Oxwich Marsh late November 2020: a chiffchaff gets the horn

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We managed two sessions at Oxwich in late November, one on 23rd and one on 29th.

On both days we had very light winds, enabling us to set nets in some more open areas than we usually try. The combined results were as follows:

Highlights were:

  • Twelve chiffchaffs. Of the four birds recorded on 23 November, two showed characteristics of eastern race birds (tristis-type). These birds both showed washed-out greyish brown head and mantle feathers that contrasted with their olive-green flight feathers. The underparts were far whiter than in collybita, and both had black legs. The two birds were carrying reasonable amounts of fat (scores of 4 and 5 respectively based on the BWG system) – which the more typical chiffchaffs were not on either date – suggesting they were moving or had moved. The first of the two also called on release; not a typical chiffchaff call. It was also interesting that one of the two had a very prominent pollen horn. This is a feature we normally see in spring, and is attributed to wintering birds foraging in flowers in the Mediterranean / further south before returning to Britain. This results in a waxy horn of feathers above the bill. It is never something we have noted in late autumn / winter before. Maybe the bird had been foraging around winter-flowering shrubs in the UK – but it would be interesting to hear any views on how this might have occurred or from others with similar experience.
  • A firecrest. The fourth ringed by the group this year. A first winter male.
  • Two jack snipe. A first winter, with pointed, slightly faded and abraded outer primaries, and an apparent adult with more rounded primary tips and pristine dark flight feathers.
  • Five skylark caught in the open field. Not a bird we catch regularly or target, but a good one for trainees to look at in the hand
  • Five coal tits (all on 29 November). The site is very coastal, and we normally only get seven or eight coal tits in a year.
  • A five year old blue tit. Not exceptional for the species, but nice nonetheless.
  • The twentieth stonechat of the year at Oxwich. Given how little opportunity we have had to get out to site due to Covid and autumn weather, we would surely have had a record year for the species in 2020 if we had been less restricted.

News of recent controls have included:

  • A dunnock ringed at Oxwich in August 2017 that has apparently moved to Rutland where is was captured in August 2020. A distance of 266 km! This is likely to be one of the longest dunnock movements in the UK this year based on recent ringing reports.
  • A blue tit ringed at Oxwich in October 2020 and recaptured at Rhoscrowther, Pembrokeshire (62 km west) ten days later.
  • A coal tit that has visited three of the Group’s gardens, two of which are in Langland / Newton and the third at Southgate, approximately 6 km to the west. Some nice local movement data.

Photographs follow

Owain Gabb


Firecrest (Richard Dann)
Jack snipe (Richard Dann)
Skylark (Richard Dann)
Common snipe (left) with jack snipe (right) (Dionne Jenkins)
Tristis-type chiffchaff with pollen horn (Richard Dann)
Second tristis-type chiffchaff
Head, mantle and wing feathers of tristis-type chiffchaff. This photo, while out of focus, captures the colour tones of the upperparts of one of the birds



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