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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...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

May Highlights & News

Territorial Cuckoos at Otmoor RSPB courtesy of Pat Gulka Pats flickr page

Peter Law

May is traditionally a month of contrasts. It begins with passage through the county at its peak and ends with birders either considering becoming part-time entomologists or botanists for the low season, or like axed cabinet ministers looking forward to spending more time with their families. This month's headline birds unfortunately were seen only by the finders concerned: a Woodlark at Henley Road pits on 6th, two Black-winged Stilt that dropped into Standlake Common (Pit 60) late in the evening of 12th, a Fulmar over Grimsbury Reservoir on 19th and Bee-eaters at Ewelme on 27th.

The two Black-winged Stilts, courtesy of Mick Cunningham
The second of those will surely be recorded more often in years to come as this most elegant of waders expands its range northward. But on this occasion when the county's finest assembled on site the following morning the Stilts had already moved on. A similar fate awaited Oxon birders who rushed to Ewelme cress beds hoping to see the Bee-eaters, those southern charmers having been on view for just eight seconds without coming back.
Last month's start bird, the Bonaparte's Gull, just made it into this month - photo courtesy of Nigel F
The first days of May saw a marked national passage of Waders and Terns, with Oxon receiving it's fair share of traffic. This movement had begun on the last day of April, unfortunately a day too late for the three teams who took part in the Oxon Big Day bird race to amass even more impressive three-figure totals. Waders had been a little thin on the ground in the county through April, but now birds such as Sanderling, Greenshank and Grey Plover were all recorded in respectable numbers right through to early in the fourth week of May.

The Temminck's Stint was always very distant but Vicky Wren managed to capture it

Perhaps most notably, a Temminck's Stint lingered at Otmoor until 5th and 16 Bar-tailed Godwit flew over Cholsey on 2nd. Further sightings of that scarcer Godwit for the county came from Otmoor on 5 and 8th, while three of their Black-tailed cousins were seen regularly at the RSPB reserve from 14th. Breeding Curlew remained throughout on the MOD land north-east of Otmoor and the area south of the Thames at Chimney Meadows. Whimbrel were recorded at Otmoor (1st) and Farmoor (3rd and 9th). A Knot stopped by at Farmoor on 9th.

Whimbrel courtesy of Dai

Little Ringed Plover are having a good season, with birds reported regularly from Pit 60, Rushy Common, Grimsbury Reservoir, Chinnor Quarry, Sutton Courtenay old pits and Otmoor. The highest single species counts for other waders were 5 Ringed Plover at Otmoor (5th), 14 Turnstone at Farmoor (8th), 28 Black-tailed Godwit at Otmoor (7th), 9 Common Sandpiper at Farmoor (10th), 3 Oystercatcher at Otmoor (4th and 8th) and 12 Dunlin at Farmoor (1st). Last but by no means least a male, summer plumage Ruff was seen feeding and displaying to Redshanks on Big Otmoor from 11 - 13th.

Turnstone, courtesy of Badger
Tern passage at Farmoor Reservoir continued through the early days of May with peak counts of 15 Black Tern on 1st, 33 Common Tern on 6th and  4 Arctic Tern on 8th. A Little Tern passed through on 2nd and two more turned up on 30th. Black and Arctic Tern were also seen at Dix Pit on 6th. Farmoor's celebrity Bonaparte's Gull remained until 5th, having also visited Rushy Common on 1st. The month's other gull highlight was a Mediterranean Gull reported from Stratfield Brake on 4th. The spring's last Little Gull sighting was at Dix Pit on 6th.

Black Tern courtesy of Andy Last

There were two more records of migrating Osprey through the county during May, at Wytham (2nd) and Farmoor (10th). The Otmoor basin's wintering ring-tail Hen Harrier remained throughout the month. Late occurrences of Short-eared Owl were noted at Stratfield Brake (3rd),  Kingston Lisle (7th) and Otmoor (10th). Common Quail were heard a few times on the Downs. An especially welcome Otmoor visitor is an un-ringed juvenile Common Crane that has since 20th joined the reserve's annual summer release scheme pair.

Crane, courtesy of Derek Lane

Of the passerines, Wheatear continued to be reported until 5th. Other migrant records of note were 9 Yellow Wagtail at Farmoor on 6th, a common Redstart at Shenington (6th), Whinchat on 7th at Balscote Quarry and Otmoor, and Spotted Flycatcher throughout the month in various locations.

As migration slowed down some of Oxon's summer specialities came to command more of the attention. Otmoor's returning Turtle Dove have drawn their usual share of admirers, being much photographed as every year. Courting behaviour has been observed so unless the male has got things very wrong breeding at the site should be expected again in 2017. Further Turtle Dove records came from Arncott (9 & 13th), Baulking Pit (9th) and Woodeaton (30th).

Turtle Dove, courtesy of Ewan Urquhart
The RSPB reserve's seasonal Hobby are another popular draw with a total of 11 seen there on 14th. These charming summer Falcons have also been reported from Port Meadow, Sonning Eye, Wantage, Ardington, Kingston Bagpuize, Standlake Pit 60; and Henley Road pits where there were 10 on 21st.

Hobby, courtesy of Roger Wyatt
Common Cuckoo have been seen and heard across the county all through May, including an unusual hepatic morph female photographed at Otmoor several times near the end of the month.

Cuckoo, courtesy of Derek Lane
Up to six Red-crested Pochard have graced Farmoor reservoir and the Pinkhill reserve through May. I mention that because on 16th came the first breeding record from the site. Other more notable wildfowl sightings were of Garganey at Blenheim (5th) and Otmoor (6 & 8th), while female Mandarin with ducklings were noted at Ardington (21st) and on the Thames at Pangbourne (24th).

Hepatic morph Cuckoo, courtesy of Norman Smith
So all in all it was pretty standard fayre for a typical May, other than what would have been three county ticks for some local birders (no names mentioned ... grrrr!) that all proved to be untwitchable. We now brace ourselves for what is usually regarded as the "birding doldrums" through to late-July, after which everything starts to move back the other way again and usually in not such a hurry as during the month under review.

Peter Law


Plastic Corner

This Violet-backed Starling was visiting a Cholsey garden on the 21st.

The species has a wide range from forested areas across sub-saharan and south Africa up to Tanzania but unfortunately not quite as far as Oxfordshire indicating this individuals previous status as a captive bird.

All photos by kind permission of Claire Holford.


The Art of Birds

"Given that the stars of the show on Otmoor this month have been the cuckoos, and I got some half decent pics of them at last, it had to be a Cuckoo"

Paul Tomlinson

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