Sightings and Photos

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Dec 8th 3 White-fronted Geese Days Lock...2nd Slavonian Grebe still Farmoor Reservoir... Nov 2 Scaup Farmoor Res...16th Yellow-browed Warbler Crawley...2 Great white Egret Grimsbury Res...14th Water Pipit Farmoor Reservoir...13th Black Redstart still at Chinnor...12th Black Redstart Harwell...20th CATTLE EGRET Chimney...



Sunday, 1 December 2019

November Review

One of two juvenile Hen Harriers currently frequenting Otmoor, courtesy of Norman Smith

As we enter the winter months it didn't take long for the conditions noted at the end of the previous review to impact on the mix of birds on offer in Oxfordshire. With extensive flooding across the county raptors and wildfowl provided the main interest through November, while widespread concentrations of gulls and wintering Plover offered scope for picking out something special.

Continued wet weather brought RSPB Otmoor back to top form as big influxes of prey species ramped up the count of different raptors viewable there to an impressive eight. Amongst those the headliners and probably our birds of the month were two juvenile Hen Harrier; while Marsh Harrier, Merlin and Peregrine were all observed regularly. Short-eared Owl were also sometimes active around the reserve and its immediate environs, mostly at dusk.

Hen Harrier (juv), courtesy of John Reynolds
click on any image to enlarge

A pictorial capture of this quality (above) can create the impression that witnessing all of that is easy, but of course it seldom is. Also on Otmoor a first Whooper Swan of the season dropped in on 7th but did not linger. Two more returned to a familiar haunt beside the Thames at Buscot in south-west Oxon from 16th, where they came and went across the boundary with Wilts.

Whooper Swan on Otmoor, courtesy of Peter Barker

Notable wildfowl had commenced with a smart female Scaup that arrived at Farmoor Reservoir on 2nd. The Scandinavian and taiga breeder is an almost annual early winter visitor to the county. This one was an interesting interloper within that site's Tufted Duck flocks right through this month, and was joined by a second juvenile Scaup from 17th. Also at Farmoor, the occasional Greater / Lesser Scaup hybrid of recent times was logged again on 29 and 30th.

Female Scaup, courtesy of Steve Burch
Juvenile Scaup, courtesy of Roger Wyatt
Hybrid Scaup, courtesy of Ewan Urquhart

Great White Egret re-assumed their presence of recent winters in locations to the west of Oxford, though it was unclear how many individuals were involved. Sightings issued from the familiar strongholds of Blenheim Park and Bladon, Dix Pit and LWV Pit 60. Further north, Grimsbury Reservoir's first site record on 16th when two GWE flew over was beyond their previously recorded Oxon range.

Great White Egrets over Banbury, courtesy of John Friendship-Taylor

Two Egyptian Goose there were a second soap dish mega that day, another instance of a home counties exotic expanding through Oxfordshire. On that subject I believe this (below) is the first published picture herein of Ring-necked Parakeet in Banbury. Welcome back Grim north ... this column has missed you since the Red-rumped Swallow.

Ring-necked Parakeet in Banbury, courtesy of Mike Pollard

A Bittern was noted at the opposite end of the county, gracing Sonning Eye GPs from 10th, while the resident birds at RSPB Otmoor entertained as always. Away from that centre Merlin were noted at Chalgrove (13th), Balscote Quarry (22nd) and Rowsham (24th); while some regularly recorded Peregrine continued to feature in this log. Marsh Harrier put in appearances at Fyfield Wick on this month's first day and LWV Pit 60 on the last. In the watery conditions Caspian Gull was perhaps the top larid prize, and these were located at Dix Pit (23rd) and Water Eaton (24th) in addition to Didcot (19th).

Otmoor Bittern, courtesy of Terry Sherlock

A further outcome of widespread water-logging was a build up of Golden Plover flocks in different places. The highest counts submitted herein were 355 near Cote in west Oxon (20th), 475 at Balscote Quarry (8th) and 600 near Chipping Norton on 16th. But within the Otmoor basin it was estimated that upwards of 2000 "Goldies" and 4000 Lapwing were present by month's end. Woodcock sightings gained a boost from five separate reported locations. But wader records were otherwise few and far between, the most notable being a first winter Knot at Farmoor on 25th.

Knot (1w) courtesy of Roger Wyatt

Drake Goldeneye, courtesy of Steve Burch

Numbers of regular wintering ducks, including Goosander and Goldeneye also built up during the review period. Sightings of the latter included only the second record for Port Meadow on 30th. Large counts of Red-crested Pochard became a fixture at Dix Pit, presumably having relocated from the ailing Standlake GPs. And at Farmoor the roving feral Snow Goose flock attracted some attention.

Snow Geese at Farmoor, courtesy of Peter Alfrey

Amongst passerines in drier habitats, Black Redstart continued to frequent Chinnor Cement Works until 13th. Another was reported on the Radcliffe Observatory tower in central Oxford on 5th, whilst in south Oxon the Harwell Laboratory campus hosted a further individual from 12th to 15th. This winter's first Common Crossbill record came from Tubney Wood on 3rd, while Hawfinch made it's new season debut at Lockinge near Wantage where three birds were viewed on 6th.

On 16th a Yellow-browed Warbler was reported in the Crawley Mill area of Witney, that of historic Dipper repute. But as so often with the former species in the county it could not be re-located. An as scarce record was a Water Pipit, fleetingly at Farmoor two days earlier on 14th. And a Firecrest was located at Standlake GPs on 24th. So overall it was a varied and intriguing county birding month.

Slavonian Grebe, courtesy of David Hastings

And as this review went to press there was still time for a late news item. A Slavonian Grebe found at Farmoor on the final day of the month will be another scarcity to look out for in the early days of December.


Peter Law

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