• Sun. May 26th, 2024


The Pet encyclopedia

September review



A very busy month in September produced some very
good birding and a decent spread of county rarities to boot. After adding no
species to the county wide list in August, September added 7 more
species included some very good county rarities although not all were gettable
unfortunately. The county list now stands at 205, which has surpassed the low
total of last year. With some of the Autumn and the whole of the Winter period
yet to come we are hopefully on course to see a much more typical total of the
last 20 or so years, although the trend as it stands does show a gradual decrease in
species recorded since the turn of the century.


The much anticipated change of pace of the Autumn kicked off
with a bang early in the month when a 2nd record for the county was
located at Otmoor, with a young male Pallid Harrier snapped flying
over Greenaways on the 9th. An atypical looking bird that produced
some discussion around its parentage and the possibility of hybrid, luckily though
features for Pallid Harrier were quickly nailed down thanks to some
cracking photos from onsite observers. Unfortunately for those of us unable to
get over to site right away, or in my case heading in the opposite direction up
north, the bird did not stick around very long after doing a few circuits of Otmoor.
This bird constitutes the 2nd county record and the 1st
since a similarly aged bird was seen by a single observer over the Downs in
2011. Unbelievably this means the county, and indeed Otmoor, has recorded all four regularly
occurring harrier species in 2023, quite something given the fortunes of
Montagu’s Harrier. Northern Harrier next anyone?

Pallid Harrier, above and below courtesy of John Reynolds



Grey Phalarope

The 23rd of the month then went on to produce a
stunning Grey Phalarope on the causeway at Farmoor. This diminutive
and hardy wader species is always a much welcome addition to the county list
and always proves to be popular with county birders and national birders alike.
With last years brief flyover record, also at Farmoor, a bird showing
well on the causeway was also going to be very sought after individual. Quite
amazingly this bird was ringed, although it turns out a bird was ringed two
days earlier on the Wilts/Oxon border on a duck pond of all places! Presumably
the ring number will indeed show these birds are one and the same. The Phalarope
thankfully stayed until the 25th allowing many folk to see it before

Grey Phalarope courtesy of Nick Truby

Grey Phalarope video & photo courtesy of Anna Marlow.

Honourable Mentions

Dartford Warbler

A once county mega this species is starting to become an
almost expected annual, with birds recorded in 3 of the last 4 years equal to number
of records in the previous 20 years.  Always
a skulky species this bird was no exception with an induvial heard calling near
Frilford Heath Golf Course on the 17th September and not seen
or heard again. Like several of the last few records its quite possible this
bird will go to ground for a while before reappearing elsewhere or even at the
same site later in the Autumn. 


Manx Shearwater

Typically this species would make the highlights section in
its own right. Unfortunately these records relate to windblown individual that
were subsequently taken into care in Didcot having been picked up in Witney.
Unbelievably 2 birds were actually picked up within the county within a couple
of days and both were taken to Oxfordshire Wildlife Rescue Unfortunately,
as this the case with many pelagic birds, both perished over the course of their

Courtesy of Oxfordshire Wildlife Rescue


As discussed in the previous
edition of the monthly review both Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper made
their appearance at Farmoor this month, interestingly both came within a
day of each other. Little Stint came first with a lone individual on the
causeway on the evening of the 8th, although unfortunately didn’t remain
long enough for those not already present on site that evening. 

Farmoor Little Stint, courtesy of Lew

A record group
of Curlew Sandpiper also made a brief appearance the following morning with
7 birds along the causeway, unfortunately the news did not filter out before they
had long departed although I suspect the distraction of a 2nd county
record over at Otmoor may have proved the more popular draw in this case.
Luckily, another Curlew Sandpiper appeared, again at Farmoor, on
the 12th with the news of this one getting out quickly many a happy
birder was able to connect before it departed that evening. 

Farmoor Curlew Sandpiper courtesy of Ben Sheldon

In what has been a very decent
year for Knot in the county, another two appeared this month on the 18th.
Initially a single bird on the causeway was eventually joined by a 2nd,
although in the drabber winter plumage to which us inland birders are much more
accustomed to. Continuing the theme of good showings, Turnstone continued
to reach the county in decent numbers. Single birds were present on Farmoor on
the 3rd and 14th with two birds then present on the 22nd.
A large count of 6 then flew into the reservoir whilst observers were delighting
in the Grey Phalarope also present. A single one day Wood Sandpiper was
also present this month in what has felt a much poorer autumn for this species,
a lone bird was present down Peep-o-day Lane on the 10th the
2nd record for the site this year.

One of the Farmoor Knot courtesy of Peter Law

Ruff records came from
four locations this month with most birds been single day stopovers whilst
passing through. The exception to this was a pair of juveniles at Pit 60 which
turned up on the 2nd of the month and remained on the site until at
least the 11th. Single birds were at Venn Mill and Days
on the 3rd and 13th respectively, whilst a pair
of birds were on Farmoor on the 9th and 17th. We
only had a single Greenshank record this month with a pair at Venn
on the 2nd, a relatively poor showing from this species
during this part of autumn. Ringed Plover and Dunlin continued to
be logged frequently throughout September with all but one record of these
species coming from Farmoor, with a near ever presence this month. Ringed
were recorded on and off between the 3rd and 18th
this month with a maximum count of 5 logged on two occasions, the only non-Farmoor
record came from Cutteslowe Park with a flyover bird on the 1st.
Dunlin were typically more common with 13 days of the month logging
birds from the 3rd until the 26th and a maximum count of
6 came from the 7th

Ringed Plover at Farmoor courtesy of John Workman

Green Sandpiper records
started to dissipate somewhat this month with only 5 sites recording birds. Bicester
continued its form as the place for large gatherings of the
species during the migration period with a high count 6 logged on 4th,
8th and 16th. Common Sandpiper were still spread
far and wide across the county with 10 sites logging birds throughout September.
Most records related to single birds but high counts of 4 were recorded across
two sites – Grimsbury on the 1st and Farmoor on the 2nd

Bicester Wetland Green Sandpiper, courtesy of Patricia Clissold

Wildfowl, Game and Crakes

A possible Quail flushed
at Water Eaton was the only record of this magnificent diminutive and migratory
gamebird this month, although presumably some of the possible breeders remained
for part of it. A flock of 5 Whooper Swan on Farmoor on the 27th
was remarkably early for the county and as far as I can tell from searching the
various data bases the first September record of this species for at
least the last 20 years. The flock after some indecisiveness, first leaving and
then returning, eventually left later that afternoon.

Whooper Swans courtesy of Dave Murphy.

Also this month a corking
drake Common Scoter delighted folk at Farmoor for a few days
after arriving on the 20th, coming close enough at times for some
very decent photos to be had before departing on the 23rd.

Common Scoter courtesy of Bryan Manston


A reported double of Black-necked
and Scaup seemingly observed during a twitch for the Phalarope
unfortunately remained as ‘reported’ with no sightings the following day. A
juv or female Garganey however was very much confirmed having been seen again
at Days Lock in Dorchester-on-Thames although remaining
incredibly elusive it would seem. Goosander only had 3 records this
month from two sites – Port Meadow on the 22nd and Farmoor
also on the 22nd and again on the 25th. On the feral/plastic
front Mandarin were reported several times in the Blenheim and Woodstock
area and a large count of 8 came from Waterstock on the 10th


Herons, Egrets Etc.

The usual species make up the records this month with very little
change to last months series of sightings. Cattle Egret numbers grew to
at least 26 individuals consisting of many ‘home grown’ individuals although
not quite beating last years big totals. The birds remained pretty loyal to the
Blenheim area for much of the month with the odd sighting elsewhere of
single birds (Farmoor and Pit 60) although some clearly had itchy
feet with big flocks Cassington (17 on the 4th) Otmoor (9
on the 5th) and Day’s Lock (13 on the 12th and 9
on the 13th). No birds remained at Blenheim by the 25th,
though, presumably joining the mega flocks now down on the levels. 

Woodstock Cattle Egrets courtesy of Gareth Cashburn

Great White Egret followed much the same pattern and
numbers of the previous month with Blenheim and Pit 60 frequently
hosting between 1 and 3 birds. Grimsbury scored one this month with a flyover
bird on the 2nd, a nice bird for the locals. Farmoor also managed
two records this month of flyover birds on the 8th and 22nd,
whilst the colour-ringed bird from down on the levels remained at Day’s Lock
on the 13th

Great White Egret at Shrike Meadow, Farmoor, courtesy of Brian Walker

Crane remained on Otmoor in September in
what has been a disappointing year after 2022’s big success. Up to 3 birds were
seen from the 14th until the 25th with at least two birds
un-ringed, we can only hope that 2024 brings some better fortunes for this
iconic species. 

Crane bugling on Otmoor courtesy of Steve Liptrot.

Otmoor Cranes courtesy of Richard Stevens


and Terns

Unfortunately not loads to recount this month, much more
about quality than quantity for September. A stunning juvenile Little
was expertly picked out over F1 at Farmoor on the 14th
where it remained for the rest of the day.  


Farmoor Little Gull, courtesy of Ewan Urquhart

Black Tern had a decent
showing this month with all records coming from Farmoor. Four were here
on the 2nd consisting of at least two juveniles and one remaining
until the 4th. A flock of 8 then flew through the reservoir on the 8th
and another single present here on the 18th

Above & below Black Tern courtesy of Mark Chivers.

Sandwich Tern also came through the county in small
numbers. Grimsbury continued its good form, especially given the size of
the site, with 2 birds flying through on the 2nd. Clearly a movement
of the species was occurring across the county/country because an unusual record
of 2+ came from Aston Rowant of all places the same day, a fine vis-mig
record! Another single bird also came later in the month with one over Farmoor
on the 10th. Caspian Gull season hasn’t quite kicked off
yet in the county with only a couple records to mention, relating to two birds.
One was at Grimsbury on the 2nd whilst a 1cy bird was present
in the gull roost at Farmoor from the 14th until at least the
19th. Also present frequently in the roost was a 1cy Mediterranean
from the 5th until at least the 25th, with the
only other record of the species also coming from Grimsbury on the 2nd

Caspian Gull at Farmoor courtesy of Lew


First Winter Mediterranean Gull at Farmoor courtesy of Ewan Urquhart



Typically a bird that would make the highlight reel for the
month if not demoted for rarer species, a Wryneck was gladly added to
the county year list. A bird flushed from a footpath around Baulking Pit on
the 3rd allowed the observer brief views in the adjacent sallow but
unfortunately wasn’t seen again. A lone Pied Flycatcher record this month
was made somewhat more special due its location in urban Oxford with the
Lye Valley continuing its very decent run of form on the 8th,
only the 2nd record for the site and one of only three records for
the county this year. Three Flava type Yellow-wagtails were present
on Farmoor on the 24th and were the first record of the
nominate subspecies in the county this year with no Channel Wagtails logged
at all either this year. 

Lye Vallye Pied Flycatcher courtes of Tom Bedford

Whinchat continued to march their way through the
county with 9 sites recording birds this month. The highest count came from Kings
with a group of 6 here on the 8th, whilst a count of 4 came
from Aston Upthorpe on the 26th. Wheatear followed on
in larger numbers and spread further around the county with 10 sites still
logging birds. Although mostly of singles or pairs a nice count of 6 up by the Devils
came on the 9th whilst another group of 5 were up on Lark
on the 3rd. The only Tree Pipit record came from Pit
this month, typically a single flyover bird calling. Redstart records
were much more diminished having largely made their way through the county last
month. Four sites recorded birds with singles at most sites with only Childrey
recording 2 birds on the 2nd. Port Meadow, Lark Hill and
Stonesfield Common were the other sites to log birds.

Ring-necked Parakeet clearly had another good
breeding year in 2023 when a flock of 32 flew over Cowley Road in Oxford
on the 6th. Not quite the 40+ birds of previous years but clearly
the species is doing well in the city, it would be interesting to know how many
breeding pairs Oxford hosts? 



Aside from the absolute mega that was recorded early in the month
in the form of a certain Pallid Harrier this group has otherwise been fairly quite
in September. Not a single returning passage Osprey was logged in
either September or August, the first blank autumn for a number
of years (although October may yet produce a bird).

A Short-eared Owl was flushed from Greenaways on Otmoor
by an enthusiastic Marsh Harrier on the 8th. The early Merlin
on the downs presumably continued on from August with a female type
bird present at Letcombe Basset on the 3rd.


Patchwork challenge







Percentage of target

Aston eyot

Ben Sheldon













Dix pit







Grimsbury reservoir







Lye valley

Tom Bedford






River Thames

Geoff Wyatt






Sutton courtenay







East challow

Mark Merritt







Glen Pascoe






Great white Egret Otmoor rspb courtesy of Mark Chivers.