Friday, 29 January 2010

Chiselhampton Great Grey Shrike

A great grey shrike had been reported yesterday as having been seen whilst driving along the road to Chiselhampton. However, whilst such a report was interesting, particularly as one had been seen last year in roughly the same area, it wasn't exactly twitchable. However when news came today of the bird still being in the area and with a definite location given I needed no further encouragement (work was going rather slowly anyway) and quickly headed off towards the B4015 looking out for the "Simpsons & Sons" For Sale sign about a mile from Chiselhampton itself. I soon found it and the fact that another car was parked there was encouraging. Roger Wyatt was already there and soon put me on the bird which was showing on and off in the hedge at the back of the field. A succession of birders came and went whilst I was there (including the legendary Lee Evans). Whilst we watched it, it was seen to catch quite a large rodent, impale it on a thorn and then eat it. As usual I had a go at digiscoping it and was lucky to have the bird pose for a decent period in the top of a tree whilst the sun shone on it so that despite the strong scope-shaking wind, the shots weren't too bad.

A couple of shots of the bird. I think that having the telegraph pole behind the bird was probably a bad idea though it has been suggested that it offers a nice contrast for the bird's colours.
..and a closer crop on the second shot.

Great grey shrike is in fact a county tick for me as I've not managed to catch up with it before despite trying last year. A nice bird to see and I hope that it stays around long enough for others to enjoy it also.

Oxon County Year List 2010
086 great grey shrike 29/01/2010 (County Lifer)

National Year List 2010
093 great grey shrike 29/01/2010

Port Meadow Knot

I'm very lucky to have Port Meadow as my local patch and with it being a couple of minutes bike ride from my house, most days unless there's something specific that I want to see elsewhere, I'll aim to fit in a visit either on the bike or in the form of a run around the patch with my bins. I've found that the latter is an excellent way to keep fit: normally I find exercise rather boring but having the ulterior motive of birding makes all the difference and I never have any problem in getting out there to run round the patch. Yesterday was a running day (I aim to run three times a week) so I duly set off on my usual route around Burgess Field. On the way I had superb views of a sparrowhawk which glided low over my head before it headed off over the allotments to see what it could find. Burgess Field itself was remarkably quiet and the boggy pools at the north seemed to be drying out rather too quickly so there was only a single snipe in amongst them. On the way back I peered through the hedge to get a good view of the ducks that were spread out over the floods: the usual wigeon, teal and shoveler with the odd pintail in amongst them. I did notice that the west side of the floods had particularly good numbers of birds on them: when the floods are receding from high levels this can leave a narrow corridor of grass between the river and the flood water and at such times the birds tend to favour this area. What's more they can be viewed from relatively closely on the opposite side of the river. Given this situation I thought that I would run over there for a quick look.

From the west bank of the river I managed to find large numbers of lapwings (over 300) about and in amongst them were about half a dozen ruff which but I also noticed some other waders which had me puzzled at first. They were very grey in tone and rather dumpy looking at they looked too large for dunlin. I was thinking that they might be knot but despite the realtively close distance they were still about 75m away and it wasn't easy to make out with just a pair of bins. I decided that the best course of action was to run home and them come out again with my scope. I was surprised at just how quickly I could get home from there when I was motivated and it took just five minutes to get home, where I had a quick shower and came back out again with all my gear.

The lapwings had been very skittish when I was first out there and each time they flown up they'd taken the other waders with them so I was a little concerned that the mystery waders might get fed up with this and move on but I'd needn't have worried as they were still there. As soon as I got my scope on them I was able to confirm them as knot. In fact there were four of them, a single dunlin and six ruff, making a very nice winter wader ensemble. I took some photos and video the best I could thought the distance and the skittishness meant that this wasn't easy.

One of the four knot standing next to a ruff
A neat line-up of a dunlin, a knot and a ruff
A better view of the dunlin though the knot and ruff are tucked up in this one

Some video footage of two or three of the knot feeding

It's always great to turn up something interesting on one's local patch. Knot aren't particularly rare in the county but a typical year might have one or two sightings so it's a good county bird to see. Another tick or two to the year lists.

Oxon Year List 2010
084 knot 29/01/2010 Port Meadow
085 dunlin 29/01/2010 Port Meadow

National Year List 2010
092 knot 29/01/2010 Port Meadow

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Piddington Whoopers

Readers may remember that at the start of the icy spell I'd dipped out on the whooper swans at Piddington, making a visit after it had all frozen over and all the birds had departed. Now that everything was thawed and nicely flooded, the two swans were reportedly back on the Piddington floods so I decided to pay them a late morning visit.

I arrived to find the extensive flooding on both sides of the A41 and plenty of birds to look at. To the south (Piddington side) one could view from gaps through the hedge or at the entrance to the farm at the south end of the field. Within the field there were a pair of mute swans in the distance, hundreds of lapwings with a few golden plover scattered in amongst them. At the drier end of the floods there were hundreds of redwings and fieldfares all feeding away on the soft grass. A buzzard was sitting in the middle of the field and a red kite was perched in a distant tree. There were good numbers of loafing gulls, possibly from the nearby Calvert landfill which I scrutinised carefully in case the first winter glaucous was in amongst them as it would be a good county tick but to no avail. I did spot a couple of skulking long-billed brown birds hiding under a hedge which I had hoped might be errant woodcock but they turned out to be a brace of snipe.

I then decided to make my way over to look at the floods on the north side. The flood water was right next to the A41 but even standing on the opposite (south) side of the road the birds were easily spooked and a hundred or so canada geese as well as some widgeon and teal all scattered to the far end as I set up my scope. In fact the only birds that were still there were a couple of sleeping swans which turned out to be the two whoopers. As they were asleep they weren't very good photographic subjects so I went back to the southern floods for a while and when I returned at least one of them was awake and feeding and I was able to get some shots off though from my vantage point the birds were partially obscured by some bushes so not all the shots came out. Still the light was excellent and the birds were remarkably close - certainly the closest I've ever been to wild whoopers. It's about time I took some shots that were a bit better than record shot quality.

The one that was awake

And with it's sleeping partner

I'm glad that I caught up with these most elegant swans and that I got such good close views of them after my previous dip. Though I'm not in any way doing a serious county year list I do still find myself mentally thinking of what I still need to see and what I've missed so far in the county: it's a slippery slope but I must be firm and resist. Just because I twitch the odd county bird I can still handle it, I'm not a year lister, honest!

Oxon Year List 2010
083 Whooper swan 26/01/2010 Piddington

National Year List 2010
091 Whooper swan 26/01/2010 Piddington

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Oxon Goose Fest Continues

There seems to be no end to the current county goose fest. The seven tundra bean geese were still present at Aston this morning but in addition Peter Barker re-located 40+ white-fronted geese on the Flood Field at Otmoor. These birds had been seen to land somewhere on Otmoor a day or two ago but had not been re-found (or probably looked for) since. I was tied up with my weekly shopping duties in the morning and was therefore rather disappointed to hear that the birds had flown off late morning. Fortunately however, a while later they were reported back at Otmoor on Ashgrave field. After a quick lunch I took L out with me and we headed down to Otmoor. We'd just left the RSPB car park and were walking towards the bridle path when I thought to call to check on their location. It was a good thing that I did as it turned out they were right at the west end of Ashgrave near Lower Farm and it was by far easiest to view them from the Noke end. We quickly turned around and I bundled L back into the car and we nipped round to Noke where I soon managed to find them. L happily munched on some snacks whilst I scoped and photographed these handsome and suitably wary birds. There seemed to be at least 47 of them and the top count that I'd heard of was an impressive 49. They seemed reasonably content down at the Noke end and perhaps might stay a little while

A distant shot of part of the flock

Some close up shots. At the distance they were and in the gloomy light once again they are all of merely record shot quality

Another tick for the lists. In addition there were three little egrets also on Ashgrave which were county year list ticks.

National Year List 2010
090 white-fronted goose 23/01/2010 Otmoor

Oxon Year List 2010
081 white-fronted goose 23/01/2010 Otmoor
082 little egret 23/01/2010 Otmoor

Friday, 22 January 2010

Aston Bean Geese

At shortly after 4pm yesterday, just as it was getting dark, news broke of seven bean geese somewhere near Aston. Initially it was a little unclear as to where exactly they were but gradually from the chinese whispers on the grapevine the location was distilled and was later confirmed by the county recorder. It was too late by then to make it over there so many of the keenest county birders were going to arrive at first light in order to maximise their chances of what's a pretty scarce bird for the county. Unfortunately I had to help get L ready for his nursery in the morning so wasn't going to be free until after 8am.

The next day shortly after I'd done my childcare duties I received the news that the birds were still there so quickly set off and one wrong turning and a hurried phone-call for directions later, I arrived at the end of Ham Lane. A fellow birder was just leaving so I got directions and set off on about a mile's trek to just over a little bridge where the birds were located. Just as I started a distinctive "cronk" call alerted me to a couple of ravens which were flying off over one of the fields. Just over the bridge was a field bordering a river with a hedge running across it at about the half way point. The geese were behind this hedge but by walking forward a few paces it was possible to align a gap in the hedge with the birds and hence to get a view. They were several hundred yards away and it was raining quite hard and very gloomy but I managed some classic record shot quality photos.

On the way back I popped in to look at the West Oxford Sailing Club lakes. There were a few pochard, tufted duck and a single goldeneye as well as loads of coots. I'd been rather hoping for a red-crested pochard but there were none to be seen.

Bean goose is a county life tick for me (and plenty of other people too) so it was great to see these very wary birds. It's been a good month for county geese with the pink-foots, a flock of 21 brent geese on Farmoor a couple of days ago (which I missed as I was at Rainham) and now these beans. Some white-fronts and barnacles would round things off nicely!

National Year List 2010
087 raven 22/01/2010 Aston
088 bean goose 22/01/2010 Aston
089 goldeneye 22/01/2010 W.O. Sailing Club

Oxon County Year List 2010
077 raven 22/01/2010 Aston
078 bean goose 22/01/2010 Aston
079 goldeneye 22/01/2010 W.O. Sailing Club

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Forest Hill Revisted

Having had a tip-off that last year's county bird of the autumn was still about at Forest Hill, I decided to take a late morning visit over there to see if I could add rose-coloured starling to my year list. The fact that it was a sunny day also meant that there was a chance of some better photos than last time I'd seen the bird. The news was not generally out about it still being present so there were no other birders about as I set up in position at the top of the road near the telegraph pole. From this vantage point it was possible to keep an eye on all the roof tops on the opposite side of the street as well as the telegraph pole itself.

After an initial lull there were quite a few starlings around and at one stage a dozen were all clustered on the telegraph pole. Some reasonable sized flocks of thirty or more were also moving about but none held the bird I was after. While waiting I noted that there were quite a few birds about in the street: besides the starlings there were a good number of noisy house sparrows and a pair of pied wagtails. I could see over a tall hedge into a garden where there was a tree in which some chaffinches and goldfinches were present. A flock of about fifty lesser black-backed gulls flew overhead as did a couple of red kites. I'd mentally decided that I would be back at 1pm which would mean leaving at around a quarter to. I looked at my watch and it was saying 12:41 so just another four minutes and I would go I said to myself. At that point I spotted a blob at the far end of the roof tops and a quick scope view confirmed it as the bird. I moved down the street to get a closer look and to take some photos and fortunately it stayed long enough for some half decent shots. It was looking rather scruffy so perhaps is not in the best of health. The person who saw it a few days earlier said that he'd seen it gagging repeatedly so it may not last that long. On the other hand perhaps it was just panting and perhaps rose-coloured starlings do look scruffy before they start to moult - who knows? Anyway, it was great to see the bird again and to know that it at least lasted through the snowy weather, though I suspect that the locals have been putting out food for the birds as it seems to spend most of its time in the back gardens behind the houses.

One of its commoner cousins on the telegraph pole in bright sunshine...

...however the sun had gone in by the time the star of the show appeared.

National Year List 2010
086 rose-coloured starling 21/01/2010 Forest Hill

Oxon Year List 2010

076 rose-coloured starling 21/01/2010 Forest Hill

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Desperately Seeking Serins at Rainham Marshes

I'd been keeping an eye on reports of one or two first winter serins that had been seen regularly at Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve for a couple of months. With the end of my enforced confinement due to the snowy weather I felt keen to undertake a longer birding trip and so I decided to have a crack at these birds. I left the house at around 7:30am and braved the rush-hour traffic on the M40 and M25 which actually wasn't too bad and the journey took ten minutes over two hours, about twenty minutes longer than without the traffic. I arrived to find conditions very overcast with low level cloud and a bit of a breeze. I asked at the reserve reception about the serins and was given instructions on how to find "serin-mound", the main viewing point where the birds could often be seen. I set off on my journey which involved walking along the sea wall and I kept a keen lookout for finches as I went. There were plenty of greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches around at the beginning but as I progressed so the number of finches decreased and soon there were very few to be seen at all. On the other side of the wall the tide was going out and this was exposing a nice area of mud which was increasingly attracting birds. There were several dozen shelducks, a single curlew and a few redshank all feeding away. A few rock pipits were working their way along the rocky parts of the shoreline. There were some ducks, mostly wigeon as well as plenty of gulls on the river itself.

A curlew feeding in the mud. This bird was actually quite far away so
I'm pleased with how well this videograb came out.

One of a number of feeding shelduck on the mud

I walked round the bend and soon found the mound on which a fellow birder was stood. He told me that normally the serins were in the company of goldfinches but that he'd not seen any finches at all whilst he'd been there which tallied with the dearth of birds that I was experiencing. Soon after I arrived he decided that he'd had enough and departed, leaving me to survey the scene. It was indeed a good vantage point but there was a bit of a chilly breeze blowing into the slope on the mound and I wondered if this had driven the birds off to a more sheltered spot. I had read that they could often be seen some distance from the mound itself so I decided to walk a bit further on to see if I could track down any finches at all. About 400m beyond the mound I found a flock of linnets feeding close by and a young stonechat flitting around in the bushes.

One of the linnets. The background here is actually a passing lorry but
the darker colour brings out the birds lovely tones more than the pale sky would have done

Given that it was rather chilly I decided that rather than just standing around I would walk back and forth in the general area in order to maximise my chances of tracking down the serins. I walked part way back along the sea wall and back to the mound with no luck and no additional birds so I decided to walk back to the sea wall to see if I could track down the water pipit that had been reported in amongst the rock pipits. I spent a pleasant hour or so walking along the sea wall photographing all the pipits but I didn't see any that were water pipits though some of the rocks were unusually pale with comparatively unsullied undersides compared to more typical rock pipits. With the tide now at its lowest there were a total of forty redshank and thirty dunlin to be seen either on the mud or flying around.

A rather pale rock pipit though the under-feathers aren't white enough nor
 is the supercilium strong enough for it to be a water pipit

Having had my fill of pipits I decided to do one more circuit to look for the serins though by now I'd mentally accepted the dip. Up on the mound there was a kestrel posing in a tree and the stonechat had moved down into a field on the other side of the stream. A lovely female marsh harrier was hawking over the scrub and I endeavoured to take some video of it though trying to digiscope a flying raptor is nigh on impossible and I was quite pleased even to get anything out at all. I did get rather excited when I found a flock of goldfinches feeding on the slope. Would there be an elusive serin in amongst them? No, was the answer, just a meadow pipit lurking in the undergrowth.

The stonechat. I quite liked the composition of this with the twig and the fence in the background

The kestrel
The female marsh harrier just in the frame!

 A big ship going down the river

By now it was time to head back home. I'd not managed to see the serins at all which was most disappointing given the effort involved in getting there. I'm not in the same league as hard-core twitchers who are used to travelling hundreds of miles only to dip out and I do comparatively major trips like this only infrequently so to miss my target bird was a "waste" of a day off in some senses. On the other hand I'd managed some surprisingly acceptable photos given how gloomy it was and how far away the birds had been and it is always nice to visit a different type of habitat from what one can encounter back home. I'd enjoyed "rummaging" amongst the rock pipits for a water pipit and as waders are my favourites it had been great to see some out on the mud flats. I fully expect the birds to be reported again at Rainham in a day or two's time so it will be just one of those things when a bird goes awol for a while. There were also a few more ticks to add to the year list.

National Year List 2010
077 shelduck 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
078 reed bunting 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
079 curlew 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
080 dunlin 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
081 rock pipit 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
082 stonechat 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
083 marsh harrier 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
084 little egret 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
085 green woodpecker 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes

Oxon Year List 2010
072 jay 18/01/2010 Radley
073 pochard 18/01/2010 Radley
074 yellow-legged gull 18/01/2010 Port Meadow
075 green woodpecker 20/01/2010 Port Meadow

Monday, 18 January 2010

Smew Hunting

During the snowy weather a trio of drake smew had been located on the river at Dorchester, taking refuge from the frozen lakes. They'd been seen most days during the week but work commitments had meant that I wasn't able to make a sortie out there until Saturday afternoon when I took L out for an afternoon visit that way. I'd not actually been out with L for some time now, partly as he requires less overseeing at home now that he's older (and so it's less of an imposition on my VLW if I do go out) and partly because he's less included himself to be dragged out to some wind-blasted location in the middle of winter whilst I look at birds. He was rather reluctant this time too but once we arrived he really got into it. He's becoming quite keen on walking now and walked a good half a mile whilst chatting away and splashing in the puddles with his wellies. As far as the smew hunting was concerned they'd been seen both up and downstream of the lock at Day's Lock so it was not a case of simply turning up and ticking, rather they had to be looked for. As it happened though, as we were arriving we met a fellow birder who'd just searched upstream so we decided to do downstream together. He was a very active Bird Track reporter: in fact last year he made the fourth highest number of reports on the system with an amazing count of over twelve thousand submissions! Anyway, this meant that my companion was keen to record every species that we saw which made it rather more interesting that usual and I soon got into the spirit of looking out for birds for his list. We found four goosander tucked in under the trees on the far bank though they took flight before I could attempt a photo. There was a rather nice flock of goldfinches in an alder tree with a couple of siskins in amongst them. A flock of canada geese were grazing in the middle of a field and there were tufted duck and little and great crested grebes on the river. A sparrowhawk buzzed over and four red kites were soaring over the wood on the other side of the river. After a while with no sign of any smew my companion decided to call it a day but L and I walked a bit further on to see what we could find. L found some ice which he ate a bit of (well, at least it will boosts his immune system!) and as we were heading back in the gathering dark a red kite posed in a distant tree long enough for a quick videograb record shot. Despite not finding the smew it had been a pleasant afternoon's walk which we had both enjoyed.

Dorchester red kite videograbbed in the distance at dusk

Later that evening the three smew were reported as having been relocated on a pit very close to where we were which was a tad frustrating. I was tied up the next day with family stuff but on the Monday I had some spare time and wondered about trying to find them. An enquiry on OxonBirds revealed that the birds had been looked for but not found on the pit so they'd probably gone. Fortunately however a red-head smew had turned up on Thrupp Lake at Radley so I sent a text to Jason Coppock, whose patch Radley was, asking if he were popping in there on the way to work and whether he could let me know if the smew was still there. A while later I got a text back saying that it was indeed still present so, as I would be passing the recycling centre en route, I loaded up the car with some junk that needed recycling and set off towards Radley. A short while later I arrived, meeting up with Peter Barker and Jason who was still there. The smew was being rather secretive when we arrived, tucked in behind an island though after a while it showed again though always rather distant. I was keen to take some record shots but smew can be very difficult to photograph as they dive so frequently. Nevertheless I persevered and managed some shots of at least record shot quality.

Two record shots of the Radley red-head smew. Unfortunately all the real close-up shots were of even poorer quality.

Smew are such lovely ducks that it's always a pleasure to see them. It's a shame that I didn't catch up with the three drakes but the Radley red-head was a nice bird to see. A few more ticks to add to the year lists:

National 2010
069 siskin 16/01/2010 Dorchester
070 red kite 16/01/2010 Dorchester
071 little grebe 16/01/2010 Dorchester
072 stock dove 16/01/2010 Dorchester
073 pintail 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
074 gadwall 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
075 jay 17/01/2010 Langley, Bucks
076 smew 18/01/2010 Radley

Oxon 2010
065 siskin 16/01/2010 Dorchester
066 red kite 16/01/2010 Dorchester
067 little grebe 16/01/2010 Dorchester
068 stock dove 16/01/2010 Dorchester
069 pintail 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
070 gadwall 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
071 smew 18/01/2010 Radley
072 jay 18/01/2010 Radley
073 pochard 18/01/2010 Radley

Birds in the Snowy Garden

Thank god the snowy weather has finally ended. After the initial excitement of a decent snowfall in Oxford had worn off I spent much of the time worrying about how the birds were coping with the conditions. I even went a bought a load of new bird feeders and enough food to feed my usual garden visitors for the whole year in a bid to do my bit. I've deployed a Nyger feeder now which is being much appreciated by our regular visiting goldfinches with a peak count of nine birds in our small garden. Apples have also been a great discovery for me: I know that it's common advice but until this cold snap I'd not actually got around to putting some out but some apple halves judiciously placed around the garden or impaled on some nails that I put in the top of our trellis have really brought the thrushes in with up to four blackbirds, a song thrush, several redwings and two fieldfares all taking advantage of them. Also I've finally had blackcaps actually feeding in the garden: in the past they've merely passed through but they have been much enjoying the apples and it's been great to watch them feeding away. In addition to these birds there have been a regular flock of six starlings as well as a couple of chaffinches, a dunnock, two greenfinches, an occasional coal tit but surprisingly just one blue tit and one great tit - normally there are more tits around in the garden so I hope they've managed to survive the cold spell ok.

I recently bought a new camera, a Panasonic Lumix TZ7, not particularly for birding but simply in order to take everyday snaps. It has 10Megapixels and an amazing 12x optical zoom. My desk where I work looks out onto the back garden and I've been taking snaps through the (rather dirty) glass window if I see anything interesting and some of them have come out OK. It's never going to compete with a DSLR or get the magnification of digiscoping but it's useful to take a quick record shot. Below are a few of my shots.

I hadn't seen a song thrush in the garden for a while now so it was nice to have this one pay us a visit.

This greater spotted woodpecker visited a few times but never seemed to stay very long.

Fieldfares are very smart birds and it was a pleasure to have a couple in the garden

One of the two visiting blackcaps feeding on an impaled apple

With the laid-back approach to listing this year there are just a few additions to the year lists to note:

National 2010
066 great spotted woodpecker 07/01/2010 Garden
067 treecreeper 14/01/2010 Oxford Canal
068 goldcrest 14/01/2010 Oxford Canal

Oxon 2010
062 great spotted woodpecker 07/01/2010 Garden
063 treecreeper 14/01/2010 Oxford Canal
064 goldcrest 14/01/2010 Oxford Canal

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Calvert White-winged Gulls

Having been more or less house-bound for more than a week now due to the snow the only birding I'd done had been slogging through the snow on Port Meadow. On the Meadow I'd discovered that there were still some birds to be seen along the river and the Mill Stream, a small side stream with the highlights having been a water rail scurrying away in the undergrowth and a few redshank and snipe along the river banks. As the roads were becoming passable again I thought that I would venture out a bit further and with a first winter glaucous gull having been seen at the BBOWT reserve at Calvert the previous day I thought that I would have a crack at that.

I'd been worried about the state of the road leading up to Calvert but it turned out that it had been recently gritted and swept so it was in reasonable condition and I arrived at the parking area at around 2:30pm. A quick look in the first hide revealed the lake amazingly to be almost entirely ice free with just the far bank fringes iced over. There were lots of gulls dotted all round the lake so I made my way to the second hide from which there is a better view of the whole area. I started scanning through the birds looking for the coffee colouring of a first winter glaucous. In passing I noted a flock of 14 red-crested pochards in the middle of the lake, doing an interesting head nodding display which looked rather comical. As I continued scanning I noticed what appeared to be a white winged adult gull swimming in the water. I tracked it for a while and it eventually reached the ice fringe where it got out and started grooming. At that point I started doing some video recording as it did look interesting but the hide was constructed so the floor boards kept vibrating up and down so I soon had to stop and adjust my tripod to try to minimise the bounce. I did a bit more recording, made some more adjustments but then couldn't find the bird again. I had been a bit confused by what appeared to be a dark band below the white primaries. Puzzled as to what exactly it had been I resumed scanning through the flock and soon afterwards found the glaucous gull which I spent some time trying to photograph though it was a good distance away and there was very little light. Very pleased with having connected with the glaucous gull and not wanting to get too caught up in the rush-hour traffic I soon left and managed to get home shortly after 4pm

Several glaucous gull shots
A wing flap of the glaucous gull
Some of the red-crested pochard flock with a yellow-legged gull in front of them

The next morning I was going through my photos and I remembered the mysterious white-winged gull that I'd seen so I made a couple of grabs and had a look. It seemed to have some pale grey marks along the primaries so I started to wonder about a Kumlien's gull though I was still a bit confused by the dark line beneath them: was this a partially hidden black primary - I just didn't have the experience. I spoke with Ian Lewington about the bird and he explained that the dark line is the coalescing of a number of darker feather tips beneath the outermost primaries. He also said on first inspection that he thought the bird was good for a Kumliens though after the ID was queried by others I asked him to take another look and after he'd had time to consider it fully at it he agreed that actually it was a herring gull with unusually pale (perhaps partially melanistic) primaries. Apparently the mantle colour was too dark and the bird not delicate-looking as an iceland gull is. Still an interesting bird and a fine example of what a minefield gull identification can be if even someone such as Ian can be fooled on first inspection.

A grab of the mystery gull - a herring gull not a Kumlien's gull as I'd hoped

Another grab of the bird

The video footage of the mystery gull

I'd been pleased just to see the glaucous gull and the ID tussle concerning the possible Kumlien's had been most interesting. My more leisurely-paced year list is ticking along albeit at a rather sedate rate: I've managed to miss the Otmoor bittern fest and the Piddington swan fest already but in my non-county year listing mode I'm concentrating more on quality than quantity this year.

National & Oxon Year List 2010
046 dunnock 04/01/2010 Garden
047 bullfinch 04/01/2010 Garden
048 mute swan 05/01/2010 Port Meadow
049 mistle thrush 05/01/2010 Port Meadow
050 wren 05/01/2010 Port Meadow
051 golden plover 05/01/2010 Port Meadow
052 tufted duck 05/01/2010 Port Meadow
053 skylark 05/01/2010 Port Meadow
054 snipe 05/01/2010 Port Meadow
055 coal tit 07/01/2010 Garden
056 song thrush 07/01/2010 Garden
057 grey heron 08/01/2010 Port Meadow
058 goosander 08/01/2010 Port Meadow
059 water rail 08/01/2010 Port Meadow
060 common gull 08/01/2010 Port Meadow
061 blackcap 10/01/2010 Garden

National Year List 2010
062 pochard 11/01/2010 Calvert, Bucks
063 RC pochard 11/01/2010 Calvert, Bucks
064 glaucous gull 11/01/2010 Calvert, Bucks
065 Yellow-Legged gull 11/01/2010 Calvert, Bucks

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Farmoor Pink-footed Geese

A Happy New Year!

On Friday 1st January at around dusk I got a call from Farmoor patchworker Dai John saying that he'd had a flock of 19 pink-footed geese fly over heading over Wytham Hill towards Port Meadow (my patch). With this in mind I decided to get up early the next day to head down to the Meadow to see if they were there. Whilst I had a good but cold hour's birding on the Meadow (see the Port Meadow Birding), there were no sign of the geese. I'd just got back home when I got another call from Dai saying that the geese had turned up again and were in a field near the entrance to Farmoor reservoir. I didn't need any further encouragement and fairly soon after I was down there along with several of the county birding regulars. The birds were in the middle of a field and the only vantage point was from the south end of the field so one was looking towards the sun which meant viewing and photography were rather difficult. Still, I took my customary record shots and got the chance to admire some truely wild pink-footed geese: the single bird that I saw at Goring last year was always going to be a little bit suspect but there was no doubting the authenticity of these birds which were extremely wary. In fact to illustrate this, about ten minutes after I arrived some walkers came along the footpath that crosses the field and put the flock up. The geese headed off towards Farmoor but apparently weren't relocated so they must have moved on.

A couple of shots of part of the flock...
...and a close-up of some of the birds. Whilst it's difficult to make out the pink on the bill you can see the grey frosted appearance of the wing feathers which distinguishes them from bean geese.

And so another year list gets underway! As regular readers will know I'm not going to bother with aiming for a high county or national year list so I'm talking a more laid-back approach to it all. I'll still keep score as a matter of interest so below are the results for the first few days.

County & National Year List 2010
001 jackdaw 01/01/2010 Garden
002 starling 01/01/2010 Garden
003 blue tit 01/01/2010 Garden
004 goldfinch 01/01/2010 Garden
005 blackbird 01/01/2010 Garden
006 black-headed gull 01/01/2010 Garden
007 collard dove 01/01/2010 Garden
008 robin 01/01/2010 Garden
009 wood pigeon 01/01/2010 Garden
010 chaffinch 01/01/2010 Garden
011 greenfinch 01/01/2010 Garden
012 great tit 01/01/2010 Garden
013 long-tailed tit 01/01/2010 Garden
014 magpie 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
015 greylag goose 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
016 mallard 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
017 coot 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
018 great crested grebe 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
019 wigeon 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
020 teal 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
021 shoveler 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
022 moorhen 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
023 lapwing 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
024 ruff 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
025 redshank 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
026 pied wagtail 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
027 meadow pipit 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
028 linnet 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
029 sparrowhawk 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
030 kingfisher 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
031 cormorant 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
032 lsr blk-backed gull 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
033 gtr blck-backed gull 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
034 herring gull 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
035 canada goose 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
036 carrion crow 01/01/2010 Port Meadow
037 redwing 02/01/2010 Kingston Road
038 house sparrow 02/01/2010 Kingston Road
039 rook 02/01/2010 Farmoor
040 kestrel 02/01/2010 Farmoor
041 fieldfare 02/01/2010 Farmoor
042 pink-footed goose 02/01/2010 Farmoor
043 buzzard 02/01/2010 Farmoor
044 pheasant 02/01/2010 Farmoor
045 feral pigeon 02/01/2010 Kingston Road

Personal Review of the Year

I've reviewed the county year as a separate entry as it was such a big part of my birding year for 2009. However I thought that I would have a brief reminisce about my out of county birding this year just gone and also to look forward to the year ahead.

Looking back there were two family holidays in 2009 which were fortunately both in great birding locations and which offered me an opportunity to see some birds which I would not normally encounter. Dingle gave me iceland and glaucous gulls as well as my first black guillemots. Mull was a fantastic holiday where we seemed to be staying in the best birding location and I was able to see almost everything that I was after almost from my back door: white-tailed sea eagles, golden eagles, twite, artic skua and great skua were all much enjoyed with only corncrake eluding me but it was just too late in the season for them. Apart from that the only major birding expedition was my trip down to Devon where I stayed overnight and enjoyed a full day's birding by the sea. I was able to see: cattle egret, spoonbill, surf scoter, velvet scoter, cirl bunting and penduline tit as well as a probable Siberian chiffchaff on what was probably my favourite trip of the year.

Apart from these major trips there were little part-day excursions to see specific bird: green-winged teal at Eyebrook Reservoir in Leicestershire; mealy redpoll at Padworth in Berkshire; goshawks at New Fancy View; roseate terns at Brownsea Island; golden orioles at Lakenheath; honey buzzard in the New Forest; wryneck at Lathbury in Bucks.; the Staine's Moor brown shrike; the Hampshire spotted sandpiper and the Worcestershire glossy ibis were all nice little twitches.

As I mentioned previously I've managed 28 lifers this year which has been most gratifying. Let's hope that 2010 is just as enjoyable and rewarding. I'm definitely not doing another full-on county year list though I will keep track of my county score out of interest. I think that this year ahead I will concentrate on county and life list lifers to try and get both these lists up to something a little more respectable.

Friday, 1 January 2010

County Year Listing Round-up

Doing a county year list has certainly meant that I've been more attuned to all the sightings within the county and whilst I don't have much past county birding experience against which to compare it does seem to have been a good year for the county. Below are the final scores for the three of us who did the year listing:

Jason Coppock 200 (a new county year listing record)
Myself 195
Tom Wickens 192

County Total 217

Note this was strict BOU except that the American Black Tern was counted as it seems a dead cert for a split. The Azorean Yellow-Legged Gull and the Baltic Gull were not included so if they are split then these totals will be increased. Amazingly, if Jason hadn't left the county so often I calculate that he could have got another five birds which were all twitchable so it just shows what could have been achieved. Please note that the county total (and indeed this entire account) is my unofficial version and not the official total/list. Note also that Tom also achieved the amazing feat of doing twelve month lists all in excess of 100 ticks and mostly on foot!

Below is a list of the rarities and good county birds that we had over the past year.

Marsh Warbler (Otmoor)
Spoonbill (Otmoor,Port Meadow)
Great White Egret (Otmoor)
Bonaparte's Gull (Farmoor)
White-Winged Black Tern (Farmoor)
(American Black Tern) (Farmoor)
Grey Phalarope (Blenheim Palace,Radley)
Sabine's Gull (Blenheim Palace)
(Baltic Gull) (Didcot/Appleford)
(Azorean Gull) (Didcot/Appleford)
American Wigeon (Sonning Eye)
Temminck's Stint (Abingdon)
Rose-coloured Starling (Forest Hill)
Great Grey Shrike (near Ewelme) - MISSED
Cattle Egret (Dorchester) - MISSED
Pectoral Sandpiper (Radley) - MISSED
Crane (various locations but not twitchable) - MISSED
Pratincole (Otmoor - not twitchable) - MISSED
Hoopoe (supressed) - MISSED
Wryneck (someone's garden - not twitchable) - MISSED
Yellow-browed warbler (not twitchable) - MISSED
Ring-necked Duck - MISSED

Good County Birds
Little Tern
Bar-tailed Godwit
Bearded Tit
Red-breated Merganser
(Greenland) White-fronted Goose
Willow Tit
Brent Goose
Black Redstart
Black-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver
Snow Bunting
Slavonian Grebe
Snow Bunting
Kittiwake - MISSED
Long-tailed Duck - MISSED
Black-necked Grebe
Pink-footed Goose
Iceland Gull
Lesser-spotted Woodpecker
Ring Ouzel
Pied Flycatcher (not twitchable) - MISSED
Roseate Tern (not twitchable) - MISSED
Manx Shearwater - MISSED
Mealy Redpoll - MISSED

I've marked as "MISSED" the birds that I didn't personally see. To that list should be added things like little stint, grey plover and water pipit which somehow I didn't get to see

A montage of some of the county birds for 2009

All that remains is for me to wish all readers of this blog a very Happy New Year!