Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Sonning Eye American Wigeon & Otmoor Egret

It's been a rather frustrating couple of weeks for me with my county year list taking a bit of a setback from some missed birds. Still in the end I managed to connect with a good couple of birds which made up for it.

There had been a rather elusive spotted redshank on Otmoor for about a week, found by Otmoor expert Phil Barnett initially on the Pill which then seemed to spent most of its time on the Flood Field there. I went for a Sunday morning trip to the Pill to look for it in the company of a fellow birder and also L my three-year old son. We managed to see a whinchat in Saunders Field and to flush about 20 teal and three greenshanks from the Pill but alas no spotted red.

About a week later I decided that I would go for a serious run all around Otmoor to look for the bird, an endeavour which I decided to christen the "Otmoor Challenge": start at the car park, run through the Saunders Field, check out the Pill (no birds at all), on through 100 Acre to the Joseph Stone, head towards Oddington (two whinchat, a lesser whitethroat and juv. whitethroat). Check out the Flood Field (7 little egrets, 2 grey herons, 3 lesser whitethroat, 1 whinchat, 2 hobbies). On towards Oddington, turn south along the river Ray towards Noke (1 buzzard), back east along the bridleway. Visit the two screens ( lots of aerial black-headed gulls, 1 kinfisher and 1 heron at first screen, canada geese and lapwings at second), then back to the bridleway and the car park, checking out the feeders (reed bunting, great tits etc). Total time 2 hours 15 minutes and two very sore knees so I was hobbling and walking it by the end. In hindsight it was rather too far a distance to run without building up to it a bit more and disappointingly the spotted redshank seemed to have left the reserve but at least I got to cover a lot of ground in one go. I don't know whether I'll do the Otmoor Challenge again anytime soon but it's there as a challenge for anyone else who wants to have a go.

Two Sunday's ago I got a call to say that a manx shearwater was out in the middle of Farmoor I. Now these birds do turn up inland periodically and indeed one (perhaps the same one) had been seen at Draycote Reservoir in Warkshire the previous day. Unfortunately I'd arranged to go out for the afternoon with my VLW (very lovely wife) and L and was unable to get down to see the bird. Needless to say it was nowhere to be seen the next morning. That would have been a county life tick for me so I was rather disappointed to have missed that one.

The following weekend and this time it was a little stint that turned up at Farmoor on the Saturday. This time we were having a belated celebration of our younger daughter's birthday and once again I wasn't able to get out at all. I did nip down there the next morning with L but once again it was nowhere to be seen.

Having missed three birds on the trot, I was starting to realised just how dedicated one has to be to do a serious county year list and that with family committments it wasn't really possible to see every passing vagrant. To add to all the problems of going out to see these birds, we are at present "between cars". That is to say, our old car has failed its MOT and our new one isn't ready for delivery yet. To fill the gap we have been using the Streetcar service where you book a car as you need it and pay by the hour. When a twitchable bird turns up this leads to added complications of whether a car is free and whether I can justify the cost to my VLW of hiring a car yet again to go and see "some bird" as she puts it.

When later that day I got a call to say an eclipse drake American Wigeon had been found on Sonning Eye GP, once again I wasn't able to respond immediately but I was a bit more optimistic that this bird might stay a bit longer. The next morning I booked the car for a three hour slot and headed down to Sonning Eye GP which took a surprising length of time (about an hour) to get to from Oxford. Fortunately I found the vagrant duck quite quickly and spent an hour digiscoping away happily. The bird was initially quite close in and the light reasonable so the shots didn't turn out too bad. This was a county life tick for me so I was most pleased to have connected with it. I am told that the previous county sighting was in 1995 so it's been a fair while since one was seen.

The patch of white that you can see here are some of the bird's underwing feathers that are out of place after the bird had stretched its wings. Shortly afterward it managed to sort them out again and the white patch disappeared.

The American Wigeon at Sonning Eye GP

Having got back from my Sonning trip that morning I then received a call that afternoon to say that a Great White Egret was around at Otmoor. I'd managed to miss the bird earlier in the year at Otmoor by about half an hour so this was a chance to catch up with it for the county year list. However the Streetcar wasn't free that afternoon and anyway even I balked at hiring the car out again for the afternoon so I had to follow the various sightings on OxonBird and Bird Guides and hope that it would stay till the following day.

Overnight news was good in that it had appeared to go to roost in the reedbed by the first screen and when a sighting appeared on Bird Guides first thing the next morning I decided to make a foray down there. I chose to take L along with me to earn some brownie points with my VLW and he could probably do with getting some fresh air as well. We arrived at Otmoor to find it was rather breezy and looking a bit desolate. There was no immediate sign of any egrets and I was starting to realise how hard it could be to find the bird if it chose to remain hidden. The bird had been showing on and off over Greenaways the previous day but had been seen on the Closes first thing so it could really be anywhere. I decided to walk towards the first screen keeping a keen lookout for any large white birds flying about. I did see very brief sightings of a white bird in the distance by the reedbed but they were only for fractions of a second and it was hard to tell whether it was a little egrets or its larger and rarer cousin. As I approached the first screen a large white bird seemed to land in the reedbed but once again it was a very brief sighting and still inconclusive. I had just arrived at the first screen and was chatting to a photographer there when the egret broke cover from the reeds, flew along the channel before heading up and around towards Big Otmoor. This time I had a clear view of its yellow beak and also its long trailing legs so it was definitely the right bird. Pleased to have seen it I had a brief look around the first screen which held a few snipe and a hunting kingfisher and made a brief trip to the second screen where there were a few winter teal, wigeon and shoveler starting to congregate. As I returned back to the car the egret put in another appearance and flew back across Greenaways and landed in a ditch to be lost from view once again.

So another couple of ticks for the national and county year lists which are continuing to "tick along" nicely though the two missed easy birds at Farmoor are rather annoying.

National Year List 2009
218 American Wigeon 14/09/2009 Sonning Eye GP
219 Great White Egret 15/09/2009 Otmoor

Oxon County Year List 2009
175 American Wigeon 14/09/2009 Sonning Eye GP (COUNTY LIFE TICK)
176 Great White Egret 15/09/2009 Otmoor

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