Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Seeking a Richard's Pipit

It's been another week of no major birding trips though I am planning one for the next few days (more on that in due course). There have been the usual daily trips to Port Meadow to check out my local patch and a few more digiscoping efforts. The golden plover have made a welcome return to the Meadow and their numbers are now increasing.

Golden Plover on the Meadow

In addition there have been unusually large numbers of black-tailed godwits, with a peak count of 40 birds, perhaps a county record!
Black-tailed Godwit

There have been plenty of ruff still around and I was quite pleased with the shot below, taken in the mist and at a reasonable distance.
A ruff in the mist

Throughout the winter months the Meadow has masses of wigeon around and they are already there in numbers.


As well as my daily trips to the Meadow at the weekend we went en famille to the White Horse at Uffington to take advantage of the Indian summer weather. On the way there my eldest daughter K pointed out a soaring buzzard. I pulled over and spent several minutes studying it before concluding that it was a juvenile pale morph common buzzard rather than a honey buzzard. Once on the hill there were loads of migrants in evidence with plenty of meadow pipits and skylarks on the summit. Nearby there was a farm field which had a flock of at least 200 birds, from a distance I would guess a mixed flock consisting of linnets, gold finches and meadow pipits. There was also a single wheatear along the edge of the field, a hovering kestral overhead and another common buzzard. Unfortunately I didn't have that long to look around as K, fully embracing her new role as a teenager, was getting fed up and wanted to go home.

On the way back I got a text from a birding colleague saying that somone had found a Richard's Pipit on Otmoor. As soon as I was able I called him back to find out the details. Apparently it had only been seen by the one person but as he was "Mr. Otmoor", practically living on the reserve and also a birder of huge experience, there was no doubt that the sighting was genuine. Unfortunately it was getting dark by this time and the family wanted feeding so I was going to have to wait until tomorrow before having a look for the bird.

The next day dawned with a thick mist which meant that I could have a lie in, get our two year old son L up, dressed and fed all before the mist had cleared. I generously offered to take L off my VLW's (very lovely wife) hands for a few hours and L and I set off for Otmoor. Although the mist was clearing elsewhere, when I arrived at Otmoor it was still quite thick. I put L in his all-terrain push chair and we set off. The bird had been seen on the Pill Ground, which is an area of the reserve that I'd not been to before. When I got to the field it was distinctly boggy and having to drag L and his buggy through the bog was hard going. It was quite atmospheric though, with snipe periodically flying up and calling in the mist. Eventually we made it to the next field where there was a convenient bridge over a stream. I had a look around, seeing a couple of stonechat and a distant silhouetted bird in the hedgerow which could have been a redstart. I was looking down the stream when I saw a bird half way along. "Go on, be a water rail" I said to myself as I raised my bins to my eyes, and lo and behold it was. I reached for my digiscoping gear to try and take a photo but it slunk off before I could. Other birds of note were a couple of hobbies, a (common) buzzard, a few golden plover and a calling cetti's warbler.

By this time it was getting on so we headed back through the bog towards the car. There I met up with some fellow birders who'd heard a mysterious pipit fly overhead. I got out my mobile with the Bird Guides bird calls on it and played them Richard's and also tree. One of the guys reckoned it was a tree pipit but I later heard that another was more inclinded toward the Richard's. Anyway, I didn't get to see or hear it - it was always a long shot but I'd enjoyed a pleasant, if muddy and wet, morning on Otmoor.

The water rail was another year tick. It was also one of my target birds that I'd still not actually seen yet this year, the others being lesser redpoll, jack snipe, merlin and willow tit. The jack snipe I should get around Oxford or Abingdon somewhere, the merlin at Otmoor and I'm planning a return trip to Combe in Berkshire for the Willow tit. I am also very keen to catch up with bar-tailed godwit and curlew sandpiper and am therefore planning a few trips to suitable areas for these two waders.

2008 year list
202: water rail.

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