Thursday, 4 March 2010

Local Bits & Bobs

It's been a really quiet February. I know this because when it came to the end of the month and I started to gather together what photos I'd taken for the month to send in for the monthly OOS bulletin all I could find was my one decent shot of the five Port Meadow knot and a rather ropey videograb of a black-tailed godwit (see last entry). There have been a few local outings which I thought I'd write-up but nothing particularly earth-shattering.

I had my first trip up to Farmoor Reservoir a couple of weeks ago. I had been intending to nip out to Appleford to check out some hot gull action but it was getting rather late so in the end I opted for the Farmoor gull roost. I was amazed at how empty Farmoor was with very few ducks around and pretty modest gull roost. The hightlight of the trip was some great views of a barn owl hunting near the north west corner of Farmoor I. I met up with Nic Hallam there who was saying that ring-billed gulls are the gull du jour with the possibility of them showing up in the county so I've taken this to heart and have dutifully been grilling any gull flocks I come across for this rare transatlantic visitor.

I've still been visiting Port Meadow on a regular basis, either on a run with my bins or on my bike with my scope. The most interesting recent sighting happened last Sunday when I had just found myself confronted with some rather deep water near the boats. As I'd run all the way through Burgess Field and around the floods to get back to this point it was either wade or face a rather long retracement of my route so I elected to take the wet option. I was just savouring the coldness in my toes when I flock of birds came in and landed near by. A quick glance through the bins revealed them to be a flock of nine barnacle geese. They hung around for a few minutes during which time I made my way around to get a little nearer before a couple of grey lags took off and spooked the flock which flew off low to the north. I did wonder whether they might have stopped on the Hinterland somewhere but there have been no further reports of them. It's a tricky call with sightings like this: there is a flock of ten or so barnacles kicking around which was seen for example last autumn at Farmoor but it is also the time of year when wild birds are on the move. In terms of tickability, I'm going to include it on my county year list (I already have it on my national one through a (slighty dodgy) one at Snettisham and on the Port Meadow year list but not on my county life list.

I had a lunch-time quickie up at Dix Pit a few days ago: a pair of smew had been reported the previous day including a drake which I've yet to see in the county despite several attempts this year already. There was glorious sunshine and not much wind and I spent a very pleasant hour rummaging through the ducks and gulls there. No sign of the smew (of course) but there was a pair of red-crested pochard and in amongst the gulls were two first winter Caspians which I am pleased to say stood out a mile. Regular readers will know that I've been wrestling with the whole Caspian ID issue for some time but my hard work must be paying off because not only did they tick all the right boxes but they "felt right" as well. O dear, I'm starting to sound as crazed as the most hardened gull addicts now! Jason Coppock, who is starting to get the same gull bug and has confessed to me that he's spending most weekends down at Appleford looking for Caspians, has a theory that Med. gulls are a "gateway gull" which lead one on to the hardcore gull stuff from which there is no return.

Now that March is hear I've stepped up my visits to the Meadow and am looking forward to the first migrants arriving. Having been told that ring-billed gulls are a possibility and with March being the prime Med. gull passage time I'm dutifully grilling the Meadow evening gull roost. Dusk is now at around 6pm so I'm staying until just before then before having to scoot back home for dinner. I've noticed how many birds are arriving rather late with far more common gulls than I'd normally come across. There are also upwards of a thousand black-headed gulls to sift through though because they are rather densely packed and standing rather than bobbing aruond on the water á lá Farmoor it's harder to see all of them properly. So far my only reward for my efforts has been a yellow-legged gull. Interestingly enough, despite it's much darker mantle and small white apical spots on the primaries I don't have a feel for the jizz of a YLG and felt that the bird seemed rather "kind" and not fierce quite enough. Accordingly I check with our esteemed county recorder who assured me that it was probably a female hence the relatively modest size and kindness. I find this kind of help with gull ID issue invaluable and feel very lucky to have such good access to true gull grand masters such as Ian Lewington and Nic Hallam.

Not much in the way of photos to offer for this entry so I've included some of my better efforts from the Meadow. This knot stayed around for some time though it finally seems to have gone.
There have been a few shelduck around for a while now including this handsome male.

Here's the record video footage of the yellow-legged gull. Apologies for the shaking around at the start but my tripod is getting a bit "sticky" when panning and at x60 mag and x3 zoom on the camera, making x180 the slightest nudge can have a big effect!

Just a few odd ticks to add to the year lists

Oxon Year List 2010
093 barn owl 19/02/2010 Farmoor
094 barnacle goose 26/02/2010 Port Meadow
095 Caspian gull 01/03/2010 Dix Pit

National Year List 2010
108 barn owl 19/02/2010 Farmoor
109 Caspian gull 01/03/2010 Dix Pit

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