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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

March 2017: Highlights

The Monthly Highlights Needs You!
Firstly, our apologies for the tradiness of this month's publication. However it is rather symptomatic of the fact that Badger & Gnome productions have dutifully been producing this end of month highlights since January 2013 - thats over four years now! To be honest it's become something of a chore and quite frankly we are both ready to pack it all in. However, the highlights have had something of a stay of execution this month thanks to Tom Bedford who's stepped into the breach and basically done the whole job for us! Very much above and beyond what we were expecting so our heartfelt thanks go to Tom for this amazing effort. However, for this service to carry on going forward it ideally needs a team of several volunteers who can share the load. It basically involves trawling through the last month and picking out the highlights which are then put into a draft document and then crafted into an end of month piece. With a team of several people this could be quite quickly done. Anyway, if anyone would like to offer their help with this going forward then please do get in touch with either myself of Badger. Otherwise the Highlights' days are numbered.

Badger & Gnome

The Headlines: Great Grey Shrike at Nettlebed, 2 Spoonbill reported, the first wave of spring migrants arrive. 

Early March began with a typical selection of wintering species being reported: 6 Stonechat at Sheington Airfield on 1st March; 4+ Brambling at Burnt Platt on 2nd March and a Short-eared Owl on Abingdon Airfield on the same date. Species reported throughout the month included the Great White Egret at LWV pit 60, both Marsh Harrier, Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owl on Otmoor:

Little & Great White Egrets, Pit 60, by Jim Hutchins

Hen & Marsh Harriers, Otmoor by Derek Latham

March 4th saw the first trans-Saharan spring migrant arrive in the county: 3+ Sand Martins were at Standlake Pit 60. The following day saw an influx of another classic March migrant for the county: Black-necked Grebe. Two birds were reported on this date, one at at Farmoor, the other in the mid-Cherwell Valley. March is one of the most productive months for this species and another Black-necked Grebe was found at Farmoor on the 31st in glorious full summer plumage:

Black-necked Grebe, Farmoor, Jim Hutchins

A Mediterranean Gull was present on Port Meadow on 6th March with 2 adults in the roost at Farmoor on 10th March and a single adult on 15th March. The wintering Black Redstart was reported at Brasenose College on the same day.

Med Gull, Port Meadow, Pete Roby

An Avocet was present on Otmoor on 8th March, whilst a Water Pipit near the firing range at the same site on 10th March was notable.

Avocet, Otmoor by stoneshank

March 10th was a productive date with a Great Grey Shrike being found near Nettlebed and a report of 2 Spoonbill seen flying north along the M40 near Tetsworth.

Great Grey Shrike, Nettlebed, by Jason Coppock

Garganey is another traditional March migrant, the first bird of the year, a drake, was found at Souldern Wharf in the mid-Cherwell Valley on 11th March, Another drake was at Port Meadow on March 13th.

Garganey, Mid-Cherwell Valley by Jason Coppock

LWV Pit 60 saw a small flock of 5 Little Gull on March 11th, whilst a single bird passed over the first screen at Otmoor on the same day. With Sand Martin, Black-necked Grebe and Garaganey added to the county year list, the next long distance spring migrant to arrive was Northern Wheatear. The first of the year was recorded at Otmoor on March 12th, in the sheep fields at Noke. The following day Wheatears were reported from Lark Hill, Wantage; Lollingdon Hill and Blewburton Hill as the vanguards of this species pushed north through the county.

Northern Wheatear, Farmoor, by Derek Latham

Firecrest is an uncommon local breeder in Oxfordshire, but numbers do appear to be increasing. 3 singing males were reported from private site near Henley on March 13th.

Firecrest, Oxfordshire by Ewan Urquhart 

A species recorded singing far less frequently in the county is Redwing. Two were reported from Rushey Common Lake on 13th March, one of them in song.

Mid-March is the most productive time to locate a Scandinavian Rock Pipit, littoralis. This scarce passage migrant passes through the county in spring as wintering birds return to their Scandinavian breeding grounds. 2 Rock Pipits, of unspecified subspecies, were reported from Farmoor on 15th March.
Rock Pipit, Farmoor, by John Workman

A remarkable report of 14 Cattle Egrets west of Bampton on 14th March required immediate investigation as record numbers have wintered in the UK this year. Eventually the flock was located, but proved to consist of 14 Little Egrets.

Little Ringed Plovers were slightly later than usual in their arrival this year. The first recorded were on 16th March: 2 at Balscote Quarry and 2 At Grimsbury Reservoir.

LRP at Grimsbury Reservoir by John Friendship-Taylor 

Spring migration brings the possibility of raptors passing through our airspace. The first Osprey of the year flew north over Otmoor on March 21st, another passed north of Bicester Wetland Reserve on 23rd March, with a possible north over Stanton St John on the same date. Is there a better bird to get on an Oxfordshire garden list? A Marsh Harrier over Hinksey Hill on March 27th was a good local record of a migrating bird.

Osprey, Otmoor, by Christopher Ladds

A Knot at Grimsbury Reservoir was a great local patch find on March 22nd. Small numbers of Little Gulls were reported in the third week of the month, with 2 at Farmoor on March 22nd and 5 there on March 24th. A single Little Gull on March 30th was present with 3 Sandwich Terns.

Little Gull, Otmoor, by Derek Latham

Sandwhich Tern, Farmoor, Jim Hutchins

The first Swallow of the year passed though Otmoor on March 23rd, with the first Willow Warbler singing at Milton Park on March 27th.  Urban birds included a reported Ring-necked Parakeet in Headington on March 26th and a Black Redstart in a private garden at Ewelme the following day.

A Grey Plover was present at Standlake Common on 27th March. The final day of the month saw two new arrivals: the first Redstart of year, a fine male, at Lollingdon Hill and a male Ring Ouzel on Otmoor.

Analysis: Oxfordshire Ring Ouzel arrival dates 2000-2012:

Ring Ouzels, Scotland, 29th April 2007, Tom Bedford

Ring Ouzel is a scarse passage migrant in Oxfordshire, usually seen more frequently in the spring, when small numbers of birds frequent the Chilterns. Traditional sites include Linkey Down in the Aston Rowant Nature Reserve, where Ring Ouzels feed and shelter around the Juniper bushes on the Chiltern escarpment. Having spent three unsuccessful mornings on Linkey Down searching for Ring Ouzels in the last week, I thought I would take a look at the arrival dates this century, to see if I could improve my chances of seeing these attractive, but threatened, migrant thrushes. The chart below shows the first recorded arrival date of Ring Ouzel in Oxfordshire, as per the Oxfordshire Bird Report:

The most striking element of this chart is that there is a very wide spread of arrival dates, from March 18th to April 19th. I suspect that most other spring migrants have a far more compressed arrival window, though I have not looked at the data to confirm this.

There is a clear cluster of records between March 31st and April 2nd. Five of the twelve records are in this period, indicating the peak arrival period. The finding of a male Ring Ouzel on Otmoor on March 31st this year, fits exactly into this pattern. The Migration Atlas (BTO, 2002) confirms that "a peak late in March probably denotes the main wave of immigration by British breeders". A second wave of migrant Ring Ouzels occurs in late April and early May, especially on the east coast, as Fennoscandian breeders move north. As British breeders are back on their breeding grounds by late March/early April, could some of the later Ring Ouzel arrivals in Oxfordshire, on April 14th and 19th, relate to Fennoscandian birds moving through the county?

The most productive site for finding Ring Ouzels in Oxfordshire is Linkey Down in the Chilterns. The Juniper bushes there reflect the favoured habitat of this species on their upland wintering grounds in the Mediterranean basin. Other upland sites (a relative expression) in the county have turned up Ring Ouzels, including Lollingdon Hill and Juniper Valley (Aston Upthorpe) in the Oxfordshire Downs. But each year Ring Ouzels are also reported in more lowland areas, albeit in very small numbers. Ring Ouzels found near Cuddesdon and Bampton in recent years were feeding in recently ploughed fields. The Otmoor bird of last week favoured the open field of Big Otmoor:

Ring Ouzel, Otmoor, by Pete Roby

In summary, favoured sites in the Oxfordshire Downs and the Chilterns could still hold British breeding Ring Ouzels for another week or so. Ring Ouzels may also be encountered in Oxfordshire later in April, but potentially these migrants may be returning to Fennoscandian breeding areas.

Tom Bedford.

Tom Bedford, this month's editor


  1. Superb write up Tom thank you.

  2. Indeed, the bar is set high!

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