Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Some Good Oxon Birds

When I came back from our family holiday to Dingle I was somewhat dismayed to find what I had missed: a ring ouzel at Aston Rowant, a Bonaparte's Gull at Farmoor and a ring-necked duck at Otmoor. I therefore spent the week after the holiday busily endeavouring to catch up with what was around. Since then there have also been some good county passage birds turning up and it's been a good couple of weeks of birding for me.

I was very keen to see the Bonapare's Gull at Farmoor but wasn't able to get up there for the evening roost for several evenings after we got back. Each evening when it was reported as being present was both encouraging (there was still a chance to see it) and frustrating (had I been up there I would have seen it!). In the mean time though I did manage a lunch-time trip to Aston Rowant to look for the ring ouzel. I dragged L (my increasingly reluctant nearly 3-year old son) along with me and I scoured the hillside carefully for some period of time but with no luck at all. I was heading back up the hill towards the car when I saw a fellow birder arrive. He had just starting looking and immediately beckoned me to come over. He'd manage to find a male ring ouzel almost immediately: it was well hidden which explained why I missed it and I was most appreciative of the lucky conincidence of the arrival of this fellow birder just at that moment. I tried some digiscoping and the shots weren't too bad given the distance involved. The bird was quite content to be out in the open rather than the usual skulking behaviour that this species generally adopts. A great bird to see and a county lifer for me.

Two day's later, with my VLW (very lovely wife) and our two daughters out on a day trip, I was left with L. I felt that I'd dragged him around enough birding locations for a while and that we should do something that might interest him so we'd spent the afternoon at Didcot Railway Museum which he thoroughly enjoyed. Having earned some brownie points with him and with the female members of the family not yet returned, I decided to take him up for an evening stroll around Farmoor after dinner. There I met up with quite a number of birders who were all after the Bonaparte's Gull so it was quite a social occasion. L was happy to run around and amuse himself whilst we all scanned the gull flock. Fortunately the bird turned up at a reasonable hour and we all got good views of it. I was surprised at how recognisably different it looked from the surrounding black-headed gulls: noticably smaller and more dainty with a dark thinner bill and a mantle which was several shades darker than the black-headeds. There were also two terns present: a common and an arctic which were hunting together over the water so one could compare the two in flight.

A videograb of the Bonaparte's Gull: note the darker mantle, delicate bill and smaller size.

The next day I was on the Meadow as usual when I spotted an unusal godwit in amongst four black-tailed godwits. It took a while before it flew but once it did I was able to confirm it as a bar-tailed godwit. The back markings were unusually blackwit-like for a barwit and a Hants. birder has subsequently identified the bird as a Siberian sub-species which could explain its unusual appearance.

The bar-tailed godwit (centre bird) flanked by two black-tailed godwits
..and again (the bird at the back)
..and a close up showing the barred tail.

I'd tried and failed a few times to see the garganey at Otmoor but a pair of drakes had been at Radley for a few days so the following day I took L down there for a brief lunch-time visit. He was happy because the train track ran right by the pools so he watched them whilst I looked for the garganey. Fortunately it was fairly easy to find and I took a digiscoped record shot though the light was appalling and it was rather far away.

The Radley drake garganey

Later that same day I was going for a run around Port Meadow when I found a whimbrel resting on the floods. There'd been a few going through Oxon in recent days but I was pleased to have seen this one they are often just quick fly-overs which one can easily miss. The bird was a bit flighty but did stay overnight and I saw it asleep the next morning on the floods.

When a black-necked grebe sighting came in on Bird Guides at Dix Pit I took L over there to see if I could find it. He likes Dix Pit as he can look at the trucks and diggers (he knows Dix pit as "Trucks and Diggers") as they go by whilst I scan the pit. Despite a thorough scan from the recycling area car park for quite some time (long enough for L to get bored) I couldn't find the bird at all. I did manage to find the pair of scaup which were still about. Finally I gave up and started to drive off but at the last minute decided on a quick scan from the northern layby. Low and behold there it was, quite close in but it would have been completely hidden behind the island from the end that I'd been at. As time was marching on I only managed a rather poor videograb of the bird.

The Dix Pit black-necked grebe - a county first for me

A greenshank on Port Meadow - another year tick

At the weekend I was at home just about to take L out for an evening walk on Port Meadow when a text came through from Bird Guides reporting a little tern which had been seen earlier in the afternoon but which had flown off some time earlier. Cursing my luck for having missed such a good bird I nevertheless continued with my preparations and L and I arrived for our evening constitutional. Even as we approached the floods I could see some terns actively hunting insects around the floods and it looked like there was a smaller tern in amongst them. I soon manage to confirm that it was indeed the little tern which had returned and spent a wonderful hour watching this beautiful little bird hunting back and forth over the floods. I even managed a few seconds worth of digiscoped video shots.

A videograb of the little tern on Port Meadow - a beautiful little bird

A few seconds of digiscoped video of the little tern. To view in high-quality mode (recommended) click here and click on "HQ" at the bottom right-hand corner of the video screen.

To round things off, today on a run around Burgess Field I came across a cracking male whinchat sitting on a mound of earth. An absolutely immaculately plumaged and very pretty bird indeed.

A most productive couple of weeks with several county lifers for me and a couple of nation lifers in the form of the Bonaparte's Gull and the little tern. Both the county and year lists are ticking along nicely at present.

County Year List 2009
130 willow warbler 12/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
131 grasshopper warbler 12/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
132 ring ouzel 13/04/2009 Aston Rowant (Ox Lifer)
133 yellow wagtail 15/04/2009 Port Meadow
134 common tern 15/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
135 arctic tern 15/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
136 Bonaparte's Gull 15/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir (Ox Lifer)
137 bar-tailed godwit 16/04/2009 Port Meadow (Ox Lifer)
138 sedge warbler 17/04/2009 Port Meadow
139 garganey 17/04/2009 Radley GPs
140 whimbrel 17/04/2009 Port Meadow
141 black-necked grebe 18/04/2009 Dix Pit (Ox Lifer)
142 cetti's warbler 19/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
143 whitethroat 21/04/2009 Otmoor
144 lesser whitethroat 21/04/2009 Otmoor
145 hobby 22/04/2009 Otmoor
146 greenshank 23/04/2009 Port Meadow
147 swift 24/04/2009 Kingston Road
148 cuckoo 25/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
149 little tern 25/04/2009 Port Meadow (Ox Lifer)
150 garden warbler 28/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
151 whinchat 28/04/2009 Burgess Field NR

National Year List 2009
165 willow warbler 12/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
166 grasshopper warbler 12/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
167 ring ouzel 13/04/2009 Aston Rowant
168 yellow wagtail 15/04/2009 Port Meadow
169 common tern 15/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
170 arctic tern 15/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
171 Bonaparte's Gull 15/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir (Lifer)
172 bar-tailed godwit 16/04/2009 Port Meadow
173 sedge warbler 17/04/2009 Port Meadow
174 garganey 17/04/2009 Radley GPs
175 whimbrel 17/04/2009 Port Meadow
176 black-necked grebe 18/04/2009 Dix Pit
177 cetti's warbler 19/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
178 whitethroat 21/04/2009 Otmoor
179 lesser whitethroat 21/04/2009 Otmoor
180 hobby 22/04/2009 Otmoor
181 greenshank 23/04/2009 Port Meadow
182 swift 24/04/2009 Kingston Road
183 cuckoo 25/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
184 little tern 25/04/2009 Port Meadow
185 garden warbler 28/04/2009 Burgess Field NR
186 whinchat 28/04/2009 Burgess Field NR

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Dallying in Dingle - an Irish Holiday

As mentioned in the previous blog entry, our family holiday this Easter continued in the usual theme of visits to the far flung coastal corners of the British Isles. Previous venues have included Cornwall, Wales and various parts of Scotland but this year we decided to venture over to Ireland. Of course being us we had to go to the most south westerly corner of Ireland, namely to the Dingle peninsula. This involved leaving the house at 7:30 am and not arriving at our holiday cottage until 11:45 pm, so it was quite a long journey. Some preliminary research into the birding potential had suggested that whilst things might be rather quiet in the spring there would be various sea birds to catch up with including black guillemots which I couldn't remember whether I'd seen before as a boy so they would be at least technical life ticks.

The ferry journey, between running around after L our two year old son on the ferry, did include some sea watching opportunities and I managed to see a couple of manx shearwaters. The holiday itself mostly consisted of trips around to local coastal locations with a picnic lunch and a chance to wander around on the beach. I would endeavour to have a quick scan at each location that we went to. There were several large and sheltered bays around the peninsula in which one could find various sea birds of interest. It didn't take long to find my first black guillemot and I managed to see all three species of diver which was good. We also managed to see an otter which we watched for several minutes, which was great because despite all our trips to various appropriate coastal locations we'd not until then managed to see one. On a couple of occasions I saw some sandwich terns and on the beaches there were ringed plover, turnstone, rock pipits, oystercatchers and sanderling to be seen.

A pair of greater black backed gulls at Smerwick Harbour
Oystercatchers and common gulls on the beach
One of a pair of sandwich terns at Ventry

Dingle harbour is know to be a good spot for iceland and glaucous gulls during the winter and fortunately there were three icelands still lurking around. By spring they had faded to a very white colour and consequently really stood out from the other gulls. On a couple of occasions I also managed to find a glaucous gull though I wasn't able to get any photos. One could also regularly see the odd black guillemot from the piers within the harbour.
An iceland gull in Dingle harbour
An iceland gull on the beach near Dingle
A black guillemot in Dingle Harbour moulting into summer plumage

I went to Brandon Point, a well known sea watching location, on a couple of occasions and managed to pick out some auks which I am pretty sure were puffins, flying by comparatively close. Puffins, along with the other auk species, breed on the Blasket islands which lie close off-shore to the peninsula. There were also chough and ravens to see along the cliffs there.

The highlight of the trip was probably a trip to the mouth of Dingle harbour to see the Funghi the famous Dingle dolphin. This creature apparently was first seen in 1983 so it was now at least 26 years old and still entertaining the troops. It seemed to enjoy coming over to investigate the boats and even swimming alongside them. Whilst out in the harbour I was also able to get comparatively close views of the black guillemots.

Black guillemots in Dingle Harbour

That same afternoon we went for a walk around part of the bay to the Dingle light house during which I managed to see a pair of littoralis rock pipits, a pair of wheatear and a stonechat.
A stonechat near the lighthouse

So no great birding surprises but it was good to have a chance to catch up on some sea and coastal birds which I don't often get the chance to see and the national bird list has moved along nicely. I was also most pleased to see the black guillemots which were at least technical life ticks.

National (British Isles) Year List 2009
150 manx shearwater 03/04/2009 Irish Sea (ferry crossing)
151 gannet 03/04/2009 Irish Sea (ferry crossing)
152 guillemot 03/04/2009 Irish Sea (ferry crossing)
153 razorbill 03/04/2009 Irish Sea (ferry crossing)
154 hooded crow 04/04/2009 Dingle
155 blk-thrtd diver 04/04/2009 Smerwick Harbour, Dingle
L 156 black guillemot 04/04/2009 Smerwick Harbour, Dingle
157 shag 04/04/2009 Smerwick Harbour, Dingle
158 glaucous gull 05/04/2009 Ventry Harbour, Dingle
159 sandwich tern 05/04/2009 Ventry Harbour, Dingle
160 fulmar 05/04/2009 Shea Head, Dingle
161 kittiwake 06/04/2009 Clogher Head, Dingle
162 chough 06/04/2009 Clogher Head, Dingle
163 puffin 06/04/2009 Brandon Point, Dingle
164 sanderling 07/04/2009 Inch Beach, Co. Kerry

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Some Farmoor Ticks

A couple of brief visits to Farmoor to report. On both occasions these were specific "twitches" to get some county year ticks. The first one involved a party of 4 common scoter that had appeared on the reservoir and which were reported that morning. Now common scoter have appeared from time to time on Farmoor but I'd yet to manage to see one within the county so I was keen to get out there finally to catch up with this species. Consequently mid morning I set off with L, my two year old son in tow. When we got there there was not a breath of wind and the flies were swarming which L wasn't too pleased about so we periodically had to run to evade the gathering cloud of flies that was building up around us. The reservoir itself was rather an impressive sight with at least a couple of thousand black-headed gulls on it, it being the peak passage time for this species. Nevertheless the four common scoter, two males and two females, could clearly be seen out in the middle of the reservoir though digiscoping them proved difficult. As I only had limited time I did not search through all the gulls though I later found out that there were some little gulls and an adult kittiwake in amongst them so I regret not having done so. Still I had managed finally to get my Oxon common scoter.

The four common scoter digiscoped at a very long distance

A few days later, it was the day before our family Easter holiday (see next blog entry) and I again was looking after L for the afternoon whilst my VLW (very lovely wife) was doing some packing. I'd heard that there was a water pipit and a rock pipit both at Farmoor so we headed off there to see what we could find. The rock pipit had been along the eastern shore of Farmoor I so I first looked along there and managed to flush a pipit which ended up landing on the sewage treatment roof where a heat-haze distorted view looked vaguely promising though when I later examined the digiscoped photos the leg colour was all wrong so I decided that it was not good enough to tick. I was just turning round to head up the causeway when a large pipit landed some 30 yards ahead of me. A quick view in the scope immediately showed it to be larger than a meadow pipit and without the olivey colouring that they have. In addition it had two rather prominent wing bars and a rather pale streaked breast. I was confident in identifying this as the water pipit and proceeded to take a few digiscoped record shots.

The water pipit

A few ticks to add to the lists. I already had common scoter on the national list from my trip to devon but if was nice finally to get it as a county tick.

National 2009
148 house martin 30/03/2009 Port Meadow
149 water pipit 02/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir

Oxon 2009
127 house martin 30/03/2009 Port Meadow
CL 128 common scoter 31/03/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
129 water pipit 02/04/2009 Farmoor Reservoir