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Friday, 3 February 2017

January Highlights and News

Little Bunting Over Norton courtesy of Badger


Without a doubt the highlight of the month was the stunning discovery of a Little Bunting at Over Norton from 22nd to the 28th of January. This is only the third county record of this North Eastern European Bunting and the first in twenty four years. The first was found at Lashford Lane Fen near Wooton on the 19th of March 1988 and remained until the 20th of April.  The second arrived five years later at Folly Clump near Letcombe Bassett and remained from the 18th of February to the 8th of March 1993. This month's bird was a fantastic discovery by our county recorder Ian Lewington who was returning home from a trip to Redditch. With a wintering inland Pine Bunting in Yorkshire, he had decided to call in for a quick look at the Over Norton site on the off chance - we're so glad that he did!

The Over Norton site is one of twelve feeding stations spread over the North Oxon region and is part of an ongoing scientific study as well as an important supplementary feeding location for many of our wintering Finches and Bunting. Most of the cost in maintaining the levels of seed at the station as well as the time and effort involved in sustaining it falls to the landowner Mike K. I'm sure I speak on behalf of all those who enjoyed seeing this bird in saying a huge thank you to Mike.

Little Bunting Over Norton courtesy of Tezzer
Who would have thought that a January Cattle Egret would be relegated to second spot in the highlights but that is indeed the case. Firstly a single Cattle Egret was found on Otmoor (the first for the site) on the 5th though it didn't linger and was only seen by the finder. Two days later a couple were found within pig fields near Middleton Stoney and within a day the tally there had risen to three. These birds were only discovered during an annual Banbury Ornithological bird count but it turns out that they may have already been present for up to a month and they ended up staying until the 27th of January. These birds were the first twitchable individuals in Oxfordshire since the 2008 Days Lock bird, this is also the first time that all three European Egret species have been present at the same time in Oxfordshire.

Cattle Egret courtesy of Nick Truby

All three Cattle Egrets courtesy of Ewan

Cattle Egret courtesy of Tezzer

On to good county birds now and at last the county started to get in on some white-winged gull action. Firstly a juvenile Iceland Gull was a great discovery at Baulking Pit from 21st-22nd and a different juvenile was then in the roost at Port Meadow on the 30th.

Juv Iceland Gull Baulking Pit courtesy of Mark Merritt

The Port Meadow bird filmed in the gloom by Gnome

Waxwings finally reached the north of the county on the 2nd county with thirteen birds along Longelands Way in Banbury. This flock remained for at least a week with a single bird also seen briefly at Grimsbury on the 21st; in addition four Waxwings were back in the city on the 30th at Mewburn Road. Nine Waxwings were within the grounds of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at Crowmarsh Gifford from the 4th with a single bird reported at Lane End Crowmarsh Gifford on the 12th. More Nordic berry munchers were in Oxford along the Marston Road from the 8th-10th.
A single Waxwing took up residence in and around George Street in Bicester from the 14th-15th.
In addition single birds were reported in Yarnton on the 22nd, Benson on the 27th, Henley on the 30th with a probable in Stanton Harcourt near the start of the month. Two Waxwings were on Wharton Road in Headington Oxford 14th-15th with another pair also seen briefly in Kingston Bagpuize on the 24th. The largest flock reported consisted of nineteen in Kennington on the 14th.

Waxwing Headington Oxford courtesy of Luke O'Bryne

Waxwing Bicester courtesy of Nick Truby

Waxwings Marston Road Oxford courtesy of Peter Law
The two Tundra Bean Geese remained at Standlake until at least the 21st when temperatures plummeted and the goose flock relocated.

Tundra Bean Geese courtesy of Badger

The two Great White Egrets remained at the Standlake gravel pits throughout most of January with a brief relocation during the week of the freeze before reappearing again from the 30th.

A 1st winter or female Black Redstart was seen briefly in Oxford City on the rooftops of the Pharmacology Department of Oxford University on the afternoon of the 24th but unfortunately was not seen subsequently.

Wildfowl & Herons

The family party of four White-fronted Geese remained at Otmoor throughout  January. The presumed Cat C Barnacle Goose flock of approximately one hundred and twenty remained on the flood plains west of Oxford near to Kings Lock, occasionally commuting to nearby Port Meadow. Yet to make it on to the hallowed Category C were the seventy plus free flying feral Snow Geese which were encountered sporadically at Farmoor reservoir over January.

Snow Geese over Farmoor Reservoir courtesy of Andy Last

The Drake Smew remained in west Oxfordshire commuting between the Standlake gravel pits and Dix pit at nearby Stanton Harcourt. In addition a red-headed Smew was found amongst the Henley Road gravel pits from the 18th. Goosander numbers continued to remain low compared to previous winters, larger counts included thirteen at Oxey Mead on the 3rd. A female Red-crested Pochard at Port Meadow on the 2nd was noteworthy find at this site, with at least ninety two recorded at Rushey Common on the 17th. A female Shelduck was a great find at the Chinnor old cement works on the 9th with three Shelduck present on Port Meadow on the 16th. A further Shelduck was discovered at the Cassington gravel pits on the 17th with a female finding the Bicester Wetlands Reserve to its liking from the 18th.

Bitterns remained on Otmoor throughout the month with up to three birds present. Single birds were also seen at Cassington gravel pits and also at Sonning Eye gravel pits on the 22nd.

Shelduck B.W. Reserve courtesy of  Alan Peters


Wintering ring-tailed Hen Harrier Otmoor RSPB courtesy of Tezzer
The Ring-tailed Hen Harrier remained at the Otmoor RSPB reserve throughout January with a fine male seen again near Letcombe Bassett on the 21st. The three Marsh Harriers on Otmoor remained over the month perhaps being joined by a forth individual mid month. A female Goshawk was seen near Kingston Bagpuize on the 22nd. Peregrines were seen throughout the month on the Otmoor reserve as well as at Pit 60 with two being seen at the Chinnor cement works on the 18th. Merlin were seen at several of their traditional sites including the Devil's Punchbowl on the 7th and on Otmoor periodically over the month; a male was also seen near Dorchester on the 28th. The Short-eared Owl on Otmoor which has taken to roosting within Morleys, offered an opportunity for many people to enjoy excellent views of this normally hard to see species.

Short-eared Owl courtesy of Nick Truby


Three Dunlin were seen at Cassington gravel pits on the 22nd with single birds present on Otmoor on the 8th. Three Redshank continued to overwinter in the county at Port Meadow. Green Sandpipers continued to tough it out at Rushey Common and at the Ewelme cress beds in January


A first winter Caspian Gull was at the Didcot Landfill site on the 6th with a third winter found on Port Meadow on the 19th. A 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull at Pit 60 on the 2nd remained the only record of this species this year.

1st winter Caspian Gull Didcot Landfill courtesy of Lew


There were two reports of Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers this month: the first was near Henley on the 30th and the second along the New Yatt near Merryfield Farm Road on the 31st. The Otmoor Starling roost continued to draw and beguile many visitors with the murmuration estimated at up to one hundred thousand birds. A Ring-necked Parakeet were being seen regularly at Gillett Road in Banbury and was occasionally joined by a second bird, nine birds were seen near Shiplake and Henley on the 30th. A flock of approximately thirty Brambling were seen near Middleton Stoney adjacent to the Cattle Egrets by mid month with single birds reported from Dean on the 10th. Two birds were also seen within the mixed flock at the Over Norton feeding centre.


Two gardens in the county were treated to a visit from an unusual species this month,
in the form of East African Red-winged Starlings.These birds are commonly kept in aviaries
in the UK.

Red-winged Starling at Fritwell
The first was seen on the 15th of January in the village of Fritwell near Bicester.
With a different individual feeding happily in a Kingston Bagpuize garden on the 24th.

Red-winged Starling Kingston Bagpuize courtesy of Jed Cleeter

The Art of Birds

No surprises as to what Paul's pencils were drawn to this month as some charismatic Waxwings arrived in the county, delighting birders and muggles (non birding folk) alike. Paul caught up with these ones on the Marston Road in Oxford.

Visitors to Otmoor RSPB can see more of Paul's fabulous artwork upon the information boards placed over the reserve.

Courtesy of Paul Brennan.


Improvements at Bicester Wetland Reserve

As the result of a generous grant from Thames Water and strong support from the BOS Committee, a number of improvements have been made at BWR.

Enlarging the scrapes. (A.P)
An 8 tonne digger was hired for 5 days and the pool at the southern end of the reserve (the “Cattle Bridge Pool”) was substantially enlarged and unwanted vegetation removed. In addition the open water shallow scrapes on the main area of the reserve were enlarged to allow better views from the tower hide sited in the parking area.

New tower hide. (A.P)
A new tower hide has been purchased and erected overlooking Cattle Bridge Pool and the surrounding area. The overall project is not yet finished as we are hoping for a grant or an award from the company that worked on the railway embankment that borders the reserve. If we are successful then the plan is to plant a new hedge  (protected by fencing) parallel to the railway embankment to allow screened access to the new hide.

View from the new hide. (A.P)
At present one needs to approach the new hide by walking along the boundary of the reserve and the railway embankment being as quiet as possible to prevent flushing wildfowl from the pool.

Hide overlooking 'cattle bridge pool' (A.P)
The reserve is a key holder only reserve, it is open to BOS members who need a key (deposit £5.00) and to be signed up for a permit. Details available from me email:

Alan Peters (Volunteer Warden)

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