Saturday, 12 May 2012

28th / 29th April 2012

It was fair to say that the weekend of 28th/29th was slightly damp. However, it wasn’t about to stop me birding and in fact provided two new ticks, both in Oxfordshire.

Dotterel, for me, was one of those birds that I felt I ought to have seen by now. A bit of a tart maybe, however it’s just not that easy to connect with them in the West Midlands region. I missed one in Staffs in May 2011 (Whitemore Haye), birds are not even guaranteed annually and tend not to be long-stayers. I have also just missed them on Norfolk trips at traditional stop off places like Choseley Drying Barns.

So off to Oxfordshire to hopefully collect a long-outstanding tick, accompanied by Martyn. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as straightforward as we had hoped and the bird was not present on our first attempt, having been earlier flushed by a Heron. We stepped back over the Warks border to Draycote Water for a while, but returned to Balscote when to my relief, news was paged of the return of the Dotterel.

Balscote Quarry, Oxon

Some strange folk here, including a chap who could not even see the carrying flock of 23 Golden Plover, let alone the Dotterel. The Dotterel (lifer 287) was a little distant but good scope views were available. The bird, signifcantly smaller than the Plovers, was presumed to be a partly-moulted female.

There was plenty other stuff to see too – this small field was quite the migrant hotspot with 2 Whimbrel, 1 Whinchat, 2 Yellow Wagtail and 5 Wheatear (a couple of these looking likely Greenland candidates). A Redstart was heard calling. Regular farmland birds included Tree sparrow, Yellowhammer & Stock Dove. LRP and a Common Sandpiper were present on the quarry.

Draycote Water - Farborough Bank

At least 3 Wheatear on the dam, along with up to 20 Yellow Wagtail and 2 White Wagtail. 3 Arctic Terns were distant by the water tower. Waders consisted of 1 Common Sandpiper and 6 Dunlin. Large numbers of hirundines and Swifts were noted.

We later decided to check some of the Tame Valley waters for Tern passage, but were sorely disappointed on that score with only Common Terns and no Arctic. A Common Sand was at Dosthill (before we were turfed off by a bloke on a quad bike, for none-payment of parking). A Lesser Whitethroat was heard at Helmlingford Water. Swifts were noted just about everywhere, now in good numbers.

News broke much later in the day that the wandering party of 6 White Storks had made Oxon of all places! White Stork is not too much of a difficult bird to see but one with often questionable credentials; however these were the real deal. Well a flurry of texts with Martyn and an early morning start was in order...waiting on news is for dudes.

Standlake/Newbridge, Oxon

We did wonder if we’d done the right thing as directions had been vague and neither of us had knowledge of this area. There were no other birders on site and it was extremely wet. However we soon located two of the birds in a wet meadow and they showed very well, until they flew over the hedgerow, presumably to join the other birds. We relocated now 4 birds sitting out the showers in a field north of the Thames and good views were again had through a hedgerow. Lifer 288.

Stork images both courtesy of Adam Hartley -

Tragic news the following day however, when one of the Storks suffered a fatal collision with a power cable. The rest of the party headed south on 1st May, being later picked up over Sussex, Hants and Dorset.

At Standlake, we were keen to view some of the pits (and seek refuge from  the rain) but disappointingly the hides were all locked. The distinctive death rattle of Lesser Whitethroat was heard.

We moved on to Farmoor where 5 Black-necked Grebes, all in sum plum showed extremely well and were worth an additional soaking.

Conditions were appalling here and around 5 Arctic Terns and 6 Common were briefly noted. Further inclemency of the weather meant a memorable birding weekend was brought to a close.

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