Thursday, 28 February 2013

Drying out

Hazy sunshine, 7º, light to moderate NE, felt colder in the wind.

The ground is beginning to dry out but still a bit soggy in places.
My usual circular walk out to Lollingdon, the Lees etc. Lollingdon area was fairly quiet a hundred or so winter thrushes (c60 Fieldfare and c40 Redwing), two Grey Partridge, a Skylark in song and a Grey Heron, the rest of the area was quite devoid of any small passerines.
Near the Lees and the area leading up to Cholsey hill there were a few more birds, a Peregrine, several small flocks of Lapwing totalling around one hundred and fifty birds, several hundred Golden Plover in the air at a distance (probably over the Moreton floods), over two hundred Skylark (60+ in one flock), sixty plus Meadow Pipit, forty Linnet and several hundred winter thrushes.

Two Goldcrest seen close to the garden today and two Moorhen in the garden, one of the Moorhens took a liking to some of the apple I’ve been putting out for the Blackbirds, also a Blue Tit seen feeding on apple.
 Stock Dove dozing on the lawn
Grey Heron

Back in time – SODOFF

S.O.D.O.F.F. was conceived in 1991 in a pub in Wallingford by a few birders who wanted a bit more oomph from a meeting about birds and birding.

SODOFF stands for “South Oxfordshire Ornithological Fellowship of Friends” sounds like something from “Lord of the Rings” but believe me not all of us are Hobbits or Elves come to that!

We decided to hold regular meetings around 3 per year and issue a “journal” for each meeting, the meetings were held in Cholsey at the old pavilion until it got burned down (It wasn’t us) and the last meeting was held in the Old School Day Centre here at Marymead.

The core team initially for SODOFF was Ian Lewington, Peter Pool, Carl Salmon, Steve Young and myself. We also recruited many others with special skills or no skills whatsoever to help out and/or write various articles, these included Roger and Geoff Wyatt, Martin Hallam, George Reszeter and many other well-known Oxfordshire birders.

The “Teletree” was developed alongside; this was a telephone-based system for disseminating information on rare or scarce county birds. Initially around 10 members but this grew over the next few years to 30+ members and started to get rather complex for getting information to all concerned.

With the hibernation of SODOFF (we aint gone away yet!) the Teletree became OBIS (great for acronyms aren’t we) and continued on well in to the 2000’s but as communication media progressed this fell in to disuse but it done the job for those years it was active and a lot of county birders saw some good stuff because of it.

The OOS (Oxford Ornithological Society) perceived us as a potential threat and we even had a meeting with the OOS president, Dr Andy Gosler in a pub in Wallingford one evening and were successful in allaying any fears of a fledgling bird club usurping the authority of the oldest bird society in the world.

The first meeting was held on 12th August 1992, the journal was entitled “Not the birds of Oxfordshire” and was mainly about the Teletree, at this point George Reszeter was onboard as a photographic consultant and Geoff Wyatt for catering and Roger Wyatt joined the board with a special responsibility for hall bookings. Andy Swash gave a talk that evening on the birds of Venezuela.

“Roger’s noises” (Roger Wyatt), “Martins ID quiz” (Martin Hallam) and “the mystery bird quiz” (Lew) were born and provided many an entertaining time trying to guess what bird made this or that noise especially after several cans of Caffreys.

I’m sure Bill Campbell would have frowned on us and then offered us a wee drop of whisky from his hip flask!

Over the next few years we had talks from the esteemed Mr Lev Levington himself, Jon King, Dave Cotteridge, Tim Loseby, Dave Massey, Andy Swash (again), Mike Amphlett and many other notable “ornithologists” “photographers” and “ecologists”.

The journal took on many guises with names like “SODBB”, “SOD the new year”, “Bastard Wing”,  “Turdus”, “SOD’ING World”, “Scilly Sod” to name but a few and featured many class articles such as “Chumming for Black Grouse”, (remember that Rog!),  “5 go North”, “Society wedding of the year”, and the now infamous “Skinny dipping on Scilly” photographed by George Reszeter and organised by Debbie Lewington, still have to get you back for that Debs, and the very prestigious “Serious back Page” with all the graphics dominated by our prestigious local bird artist Mr Levington.
The editorial meetings usually took place in the George and Dragon in Sutton Courtney where many useless ideas were formulated and included in the journals and at the meetings.

We even had T-shirts, car stickers etc printed, and even designed a pair of logo’d unisex undergarments. The T-shirts and car stickers were seen throughout the land from Scilly to Wick on various twitches, and the name of SODOFF became known internationally with several sodoff’ers flouting their T-shirts on international birding trips.

SODOFF eventually went in to hibernation in the late 90’s due to financial considerations waiting for the day it will re-awaken and take the birding world by storm once again.

Paul Chandler a.k.a. oxonbirder, I accept no responsibility for the accuracy of the above article as I cannot remember it all (too pissed then and too old now)!




Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A Fishy tale

Another drab cold day, 4º, boring weather.

Decided to take another walk to Wallingford along the Bunk line, fairly uneventful other than roughly sixty Lapwing in a newly ploughed field and a winter thrush flock of two hundred and fifty birds near Winterbrook around equal numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare and a flock of just over one hundred Starling, also a Skylark in song today!
On crossing a bridge over a small stream in Wallingford I noticed rather a lot of fish under the bridge! Now the stream only goes in a few hundred yards coming in from the river as the other end has dried up and was built over a fair time ago. Now the water at this point was only around thirty centimetres deep if that, and there was no flow but under the small bridge there was an estimated two thousand small fish all concentrated in a small area. There was a steady movement of fish backwards and forwards from the river to the bridge and the mass of fish seemed to be quite relaxed if that’s the right word to use for their behaviour.

I made a quick phone call to Bob Wyatt who arrived shortly afterwards to view the scene and identify the fish present. Most of the fish (99%) were Roach but there was also several Perch, Bream, Chub and Dace with them, most of the fish were of a small size (less than 100 grams) with a few a bit heavier (200+ grams) but the number of them was impressive. Certainly a phenomenon I had not seen before along with quite a few others who turned up to see it. Roger Wyatt also arrived and took some photos along with me but the conditions were not good as it was either too dark or there was a reflection from the water’s surface. My son Leon and a friend of his, Darren (both fisherman) arrived and also found it a very interesting sight.
Two possibilities of why, one was predator evasion but there seemed to be no panic and they appeared relaxed in their coming and going, or they moved to clear water as the Thames is still in flood and very murky and also they do not spawn until April which would account for similar behaviour?

There was also a Kingfisher by the mouth of the stream, presumably being tempted by the quantity of fish present (but most were too big for a Kingfisher) and two Grey Wagtail put in a brief appearance.

Thanks to Bob and Roger Wyatt for their input and Rog for some of the photos.

Now for some birds, some of the Starling flock

Cholsey marsh Barn owl

A cracking photo of the Cholsey marsh Barn Owl by Roger Wyatt.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Cold and Bleak

Overcast, 2º, light NNE, felt colder!

A cold and bleak evening at Cholsey marsh and a rather cold and dull day all round.
Dropped in to Little Wittenham/Day’s Lock this afternoon, the Shelduck still present on the far side of the scrape along with one hundred plus Lapwing, one hundred plus Starling, twenty odd Teal and several Gulls and Corvids and a large number of Wigeon (1000+) beyond near the gravel pit.

The pair of Goosander still on the river downstream of the bridge and just over sixty Mute Swan on a field between Little and Long Wittenham.
Back to Cholsey marsh later and twenty eight Corn Bunting roosting there this evening and a handful of Reed Bunting.

One hundred and sixty Redwing and twenty Fieldfare flew from Little Stoke area and settled in the trees on and around the marsh, presumably roosting there also. A Stock Dove singing (if you can call it that) on the Little Stoke side of the river.
A “redhead” Goosander flew low upriver and a Great Crested Grebe seen on the river and several Teal still present on the flooded part of the marsh. Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker both present and three to four Water Rail.

Just over a hundred Geese loafing in a field adjacent to the marsh, mainly Canada Geese but also a few “Greylag” types and our very own Snow Goose look-alike! Also twenty five Lapwing present.
The garden still very busy with eight Long-tailed Tit, two Stock Dove, two Mallard, two Blackcap, Great-spotted Woodpecker and two Song Thrush to name but a few visiting today.

Shelduck in the distance with a few Teal & Lapwing in front and Starlings behind.
"redhead" Goosander
Blackbird enjoying some apple
Great-spot again today.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Roll on spring

A busy garden again today and still freezing, my daughter bought over two "victoria" plum tree saplings for planting in the garden some time this week.

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Saturday, 23 February 2013


A cold day and no birding, 0º, and trying to snow most of the day but not quite making it!

Hundred plus Golden Plover on Cholsey Hill and a few Lapwing seen over the now dwindling Moreton floods.
A Treecreeper in the garden this morning.

Apparently the longest period of dry weather currently since July 2012! (Cheers Tom).

Blackcap feeding on sultanas.

Friday, 22 February 2013


Eastender flushed a Woodcock from his garden meadow yesterday 21st Feb, second record for his garden.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

More garden stuff.

Overcast, 1º, light NE.

Well it never got above freezing today, I took a perfectly formed circle of ice off the birdbath and placed it against it and it has kept its shape all day.
Did not venture far today as I’ve had some computer work to catch up on, did a brisk walk around the village for some exercise and noted fourteen Red Kite over Crescent Way, I guess someone was feeding them.

The garden was busy today with a few species feeding and more passing over, am fortunate to overlook the garden whilst being busy on my laptop.
So today the garden had: a Moorhen, a Pheasant, two Stock Dove, twenty three Wood Pigeon, three Collared Dove, a Great-spotted Woodpecker, two Song Thrush, nine Blackbird, three Blue Tit, four Great Tit, two Long-tailed Tit, fifteen Chaffinch, ten Goldfinch, eight Greenfinch, two Mallard, two Carrion Crow, two Robin, two Dunnock, two Blackcap and a Wren.

Overhead and in the meadow were: Lesser Black-back Gull, Black-headed Gull, Red Kite, Buzzard, Rook, Jackdaw, Magpie, Green Woodpecker, Starling, House Sparrow, Mistle Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare.
And a thank you to the dog walker who walked around the meadow this afternoon and collected all the litter, Thanks.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cold again!

Sunny, 1º, light NE, felt colder!

More Reed Bunting than Corn Bunting at the roost this evening so it looks as though the CB roost is breaking up for the spring. Twenty plus Reed and fourteen Corn Bunting, however this may change if the weather stays cold for a time!.
The Barn Owl put in an appearance and there are still good numbers of Teal and Common Snipe on the marsh. A few Fieldfare and Redwing around, a Song Thrush singing at dusk and the usual squealing from the Water Rails, a Little Grebe also heard and a Grey Heron over. Green Woodpecker, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Kestrel, Buzzard and Red Kite also present.

A pair of Mallard back visiting the garden, usually early morning and evening, a Pheasant, two Stock Dove, two Blackcap, a Great-spotted Woodpecker still visiting, also a Moorhen in the garden today with all the usual visitors and a Green Woodpecker and two Coal Tit seen and heard in the meadow.
Buzzard at sunset

Barn Owl, always distant!

Moorhen in the garden, took a liking to apple.
The moon is very photogenic at the moment!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Little Wittenham

Sunny, 8º, little wind.

The countryside slowly drying out you would think, Wittenham Wood was very soggy along the tracks. The Thames was within the banks but fast running at Day’s Lock and the scrape area was over 50% water.
Very little seen, the scrape held a hundred plus Black-headed Gull and a few Common Gull.

There was a large Tit flock in the area around the old Lock Keepers house and one possibly two Marsh Tit with the flock, a Sparrowhawk flew through and there were alarm calls all over maybe around forty birds in the flock, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tit.
A few Siskin and Goldfinch flyovers and two Goosander ( & ) on the river.

Wittenham Wood was very quiet just the occasional Great-spotted Woodpecker drumming but very little else.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Walk to Wallingford

Sunny, 8º, light SE.

A walk in to Wallingford today along the Bunk Line and through Winterbrook, a pleasant day but still muddy and wet everywhere.
The highlight of the day was a Jack Snipe flushed from a flooded field next to Green lane, typical of that species low direct and silent flight when flushed, flew around one hundred metres up the field and disappeared near the hedgerow adjacent to the railway, also five Lapwing in the same field.

A flock of roughly two hundred Fieldfare and a couple of Redwing at Winterbrook and one hundred plus Pied Wagtail at Cholsey SF, also two Song Thrush there and ten Black-headed Gull.
The Thames still high and the banks are still not walkable in most places and a partially sunken boat near the mouth of Bradford Brook. A lot of Black-headed Gull feeding on bread by Wallingford Bridge.

As I was typing this out late afternoon I noticed a Siskin feeding on one of the nut feeders in the garden, could not get a photo as the sun was shining directly in to my windows at that time of day. The Pheasant still turning up for a late afternoon feed.

Casualty of the floods?
The Thames path at Wallingford leading to Benson

Black-headed Gulls at Wallingford Bridge


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Garden stuff

Sunny and milder, max of 9º.

Not been out for the last few days so just a few odds and sods in the garden still, a single Blackcap still visiting along with a couple of Song Thrush and a Great-spotted Woodpecker and the two Stock Dove, also an increase in Greenfinch numbers with up to eight present and around a dozen Goldfinch.
A Green Woodpecker and a Mistle Thrush in the meadow, with the milder and brighter weather a few species are singing regularly, Robin, Song Thrush and Chaffinch all frequently now and also a few snippets of Blackcap song.

A few Snowdrops out in the garden and Daffodils coming in to bud.


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Sunshine at last!

A sunny day at last, 9º, light wind.

Spent a few hours at Cholsey marsh this afternoon/evening, the Thames is in flood again and around fifty metres along Ferry rd and the marsh is under water again!
Spent most of the time chatting to various people who turned up, a couple of birders and dog walkers etc.

Approximately sixty Corn Bunting roosting this evening some in the Phragmites and some in the Sedge along with the Reed Bunting.
A Barn Owl again hunting at dusk, a Chiffchaff calling and the usual dusk chorus of Water Rail.

A couple of garden scarcities today a Goldcrest and a Bank Vole.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A quiet day and............................

Overcast, 1º, no wind, snow/sleet/rain later poor visibility.

The usual farmland walk today proved rather quiet, the highlight being a Raven that flew over near Lollingdon. A few small flocks of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starling feeding in some of the fields and a couple of Mistle Thrush near Manor farm and the odd Song Thrush along the hedgerows, very few small birds noted apart from a small flock of Long-tailed Tit, a Treecreeper and a couple of Goldcrest seen.
A Great-spotted Woodpecker heard drumming in Lollingdon, hopefully spring is on the way despite the weather!!

The odd Buzzard, Red Kite and a few gulls and no sign of the Shelduck today just a few Lapwing on the Moreton floods.
Who remembers this?
The T-shirt & The Journal!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


A Shelduck present on the Moreton floods this afternoon, close to Hithercroft rd at the bottom of Cholsey Hill. (Brian Wyatt)

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Back in time – May 1974

As mentioned in my previous post I would mention the Roller that John saw, John has kindly sent me a couple of pics of the European Roller that was present on Aston Upthorpe Down from 23rd to 27th May 1974.

There have been three Oxfordshire records of Roller, the first in Balscot near Banbury in July 1869, the above is the second record and the third was in a garden for two days at Bruern on the 14th to 16th June 1977. It would be nice if another turned up in Oxfordshire in 2013! 
 Both pics © John Lucas
Back to the present day, it has been raining virtually all day so a time to stay in and catch up on things and watch the garden.

The garden has been quite busy all day with two Stock Dove present along with two Blackcap (one ringed on left leg and the other unringed), two Song Thrush and two Pheasant plus all the usual etc. Whilst tidying the garden yesterday I had a Raven as a “garden tick”, one flew over the garden calling, presumably the same one that Richard has had near his garden on Friday.

Could also see around thirty Black-headed Gull loafing on the playing field late afternoon and several Red Kite active over the garden and meadow this afternoon.

Friday, 8 February 2013

A visitor from Dorset

Few sunny spells, 5º, little wind.

Another look at Cholsey marsh this evening, very much the same as yesterday however one hundred plus Corn Bunting roosting tonight, and I was joined by Tony Williams (local) and John Lucas from Portland, Dorset.
John and Tony are long time mates and John is an ex Berkshire birder and an honorary Cholsey birder who has seen a lot of Oxfordshire birds, i.e. an Osprey over Lollingdon hill and who also has the enviable credit of having seen a European Roller in Oxfordshire! He has promised to show me the photo one day and I will scan and publish it.
One possibly two Sparrowhawk went through the marsh and a Barn Owl at dusk and the usual dusk chorus of Water Rail, and a Chiffchaff earlier.

A Raven seen close to the village today feeding on some carrion.

The Shrike has not been seen in the area for over a week now and the Bittern has also disappeared.
The Barn Owl is invariably always distant unfortunately.
Corn Bunting gathering for the roost

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Cholsey marsh, 7th Feb

Overcast, 4º, light rain, light winds.

A couple of hours at Cholsey marsh this evening was rather quiet; a Barn Owl hunting the north end of the marsh was a highlight.
The flooding has subsided a great deal now but with rain on and off over the next week who knows! The marsh is still quite flooded and is draining in to the Thames at a few places and will probably take several weeks of dry weather to get back to normal, the footpath is navigable but very muddy. I noted today that the floods at South Moreton are around 40% of what they had been.

A Sparrowhawk flew through but prior to the buntings arriving and continued down river.
Approximately sixty Corn Bunting at the roost and twenty odd Reed Bunting and a pair of Yellowhammer.

Two Egyptian Geese flew over and a Grey Heron a little while later, there was a Chiffchaff calling on the marsh and several Water Rail squealing away at dusk.
Small numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing still roosting nearby also. A single Great Crested Grebe and a Little Grebe on the river and that was about it!

A bit of gardening done today, the Blackcap still visiting along with a single Stock Dove, two Robins a permanent feature now so probably a pair and still quite a few Blackbird around but the Song Thrush less frequent now.

A distant pic of the Barn Owl

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Ardington - Harrier

On the way to Wantage this afternoon and a Hen Harrier (ringtail) was hunting the fields north of the A417 between West Hendred and Ardington. Could only stop briefly as it is a busy road.
Maybe the same bird as Brian Wyatt had near Steventon?

It put up plenty of birds, c200 Lapwing, many Gulls and Corvids and c50 Linnet.

Some local Cholsey news of a Chiffchaff calling along the Wallingford rd and a two Grey Wagtail with one in song at Winterbrook. Amazing what a bit of sunshine can do.

Thanks to Michael Pocock for the info.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Cholsey marsh: a brief visit.

Sunny spells, 6º, light to fresh WSW, getting colder.

A brief visit to Cholsey marsh this afternoon the water has receded and the marsh is draining again and the Thames water level has dropped back to just below the banks. However, the path is only navigable with wellies.

Very quiet there today and did not stay for the roost as it was getting cold and I did not have the appropriate clothing, the only bird of note was a Wigeon that flew upriver, circled the marsh and disappeared behind some trees in the distance so did not see if it continued upriver or dropped in to a flooded area.

Two Barn Owl hunting at dusk, one on the marsh and another over a nearby field. (Thanks to Paul Rainsden for the info).

Friday, 1 February 2013

Cholsey marsh......not where they show you!

Sunny, 6º, light wind, getting colder.

Before starting just a note to BirdGuides, your Smartphone app is having interesting results. You obviously surf blogs etc and put the information on to your app regarding scarce birds, however “X” marks the spot appears to be misinterpreted by users. I assume the dot on the location marks the centre of the area i.e. Cholsey village and not where the bird has been seen as we have had a couple of incidences this week of people searching our local recreation ground (which is roughly the centre) for both Great Grey Shrike and Bittern and being up to two kilometres out!

Another afternoon down at Cholsey marsh and a rather quiet one than of late, no sign of the Shrike or Bittern but a few Corn Bunting back at the roost around sixty plus came in this evening so maybe weather conditions can affect their roosting pattern?
Water Rail were very vocal at dusk and one seen to run across the flooded part of Ferry rd, two Egyptian Geese flew downstream and were heard a little later on the floods on the other side of the river with the Canada Geese and the “Greylag” types.

Several Great-spotted Woodpecker seen and a Green Woodpecker heard, Sparrowhawk over and approx eighty Lapwing in area, Kingfisher, Common Snipe and Teal all seen this morning.
A Red-breasted Merganser flew high upriver; don’t get many of them in Cholsey and the Barn Owl put in an appearance at dusk.

Forgotten from yesterday, several Grey Partridge heard calling last night at the marsh.

Some belated information of seven Waxwing seen in Crescent Way last week.

 The ubiquitous carrier bag, this one a Waitrose one hanging in a tree on the marsh, not a good place to advertise!