|Little Ringed Plover at Grimsbury Reservoir, courtesy of John Friendship-Taylor|
The unending cycle of bird life and nature
At this uncertain and anxious time for all, birders at first perhaps seemed better placed than some other interest groups to keep calm and carry on. Ours is an activity that allows escape from daily pressures and is not mostly carried out in crowded places. So with the populace being encouraged to prioritise social activity that allowed required distancing, county records continued to generate in this log through three weeks of a very troubled review period.
Being outdoors in nature always has such a significant contribution to make to mental wellness, as every wildlife enthusiast appreciates. But when closed social venues were all shut down on 20th outdoor spaces inevitably came under intense public pressure as fair weather at last arrived. Up until national lock-down being announced three days later the month's highlights were something like this.
When emergency measures to counter Covid-19 began to be rolled out in mid-March, the earliest regular spring migrants were arriving in our county. Chiffchaff, Sand Martin, Northern Wheatear and Little Ringed Plover all featured across various locations county-wide as in any early spring. An early Willow Warbler was reported from Otmoor on 17th and more followed.
|Farmoor Knot, courtesy of Roger Wyatt|
click on any image to enlarge
Oxon's first Little Ringed Plover of 2020 was logged at Grimsbury Reservoir in Banbury on 14th. Subsequent records came from Port Meadow (19th), then Appleford GPs and the floods at Cote (21st). Other passage waders included small concentrations of regular species on Big Otmoor, the Port Meadow floods and elsewhere. Three Avocet at Appleford GPs on 14th were a little more out of the ordinary. And a fine run of Knot locally over the previous 12 months continued when another dropped in at Farmoor Reservoir on 19th.
|Farmoor Rock Pipit, courtesy of Roger Wyatt|
Transient Rock Pipit are a regular occurrence at this time of year as they relocate north-westward from British coastal wintering grounds. An individual of the Scandinavian Ssp littoralis lingered at the traditional staging post of Farmoor Reservoir from 13 to 15th.
Video courtesy of Badger
Amongst scarcer species locally the stand out items would this month come down to either a fine Black-throated Diver which arrived at Farmoor Reservoir on 15th but sadly didn't linger, or possibly a Cattle Egret that mingled with the Little Egrets at LWV Pit 60, Standlake between 11 and 13th. The latter, a recent coloniser of the British Isles is becoming more regular in our county as elsewhere.
|Common Scoter at Baulking Pit ↑ courtesy of Mark Merritt|
and Farmoor Reservoir ↓ courtesy of Roger Wyatt
An unusually large party for Oxfordshire of 10 Common Scoter was encountered briefly at Baulking Pit in the south on 19th. Then two more were observed at Farmoor Reservoir later on the same day during what was a marked national movement.
|Kittiwake, courtesy of Luke Marriner|
Amongst Gulls the most notable was a Kittiwake at Waterstock on 8th. Caspian Gull continued to be viewed in Port Meadow until 14th, while Yellow-legged Gull were noted both there and at Farmoor Reservoir. Little Gull arrived at Farmoor on 25th when more than eight were viewed from the perimeter fence, that prime county site like others having been closed.
Video courtesy of Badger
Where lingerers were concerned, the winter's two parties of Whooper Swan were reported at Cote in west Oxon up to 16th and near Benson in the south-east to 20th. The wintering drake Garganey at Pit 60 continued to flirt with nearby females of other wildfowl persuasions until presumably becoming less confused on being joined by a suitable match on 21st. Well done him!
Video courtesy of Mick Cunningham
Through the month's last eight days records in this log became limited to sightings from local birders during their daily exercise times. Amongst those more highlights were our first recorded Ring Ouzel in 2020 that was found on the Ridgeway near Chinnor on 25th. A day later two un-ringed Common Crane passed through north Oxon airspace and were photographed near Glympton. Then in the last two days of March a ringed White Stork was encountered in the Little Wittenham / Day's Lock area of south-east Oxfordshire.
|Ring Ouzel, courtesy of David Stracey|
|Common Crane over north Oxon,|
courtesy of Peter Milligan
|White Stork, courtesy of Alan Dawson|
Hopefully normality may resume at least in part sooner than in some of the worst case scenarios we hear. Stay safe and keep well everyone until whenever daily life and the county birding year as we more usually know them might progress.
Peter Law, Badger and Gnome
Given that more and more of our birding opportunities are currently on hold, we thought we would post the follow article by Will Langdon on the dark art of "noc migging", something we can still do from home.
In an attempt to cash in on autumn migration and boost the list for my flat's 'garden' (window) in Cowley, I did a bit of nocturnal recording last October, attempting to get migrant birds as they passed by overhead. I've only just gotten round to going over all the recordings, but thought local birders might be interested in the results.
All 7 dates are available here on Trektellen (https://www.trektellen.org/count/view/2585/20191014) for anyone that is, along with the links to xeno canto recordings of the more interesting stuff. Highlights were a low-flying Ring Ouzel and a distant flock of (most likely) Barnacle Geese on the night of the 10th, and a probable Oystercatcher on the 4th, alongside more conventional nocturnal fare like Coot and good numbers of Blackbird, Redwing and Song Thrush. I also had lots of unknowns - available here on Xeno Canto if anyone fancies a go (https://www.xeno-canto.org/contributor/ZJNRZZILTS)!
My approach was rather crude, using an audiomoth - a fairly cheap, pre-programmable recorder (https://www.openacousticdevices.info/), placed in a zip-lock bag on my window sill. While these are cheaper than other nocturnal migration set-ups (better sound recorders with different microphones added on), they sadly aren't very weatherproof, and neither, as it turned out, was the zip-lock bag, and so water damage put paid to my fledgling recording attempts. Furthermore, the microphone isn't directional, and is rather quiet, so I ended up with an awful lot of background urban noise that probably prevented some quieter calls being picked up.
Nevertheless, nocturnal recording was a lot of fun, and clearly something with lots of potential for land-locked, urban birders to enjoy some under-recorded migrants - a scan through the full variety of UK nocturnal recording sites on trektellen (https://www.trektellen.org/) reveals some very gripping sightings of genuine Oxfordshire rarities passing over inland gardens - Bitterns, Terns, Waders, Hawfinches etc - it could happen to you too!
For those wanting to find out more, the NocMig site is very useful for all aspects of the trade (https://nocmig.com/), the sound approach has some nice blogs on species you're likely to encounter and how to distinguish them (eg. https://soundapproach.co.uk/the-buzz-of-nocmig/), and the wildlife sound recording society is very useful for equipment (https://www.wildlife-sound.org/).
Help reverse the serious decline in swift numbers. Oxford Swift City Group is recruiting volunteers to survey swift nest sites in Oxford City this summer. Just one hour twice a month during May, June and July. Training will be provided. Contact OxfordSwiftCity@rspb.org.uk if interested.
Records for OOS Database
We all know what a fantastic tool this blog is both for disseminating local bird information and as a gallery for some fabulous photos, however, sightings posted directly onto the Oxon Birding Blog do not make it onto the county database. Whilst studying the latter over the last few months I've noticed a number of notable bird records missing yet they appeared on this blog. I'm guessing some folk who are posting relatively full checklists directly onto this blog are assuming their records are automatically loaded onto the database. Unfortunately this is not the case.
The county database holds sightings back to 1995 and around 30,000+ records are added to it each year. Records come from a wide range of sources including OOS, BOS, Going Birding, Birdtrack, TVRC, some BTO schemes and other groups and individuals. This valuable resource is not only the core source for producing reports on birds of Oxfordshire but also provides data to government bodies, councils, developers and environmental consultants to support responses to planning applications and wildlife friendly management decisions.
All your sightings are important so please make them count by ensuring they get onto the database. For non-OOS members by far the easiest way to do this is to submit your sightings via Going Birding. That way they are both uploaded to the database and are filtered onto this blog. You can tell those observers who use this method as their sightings appear as posted by Marek Walford, the founder of Going Birding.
Ian Lewington (county recorder)