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May 18th HOOPOE Twyford...14th RED-FOOTED FALCON Piddington...Curlew Sandpiper Farmoor Reservoir...11th 3 Wood Sandpipers Appleford GPs...7th 2 Black-necked Grebe Farmoor Res...April 30th Whimbrel Appleford GPs...25th Wood Sandpipers Otmoor...

Friday, 1 November 2019

October Review

White-tailed Eagle, Red Kite and Buzzard in Oxfordshire

This five week month in Oxfordshire remained resolutely uneventful for the first three of them as the prevailing Atlantic weather pattern served to shut out even those notables that might otherwise have stood a chance of reaching us. Things picked up on the weekend of 18th to 20th over which three scarcer finds were recorded, then some more headline items stood out before month's end.

On Friday 18th a pair of Bearded Tit, the first to visit RSPB Otmoor in almost four years were pictured near the Wetlands Watch crossroads. More sightings followed on the next day, though with Oxon birders' attention possibly lying elsewhere the event was confined to social media; perhaps a sign of evolving times.

Bearded Tits (m & f) courtesy of Peter Milligan
click on any image to enlarge

2019 is said to have produced a very good breeding season for our birds of the month nationally and hence is an irruption and dispersal year. So hopefully more "Beardies" might occur in the county this coming winter.

Farmoor Black Redstart Ⓒ and courtesy of David Hastings

Next up a female or first winter Black Redstart was discovered within the water treatment works at Farmoor (20th). Those buildings have provided a number of past sightings of this species, most recently in 2013 and 2009. That bird was seen again on 24th then two more "Black Reds" frequented Chinnor Cement works from 28th, these being three of numerous late October records across southern England.

Chinnor Black Redstart, courtesy of David Stracey

On the evening of 20th at dusk a lone Cattle Egret was seen in flight over the Chimney / Duxford area of west Oxon, the year's first county record of what is becoming an irregular annual visitor. Not too far away a Great White Egret was logged at Rushy Common on 23rd then 30th, and other sightings came from Otmoor (27th), Blenheim Park (31st) and Buscot Park (31st).

Cattle Egret, courtesy of Jeremy Dexter

Departing migrant Ring Ouzel were logged just prior to this time at Lollingdon Hill (16th) and Woodcote (17th). Movement of the upland Thrush through Great Britain had begun in the second week, producing earlier Oxon sightings at Headington (7th) and Balscote (8th).

Ring Ouzel at Lollingdon Hill, courtesy of Paul Chandler

A particular item of interest this autumn has been continued appearances in our county by a juvenile White-tailed Eagle from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation Isle of Wight release scheme. This individual has been present in Oxfordshire since its first appearance over Cholsey on 15th September.

White-tailed Eagle in Oxon

'The project aims to restore a population of White-tailed Eagles to the South Coast of England. This will involve the release of young White-tailed Eagles from Scotland at a confidential site on the Isle of Wight. The released birds will regard the area as home, and remain to breed in future years. White-tailed Eagles have been successfully reintroduced to both Scotland and Ireland and we will use the same long-established methods on the Isle of Wight. The first six birds were released in August 2019'

The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation

Very sadly the remains of one of the male eagles has been found with tests now under way to discover the cause of death. A second bird called 'Culver' has disappeared at the same time its tracker stopped working.

White-tailed Eagle in Oxon

As this review period drew to its close a good national influx of Short-eared Owl brought two back to Otmoor where they were watched at dusk on 28th, and another was reported from the Thames meadows at Farmoor. There had been an earlier sighting at Burgess Field Nature Park in Oxford on 16th. And the month's final day served up one more special sighting when an Avocet visited Port Meadow.

The Best of the Rest

Local news nearer the start of October mostly concerned familiar returning species ahead of approaching winter. These began on the first weekend when Rock Pipit were logged passing through Farmoor Reservoir from 7th, with four there the following day. The Scandinavian breeders are a regular seasonal migrant at the site as they re-locate to mainly coastal British wintering grounds.

Rock Pipit Ⓒ and courtesy of Terry Sherlock

More good county records followed when early Merlin were viewed in west Oxon (2nd) then Otmoor soon afterwards, after a first for this autumn at Lollingdon Hill on the final day of September. As usual the diminutive raptors' arrival coincided with a continued influx of Meadow Pipit across the county. Further records came from Balscote Quarry and Otmoor regularly thereafter, and another was logged later on the Downs (27th). A ring-tailed Hen Harrier also passed through Otmoor on 10th but was not seen subsequently, though another record came from in form Balscote Quarry on 31st.

Redwing in The Chilterns, courtesy of C J Kearns

The earliest Redwing record of autumn came on October's opening day at Grimsbury Reservoir. More soon followed before numbers truly built-up mid-month, when Fieldfare also began to arrive or pass through in quantity. Incoming Redpoll were first reported at Headington (6th) and Brambling at Balsote Quarry (14th), while Stonechat records persisted from multiple sites throughout the month.

Stonechat (fem) on The Downs, courtesy of Peter Law

Whinchat sightings continued on 1st & 2nd when individuals were noted at Balscote Quarry in the north and the Downs in the south. The latest hirundine records submitted herein were House Martin in Cholsey on 10th and Swallow near Chipping Norton (14th).

Whinchat at Balscote Quarry, courtesy of Alan Peters

Warblers still offered interest as Cetti's were heard in some locations, being especially vocal as adult birds defended territory against their dispersing offspring. Chiffchaff lingered in various places through the month and Blackcap were encountered occasionally.

Common Chiffchaff, courtesy of John Workman

Miscellaneous other sightings of note through October were:
  • A Bittern at LWV Pit 60, Standlake (6th) and a Garganey there on 19 & 20th
  • A Red-breasted Merganser at Farmoor Reservoir briefly on 7th and a Marsh Harrier on 30th
  • Late Black Terns through Sonning Eye GPs (12th) and Farmoor (23rd)
  • A late Common Redstart on the Downs at Lowbury Hill on 22nd
  • A Caspian Gull at Didcot landfill on 23rd
  • Peregrine at five different locations

The Port Meadow floods return, courtesy of Adam Hartley

The wet weather through much of this review period has served to re-create birding friendly conditions across the county, flooding recently dry areas and raising water levels at Oxon wetland sites. Let's hope there might be a surprise or two to be found out there in November.

Peter Law

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