Spotted Sandpiper by Andy Last
So we’ve come to the end of May and the start of the summer doldrums. Whilst statistically this month should be the best one for the first half of the year in terms of rarities it had to do pretty well to beat what had been a fantastic April. So, how did it get on? Well, the answer is not too badly at all with a nice list of headline rare birds accompanied by a good supporting cast.
The star of the month has to be the rather elusive Spotted Sandpiper that was found at Farmoor on the very windy and rainy 7th. The weather conditions meant that the bird was super skittish and sadly only six county birders managed to see it before it disappeared. Fortunately it was relocated on the 10th though once again it was very elusive and soon disappeared after just three birders saw it. From its pattern of behaviour it was deduced that it was probably roosting overnight at the reservoir and a dawn raid the next morning proved successful, allowing most of the hardcore county listers finally to see it. The only previous records for this species are for 1989 and 1990, both at Farmoor so this was indeed a county Mega. Sadly it didn’t linger much after then and was last seen on the 12th.
Spotted Sandpiper courtesy of Stephen Collier
The next three headline birds sadly were all single observer sightings. The first was a Bee-eater seen by a visiting Hungarian birder on the 24th who was very familiar with this species. He heard it call twice and saw it as it flew low over Big Otmoor. Bee-eater is a real county rarity but despite extensive searching sadly it wasn’t seen again. The second single-observer headline sighting was of a Hoopoe near Witney though sadly (but typically for this species) the news only got out two weeks after it was seen. The third was a gorgeous Roseate Tern photographed at Farmoor on the 29th though that was just a fly-through and not seen again. Roseate Tern too is hard to get in the county: whilst there have been a few records over the last 14 years, these are often only fly-throughs so hard to connect with.
Roseate Tern courtesy of T.S
The next bird was fortunately rather more obliging. On the 12th (the date that the Spotted Sandpiper was refound) a Glossy Ibis was found on Port Meadow that same morning having apparently been at Farmoor earlier the same day. The news was rather slow to get out as it was only reported via e-mail though fortunately the bird stayed for most of the day allowing quite a few people to see it. After that it moved on to Otmoor where it stayed until the end of the month. This species is no longer the great national rarity that it once was though this was only the 5th county record so it’s still a good bird by local standards.
Glossy Ibis on Port Meadow courtesy of Pete Roby
The Spotted Crake obliged by staying put and continued to call near Kennington untill at least the 8th. Another elusive sighting was a White Stork that was seen by just a couple of observers over Otmoor on the 2nd. To round off the headline birds, a Great-white Egret was seen at Otmoor on the 25th and 26th. This is now virtually an annual species, with Otmoor naturally getting most of the records. Still it's always good to get a record of this species in the county.
Great white Egret courtesy of The Gun-slinger
Best of the rest
30 Arctic Terns were at Farmoor on the 1st of May and 4 present on the 6th with 5 present on the 15th and a single on the 19th with a 1st summer on the 31st. It's been a good month for Little Terns at Farmoor with 2 birds present on the 5th and on the 6th with a single bird on the 11th. A Black Tern was at Farmoor on the 5th with two of these dusky beauties present on the 19th
Little Tern courtesey of Nic Hallam
A Drake Garganey was on Port Meadow from the 1st-6th with two birds present on Otmoor on the 17th with singles seen at the same site sporadically until the end of May
Whimbrel courtesey of Steve Burch
On the wader front single Whimbrel were at Farmoor on the 4th, 15th and the 23rd and at Otmoor on the 17th. A Greenshank was at Balscote Quarry between the 5th-7th with a single bird on Otmoor on the 13th - these two birds constituted the only records all month. The highest count of Dunlin in May was of 25 at Farmoor on the 11th. Sanderling numbered 8 at Farmoor on the 22nd. There were only two records of Wood Sandpiper for the entire month: a bird was at Balscote Quarry on the 6th with a brief second bird on the RSPB Otmoor reserve 16th. Grey Plovers were at Farmoor on the 5th and at Port Meadow on the 27th. An Avocet was a very welcome discovery on Port Meadow on the 14-15th in what has been a poor spring for waders on the floods. Two Little Stint were along the causeway at Farmoor on the 15th. A fantastic near summer plumaged Ruff resided on Otmoor from the 16th-25th.
Avocet courtesy of Gnome
Ruff by Badger
Turtle Doves thankfully arrived back at Otmoor RSPB on the 6th with up to four birds present on the reserve by the month's end. Birds were also noted just to the north at Asham Meads and at Arncott. A Quail was calling on the RSPB reserve on the 14th. A fantastic male Montagu's Harrier flew over Greenaways on Otmoor on the 18th with a female Montagu's Harrier seen just north of Burford briefly a few days later on the 20th. A female Marsh Harrier was seen on Otmoor on the 16th-17th
Turtle Dove courtesy of Martin Chapman
A Redstart was seen at Broughton Park on the 19th and a feral Ross's Goose was seen sporadically at Otmoor over the month
Feral Ross's Goose courtesy of Stephen Collier
Looking Forward to June
June is of course traditionally a very quiet month for birding. However a quick trawl through the RBA Scarce+ records since 2001 reveals that there are a few goodies that one might be on the lookout for. The most likely candidates are going to be “big birds” like Crane, Spoonbill, White Stork and Glossy Ibis etc. but here’s the list that I retrieved: Bee-eater, White Stork, Red-backed Shrike (twice), Honey Buzzard (2), Glossy Ibis, Scops Owl, Common Crane, Purple Heron, Marsh Warbler, Cattle Egret, Black Kite, Spoonbill (2), Corncrake and Hoopoe (2). Note that some of these records were single-observer sightings of birds that didn’t linger and which weren’t necessarily confirmed. Still, at least it gives us a reason to continue searching our respective patches over the coming month.
28th August 1983, One That Got Away
by Paul Chandler
I had cycled over to Dorchester Gravel pits for my regular week end birding; a few days earlier the weather had turned north easterly. I was not expecting much but hoping to get a few migrants as I already had seen five Wheatears in the fields at the back of where I lived. We had good access at Dorchester GP’s those days and there were a lot of Hirundines over the pits that day (i.e. 100+ House Martin, Swallows and a few Swifts) also a couple of Redshank, a Common Sandpiper, a flyover Ringed Plover, a couple of Turtle Dove and a Hobby carrying prey. I reached an area of willow scrub and picked up a large Tit flock of 80+ birds that also contained a Willow Warbler, at least 2 Chiffchaff, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Sedge Warbler with them. Then a small bird appeared in the top of a bush around 30 feet away from me that got my attention. I had just got my bins on it (2-3 seconds) when it flew off. I searched for a further one and half hours but did not find it again and the tit flock had also moved on. Although at that point I had not seen one before my immediate thought was a Red-breasted Flycatcher! My notes at the time were of a small plumpish bird, roughly Blue Tit size and warbler like, browny above and pale underparts and the most striking points was the throat and upper breast were a reddish orange and as it flew off I noticed a dark tail with white flashes on either side. As it was the days of no mobile phones there was no way of contacting anyone but when I got home I phoned Tony Williams and he and Brian Shaw went over but did not find anything. Three days later I located a male Red-backed Shrike not 50 foot from where I saw the Flycatcher. I submitted the record to the OOS but it was rejected and I appreciate that it was a single observer sighting with no experience of the species and would have also been a first for the county. However I am still convinced of what I saw and what it was!