My fellow year lister Jason Coppock and I have been tearing our hair out with frustration recently at the lack of birds in the county. With Jason on 199 (including a pre-emptory ticking of the American Black Tern) and therefore needing one more for the magic 200 figure and myself on 192 (again with the ABT) needing one more to break the previous record we were both very keen for one more tick. It had been two weeks since the last tick and time was running out. What's more there was a more than frustrating sighting of three velvet scoter on Farmoor last Sunday which was only reported after dark. Jason was down there at first light the next day but there was no sign of them. In the mean time I'd made a couple of trips up to Otmoor to look for the water pipit that had been seen there recently to replace the one that I'd recently removed from my list. The first time I went mid week but the workmen on the new Ashgrave hide were using some machinery which ensured that there were no birds on the scrape there. I did manage to catch up with the black redstart though as well as a few stonechats so it wasn't a wasted journey. I decided to try again at the weekend when the workmen wouldn't be around though there was precious little to see on the moor and no sign of the water (or indeed hardly any) pipits.
I'd still been working away on my patch on Port Meadow which has been on top form with the flooding of the Meadow. In the evenings there were usual several yellow-legged gulls and there were plenty of the usual over-wintering waders to look at (ruff, redshank, dunlin and black-tailed godwits). Recently the cold snap has meant that the floods have frozen over and from past experience this is usually not very productive for birding with just a few of the hardiest ducks braving the sub-zero temperatures. Still one can get some quite nice photos of the birds on the ice so I'd been persevering. It was as well that I did because yesterday I managed to turn up a most unexpected tick: I'd arrived to find that the only birds were a huddle of teal standing in the one remaining open pool on the ice. There were a few ruff scattered in amongst them but that was about it. Given the lack of things to look at I elected to count the teal and was part way through the flock when I noticed a spotted redshank in amongst them. Now I'd long since given up on getting one of these for the year with the only other one in the county having being the elusive bird on Otmoor so it was a wonderful bonus to find one on my own patch. In fact last year at around the same time there was one which spend several days on the Meadow so it's possible that it might even be the same bird. I was also told that someone saw what was probably a spotted redshank on Otmoor that morning so it may have been knocking about the county a bit. Let's hope that it stays around though given the frozen conditions it's not very likely.
A couple of digiscoped videograbs of the spotted redshank taken at dusk
The next day I was lounging around at home having just said goodbye to some friends who had stayed over when I got a call from Jason to say that he'd just found a pair of Bewick's swans at the second screen on Otmoor. With there being no household chores holding me back I got dressed and hurried down there as quickly as possible (which was rather slowly given the icy conditions). After the rather long walk on the icy path all the way to the second screen I was rewarded with the two Bewick's still present with four mute swans. They were in a small area of unfrozen water quite close to the screen so I was able to get some reasonable quality digiscoped images.
The Bewick's swans by the second screen
So a couple of ticks in quick succession has meant that I am now clear of the previous record and therefore have the second highest county year list number of all time (that I know of at least). I have decided to follow Jason's lead and count the American Black Tern tick in anticipation of a split soon though like him I will hold the Azorean Yellow-legged gull in reserve still until that is actually split. Jason of course has now achieve the fantastic total of 200 birds in a year which is approaching legendary status for county birding. With a couple of weeks left to go to the end of the year there is now the question of what is there left that I might reasonably seen. Merlin is the most likely candidate and indeed it has been seen on both days this weekend at Otmoor though usually only first thing so I'm clearly going to have to get down there early in order to connect. There are also various other possibilities though none is very likely. Anyway, I feel happy (and amazed) at the number that I've achieved: I'm not going to catch Jason and I'm clear of the old record so it's a good total to settle on should nothing else turn up
Oxon County Year List 2009
192: American Black Tern 28/08/09 Farmoor Reservoir (anticipating the split)
193: Spotted Redshank 19/12/09 Port Meadow
194: Bewick's Swan 20/12/09 Otmoor
National Year List 2009
233: American Black Tern 28/08/09 Farmoor Reservoir (anticipating the split)