 6 July, and more unusually singles were seen and photographed along Otmoor’s Roman Road on 14 July by the Robys, and in a Chinnor garden on 19 July.

Oxon’s only two Fritillary species both fly at this time. July records for the Silver-washed Fritillary came from Bushey Leys Copse by Farmoor Reservoir, Otmoor’s Roman Road, the Bix Warburg reserve near Henley, and in Blenheim Park. Whitecross Green Wood remains a prime location, with 16+ seen there by David Hastings on 6 July, but this species must be present at many more woodland sites. Dark Green Fritillary was reported from three downland strongholds, with Ewan’s 17 at Aston Rowant NNR south of the M40 and David Hastings’ 9 at Watlington Hill two good counts. But the first UTB sighting for 2014 came from the Devil’s Punchbowl on 10 June, and more than 20 were seen there on 22 June. The far south of the county also produces sightings, with 6 seen this year near Whitchurch on 25 June.

Silver-spotted Skipper (c) Peter Law

Silver-spotted Skipper made it’s earliest appearance in recent history in 2014. My single 12 July sighting at Aston Rowant (N) was a UK year first and more soon followed. This species attracts many visitors to that site, and is also regular at other Chilterns escarpment locations. Chalkhill Blue is another downland species seen in good numbers in late summer. The enigmatic Essex Skipper may be found in two strongholds at Burgess Field Nature Park beside Port Meadow, and the Hagbourne railway embankment. Anywhere else it is a matter of getting down on all fours and examining the antennae head on of any brown Skipper seen.

Brown Hairstreak (c) Peter Law
After 2013’s irruption year for Clouded Yellow, there have been regular Oxon sightings again in 2014, several of these from Otmoor and most recently by myself and others on 27 July. Another migrator Painted Lady was also being seen regularly on Otmoor during late July. Three more Hairstreaks make up the more sought-after late summer species. Purple Hairstreak are generally seen in the same sort of places as Silver-washed Fritillary, with the Otmoor basin and Whitecross Green Wood once again strongholds. There have been no reported sightings of White-letter Hairstreak in Oxon to my knowledge this year. And last, but by no means least, Brown Hairstreak was first seen at Otmoor on 27 July and will no doubt be reported from it’s other Oxon stronghold of Whitecross Green Wood before very long.

Apologies if I have omitted any relevant sightings or observers from this brief report.

                                    BIRDING IN EASTERN CHINA
                                                                   By Ewan Urquhart

                     Trip Report of visit to Shanghai Botanic Gardens and Yancheng  Nature Reserve

                                                 Jiangsu Province November 14-16 2003

This was my first visit to China and although primarily it was a business trip I managed to include three days serious birding at the end of the visit. I had made contact with Nick Moran who is an English birder currently resident in Shanghai and thanks entirely to his efforts we managed to set up a visit to the fabulous Yancheng Nature Reserve which is approximately 400km north west of Shanghai. We were due to catch the 12:30pm bus from Shanghai to Yancheng on Friday 14th November so decided to bird Shanghai Botanic Gardens in the morning. Shanghai is a very densely populated city with the majority of its residents living in high rise apartments. Consequently any green open space such as these gardens are much populated with local people, many in the early morning practising a bewildering variety of Chinese ritual exercises, such as walking backwards, fan waving and shouting practice, to the slightly more familiar Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises. This is in itself fascinating to a westerner, but we were there primarily for birds and there are also plenty of areas where it is more secluded and birds can be found. It cost 10 Yuan (c. £0.80p) to enter the park.

Friday 14 November 2003 Shanghai Botanic Gardens 0645-1045

This is very much Nick’s local patch and he guided me round expertly. Our first birds were inevitably the ubiquitous Tree Sparrow which apparently occupies the same ecological niche in China to that of the House Sparrow in the UK. They were quickly followed by 3 Crested Myna flying over. We diverted off the path into the bushes – nobody seems to object if you wander off the paths and we soon located two adult Black-crowned Night Heron roosting in a tree by a small stream. A number of old nests testified to the fact that they also breed in the gardens.
Numerous Eurasian Blackbirds T.m.mandarinus, were flying over us to fruiting trees in the garden. To me they appear larger than those in the UK with very different calls and many appear to show a faint pale mark behind the eye. A small, somewhat malodorous river which dissects the gardens revealed a few Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe and White Wagtails M.a leucopsis feeding on the mud as well as numerous Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbuls and a Long-tailed Shrike in the surrounding bushes. 

On the opposite side of the river we again diverted off the path and carried on round the back of some bushes and found a magnificent male Daurian Redstart that performed within a few feet of us together with two Azure-winged Magpie and a Spotted Dove in the trees. Further on we encountered a flock of around 20 of the very appealing Vinous-throated Parrotbill feeding from leaf litter to canopy in a busy, vocal flock and 5 Eurasian Siskin landed in a tree above our heads. Olive-backed Pipits and Yellow-billed (Chinese) Grosbeaks were regularly flying over calling and unidentified buntings gave us some problems as they called but refused to reveal themselves. Eventually we managed to see one reasonably well which proved to be a female Black-faced Bunting and later what were a couple of probable Tristram’s Bunting. Our luck continued as we encountered a roving tit flock high in some mature trees, eventually descending low into bushes. 

These occupied us for well over 45 minutes as we identified and enjoyed the various species. The flock was mainly Long-tailed Tits, very different in appearance (much greyer) to the UK species. There were also at least 8 Pallas’ Warbler which we watched at very close range with two bathing in a stream and remarkably one singing. In addition to these gems at least two Yellow-browed Warbler, two Goldcrest and a few Great Tit were present in the flock. However the real prize for me was a Black-throated Tit almost at the extreme north of its range and only the fourth Nick had recorded from the gardens, which gave us brilliant close range views. This bird is a very appealing combination of black, grey and orange with a piercing white eye and I did not think I would see anything to top this in the gardens but I was later to be proved wrong. Just as we were leaving the flock an immature or female Red-flanked Bluetail put in a brief appearance giving us excellent views of its blue tail and reddish flanks. Nick then flushed 2 Eurasian Woodcock, much to my surprise, from an overgrown area in the west section of the gardens (south of the river) and a few Dusky Thrush were feeding in a line of trees nearby – these comprised what appeared to be both nominate T.n.naumanni, the race T.n.eunomus and intergrades.
Further on we got good views of a lone Hwamei and heard a Common Kingfisher. By now it was getting near time to leave for the bus but Nick suggested we just go into an area of trees before leaving. No sooner had we done so than a lone thrush silently flew up into one of the trees but thankfully remaining in full view. A look through the bins revealed a stunning White’s Thrush and at last for me another of life’s ambitions had been achieved. We watched this fabulous thrush for around 25 minutes as it remained motionless on its branch studying its marvellously patterned plumage. Both of us remarked on its bright pink legs. According to Nick they are not uncommon in Shanghai. This was number 84 for him in only two years. It was however number one for me! Reluctantly we left it still sitting on its branch, to catch the bus to Yancheng.

Species and numbers recorded:

Common Kingfisher (1); Spotted Dove (6); Common Snipe (6+); Eurasian Woodcock (2); Green Sandpiper (5); Common Sandpiper (3); Black-crowned Night Heron (2); Long-tailed Shrike* (4); Azure-winged Magpie (20+); White’s Thrush *(1); Eurasian Blackbird ( 100+); Dusky Thrush *(30+); Red-flanked Bluetail *(2); Daurian Redstart*

(4); Crested Myna (6); Great Tit (5+); Long-tailed Tit (10+); Black-throated Tit *(1); Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbul (100+); Pallas Warbler (10+); Yellow-browed Warbler (2); Goldcrest (1); Hwamei *(1); Vinous-throated Parrotbill* (32); Tree Sparrow (100+); White Wagtail (4); Olive-backed Pipit *(5); Eurasian Siskin (5); Yellow-billed (Chinese) Grosbeak* (10+); probable Tristram’s Bunting *(1); Black-faced Bunting* (3);

Follow Ewans birding adventures at Black Audi Birding

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