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21st 2 TEMMINCK'S STINT 20th 4 Little Tern Farmoor Res...13th May Garganey Pit 60...Black-necked Grebe Farmoor Reservoir...6th May Wood Sandpiper Balscote Quarry...5th May Avocet Rushy Common...Osprey Farmoor Res-Port Meadow-Blenheim...

Friday, 3 March 2017

February Highlights and News

Black Redstart Lincoln College Oxford courtesy of Badger.

Headline Birds

February is often a tricky month in the birding calendar. The heady excitement of restarting the year lists has now subsided and there are yet to be any spring migrants so it's often a case of scratching around for little reward. Still there have been a few highlights to keep us all going this month.

The star county bird was a splendid first winter male Black Redstart that graced the front quad of Lincoln College in central Oxford from the 9th to the 18th. It was taking advantage of a very sheltered location out of the prevailing strong winds where it seemed to be finding quite a few insects to feed on.

What have now virtually become resident county birds are the pair of Great White Egrets in the west of the county centred around Pit 60 and Rushy Common. A singleton of this species was also seen briefly at Otmoor on the 7th.

West Oxons Great White Egrets courtesy of Derek Latham

We managed to get a few more Waxwing sightings this month. There were three of these charismatic berry bandits along Kennett Street in Headington on the 5th; ten were in Banbury along Osterley Grove from the 3rd until at least the 5th and about ten were in a garden in Great Bourton on the 19th.

Waxwing Great Bourton courtesy of Sonia Richardson

Waxwing Headington courtesy of Tom Bedford

Finally, an adult Iceland Gull was spotted in the Baulking Pit roost on the 24th but sadly wasn't seen again.

Iceland Gull adult Baulking Pit courtesy of Mark Merritt

Wildfowl & Herons

The long staying family party of four Russian White-fronted Geese on Otmoor was joined by a couple of extra birds on the 20th. Talking of geese, the one hundred plus wintering Barnacle Goose flock at King's Lock, were still dropping in at Port Meadow at the start of February. 

Shelduck became increasingly prominent within the county with eight present at Port Meadow on the 8th and with four birds seen on Otmoor by the end of the month.

Shelduck male & female Otmoor RSPB courtesy of Paul Greenaway

Goosander numbers peaked at twenty three on Port Meadow on the 5th with at least three present within the Oxford University Parks all month and three also being seen at Grimsbury Reservoir on the 4th. Other sawbills came in the guise of a long staying redhead Smew amongst the Henley Road gravel pits until at least the 19th.

Goosander male & female Oxford University Parks courtesy of Ewan

Two Mandarin Duck were discovered at Mays Green on the 24th. Seventy six Red-crested Pochard at the Rushy Common nature reserve on the 4th constituted the highest total of February and three birds were also reported sporadically from the Henley Road gravel pits. At least three Bittern continued to delight visitors at Otmoor over the course of the month.


The wintering ring-tailed Hen Harrier continued to brighten birders' days at the RSPB Otmoor reserve throughout the month, ranging as far as the western edge of Islip on the 13th. The Marsh Harriers started to become noticeably more territorial last month so fingers crossed for another successful season this year on Otmoor.

Peregrine Falcon were again conspicuous over the skies of Otmoor throughout February with singles also seen at Port Meadow, Chipping Norton, Kingston Bagpuize and at the old cement works at Chinnor.

The Short-eared Owl continued to be seen roosting within Morleys within the Otmoor RSPB reserve despite the unfortunate disturbance by at least one selfish photographer which resulted in the bird being flushed.


A Grey Plover was heard over Banbury on the night of the 8th showing that birds are now starting to move (well in the wader world at least). A Knot also stopped off at Farmoor Reservoir from the 9th-11th.

Knot Farmoor Reservoir courtesy of Dai Johns

As well as the wintering bird at the Ewelme Cress Beds, Green Sandpipers were seen within the Upper Cherwell Valley on the 4th, at Baulking Pit on the 17th and at Otmoor on the 24th. A lone Dunlin seen on Otmoor on the 26th and one a Port Meadow on the 18th represented the only two records this month.

Black-tailed Godwits were well represented with an incredible eighty birds counted on Port Meadow on the 2nd. A single bird was seen on the 10th at the same site before increasing to fifty there on the 18th. Nine of these elegant waders also graced the Otmoor reserve from the 4th with two still present by the month's end.

Black-tailed Godwits Otmoor RSPB courtesy of John Reynolds

The first Curlew arrived back on Otmoor on the 3rd with this number increasing over the month to four by the 24th. Four Curlew were noted near to Rushey Lock on the 26th; three birds seen at the Balscote Quarry reserve on the 26th with single birds also noted at Pit 60 on the 13th and at Farmoor and Port Meadow on the 24th.

Returning Curlew Otmoor courtesy of Tezzer

Redshank also returned to Otmoor in February with wintering birds still being seen at Port Meadow throught the month. Also returning were the Oystercatchers with pairs arriving back to traditional sites including the LWVP reserves at Pit 60 and Rushy Common, as well as Otmoor from the 16th, six at Port Meadow on the 24th and a singleton at Radley gravel pits from the 25th.

Jack Snipe were reported within the Upper Cherwell Valley on the 11th and at the RSPB Otmoor reserve on the 19th although the actual number of these pint sized bobbers within the county this winter was undoubtedly significantly higher.


A Lesser-spotted Woodpecker was heard near Lockinge this month. March is perhaps the best month to locate the sparrow sized Woodpeckers in the U.K as males start drumming and setting up territories so it's worth listening out for them from now on.

Brambling were reported from several locations including eight near Over Norton on the 4th, at least twelve birds near Chipping Norton from the 10th-12th and two were seen within Blenheim Park near to the Combe Gate entrance on the 13th.

Brambling male Over Norton courtesy of Tezzer

Collard Doves are able to produce multiple broods throughout the year this
juvenile was photographed in Bicester in February courtesy of Nick Truby.

The Art of Birds

This month artist in residence Paul Tomlinson has sketched one of our long staying Cattle Egrets. After a prolonged absence for several years, these feathered pygmy velociraptors were once again to be found strutting around Oxfordshire fields.

We are still hopeful for a imminent colonization from this species, but perhaps it's more likely to take the form of a protracted soft coup.


Farmoor Cafe revamped and open to all!

It may be of interest to birders both local and out of county to know that on weekend there is food and drink available in the Oxford Sailing Club at Farmoor Reservoir. Everyone is made welcome and it is not just for the exclusive use of yacht club members so why not give it a try as the prices are very reasonable.

Ewan Urquhart

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