The Otmoor Ferruginous Duck by Andy Last
This month a belated spring finally arrived and with it a wave of migrants, all bunched together as the weather bottleneck finally unwound. Our star bird from last month, the Ferruginous Duck, hung around till the 9th but apart from that this month was noticeable for its lack of proper scare or rare birds. There was a frustratingly brief sighting of a county Mega in the form of a Ring-billed Gull that eluded all but the finder but apart from that there hasn't really been much that would be of interest at a national level this month. Therefore county birders had to occupy themselves with the passage migrants that were moving through the county.
At the start of the month there was another frustrating bird in the form of an elusive Lapland Bunting at Churn that only a few people managed to see. Thankfully the recent long-stayer at Farmoor in 2011 meant that it wasn't quite the grip-fest that it could have been. The Slavonian Grebe at Farmoor just made it into the new month before departing and the aforementioned Ring-billed Gull was found by Nic Hallam on the 2nd in the evening roost though not seen subsequently despite extensive searching by a large crowd. The long-staying and much admired Black Redstart hung around at Farmoor until about the 6th before moving onwards. On the 5th Port Meadow was graced with yet another pair of Avocets making a tally of 10 for this species on that site for this year, an amazing record for what is normally a rather scarce county bird. A few lingering Waxwings were seen on the 4th and 5th in Oxford before heading off North. Hawfinches are normally winter birds in the county but it wasn't until this month that they were reported in their usual place at Blenheim and in quite good numbers with a peak count of 18 birds on the 12th. It was also a good year for the Ring Ouzel passage including a very tame female bird at Linky Down that allowed very close approach and resulting in some excellent photos from the various county photographers. One of the memorable parts of this month was the good number of records of Pied Flycatcher. This is normally a rather scarce bird in the county which is recorded more or less annually but is very hard to twitch so a very confiding bird in Oxford behind the ice rink which was found on the 18th and actually stayed put for the whole of the next day was much enjoyed. Apart from this bird there were a couple of other records though they were the more usual untwitchable ones. Also worthy of note were a couple of Tree Pipit records, chiefly because rather than being fly-overs they were actually seen rather well, one at Otmoor and one in Burgess Field on Port Meadow, the latter showing well on the 19th down to about 10 yards. It was a good month for Common Redstarts with a good inland passage taking place over much of central England and Oxford got its fair share. Burgess Field had the highest count with four birds present on the 16th though various other county sites also got in on the act. It was a good month for Blue-headed and Channel Wagtails with several sightings noted in amongst the Yellow Wagtail passage at Farmoor. Also at Farmoor were a couple of Water Pipit sightings from the 8th to the 11th as well as the usual Tern passage with Black and Arctic Terns seen during this month in moderate numbers though there was just a single Sandwich Tern sighting this month. A singing male Wood Warbler (another very hard to twitch bird for the county) was found by Ben Carpenter on the 25th by the Thames at Abingdon though it proved to be untwitchable and had moved on before anyone else could see it. Either the same or another bird was seen later the same day along the Cherwell in Oxford but unfortunately the news only got out rather belatedly. A lovely female Dotterel just over the border at Bury Down proved popular with many of the county's birders and makes it into this report by virtue of a brief sortie over the border into Oxon airspace before returning to Berkshire. Finally, a Little Stint on Port Meadow on the 29th was a nice spring record. So all in all some nice passage birds but nothing really out of the ordinary that was twitchable. Let's hope for a really good May.
I should also mention the amazing feat of Tom Wickens who likes to keep himself occupied not only by county year listing but also by county month listing. This month he managed to beat his all-time record with an astonishing count of 146 county birds within this month. Truly an amazing feat!
Linky Down Ring Ouzel (c) Wayne Bull
Back In Time by Paul Chandler
We arrived on Scilly on October 8th 1999 to the prospect of some good birds; we arrived at the airport on St Mary’s and were keen to get going. We just dumped our luggage at the flat and went down to the quay straight away and boarded an inter-island boat for St Agnes where a Siberian Thrush was being seen. We arrived on Aggie and walked to the island of Gugh over the sand bar (that is reachable at low tide) where the bird was being seen in a small plantation. Milling around looking for about 20 minutes when a shout went up that the bird was flying, which it did, immediately past us. Great flight views were obtained and the bird then flew out of sight and that was that. The next bird to go for was a Short-toed Eagle that had taken up residency on the Eastern Isles. A boat was organised and Martin and I decided to go for it.
A nice steady boat ride out to the Eastern Isles produced the bird sat on one of the rocky outcrops (we did not land). With 2 good birds seen we decided to get back to the flat to get organised and get some food in. Within 4 hours of landing on Scilly we had seen Siberian Thrush, Short-toed Eagle, Peregrine and Hen Harrier. The Eagle stayed around and we saw it several more times over the islands.
There was also a White’s Thrush on St Agnes though whether it was there when we went for the “Sibe” I don’t remember but the following day we were back on St Agnes where fortunately enough we got good views of the elusive White’s Thrush and an expected Red-breasted Flycatcher. We then saw the White’s on 2 more occasions that week a great bird to see.
Over the following week only one of our group had not seen the White’s and that was Lew. The best moment of this was Lew spent quite a few hours looking for the White’s but was having no luck. Later one evening Lew was reviewing his video footage on the TV from the days birding and the White’s Thrush appeared on the TV screen! What! It turned out that Lew had left his video running while he walked over to talk to someone and the Thrush had walked through the field of view in the area his video was trained on. Fortunately he saw it later in the week but that would have been ironic if he had not seen it.
Friday the 15th dawned and we were out birding when a call went up for a male Blue Rock Thrush at Porthloo. Fortunately we were not too far away and got there fairly quickly and the thrush was in view and it was a cracking male. In time several hundred birders had turned up and most had now seen Siberian Thrush, White’s Thrush and now Blue Rock Thrush all within a week, that’s Scilly for you.
Come the end of the holiday we were waiting at the airport for the plane back to the mainland when a shout went up for a Chimney Swift over St Mary’s we rushed out of the departure lounge and as we were on high ground we might be in with a chance as we still had a little time before the plane went. True to form our luck held and the Swift duly performed.
Over the 2 weeks the islands were blessed with quite a few other rare and scarce birds that were duly seen by all of us. Upland Sandpiper, Red-backed Shrike, Siberian Stonechat, Radde’s Warbler, Pallas’s Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest, Ring Ouzel, Long-eared Owl etc and rounded off with a Red-flanked Bluetail at Rame head in Cornwall on the way home, also several sightings of Monarch Butterfly on the islands and many other common migrants. That 2 week trip had 9 Thrush species and 3 ticks (the 3 thrushes for me) seen on Scilly which made an excellent 2 week holiday. Another great Scilly trip and looking forward to more.