Oxwich Marsh mid-October 2020: some autumn highs and the one that got away

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A weekend the forecasters got (very) wrong. The very light winds failed to materialise, and instead we got a moderate north-easterly and easterly breeze that blew the nets around and limited our catch.

The catch was, nevertheless very varied, as can be seen in the table below:

The highlights were:

  • Two firecrests. Both first winter males (recognised as male by the deep orange in their crowns and as first winters by their relatively narrow, pointed and slightly abraded tails). Our first of the year, and our 19th and 20th since we caught our first in winter 2014.
  • Twenty-three goldcrests. These take us to 582 goldcrests ringed on the marsh. The ratio of goldcrests to firecrests captured at Oxwich is currently 29:1. Goldcrest is predominantly a late autumn visitor but occurs in winter and more occasionally at other times; firecrest has only been captured between October and early December to date.
  • Our first redwings of the year. Three adults and a first winter. The latter had replaced one central tail feather, with the unmoulted feather being of juvenile type (more pointed and worn). It also showed a thorn-shaped tip to the second tertial. The tertials of the three adult birds were far more uniform, with only a hint of paleness on the edges of the feathers.
  • Three skylarks. We tend to see skylarks moving on cold cloudless days in the autumn. We set up nets in the open field to catch them, using playback to encourage birds down to the ground / to a height where we can catch them. They cannot be aged in the hand as both adults and juveniles undergo a full post-breeding / post juvenile moult, meaning that by October they cannot be separated on plumage.
  • Our fifth yellow-browed warbler of the autumn. A fairly clear first winter based on narrow, pointed, worn tail feathers. This was the twenty-sixth of the species to be captured on the marsh since our first, in late October 2014. Not something we would have predicted when we started out!

And the one that got away …………

  • Woodlark. A bird was noted on both 17 and 18 October. While we tend to watch the open field nets constantly (on the odd occasion it is possible to give them a go), in the hope of seeing skylarks dropping in to the netting area, the first we saw of the bird on 17 October was when it was already on the ground. Initially the broad supercilium stood out. The bird was distant however, and it took a little while to get a clear view. As we moved closer, it crouched, continuing to hug the ground as we walked it towards the nets. On reaching them, however, it flew up and over the top before leaving the area. Hugely frustrating, albeit not as frustrating as 18 October, when a woodlark perched on the shelf of one of the nets before doing a number of circuits of the field and departing west. It would have been the first to be captured on the marsh, and is a relatively scarce (albeit probably under recorded) late autumn and winter visitor to Gower.

What it does show, however, is what might be possible – time to broaden horizons again!

Owain Gabb



Firecrest (male)
Yellow-browed warbler
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