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1st June Pied Flycatcher Grimsbury Reservoir...31st May Red-necked Phalarope Port Meadow...21st 2 TEMMINCK'S STINT 20th 4 Little Tern Farmoor Res...13th May...

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

February Highlights and News

Firecrest Cholsey courtesy of the Gun-slinger

Headline Birds
February is often considered to be a rather boring month by birders: after the excitement of year ticking stuff again in January there's little in the way of novelty left come the second month and with the first migrants still another month away one is rather left scratching around for interest. This certainly seems to be the case in Oxfordshire with very slim pickings on the Headline Bird front this month. 

One of the few redeeming features of this month is gulls - it's often quite a good month for Caspian Gulls and white-wingers and so we're going to promote what are normally only supporting cast birds to the headline slot this month. We've had three Caspian Gulls sightings in the county this month: on the 7th in the Farmoor roost, a Polish-ringed 4th winter at Didcot Landfill on the 27th and a 2nd winter bird on the 29th at Port Meadow.

Ringed Polish forth winter Caspian Gull Didcot Landfill courtesy of Lew

Continuing with the gull theme an immature Glaucous Gull was seen at Sonning Eye amongst the roost on the 16th (and has possibly been under reported there). Apart from that the two juvenile Great Northern Divers remained at Farmoor Reservoir for the entire month. Also, er... no... that's it I'm afraid.

Our resident pair of Marsh Harriers were displaying over the Otmoor RSPB reserve by the end of the month with four birds noted on the 25th. A Single Marsh Harriers was also recorded near Buckland on the 15th. Merlin were seen at Farmoor on the 18th and at Knollend Down on the 28th. Peregrines were again very much in evidence over our county skies with singles seen over Port Meadow on the 4th, Kingston Bagpuize on the 5th, Watlington on the 11th, and Wantage on the 27th with the regular birds still seen frequently on Otmoor and at Chipping Norton. Wintering Short-eared Owls were being seen regularly on the RSPB reserve throughout the month with sightings of these fantastic Owls also coming from North Hinksey on the 15th. Little Owl sightings became more frequent at Farmoor over the course of February.

Short-eared Owl Otmoor RSPB courtesy of Sharon Latham

Apart from the Caspian Gull records that have been discussed already,  Mediterranean Gulls were seen at Sonning Eye gravel pits on the 12th, a fine adult was recorded at Grimsbury reservoir on the 24th followed by a surprise find on Otmoor on the 28th (a rare bird for this location) and finally another bird was discovered at a more typical location amongst the Farmoor roost on the 29th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull Grimsbury Reservoir courtesy of Gareth Blockley

 One of the highlights of this quiet month has been returning waders both in Oxfordshire and those passing through nationally. A Ruff was on Port Meadow on the 24th and the 28th with four present on the 29th; two birds were also found on Otmoor at the end of the month. Two Ringed Plover touched down at Port Meadow on the 28th-29th. Single Dunlin were seen at Port Meadow on the 24th and Farmoor on the 27th with a further bird on Otmoor.

Ruff Port Meadow courtesy of Gnome
An early Greenshank passed over Farmoor on the 2nd with a second bird seen at Rushy Common on the 20th. The first Oystercatcher was reported was from Rushy Common on the 2nd narrowly beating a bird on Port Meadow on the 3rd. Curlew made a welcome return to Otmoor on the 20th with two birds, rising in number to eight by the month's end. A pair also returned to Pit 60 on the 20th, two birds were present along the Thames near Rushy Lock on the 22nd, single birds were over Farmoor reservoir on the 22nd and also at Grimsbury reservoir on the 24th.

A pair of Redshank were on Port Meadow on the 24th with this number climbing to seven individuals on the 25th and the first Redshank arrived back on the Otmoor reserve from around the 11th. Wintering Green Sandpiper were along the river Thame near Wheatley on the 5th with five birds present at the Bicester Wetlands Reserve on the 22nd and two at 1066 between Drayton and Sutton Courtenay on the 24th.

Returning Curlew Otmoor RSPB courtesy of Tezzer

A White-fronted Goose, perhaps the recent Farmoor bird, was seen near Standlake on the 20th. The four Smew, including one drake, remained to the south of the county amongst the Henley Road and Sonning Eye gravel pits over February as did the female Red-breasted Merganser. Several Shelduck were on Port Meadow for much of the month with the count peaking at an impressive seven birds on the 4th. Two Shelduck stayed briefly at Banburys Grimsbury Reservoir on the 11th with a further pair remaining near Dorchester throughout. A single birds was on the Otmoor RSPB reserve on the 11th rising to three birds on the 18th with another single Shelduck at Farmoor on the 28th. 

Shelduck Dorchester courtesy of Badger
Seven Goosander remained at Port Meadow and along the adjacent Thames throughout the month with this number rising to ten on the 16th. An impressive two hundred and eighty two Pintail found Standlakes Pit 60 agreeable on the 20th in what must constitute the highest winter count in the county.

Away from the fabulous three wintering Otmoor birds, Bitterns were seen at Duxford on the 4th and at Henley Road gravel pits on the 13th and the 17th. A Bittern at the Pinkhill Reserve, adjacent to Farmoor Reservoir, proved popular affording some superb views at times of what is typically a very shy bird. First discovered on the 21st it remained for the rest of February and is no doubt testimony to the continuing management work at this little gem of a nature reserve.

Showy Bittern Pinkhill Reserve courtesy of Ewan.
A drake Mandarin was a surprise sighting circling low over the floods on Stonefield Common on the
12th with the drake still being seen intermittently at Ewelme Cress beds over February.

Woodcock continued to be seen at dusk at Otmoor, relocating from Moorleys (Car Park field) to feed out on The Closes over February.

A pair of Stonechats took up residence in and around Shrike Meadow at Farmoor over February with a further pair near Dorchester on the 13th and at Shenington Airfield on the 21st. Up to nine birds were present over Otmoor, a single birds also remained at the Bicester Wetlands Reserve with a further four birds recorded at Knollend Down on the 28th.

Stonechat Farmoor Reservoir courtesy of Dai
The two Brambling continued to stay at Otmoor throughout with a single bird also seen near the Harwell Laboratory on the 23rd. 

Brambling Otmoor RSPB courtesy of Andy Last
Cetti's Warblers were reported at the Trap Grounds on the 5th (a first for this site) with at least three birds on Otmoor and two at Pinkhill.  A pair of Willow Tits were seen sporadically at Grimsbury reservoir over the month.

Willow Tit Grimsbury Reservoir courtesy of The Gun-slinger

Looking Ahead
After what seems like an endless procession of wet and grey days with little reward, March should see the welcome return of some of our summer residents. The first Sand Martins and Wheatears
will be arriving back to, and migrating through Oxfordshire.
The first few Garganey and Little-ringed Plovers are already being seen in the UK as is the first Osprey in Scotland!
March can also be a good month for our UK birds to be moving back to breeding areas, so Avocet is a likelihood as are Rock Pipits along the causeway at Farmoor.

As for previous rares this month...
Trawling back through past Oxon records for March the stand-out birds for the coming month are white-winged gulls with either an Iceland or a Glaucous Gull (or even a few Kumlien's) being reported in the vast majority of past months. Great White Egret is also a likely bird with one seen in each of the last four years. We also have some historic Crane and Stork records and that great stalwart of county birding, the Great Grey Shrike, also makes an appearance. After that we're down to one-offs with Fudge Duck, American Wigeon and the good old Oriental Turtle Dove all making an appearance.

Photographing Wildlife in the UK

The highly anticipated new publication from local photographer and all round top bloke Andrew Marshall is published later this month. Over the years Andrew has kindly contributed many of his breathtaking photographs to Oxonbirding and we wish him every success with his superb new book.

'70 of the best locations for wildlife photography in the UK in a lavishly illustrated guidebook with over 450 stunning wildlife photographs. 368 pages, includes detailed advice on how to take great wildlife photographs. Forward by lolo Williams from BBC Springwatch.'

You can pre-order a copy of the book for the bargain price of £22.50p direct from Andrews website Here  (and if you ask him nicely, I'm sure he would even sign it for you!). You can take a sneeky peek inside 'Photographing Wildlife in the UK'  Here     

A Badger & Gnome Production

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