Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Autumn slips quietly away

After a stellar summer mostly spent chasing rarities around the country, my return to Oxford has inevitably seen my twitching fall off a cliff. Instead of chasing Yank megas I've been holed up in the library with my books (or more accurately at the pub getting drunk) and as a result autumn for me has ended with a drawn out whimper rather than the hoped for Hermit Thrush style bang. Over the course of the first 3 weeks of term my uni patch, Port Meadow, was in particularly dire straits as the long, dry summer had caused the flood waters to dry up removing the main draw for birds. A couple of optimistic early visits to the resultant puddle did produce a patch tick in the form of a Grey Wagtail as well as a seemingly confused Dunlin among the omnipresent winter flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing. These visits were pleasant as they reminded me why I loved the open skies and solitude of the place but as far as birds were concerned my interest was barely piqued and I soon gave up in favor of working or drinking.

A pleasant evening sky

My first real opportunity to see some good birds, albeit good in a local context, cam on November 2nd when Next Generation Birders did their 2 year anniversary weekend bird race. The aim was to get as high of a combined total for the weekend as possible and as Farmoor held both Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes as well as a very late Common Sandpiper, I thought I'd do my bit for the team. Therefor at around 11.00 that Saturday I found myself watching an incredibly showy 1st-winter RED-NECKED GREBE (only my second ever!) down to 20m as it fed happily just off the reservoir side. After soaking the bird in I then headed round to the bottom of F2 where I was treated to even closer views of the stunning SLAVONIAN GREBE as it happily dived away. With these sightings I managed to complete my target of seeing every Grebe species on the British list in 2013! Not an incredibly difficult challenge but a nice achievement all the same. Whilst at Farmoor I also picked up the Common Sandpiper, a nice adult Peregrine and a smart Red Kite which rounded out the day nicely. A very enjoyable days birding although in my mind it firmly moved me from the anything can happen excitement of autumn into the more predictable rhythm of winter birding.

Farmoor Resevoir (F1)

A late Common Sandpiper

Slavonian Grebe
With a couple of days of consistent downpours following my visit to Farmoor and a with the return of the floods to Port Meadow coupled with some of tantalising reports of Yellow-legged Gulls, I decided to make a return visit on the 4th of November. Unfortunately the calm, sunny weather and high disturbance levels ruined and gulling opportunities and I went away empty handed. However the numbers of Wigeon were impressive and the Golden Plover flock had built up to over 250 birds. My next visit on the 8th was far more impressive with a decent sized roost of large gulls producing a smart adult Yellow-legged Gull as well as an intriguing 1st winter Herring Gull with brilliant white primaries. The highlight however was a flyover TUFTED DUCK, my second patch tick of the term and a very difficult species to catch up with on patch due to the shallow nature of the floods. This visit assuaged my post-autumn blues and has me excited once again at the prospect of winter birding on the meadow. Now roll on those Casps....

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