|Bonaparte's Gull Farmoor courtesy of Nigel Forrow|
Contrary to TS Eliot's description, April can actually be quite a good month and fortunately this time in God's Own County it did indeed deliver. The star bird of the month has to be a superb 2nd calendar year Bonaparte's Gull that was found quite early on in the month and which ended up staying the entire month. This is a pretty rare bird for the county with just four birds found since the start of the year 2000. This one often gave excellent views close to the causeway as it feasted on insects, before decamping to the bus stop on F2. It even spread the love by popping over to Rushy Common on one or two occasions.
Even rarer than a Bonaparte's Gull in the county was a Richard's Pipit which was watched by one lucky observer on Lollingdon Hill for a mere fifteen minutes before flying off. This record joins the one in September '08 as an untwitchable bird with the last twitchable one being in the autumn of '02 at Blewbury. Had it stayed around it would certainly have had top billing in this review and there are quite a few county listers who would be keen to get this species on their list.
Much more obliging was a lovely singing male Wood Warbler which spent a couple of days at Spiceball Park in Banbury this month. As this species often only pays a fleeting visit to the county it was much visited by county birders.
Finally, a Temminck's Stint turned up at Otmoor RSPB on the last day of the month. This diminutive wader is not as common in the county as it used to be but it sadly didn't cooperate as it kept to the centre of Big Otmoor and gave only distant views.
The Month In Detail
April is a much anticipated month for birders with the promise of many returning friends from their winter holidays mixed in with the chance of something much scarcer. April 2017 did not fail to deliver in this regard.
|Channel Wagtail (flavissima x flava) Farmoor Reservoir courtesy of Jon Mercer|
The month started with a fine looking Sandwich Tern on Farmoor and the first of what turned out to be a very good month for Yellow wagtails at the same site with a maximum of 15 being reported later in the month including a striking channel hybrid. White Wagtails were seen at Pit 60 on the 1st as well as at Farmoor Reservoir towards the end of the month.
|Osprey Farmoor Reservoir courtesy of Nigel Forrow|
The first record of migrating Ospreys was at Farmoor on the 1st with birds also seen at the Oxford reservoir on the 11th, 12th, 13th with singles also seen at Otmoor on the 16th & 28th, with a bird also seen at Cholsey on the 24th.
|Osprey courtesy of Tezzer|
|Sandwich Tern courtesy of Richard Tyler|
Ring Ouzels were reported from a number of sites during the month including a fine looking male on Otmoor, a female at Great Haseley on the 22nd Subjectively, the normally favored site for this species at Linkey Down seemed lower on numbers than recent years with just a female reported on the 13th and a male on the 23rd, 2 birds were also present at Harwell on the 25th with another 2 near Cholsey on the same day.
|Ring Ouzel Cholsey Meadows courtesy of Stephen Burch|
A summer plumage Black-necked Grebe was a welcome find at Farmoor on the 2nd which was the second bird found at the same site in a few days. Little Ringed Plovers put on a good show throughout the month with regular sightings at Farmoor, Pit 60, Bicester Wetlands, Otmoor and Port Meadow. A late Russian White-fronted Goose was at Balscote Quarry Reserve on the 7th. The 7th also saw a fine pair of Avocet at Otmoor RSPB.
|Grasshopper Warbler courtesy of Paul Tomlinson|
In terms of Warblers, the first Grasshopper Warblers were reported from Otmoor on the 8th and, for what the books tell us is a bird of sulking habit, continued to put on a good show right throughout the month. The first of many Garden warblers also graced us with its beautiful song at Cholsey on the 12th.
Farmoor Bonaparte's Gull courtesy of Paul Wren.
Saturday the 8th of April brought the very welcome news of a first summer Bonaparte’s gull on Farmoor. Presumably this North American vagrant had not found president Trump’s America to its likening and decided to relocate to Oxfordshire. It then showed very well right throughout the month bringing in birders from far and wide including briefly relocating to Rushy Common on the 29th. Little Gulls were also seen at Rushy Common on the 8th and at Dix Pit on the 17th with 8 remaining the highest count at Farmoor Reservoir on the 8th
The first Cuckoo of the spring was a very welcome record at Otmoor on the 9th. The first of several reports of Little Tern came from Farmoor on the 9th with Arctics reported at Farmoor from the 11th,The first Hobby of the year was reported from Otmoor on the 11th with numbers slowly increasing at their usual sites across the county during the month.
A fine drake Garganey graced the Pinkhill reserve for 2 days starting on the 11th. Sadly, it only had one eye, probably explaining why it was easily flushed by any intruder.
A Bittern was heard booming from the reed beds on Otmoor on the 13th, hopefully a forbearer of more great breeding success for this wonderful heron later in the year. Talking of herons, the Great White Egret was last reported from Standlake on the 8th. Migrating Whinchat were reported from a number of sites including Otmoor of the 15th.
Farmoor is a favored site for migrating Whimbrel and 3 were reported from this site on the 22nd. The first of a number of county reports of Black Tern also came from Farmoor on the 24th.
|Above & below Richard's Pipit Lollingdon Hill courtesy of Paul Chandler|
A Richard’s Pipit was a great find at Lollingdon Hill on the 24th but unfortunately it was very much a one day spring wonder and was hence untwitchable.
What will probably be the last report from a wonderful Waxwing winter came from Risinghurst with 6 birds reported on the 25th.
|Wood Warbler Spiceball Park Banbury courtesy of Ewan|
Wood warblers are difficult year ticks in Oxfordshire but a bird at Spiceball Park Banbury showed well for 2 days starting on the 26th. A Wood Sandpiper was a good spot by team Roby during the Oxon big day on the 29th at Rushy Common but was again proved to be a one day spring wonder.
Distant Temminck's Stint Otmoor RSPB by Badger
The month ended in fine style with a Temminck’s Stint at Otmoor on the 30th. Although distant in has stayed put in to May.
Analysis: Common Scoters in Oxfordshire 2002 - 2012
by Tom Bedford
Common Scoter winter off the coast of Western Europe, from northern Norway to Western Sahara. Spring migration sees birds moving north into the Bay of Biscay and then east across the North and Baltic Seas before an overland route to their breeding grounds in northern Scandinavia and Russia. A recently published web article by The Sound Approach records the nocturnal migration of Common Scoter over the Iberian Peninsula and also includes this map of the breeding range:
© The Sound Approach 2017
The Sound Approach team mapped hypothetical migration routes, plotted from nocturnal sound recordings, as green dotted lines on the map above. By joining up the green dotted lines that pass from Iberia to those that pass across the English Channel, to those that represent the Baltic flyway, one can plot a path that passes across south-east England and potentially, Oxfordshire. Although these green lines are hypothetical migration routes, they neatly explain the pattern of records of Common Scoter in Oxfordshire.
Common Scoter in Oxfordshire is considered to be an annual scarce passage migrant, see the table below. The records of the period 2002 – 2012 show three peak periods of occurrence. The first is in spring, with frequent records in March and April, which coincides with birds moving from wintering areas towards their breeding grounds.
The second peak of records is in July. These mid-summer records are noteworthy, as the table reveals that one of the peak months for recording Common Scoter in Oxfordshire, July, is outside of the expected spring and autumn passage periods.
This spike of mid-summer records may be explained by the complex post-breeding behaviour of Common Scoter. After breeding Common Scoter move to favoured moult sites. In the UK large gatherings have been reported off the east coast of Scotland and in Carmarthan Bay. The numbers involved are far greater than the small UK breeding population of under 200 pairs, so must involve birds from other breeding areas. In Europe, an extensive moult migration takes place, with large gatherings of moulting Common Scoter in the Baltic, the eastern North Sea and off western France (The Migration Atlas, BTO, p.689) . The number of records of Common Scoter in Oxfordshire in July could be explained by birds moving towards moult sites after breeding.
The main bulk of Oxfordshire Common Scoter records are from the autumn and early winter period of September to December. This coincides with the movement of birds from their moult sites to their wintering grounds. Studies of the British breeding populations show that birds disperse widely to a range of wintering sites . The Icelandic population is the same: birds from the same breeding areas spend their winters in different wintering areas . As such, birds from a wide range of breeding areas will move south and west in autumn and some of these birds are recorded in the county. Virtually all records of Common Scoter come from Farmoor Reservoir, in the period 2002 – 2012 there was just one exception, a bird at LWV pit 60 on 18th September 2006. As summer approaches, so will post-breeding Common Scoters from a wide range of breeding areas, heading to a reservoir near you.
Oxon Big Day Bird Race Saturday 29th of April
Three teams competed in this years Big Day Bird Race in an attempt to see and hear the highest number of species within the constraints of Oxfordshire and within a twenty four hour period.
|Dawn at the 2nd screen on Otmoor courtesy of Pete Roby|
The existing record of 114 species was recorded one May day in 2000 by Jon Uren, Pete Roby, Dave Dunford and Simon O'Sullivan, with others trying to beat their long standing total this year, two infamous members of the original lineup reformed and recruited Steve Roby and rose like a phoenix from the ashes...well the 'Grey-lags' to defend their long standing title.
|The original team even made the local papers.|
Jon and Pete are second and third from the left respectively.
Challenging the Grey-lags were the 'Biffin Boys' a team consisting of Ewan Urquhart (he of Black Audi fame) Mark Merritt (pedigree birder who has recently turned up a string of good birds) and Tom Wickens (aka "The Wickster") who has an unrivalled knowledge of the counties avifauna due in part to his somewhat obsessive walking/running and county month listing; in fact Tom recently recorded 101 species in a single day on foot.
The Biffin Boys
The third team competing on the 29th were the Acronauts who included Tom Bedford, Dave Lowe and Andy Last all world listers with a large presence on the local and UK birding scene.
For a full account of the days events from an Acro point of view, read Tom's superb write up on
Out of the Blue
Out of the Blue
All tree teams started predawn at the reedbeds on Otmoor before going their separate well-planned routes around the county. Surprises on the day included a Wood Sandpiper at Rushy Common and an Osprey at Farmoor, both birds were found by the Grey-lags with the later spotted over a leisurely lunch at the Farmoor cafe, the fable of the Hare & the Tortoise comes to mind. Other goodies included Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Little and Bonaparte's Gulls.
|Wood Sandpiper & Little-ringed Plover Rushy Common courtesy of Pete Roby|
All three teams contributed a massive amount of effort to the event so Tilley hats off to the chaps but in the end there was only one winning team...and here they are.
|The Grey-lags regaining their title|
The winning team was the Grey-lags with an impressive 111 species and only just short of their original total. In second place came the Biffin Boys with 109 and runners up were the Acronauts with a very respectable 104, collectively the total was 118.
The Art of Birds
For April Paul Tomlinson has sketched out a pair of Shoveler. These beautiful ducks are widespread in Oxfordshire in the winter with numbers regularly reaching several hundred on Otmoor,a few pairs stay on the moor each year to breed.
'Shovelers that I caught on camera flying over the scrapes on Otmoor around the middle of the month'.
New Blog on the Block
Birder, photographer, and all round top bloke Nick Truby has just launched a brilliant new blog showcasing his none too shabby talent in the old bird photography game and the stories and places that accompany them.
Be sure to check out and bookmark Nick's blog Old Caley's Diary