‘Its dead out there’’ – seems to be the recurring theme during conversations with various of the county’s birders. Maybe it’s a case of the eternal optimism held by so many patch watchers, especially us inland folk, but given May is one of the most anticipated months of the year it has certainly felt quiet around Oxfordshire especially outside of the flagship sites. Luckily, enough birds have dropped in to keep things interesting, albeit in a trickle rather than a flood.
The standout bird for the month is easily the 1st summer Eurasian Spoonbill picked up on Otmoor on the 6th. Spoonbill is an incredibly difficult bird to connect with in Oxfordshire, with almost all records in recent years being single observer flyovers with the last widely available bird coming back in 2012. This individual seemed destined to follow suit after first seemingly settling on Big Otmoor before seen to head NW after a brief stay. Luckily, it was seen again on the 7th and remained until 14th May allowing county listers to finally see a much sought-after bird. Given its recent change in status with breeding colonies in Norfolk, Suffolk and Yorkshire and recent breeding success in Essex, hopefully this enigmatic species will become easier to see within Oxon’s borders.
|Spoonbill courtesy of Pete Roby|
One the highlights of this time of year is the chance to observe waders in their breeding finery. The month got off to cracking start with a stunning summer plumaged Bar-tailed godwit found at Grimsbury reservoir on the 2nd May. The same bird was later seen at Balscote quarry. The only other record came from Otmoor on the 9th. Wood sandpiper were also thin on the ground and mostly unavailable to the locals with a single bird observed for an hour at Balscote quarry on the 6th, a single bird in an area with no general access at Otmoor on the 11th and a flyover bird calling from Peep-o-day lane on the 12th. A pair of Avocet on Otmoor disappointedly flew through without stopping on the 11th. A summer plumaged Turnstone present from the 20th until the evening of the 22nd was a welcome addition for Farmoor birders.
|Bar-tailed Godwit courtesy of John Friendship-Taylor|
Greenshank were recorded across four sites throughout May. A bird present on Port Meadow from 3rd until the 5th, Cholsey quarry hosted one on 10th and one at each site on the 11th at Peep-o-day Lane and Otmoor. Whimbrel were seen in good numbers with 3 birds through Farmoor on the 2nd and 2 again through on 7th. A single bird remained at Appleford GP’s on the 3rd and 4th, two at Pit 60 also remained for the same dates and a single bird at Balscote quarry on the 3rd. A single Ruff was seen at Otmoor on the 6th.
|Whimbrel courtesy of Steve Burch|
Farmoor hosted the bulk of records for our smaller waders, with Ringed plover, Sanderling and Dunlin observed throughout the month. Single Ringed plover were recorded on Farmoor on the 6th, 9th, 11th,12th and 23rd with two seen on the 17th and on the 25th. Two birds were seen on 11th at Pit 60 with two also seen at Otmoor on the 15th. Pairs of Sanderling were recorded on 1st, 2nd, 10th, 15th, 17th through to the 23rd with three recorded on the 11th and four on the 25th – exclusively from Farmoor.
|Sanderling courtesy of Conor Mackenzie|
Dunlin were a bit more widespread, although again most records were from the vast wader magnet that is Farmoor. Single and pairs were observed throughout the month there, with other records coming from Otmoor, Grimsbury and Peep-o-day lane. A high count of 60+ birds on the Farmoor causeway, mostly in summer plumage, was a brilliant record that came on the evening of the 19th. Common Sandpiper remained widespread in the county through the first half of May. Most records relate to single birds and come from 10 sites, a high count of four individuals came from Farmoor which remained on and off until the 15th.
|Turnstone courtesy of Ewan Urquhart|
The first chicks from our resident breeding waders have started to be noted, with Redshank and Lapwing successfully breeding in their strongholds of Otmoor. Curlew continued to be noted from Otmoor and Chimney, whilst Little ringed plover were much more widespread with at least one confirmed and several possible nesting attempts from across the county.
|Redshank chick crossing the path|
Otmoor Waders courtesy of Badger
Gulls & Terns
The annual spectacle of seafaring Terns turning up on an inland waterbody got underway on the 1st of the month. A pair of Sandwich tern found resting on one of the buoys on Farmoor was a nice find, although typically they did not stay long.
|Sandwich Tern courtesy of Andy Last|
A single Arctic tern heading North-East through Port meadow was great find away from Farmoor, with a single bird also noted at Sonning Eye GPs. The 2nd of May saw 20+ Common tern over F1 on Farmoor with at least 2 Arctic tern in amongst them, with a minimum of 5 noted later in the day. Common tern continued to be noted in varying numbers from Farmoor and at least 10 sites with some local breeders amongst them. In what looks like a mostly poor spring for passage Black tern not one record came from Oxfordshire during the peak of passage birds in late April/early May. In fact, birds were recorded in almost all counties surrounding the county so quite why Oxfordshire drew a blank is anyone’s guess.
|Arctic Tern courtesy of Nick Truby|
Wildfowl, grebes, divers etc
It was a case of Groundhog Day in relation to the spread of wildfowl throughout the county, with many of the long staying birds remaining throughout May also. The Great northern diver remained until the 16th; with a continuous stay of 155 days this might be Oxfordshire’s longest staying individual. Garganey were reported in various numbers throughout May, exclusively from Otmoor, with a high count 5 on the 1st hopefully this might indicate another successful brood of young Garganey is due in the next couple weeks. The long staying female Ringed-necked duck continued at Appleford GP’s until the 4th.
|Great Norther Diver courtesy of Conor Mackenzie|
Shelduck were reported from three sites throughout the month with 4 recorded from Otmoor between 6-16th, 4 from Tar lakes on the 9th and 2 from Bicester Wetlands from the 3rd through to 20th and again on the 30th. Mandarin were recorded away from their usually site of Blenheim, with a drake at Otmoor from the 6th-13th and a drake at Waterstock on 15th.
|Mandarin Duck courtesy of Nick Truby|
Speaking of Waterstock, Goosander were confirmed breeding for a 2nd year in a row after last year’s first ever Oxon breeding record. A female with 9 chicks were caught on a camera trap again on private land – fantastic news! Records of a female at Burcot on the 4th, 4 birds on Farmoor on the 16th and female at Blenheim on the 19th may also point to more breeding occurring elsewhere in the county.
Goosander Family courtesy of Badger
Egrets, herons etc.
The most interesting of the sightings this month concerned the return of several Cattle egret to the islands at Blenheim, the now famous site of the small breeding colony from last year, on the 11th. Cattle egret were noted from three other sites in the county – Pit 60, where one was noted on 14th, 15th and again on the 21st with 2 noted on the 20th , 3 on the 30th at Otmoor and one on the same day from Chimney meadows. Great white egret were noted from 3 sites through May. Otmoor had 1 present on the 9th, with Enslow hosting 2 on the 12th and 1 bird joining the Cattle egrets at Pit 60 on the 15th and 20th.
|Growing Crane Chick|
Crane continue to be present at Otmoor with up to 6 adults and two chicks noted throughout the month. After last year’s successful breeding and fledging of one chick, the presence of several adults and recently two chicks, gives us hope that this great achievement can be repeated. Bittern were noted in flight on several occasions across Otmoor and hopefully adults are now busy feeding young.
|Crane courtesy of John Reynolds|
Towards the end of the month the first Quail of the year were heard singing. One record came from Great Coxwell on 18th and again on 21st, whilst another bird was singing by the River Thame in Stadhampton. Another singing bird was heard on the 26th at Lowbury hill and possibly a 2nd or the same bird heard on the downs near Blewbury. Records of this elusive and enigmatic little bird typically peak around the summer, so having up to 4 records this early on could point to a bumper year for Quail within the county.
|Bittern courtesy of Debbie Cowee|
An intriguing report of a possible Black redstart came from Wantage on the 3rd, seen to be feeding in front of the observer’s window before lost to view. Unfortunately, it was not seen again or confirmed. A confirmed, albeit brief, record of a female bird came on the 29th again from Wantage and could quite possibly be the same bird? Meanwhile northbound migrants continued to filter through the county during May.
|Cuckoos continued to show well on the Otmoor rspb reserve.
Photo courtesy of Simon Booker www.stokerpix.com
Wheatear were noted from several sites including one at Grimsbury on 2nd and 3rd, one at Otmoor on the 5th, 5 were seen at Blewbury on the 6th. A great count of 9 were noted from Lark hill on the 14th, with a Male Greenland bound individual seen on the 15th. Whinchat records came from three sites. With 1 seen at Garsington on 1st, 1 at Grimsbury reservoir on 2nd and again on the 3rd and another single bird at Lark hill on the 14th.
|Spotted Flycatcher courtesy of Luke Mariner|
There were two records of Osprey in May with 1 on the 3rd and the other on 7th, both coming from Farmoor and typically short staying birds although the individual on the 3rd was around for the afternoon at least. Hobby arrived back in the county with individuals noted from around Oxfordshire, with up to 4 birds seen hawking over Otmoor through the month. Marsh harrier also continued to be seen at Otmoor with up to 3 birds noted, whilst a female was noted at Pit 60 occasionally during the month.
A Long-eared owl was found startled on a roadside somewhere in Oxon but thankfully it seemed to have recovered and was not in the same location the following day.
|Long-eared Owl courtesy of Nick Truby|
June and July are typically the quietest of months, although some gems are occasionally unearthed even in the peak of summer. The last two summers have produced an adult Rose-coloured starling with both coming from Wantage, both in their stunning summer plumage and proved to be popular birds amongst the locals. Whilst a tantalising series of Baltic gull sightings from Appleford kept the local gull watchers busy. Other rarities that have been found in the summer months in years gone by include Common rosefinch (June 2016), Red-backed shrike (July 2015) and Corncrake (June 2012).
|Rose-coloured Starling courtesy of Conor Mackenzie|