Who doesn’t love Autumn? The changing of the guard, as many of our breeding species depart and birds from the east arrive en masse. Stepping out into the darkness on a cold autumn night and hearing the first high pitch zeeer call of migrating redwing never ceases to make me smile. After these first pioneering birds early in the season numbers tend to slowly build until conditions are perfect when 10s if not 100s of thousands arrive over the course of a few days. This year unprecedented numbers arrived on the 19thwith vis miggers across the country picking up 10s of thousands in just a few hours. Although not quite in the same league, Oxfordshire got its share of birds with many birds passing through during the day and 100s heard migrating overnight.
It is another species from the east though, that made a decent incursion into the county during October and which makes the highlight of the month.
After last months 1 day bird at Port Meadow, you’d be forgiven to think we might have had our fill of this eastern sprite. Luckily a near record influx of birds into our county saw 4 records spread across the county with at least 3 birds in total. A typically elusive individual was in Abingdon on the 8th and present until the 9th, whilst another elusive bird was in Lockinge from the 22nd until the 24th. Thankfully a bird found at Farmoor on the 22nd was much more obliging and allowed many of the counties birders to admire this Siberian wanderer until at least the 29th. A probable record came from Ardley at the M40 services on the 24th although no confirmation was forthcoming. With all these records coming within a few days of one another it is clear that at least 3 birds were in the county and one can only wonder how many more might be lurking out there in amongst the tit and crest flocks.
|Courtesy of Richard Tyler.
|Courtesy of Andy Last
As expected, wader migration tailed off this month and other than the lingering group of 4 little stint at Pit 60 on the 1st there wasn’t much in the way of highlight birds for October. A disappointedly brief phalarope species present on Dix Pit on the 6th unfortunately couldn’t be identified and was seen by only one observer, in what would been a very popular bird. A great count of 3 jack snipe from Pit 60 came on the 11th and again were present between the 15-16th.
|Courtesy of Caroline Walker
A single greenshank was present on Pit 60 on the 1st whilst redshank records came from Port Meadow on the 6th and Farmoor on the 18th, with 5 present at the latter. A single ruff continued to be recorded at Farmoor through until the 10th after a near constant presence through September, with an additional 2 birds recorded on the 3rd. Ardley ERF also had 3 birds on the 1st until the following day with a single bird remaining until the 7th. The odd dunlin continued to be recorded throughout the month with 2 at Farmoor on the 10th, a single bird on Grimsbury reservoir on the 19th and 26thand another lone individual on Ardley ERF 25th-26th . Two ringed plover were also present on Farmoor on the 10thand 18th of the month.
Green sandpiper continued to be widespread across the county albeit in smaller numbers, although a count of 17 on the 5th at Bicester wetlands was a good count for the time of year with double digits recorded a few more times later in the month. Common sandpiper continued at Farmoor until the 22nd whilst additional birds were recorded at Ardley and Ducklington. Several nice flocks of golden plover were recorded from White Horse hill with 420 on the 3rd and 125 on the 7th.
Gulls & Terns
Not much to talk about this month with a record of a 1st winter Caspian gull from Farmoor on the 4th the only noteworthy bird in October. A single Mediterranean gull was recorded at Blenheim on the 17th. Yellow-legged gull continued to be recorded in small numbers at Farmoor with additional records coming from Ardley with 6 the highest count on the 15th.
|Courtesy of Gareth Cashburn
The change of seasons brought with it our first winter wildfowl with a family group of 4 whooper swan on Farmoor on the 11th whilst a party of 5 brent goose of the dark-bellied variety were present on the 12th, the concrete dish bowl continuing its fine form of the place to find this wanderer from the arctic. Eight white-fronted geese were present at Cassington GP’s on the 11th and a single bird was with greylags on Otmoor on the 17thbut neither lingered long and were gone the following day. The first returning goldeneye was recorded on Farmoor on the 3rd with a female bird associating with the tufted duck flocks and 6 birds on Dix Pit on the 30th, whilst a female scaup was recorded several times throughout the month but proved difficult to pin down for most until the 29th.
|Courtesy of Dave Murphy
Probably the same black-necked grebe recorded in September was again on Dix Pit after been missing for a few weeks, it was present on the 3rd and again reported on the 8th. A drake ring necked duck was at Appleford GP’s on the 17th but only remained for the day before departing. Goosander were reported from two sites with a male on Otmoor on the 6th and a juvenile on Pit 60 on the 11th. Mandarin records came from two sites and probably relate to the same individuals with one on Wolvercote lake on the 14thand a pair in Marston on the 16th. The largest count of red-crested pochard came from the usual place, Tar Lakes, with a count of 59. The unusual hybrid presumed to be a goldeneye X hooded merganser returned to the Standlake area for it 2nd year been picked up at Dix pit a couple times at the end of the month, where has it been in the meantime is anyone’s guess.
Egrets, herons etc
In what has already been a great year for spoonbill records in the county, another came from Pit 60 on the 9th with an immature present for the day only. After a record-breaking year at the species stronghold in Norfolk and colonies around the country it is no surprise that there has been a significant uptick in records this year, a pattern that looks set to continue. Another bird that has seen significant increases in records the last couple years a single glossy ibis was reported this month with a lone bird recorded on the 8th, another species that seems set to colonise the UK at some point in the future.
|Courtesy of Mick Cunningham
The cattle egret flock continued in their new preferred location of Kings Lock with over 40 been recorded on the 15th, with anywhere between 15-30 been in constant presence throughout October. Additional records came from Pit 60 with 3 recorded at various points throughout the month and a max count of 10 on 22nd. New sites to record birds came from Cassington with one on the 11th and New Bridge with up to 4 between the 9th and 11th. Great white egret also continued to be widespread in the county with at least 10 sites recording single birds, with only Blenheim recording 2 birds on the 5th.
|Courtesy of Adam Hartley
Somewhat outshone by the yellow-browed warbler incursions this month, a Dartford warbler at Balscote Quarry through the latter part of the month was the 2nd record in the county this year. Luckily, unlike previous records, after initially remaining elusive it was finally pinned down on the 22nd October and was present until the 29that least. This is another species that seems to be recorded in increasing frequency in recent years after previously been an extremely rare bird in the county, evident by how popular this bird proved to be with county listers.
|Dartford Warbler above and below courtesy of Kyle Smith.
A water pipit proved harder to pin down commuting between several sites. One was present at Farmoor on the 13thand possibly seen on and off through until the 22nd. Presumably the same bird was then seen at Port Meadow on the 23rd, only the 2nd record for the site. It was again seen on the 27th and 31st on the meadow with a possible sighting also on the 27th at Eynsham. Rock pipit were unusually widespread through the county, with 4 sites recording the species. Three were at Farmoor 3rd with one remaining on and off until the 12th, 2 were on Pit 60 on the 9th and a single bird was recorded at Grimsbury reservoir on the 14th and 20th. Port Meadow also had a single bird present on the 16th. A pipit with a buzzy call on the meadow on the 20th but unfortunately couldn’t be relocated, whilst a tree pipit was recorded on Pit 60 on the 4th.
|Courtesy of Mike Pollard
A cracking record of a flyover woodlark over a Cholsey garden on the 16th surely constitutes one of the better garden ticks! A black redstart was present on Farmoor from the 21stuntil at least the 28th spending most of its time on the sewage treatment works although occasionally commuting to the causeway, whilst a late record of a ring ouzel came from Childrey field on the 23rd. A possible willow tit record came from Ducklington on the 20tha species now lost from Oxfordshire’s breeding avifauna after the depressing and somewhat inevitable demise of the Grimsbury birds.
|Courtesy of Conor Mackenzie
A single whinchat record came from Chimney on the 1st whilst records of wheatear came from Aston Upthorpe and Oxford University grounds on 2nd and 7threspectively, a late wheatear on Port Meadow on the 22ndjustifiably required closer scrutiny but unfortunately it was just Northern.Firecrest were recorded at three locations with Pit 60 on the 1st, Grimsbury on the 7th and Aston Eyot on the 29thhosting single birds. Along with all the returning thrushes this month also had the first of our winter finches with redpoll recorded across the county and brambling recorded at 4 sites. Hawfinch also were recorded from 3 sites with Grimsbury, Cutteslowe and Marston all having flyover birds.
Some late swallow records came from Pit 60 on the 10th with 6 birds and two birds remained at Blenheim through until at least the 28th.
Short-eared owl made a welcome return to the county this month with two birds frequenting Otmoor, with the birds putting on a great show for locals on most evenings between the 2nd and 18thof the month. Merlin records were more widespread with 5 sites recorded birds – Aston Upthorpe (2nd), Ardley ERF (15th-25th), Ardington (25th), Childrey Field (29th) and Balscotte Quarry (29th).
|Courtesy of Lee Wilcocks
Marsh harrier were recorded from 4 sites including Otmoor, 2 birds frequently recorded at Pit 60 and single records from Chimney (1st) and Blewbury (9th). Late hobby records came from Pit 60 on the 4th and Otmoor on the 8thand 14th.
With the change in seasons the next couple months will be dominated by returning winter wildfowl with birders across the county searching local arable fields and waterbodies hoping to pick out a rarity out of the duck and goose flocks.
The last two Novembers have produced great northern diver with both records coming from, where else, Farmoor with the last one been the record staying bird through until May 2022. Slavonian grebe have also been recorded several times with the last November birds coming in 2019 and 2013, whilst red-breasted merganser records came in 2018 and 2015 all of which were present on Farmoor. On the rarer side of things, the last American wigeon in the county came in November 2018 but was unfortunately on a private site not accessible to the wider county and with the last widely accessible bird coming in 2011 another would prove very popular indeed.
Its not all about wildfowl though and some good rarities can and have been picked up in November in recent history. Who can forget the unfortunate little auk on the Thames last year? A cracking Richards pipit in 2018 proved hugely popular within and out of the counties borders with the bird sticking around for several days. November has a good affinity with great grey shrike records with 2013-2016 producing birds this month, the last coming in 2018 which hopefully means we are due another soon!
With all the talk of a waxwing winter after record numbers in southern Scandinavia earlier than usual that’s where my thoughts/wishes will be turning over the next couple months. Birds have been picked up along the east coast this week with the first inland flocks in not so far Staffordshire on the 30th, one can only hope this is a sign of things to come.