• Tue. Nov 28th, 2023


The Pet encyclopedia

April Review


May 2, 2023 , ,


Spring has well and truly sprung! April added an additional 24
species to the county year list, which now stands at 183. Hot on the heels of
our early returning migrants the trickle turned into a flood with the much
anticipated and welcome return of many warbler species as well overland
migration of waders, gulls and terns. Almost every spring a single pioneering
bird will rock up early and buck the trend for typical arrival, whilst every
now and again an outlier spring will throw up a few early migrant of differing
species. This spring however has felt like quite a few species were bucking the
arrival trend, especially after Oxon logged the first Arctic Tern in the
UK. This got me wondering on what the typical median arrival date for
most of our common migrant species were and thus a flick through 20 odd years
of migrant arrival data was needed (see below).

Migrant arrival dates for


Median (since 2000)

Earliest (since 2000)

2023 first record

















































































































Ring Ouzel




















Wood Warbler













Many species had pretty typical arrival dates plus or minus
a few days from their median arrival dates. That being said up to ten species were
recorded much earlier than typical with some being logged up to two weeks
earlier than the median arrival, with Arctic Tern and Sandwich Tern clocking
their earliest arrival dates since the turn of the century. Is this a trend
likely to continue into the future? It would seem so.

Black-crowned Night Heron

It’s just gone 10pm on the evening of the 30th and
I have finally completed the monthly review. After adding in several county
rarities already at the last minute I am happy there is no chance I will have
to add in anything else to an already large review period. How wrong I was! At
23:11 a report came in with an attached photo of a Black-crowned Night Heron
in flight over Otmoor’s first screen, a species which although was
probably anticipated given the recent influx is by all measures a major county
rarity. It transpires that a mystery bird calling in the darkness was heard by
folk who had gathered the evening before for the Spotted Crake, which after
a quick listen sounded spot on for Night Heron. This gives some hope
that the bird is either roosting on the site or somewhere nearby and is returning
to Otmoor for nocturnal foraging. Given the rarity value of this species
in the county I would expect a major gathering this evening between the 1st
and 2nd screens at Otmoor in the hope of a return fly past of
this fantastic bird. Even if it doesn’t get relocated it will certainly be a contender for rarity of the year and is an absolute fantastic find by Jeremy in what has turned out to be a cracking April for Oxon rarities. 

Records of Black-crowned
Night Heron for Oxon

Nature of record



A single bird
– shot


May 1891

Single bird


September 1934

Single bird

Benson Weir

May 1972

Single bird


29th July 1976

Single bird –
flushed from Shifford Lock

Shifford Lock

April 2000

Adult –
Present on Otmoor but observed to have colour ring and damaged beak. Assumed
to be an escapee


– 27th May 2002

Black-crowned Night Heron courtesy of Jeremy Dexter.

Purple Heron

That will teach me for getting ahead of myself. After being
organised for a change and getting the highlights written ahead of time, writing
some guff about overland migration after not too many other rare birds to
choose from.  A Purple Heron then
goes and pops up at Pit 60 on the 25th. The 2nd
record in as many years with the last coming in the autumn of 2021 at Blenheim
this bird, like the last, quickly disappeared and remained elusive for much of
the day. Only occasionally showing and even then, no more than its head and at some
distance. It seemed destined to be one of those birds that would remain elusive
and just like that it disappeared later that afternoon and was not to be seen
again for a few days. It reappeared on the 29th although was typically
elusive and only occasionally showing or briefly viewed in flight, one can only
hope it pitches up somewhere with better views and access. Although the last
record came only in 2021 the next record goes all the way back to 2016,
although the Otmoor bird did the right thing and stuck long enough for
plenty of folk to see it, albeit not always an easy bird. This latest record
may just be the first (?) spring record for the species in the county with all
records since 2007 coming in the autumn.

Purple Heron courtesy of Steve Burch

Spotted Crake

And not even before I had finished writing up the Purple
addition to the highlights a Spotted Crake was found singing
at Otmoor on the evening of the 25th. The finder was apparently
at Otmoor to record the dusk/evening soundscape to use for his early
morning alarm and quite unbelievably managed to find this secretive little
beauty singing away. The next evening a few of us gathered in the hope it was
still present. Thankfully on a still spring night the ‘drip drip’ song of a Spotted
joined the night time soundscape of booming Bittern, drumming Snipe
and reeling Grasshopper Warbler. The bird was still present until at
least the evening of the 29th The last record, unsurprisingly, came
from Otmoor during the covid restrictions of 2020 along with a county
mega of Savi’s Warbler. The last gettable record came Kennington in
2014 with a bird singing for a few nights on a small marsh along the River

Spotted Crake Singing, courtesy of Tom Bedford


The annual Bar-tailed Godwit movement
started with a pair of birds on Balscote Quarry on the 18th
with one remaining there until at least the 20th. Pit 60 also
hosted a bird on the 18th with another 2 birds on the 19th
increasing to 5 later that afternoon. A mega flock of over 40 birds went over Peep-o-day
also on the 19th with the either the same flock or another flock
over Port Meadow in the evening. A single bird then popped up at Bicester
on the 21st with another single bird at Otmoor on
the 22nd. A very decent flock of Black-tailed Godwit came at
the beginning of the month with 38 on Port Meadow on the 1st
with between 1 and 6 remaining on the floods until the 21st although
presumably relating to different birds between the 13th and 21st
to those present at the beginning of the month. A single record came from Otmoor
on the 19th.

Bar-tailed Godwit Bicester Wetlands Reserve courtesy of Mike Pollard.

The first Wood Sandpiper arrived
around 2 days earlier than the median arrival time with the first at Otmoor on
the 28th. A 2nd bird was located on the Port Meadow later
that day but unfortunately bunked before more folk could catch up with it. The
first Whimbrel of the spring came in early and was picked up at Banbury
on the 10th followed by a bird at Farmoor on the 11th.
Farmoor recorded an additional three birds on the 21st, 26thand
again on 28th. Otmoor also got in on the action had the
highest count of 5 on the 22nd with two bird remaining until at
least the 24th, whilst a single bird was recorded on the 16th.
Day’s Lock, a usually pretty reliable area for spring passage of the species,
also recorded multiple birds with 3 arriving on the 17th and a single
bird remaining until the 20th. Pit 60 recorded a single a
bird on the 28th where it, as reported, spent most of its time
sleeping. The most unusual location came from Lark Hill when a lone bird
was seen feeding in the fields up on the downs.

Farmoor Whimbrel courtesy of Steve Liptrot

The 1st of the month saw
the arrival of another Avocet after the very early record from the
county back in February. A lone bird was on the new Thames scrape at Day’s
, in what is proving to be a cracking bit of habitat for migrating
waders. Presumably the same bird was then seen distantly at Otmoor later
that day. A single Grey Plover was record came this month with a lone
bird on Port Meadow on the 8th. Greenshank were also recorded
from Port Meadow but from later in the month with single bird present on
21st, 22nd and again on the 27th. A single
bird was also present on Otmoor on the 20th, whilst Grimsbury
and Appleford GP’s both hosted single birds briefly on the 29th.
Ringed Plover were logged at four sites with the first of these coming
from a slightly random site in Yelford on the 5th. More
typically 2 were on Port Meadow on the 23rd whilst a high
count of 7 came from Otmoor on the 28th. A lone bird
associating with a trio of Dunlin was on the Farmoor causeway on
the 29th.

Avocet on the Allen Pit courtesy of Geoff Wyatt

were recorded from
3 sites with the majority of these coming from the typical site of the concrete
bowl of Farmoor. Two birds were recorded on the 2nd through to
the 9th whilst another pair were there on the 21st. A trio
of birds were along the causeway on the 29th. Other records came
from Appleford GPs with a single bird flying around the pits on the 4th.
Port Meadow also hosted birds with 7 on the 23rd and 2 were
here on the 28th. After their first arrivals back in March,
Little Ringed Plover
continued to be widely reported from the county. At
least 7 sites spread right across the county reported at least 1 bird. The
highest count came from a site in Witney where at least 7 were present
on the 3rd with 6 remaining until the 8th of the month. Away
from Otmoor records of Redshank came from Port Meadow, Venn
Mull, Pit 60
and Sutton Courtenay. The largest count came from Port
when a large count of 16 birds were present on the 15th.

Little-ringed Plover Grimsbury Reservoir courtesy of Edwin Barson.

 Wintering Green Sandpiper continued
at a few sites in the early part of the month whilst birds seemingly starting
to move through the county from the 13
th onwards. Records came from
at least 9 sites spread across the county. The highest count of 5 came from
on the 4th and related to lingering and wintering birds.
The first spring
Common Sandpiper was present at Sutton Courtenay on
the 10
th. Thereafter a further 10 sites recorded at least one bird with
the largest count came from
Otmoor where a flock of 10 birds were
present on the 27
th with all the other sites recorded between 1 and
4 birds.

Dunlin Farmoor courtesy of Ben Sheldon.

Out of bound records of Curlew
i.e away from Otmoor came from Sutton Courtenay on the 15th
and Day’s Lock on the 20th, whilst a late record of Golden
came from Port Meadow on the 23rd


The obvious highlight for the period
was the continuing Lesser Scaup but this time turning up at Dix Pit from
the 2nd until the 9th, seemingly dragged over to the deep
pit by its interest in a female Tufted Duck. Could we see some future head
scratching hybrids in the future? Either way a fantastic find by one of our Patchwork
challenge participants. The drake then returned to Farmoor on the 13th
where it remained until the 23rd before going AWOL and not been seen
again during April.

Shelduck Peep-o-Day Lane courtesy of Conor Mackenzie.

An unseasonal Pink-footed
was present on Otmoor from the 16th until at least
the 27th. A possibly sick bird that couldn’t quite manage the return
leg of its long journey north or something slightly more dubious, I guess no
one will ever know. A lone White-fronted Goose was also reported from Oddington
with the assumption that this came from Otmoor on the 26th,
seemingly adds to the credibility of the Pink-footed Goose record in the
same area.

The Otmoor Pink-foot courtesy of John Edwards

Continuing its run of form Dix Pit also produced a summer
plumaged Black-necked Grebe on the 12th. In what looked like
it maybe only a one day bird the same individual was then picked up at Pit
the following day, disappearing for nearly 3 days before returning on the

Black-necked Grebe at Dix Pit courtesy of Simon Bradfield

Common Scoter began undertaking their overland migration
in the early part of the month. The first to arrive within the counties borders
was a drake present on Grimsbury Reservoir on the 10th. Three
birds including a lone drake were present on Farmoor on the 17th
whilst, continuing its purple patch this period, Dix Pit scored a drake
on the 18th. A lone Scaup record came, surprisingly, from Radley
on the 19th when a female was present along with a group
of Tufted Duck.


Common Scoter above & below courtesy of Kyle Smith.


In what has been a cracking month
for Garganey records with the county recording up to 9 birds in a single
day, the true number moving through the county has been difficult to keep a
track of with so many records at different The first spring record came on the
4th when three birds turned up on the flood at Peep-o-day Lane. Birds
were recorded at a further 6 locations throughout the month with Otmoor, Port
Meadow, Pit 60, Grimsbury, Day’s Lock and Chimney Meadows
all logging birds.
The highest count came from Peep-o-day Lane with 5 birds there on the 10th
until the 11th. Port Meadow regularly recorded a trio of
birds as did Pit 60. Whilst pairs or singles were recorded sporadically
at the other locations. Ring-necked Duck continued at their typical
locations with the usual pair at Pit 60 from the 1st until
the 17th albeit sporadically, whilst the almost resident female bird
was present at Appleford GP’s throughout the month.


Garganey courtesy of Bryan Manston

Shelduck were present at 6
sites with majority of records coming from Port Meadow. The highest count
also came from this site with 8 here on two occasions (14th and 17th)
Between 4 and 7 birds were present for the rest of the month, seemingly managing
to avoid the huge disturbances of this well used site. Other sites that hosted
birds include Witney, Farmoor, Otmoor, Day’s Lock and Sutton
Courtenay. Goosander
bred for a 3rd consecutive year at a
private site near Waterstock with a pair producing a brood of 5 young,
captured beautifully on a well placed trail cam. Other records come from two additional
sites with birds present at Port Meadow early in the month and another
bird at Pit 60 on the 15th.

Escaped North American Wood Duck courtesy of Jeff Bishop.

On the plastic front, Mandarin
were at several sites this month. Aside from the usual birds at Blenheim
(up to 3 present throughout the month), singles and pair were reported from
an additional 5 sites. A lone female Wood Duck was somewhat or a surprise
on Farmoor of all places on the 17th. Whilst two Black Swan
were present on Port Meadow on the 15th and 16th

Goosander successfully breed in Oxfordshire for the 3rd year running video courtesy of Nick Marriner.

Herons, Egrets etc

After our first Cattle Egret towards the end of March,
records from the county began to increase slowly throughout the month. Aside
from Blenheim where a peak of 7 were logged on the 26th, 5
additional locations logged birds. Most came from expected areas in the west of
the county with Enslow, Brighthampton and Pit 60 all hosting
birds from the 9th until the 22nd with a high count of 3
at Enslow on the 22nd. Otmoor also saw a single bird
there on the 19th whilst Port Meadow had a brief arrival of a
lone bird on the 14th. Day’s Lock got only its 2nd
record for the patch, the first been the very first Oxon bird back in 2008! Great
White Egret
continued in the usual areas with up to 3 different birds
present at Pit 60 through the month including a bird in non-breeding
plumage. A high count of 3 birds together came from Blenheim on the 3rd
with a single bird present up until at least the 25th. Port
also scored an individual on two separate occasions, both being
flyover records on the 23rd and 27th. Freeland also
had a single bird flyover on the 19th presumably commuting between Blenheim
and Pit 60.

Crane at Radley courtesy of Nicky Jones

April saw mixed fortunes for Crane records. After
the presence of up to 5 birds on Otmoor towards the back end of March,
records this month came from a good spread of sites across the county. A single
bird circling over Appleford GP’s on the 1st of the month (a particular
sore point for myself as I missed it!) was then tracked over several sites
presumably on route to Otmoor with several reports over Oxford later
that day. Three birds were clocked several times over Pit 60, Wytham and
Farmoor from the 15th onward, all three un-ringed and
presumably in search of suitable habitat in the west of the county. Somerton
in the north of the county hosted two birds briefly on the floods to the
east of the village on the 13th, whilst Radley Lakes also had
a brief record on the 19th. Bicester Wetlands also hosted a
bird on the 30th. The sad news, however,  came from Otmoor on the 13th
when Maple Glory, a female from the original crane reintroduction project was
found dead near to a nest containing two eggs, presumably having been the
victim of predation. Maple Glory was 11 years old and had been visiting Otmoor
since 2015, this pioneering female will have a place in Otmoor’s and
Oxfordshire’s history books as one half of the first pair of successfully
breeding Crane’s in Oxfordshire for over 500 years. A single
chick managed to freely fly off in 2022 after several years of near misses, so
at the very least the UK population has one more Crane thanks to Maple

Pit 60 Cranes courtesy of Steve Burch


More sad news came from the Oxon Downs when a Great
from the Salisbury Plain reintroduction project was found
dead close to the Ridgeway. The female, ringed Green 12, was hatched
from a rescued egg (assumed to be from Salisbury Plain) and released in
2021. It appears she met her unfortunate end by colliding with powerlines, a real
issue for birds of such a large size.


The passage of Little Gull is often an eagerly anticipated
event in the county and this year the first arrival of birds came on the 19th
with 3 at West Oxon Sailing Club. Dix Pit also hosted 3 on the same day,
possibly the same birds whilst Farmoor had a flock of 8 as well on the
19th. The 20th saw the largest movement of birds when a flock
of 13 settled on Port Meadow with an additional 3 flying straight
through. Dix Pit also topped up to 4 birds on the 20th with
at least one bird lingering on until the evening of the 23rd. Sonning
Eye GP’s
hosted 4 birds on the 21st whilst Farmoor had 2
birds remaining also on the 21st with a single there until the 23rd.

Port Meadow Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

After the very early record of Sandwich Tern on the
18th March from Port Meadow, the Oxford site scored
another two birds on the 28th seemingly flying straight through and
not in sticking around. Kittiwake had a good run through the county in April
and in a change of pace from 2022 where it seemed several dropped dead out
of sky, most of the birds recorded seemed in good health! Grimsbury saw
the first arrive on the 1st of the month, with this bird remaining
for much of the day. Port Meadow hosted 2 adults on the 2nd
whilst Grimsbury hosted a different adult bird from the previous day.
also hosted an adult on the 14th which remained until
the 15th which may of being the clue as to what was to come when
unfortunately the bird perished. Grimsbury continued its fine form for the
species when it hosted its 4th and 5th bird on 6th
and 24th respectively, an amazing run for such a relatively small
body of water and much credit must go to the small group of dedicated stalwarts
of the site.


Farmoor Kittiwake courtesy of Dave Murphy

After the first record of Arctic Tern on the 31st
(the first in the UK too), the next record came from Grimsbury on the 2nd.
Pit 60 scored 2 birds on the 10th and a single on 17th ,
whilst Allen Pit also had lone bird on the 10th a nice patch
tick for the local birder there. Port Meadow saw birds arrive on the 18th
with a small flock of 5 and another group of 6 pass through the site on the 28th.
Farmoor, the traditional site for Arctic Tern passage in the
county, had modest numbers between the 4th and 21st with
a maximum of 10 present on the 17th. Things got a bit crazy when a
huge flock of 170+ (!) was then present on the 23rd and apparently
for most of the afternoon into the early evening. Unfortunately, this was one
of those records that didn’t filter out the rest of the county for all to enjoy
such a spectacle.

Allen Pit Arctic Tern courtesy of Geoff Wyatt

Common Tern
continued to increase in the county with
a big arrival of birds from the 10th onwards, after initial birds reported
at Grimsbury Reservoir on the 1st and 2nd. Thereafter,
at least 10 sites recorded birds throughout the period with most records
relating to multiple birds. The largest count came from Farmoor with 20+
birds on the 29th. Mediterranean Gull were only reported from
one site – Port Meadow. Presumably the same bird was recorded here on
the 1st and 2nd with a different 1st summer
bird there on the 25th. A pretty late record of Caspian Gull was
found on Peep-o-day Lane was possibly the surprise record of the month
given it was nearly May when it was found on the 29th. A very
nice 1st summer bird and a surprise addition to Thomas and Ben’s Oxon
Big Day by bike (more on that later). 


Port Meadow turn up a stunning Wood Warbler on
the 24th when a singing male was located at Burgess Field, a
cracking semi-urban find for the city and a contender for one of the highlights
of the period. Its arrival date was bang on the median arrival date for the
species in the county and it remained until the 25th. A 2nd
bird was then located at Wytham Woods on the 28th and present
in much more suitable habitat than the first record, especially since
historically the species has bred in the wood albeit not since the 1980’s. Present
again on the 29th and 30th and showing remarkably well at
times, it was somewhat surprising that a 2nd individual was located
back in Oxford City later in the day on the 29th. This time singing
along the Oxford Canal, in a even more urban area and was presumably the
Port Meadow bird relocating. A near unprecedented 3rd bird
was then found singing near Wittenham Wood also on the 29th.


Wytham Wood Warbler courtesy of Conor Mackenzie


Wood Warbler singing courtesy of Simon Bradfield.

Two records of Pied Flycatcher came on the 23rd,
both males, with one at Grimsbury Reservoir and Ducklington Lake with
the former staying only briefly and the latter remaining for much of the day
allowing several birders to connect. A stunning near summer plumage Water
came from Allen Pit on the 2nd of the month but
unfortunately almost immediately flying off over the Thames in what is a real
tricky bird to connect with in the county. Rock Pipit passage was typically
slower in the spring than in the autumn with only two birds recorded this month
from Farmoor also on the 2nd.


Water Pipit at the Allen Pit courtesy of Geoff Wyatt


There was 4 records of Ring Ouzel this month with the
first bird (a female) arriving on the 14th at Aston Upthorpe on
the Oxon Downs. Grimsbury also recorded a female bird on the 23rd,
a nice consolation for the disappearing Pied Flycatcher earlier in the
day. Chinnor hosted a single bird later in the month on the 28th
whilst Aston Upthorpe hosted more birds on the 29th with a
male and two females. 

Pied Flycatcher courtesy of Ben Sheldon

The first Whinchat arrived along with the first Ring
and in the same location with two birds at Aston Upthorpe on
the 14th. A further 9 sites recording birds throughout April with
a high count coming from Otmoor on the 24th with a whopping 7
birds here. Typically Redstart arrived a tad earlier with the first
arrival on the 4th but also coming from Aston Upthorpe with a
single bird present. 15+ sites went on to record this classy spring migrant
through April with most records relating to single birds, although Grimsbury
repeatedly reported a pair of birds in the latter part of the month.

Whinchat courtesy of Alan Dawson

Yellow Wagtail continued to pile into the county
after the initial record in the latter part of March. Over 17 sites
recorded bird throughout the period with many locations recorded multiple birds,
the highest count of which came from Port Meadow on the 25th
when a massive count of 26 birds were present with Letcome Regis coming
a close 2nd on the 16th with at least 22 birds
were recorded here. White Wagtail was slightly less spread through the
county with only four sites recording birds this month, 2 recorded on Grimsbury
and Farmoor on the 2nd and 13th respectively
were the only counts of multiple birds.

Yellow Wagtail courtesy of Alan Dawson


The first Cuckoo was basically bang on time with a
signing male at Balscote Quarry on the 8th. It took another week
before the next bird was recorded with one at Otmoor on the 15th.
A further 6 sites went on to record birds in April with 3 at Otmoor the
highest count. With 20 sites recording individuals Wheatear was the most
widespread of the commoner spring migrants in April. Counts of multiple
birds weren’t uncommon with the largest count of 15 birds coming from Otmoor
on the 24th but with several sites recording 5+ birds frequently,
mostly from the Oxon Downs.  

Cuckoo Otmoor rspb courtesy of Dave South.

first Whitethroat arrived in the county on the 3rd with a
single singing bird at Pit 60. This was swiftly followed by a Lesser
on the 9th at West Hendred, almost a week earlier
than typical median arrival date. Garden Warbler arrived nearly a week
later with a bird at Otmoor on the 15th. Reed Warbler made
their first incursion into the county from the 7th on Otmoor followed
quickly by the first Grasshopper Warbler also on Otmoor on the 8th.
The first Swift came from Farmoor, Didcot and Blenheim with
all recording birds on the 20th. A high count of 20+ birds came from
Farmoor on the 21st of the month.

Otmoor Gropper courtesy of Bryan Manston

Wintering birds lingering included Brambling present
at 5 locations from the 2nd until the 22nd, with possibly
the most unlikely record coming from Lye Valley on the 17th.
The Port Meadow Siberian Chiffchaff continued at the site until the 6th
at least, whilst Fieldfare continued to be reported sporadically with up
to 30 at Thame on the 25th of the month. The near miss of the
month came from the Ridgeway when a Hoopoe was reported from between
Sparsholt Firs and Uffington. Despite a thorough search of the
area it could not be relocated and will have to be left as one that got away.


Osprey were present at four sites this month with at
least 3 birds seen moving through the county. Bicester Wetlands recorded
one on the 4th , a cracking record for this relatively new and small
site, whilst a seemingly different birds was at Chinnor on the same day
seen to be perched on pylons there. Pit 60 briefly hosted a bird on the
6th whilst Port Meadow was also had a brief bird on the 21st
when one flew straight through the site. The first Hobby arrived in the
county on the 10th with a lone bird at Blenheim. Pixey Mead hosted
a single bird the following day with Otmoor recorded a single bird almost
a week later. Here a high count of 4 birds was present by 28th of
the month, with a further 3 sites recording single birds until the latter part
of the month. 

Hobby courtesy of Jessica Crumpton


Short-eared Owl were reported from four sites this month with
new birds and lingering birds present during the month. Oxfordshire Golf
hosted a single bird quartering the rough ground there on the 2nd.
Devils Punchbowl continued to host at least one bird until the 8th
whilst possibly the same bird was a bit further east at Aston Upthorpe on
the 14th. Port Meadow saw a surprise record of a bird flushed
from Burgess field on the 22nd. Otmoor hosted the most
regularly occurring bird with one present sporadically from the 4th until
at least the 29th. Merlin also continued this month with 1 Fyfield
on the 1st, another bird at Lark Hill on the 4th
and Aston Upthorpe hosting a bird on the 14th.

Patchwork challenge

With the arrival of spring proper
the patchwork challenge patches have been ticking away nicely. Across the network
of Oxon patches there have been some great local finds, some near misses and even
a county mega making an appearance on one lucky patch. All patches appear well
on their way to their target points for the year, with a few even already above
their initial target it goes to show the effort folk are putting into their local

The best find of the month has to
be the Lesser Scaup over at Dix Pit on a brief jaunt from Farmoor
and seemingly pulled there by its interest in a female Tufted Duck. Worth
a whopping 12 points as it acquired a bonus 8 points for being a self-found
bird, its definitely a contender for find of the year for the Oxon mini-league.
That being said plenty of good birds were found across the network of patches. Blenheim
saw Osprey and Cattle Egret this month whilst Grimsbury recorded
its 5th (!) Kittiwake of the year along with a flurry of very
decent migrants including Common Scoter, Pied Flycatcher and a Ring
The most productive patch seems to be a neck and neck race between Dix
and the River Thames patches with both producing some stunning
local finds, including the aforementioned Lesser Scaup but also Water
and Wood Warbler. The point remains that local birding can
prove to be an amazingly rewarding experience as long as you are willing to put
the hour in. Will May prove to be as productive? One can only hope!





Target points

Percentage of target


Aston eyot

Ben Sheldon












Cattle Egret

Dix pit






Med Gull;
Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup (SF), Black-necked Grebe, Common Scoter, Little

Grimsbury reservoir






Apr – another
2 Kittiwake (patch has had 3 in Apr and 4 this year), Common Scoter,

Lye valley

Tom Bedford






River Thames

Geoff Wyatt





Artic Tern –
Patch tick. Cattle Egret 2nd on the patch, the 1st record in 2008 was a 1st
for Oxon. Wood Warbler

Sutton Courtenay






Bar-tailed Godwit patch and county tick. 
Garganey. 1st summer Caspian Gull.

East challow

Mark Merritt







Oxfordshire Low Carbon Big Day: 29 April 2023

In 2022, I (BCS) enjoyed the challenge of a “Big Year” list, restricted to within the ring road of Oxford, and using only walking or cycling to get around. I was intrigued when Thomas Miller (TEM) – a keen cyclist as well as ace Oxford birder – suggested the challenge of an all county “Big Day” based on the same principles. With a few other keen cycling birders unavailable on the key weekend at the end of April it was left to Thomas and I to form a team of two, and plan the day. We were a little unsure what the optimum strategy was: with a bike we were constrained to start and finish in Oxford (which is of course surrounded by excellent birding sites), but what would a good total be, and how best to get it?  A little bit of research, and reading accounts of previous Big Days, suggested that the best way to see a high number species was to maximise the chance of seeing the ‘wild-card’ migrant species of waders, gulls & terns that mostly occur at water bodies, so we designed a route of around 100 miles taking in many of these. At least it would mostly be flat! What would a good total be? The bare minimum had to be the round 100 that Isaac West and Pete Alfrey had set for a day on foot around Otmoor (on a good wader passage day) in April 2021, or the 101 that Tom Wickens had seen in a remarkable 47 miles on foot a few years back. We knew the county all-time record of 115 was surely out of reach, but a total of somewhere around 105 felt like a pretty good target to aim at.

We met at The Plain at 0440 and cycled to the Noke end of Otmoor for dawn – perhaps a wasted visit as mist thickened quickly into fog – and while we enjoyed the dawn sounds of Otmoor with Crane, Cuckoo, Bittern, Water Rail, Grasshopper Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat among many others, we recorded nothing very unusual and indeed no species here which we did not see elsewhere, or in the evening when we returned to Otmoor. Fog was too thick to enable scanning Big Otmoor where we’d hoped to pick up a migrant wader or two. We left at 0640 with 65 species, and cycled to Blenheim via Islip picking up various species along the way, including the day’s only Jay and the day’s only Yellow Wagtail flying over the road just before Woodstock. Heading into Blenheim produced the hoped-for Cattle Egrets on the colony, a singing Mistle Thrush and two pairs of Shelduck. Then on to Port Meadow by 0810 in increasingly warm and sunny weather, where we quickly saw the day’s only Swifts, House Martins and Common Gull, the lingering female Wigeon and the first Garden Warbler. With 3 Dunlin the only migrant waders here, we left the site on 81 species for the day – about where we’d hoped to be by that stage. A stop at Bean Wood on the way to Farmoor was initially rather quiet, but eventually turned up Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Marsh Tit, a pleasing set of woodland species, though Bullfinch was a miss here. Farmoor was flat calm and sunny – almost pleasant! – but had very few birds. A lap around F1 produced only Buzzard and Common Sandpiper new for the day (both of which we would see in other places later on), and in retrospect we spent a bit too long here, leaving at 1125 on 87 species. A planned incursion to Wytham to see the singing Wood Warbler was then aborted due to a huge herd of cows (plus bull!) completely blocking the gate at Swinford. Spirits were not very high at this point, as we cycled on to Dix Pit: we’d done just about OK in terms of species, but there hadn’t been any of those highlights that help make a day. A quick stop at Dix yielded the hoped-for Red-crested Pochard (a pair – #88), and then on to Pit 60 at Standlake, picking up Long-tailed Tit (#89) calling from a hedgerow along the way.

Various species were possible at Pit 60, most notably Purple Heron which had been reported earlier in the day. Unfortunately neither of us had brought a key to the hides, but luckily we met a birder, walking back from the hides who had one. After a discussion, we agreed that we would borrow his key, cycle to unlock the hide, and then BCS would return it to the waiting recipient. A pretty hairy cycle to the hide on a muddy track with ill-equipped road bikes ensued, with BCS leaving TEM at the hide, racing back along the track, and then returning 10 minutes later to hear that the Purple Heron (#90) had just flown between two reed patches, a sighting made all the more galling by the fact it would have been a county tick for him, and the hide had been unlocked anyway! We waited 45 minutes or so here, seeing 2 Great White Egrets and the first Hobby (#91) and Kingfisher (#92) of the day. The latter is a notoriously hard species to see on these days so felt like a good omen, despite the stinging feeling of the missed heron that BCS couldn’t shake. Of course on a ‘Big Day’ all species are equivalent, but it was a little hard to tear ourselves away.

Peep-o-Day Lane Garganey courtesy of Conor Mackenzie.

From Pit 60 we headed to Abingdon, a longish stretch of 17km of fast cycling, averaging over 30 km/h with TEM doing a great job of pushing the pace, as BCS was wilting a bit. After a refuelling stop in Abingdon, we headed down Peep-o-Day lane. The hoped for Little Ringed Plover (#93) was supplemented by the first certain Sand Martins (#94) of the day and a splendid bonus, classic TEM find, of a first-summer Caspian Gull (#95) loafing on one of the pits. Some very useful local gen from Conor Mackenzie led to a quick look at flooded fields west of the end of Peep-o-Day Lane, where BCS found the two drake Garganey (#96) hiding in emergent vegetation and tentatively called Green Sandpiper on a partial call, confirmed a moment later when it called again several times (#97). Spirits much restored, we headed quickly on to Appleford, where TEM found a Grey Wagtail (#98) a species we had started to worry about, and then BCS located the long-staying female Ring-necked Duck (#99), both on the Riverside Pit. An “on second thoughts” look at the other pits here was rewarded with the 100th species for the day at 1535 when TEM found a first-summer Yellow-legged Gull (#100), which BCS could not see at all, but then redeemed himself by finding a spanking adult flying around in the gull flock. A further bonus was a distant but clear Greenshank which called several times while remaining out of sight at the back of the pits (#101).

With a series of ‘extra’ species, and the century achieved, we left Appleford in good spirits, further improved by a food stop at Didcot Tesco (cycling makes you hungry!), and headed to the South Oxfordshire downs in beautiful weather. A Kestrel (#102) was picked up by BCS, but had gone by the time TEM had stopped and turned round. The steep climb up to the downs was accompanied by the first of many Corn Buntings (#103), and having left our bikes at around 1650, we quickly saw Red-legged Partridge (#104) and heard, then saw, Stone-curlew (#105) up on the large extent of downs in this area. Walking further on, in what was by now a beautiful warm early evening, we were delighted to come across a pair of Meadow Pipits (#106) quickly followed by Stonechat (#107) and then on the return a Wheatear (#108) bounding through the juniper bushes. This was all going better than we’d hoped: the only species we’d thought we might possibly see up here but hadn’t were Grey Partridge and Ring Ouzel, so we set off back to Oxford at 1815 in positively buoyant moods.

The longest stretch of the day (once again TEM doing epic work on the front) then followed, with 26km back through Appleford and Abingdon till a drink stop in Kennington. Then on through Oxford with a very quick stop at 1930 to pick up Ring-necked Parakeet (#109) at Marston Meadows – one distinctive harsh squawk enough to confirm this species. The last ride over to Otmoor, arriving at 2000, combined the steep hill at Elsfield – a struggle with more than 80 miles and 15 hours’ birding in the legs already – followed by disaster for BCS as he punctured both front and back wheels just before the entrance to the RSPB car park. There was only a little light left, and no time to waste fixing punctures, so the bike was left behind as we headed onto the main bridleway at Otmoor on a lovely calm spring evening. Here, several drumming Snipe became species #110, reaching a threshold that we’d decided would mark a really successful day. TEM clawed back Kestrel soon afterwards, though we were gripped to learn from assembled birders that we’d missed Short-eared Owl by a matter of minutes. Onwards with light failing, we managed to find a single Barnacle Goose (#111) hiding behind its Canada Goose partner out on Big Otmoor, and were then delighted to hear a single trill from a Little Grebe (#112) at the first screen. From there it was a long, but fairly leisurely walk back to the main Bridleway where at about 2055 the lingering Spotted Crake (#113) began singing as the light really went – a really fitting species to end the team’s day, and an Oxon tick for TEM to boot. Hopes of Tawny Owl on the way back to the carpark came to nothing, and with no light and a lot of accumulated weariness, BCS could not face wrestling with fixing flat tyres and accepted a lift home. TEM cycled home and picked up Tawny Owl in Elsfield – a remarkable 114th species for him personally on the day.

At the end, in the dark at Otmoor, listening to the Spotted Crake

Reflecting on the day, we were blessed with perfect cycling weather: warm, sunny, and almost no wind, apart from a light tailwind back from the downs in the evening. Of course, such days don’t make the most promising conditions for dropping migrant birds on Oxfordshire, and we really recorded very few non-breeding migrants: perhaps just Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin and Wheatear. As ever, there were ‘easy’ species that we missed: Bullfinch, Raven and Sparrowhawk stand out, but perhaps most surprisingly not a single owl species as a team. On the other hand we saw a good range of ‘tricky’ resident species, and several bonus species at Sutton Courtenay and Appleford. Our route also arguably wasted some time in the first half of the day. All of this suggests that, if the conditions were perfect, and with a bit more preparation, a total of 120 species might be possible using only human-powered transport. It’s also interesting to speculate which mode – by car or by bike – could yield the highest total. Cycling constrains the range – it’s hard to justify a detour of 20km to see a single species – but it also affords the opportunity to pick up species by call while travelling. Our only Jay and Yellow Wagtail were picked up this way, for example. Of course, in the end the numbers don’t really matter, and it should also be fun, and this really was. We had great support and enthusiasm from other local birders, worked well as a team, and ended the day on a real high point with a ‘whipping’ Spotted Crake as the cherry on a very satisfying cake.

Events in May.