OOS Fieldwork

The first report of the OOS 1915-1922 edited by Jourdain and Tucker says in the preface, “the value and interest of a thorough systematic survey of every part of the country, in Ornithology as in other branches of Natural History, requires no emphasising, and it is the special function of local publications like the present to afford a medium for the publication in extensor of records and observations contributing to this end. It has been one of the aims of the Oxford Ornithological Society to encourage work of this kind amongst its members.”

This aim has been carried on since then by the OOS, with in addition to the observations of the members by various collaborative specific studies being undertaken. The 1923-1924 report mentions the first two of these collaborative studies, which were suggested by Julian Huxley. Both studies were published in British Birds - Grebes at Blenheim, BB vol. 18, p.129. Herons at Hornton Spinney, BB vol.18, p.155.

In addition a good deal of attention was devoted to the waterfowl at Blenheim Lake during the autumn by Bernard Tucker and E. Banks.

Subsequent reports include references to field work and full reports on species scheduled for special observation. The 1929 and 1930 reports contain the special observations on Magpie, Corn Bunting, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Tree Sparrow, Red-backed Shrike, Redstart and Nightingale.

The 1925, 1926 and 1927 reports have no information about field work, but from the 1928 it can be assumed that work was underway during these years. In the 1926 report dates of the arrival of migrant species is included, but departure dates did not commence until 1932 and then only six species were listed. In the 1928 report it states that census work on the University Farm, at Sandford on Thames continues. A spring census of Rooks was carried out by E.M. Nicholson with the results to be published in the Journal for Ecology. The total population was 6,773 pairs in an area of 224 square miles (this was the survey that led to the Ministry of Agriculture being approached for funds for the BTO). Members also took part in the British Heronries Census organised by British Birds. A study of Starling roosts was made by B.J. Marples.

In the 1929 report the editor Bernard Tucker paid tribute to E.M. Nicholson who went down from the University at the end of the summer term. “The Census at the University Farm and the operation of the trapping station on Christchurch Meadow, which owed their inauguration primarily to his initiative, may fairly be considered to have taken their place as an integral part of the Society’s programme”.

The 1930 report, as well as the scheduled species, has a report on Sand Martin colonies with a proposal to do a definitive census of Sand Martin and House Martin nests. The OOS also accepted responsibility for surveying the three counties for the Great Crested Grebe enquiry organised by Harrison and Hollom (British Birds vol. 24 pp.249-254). The targeted species for 1931 were Wheatear, Wryneck, Stone Curlew, with Martins near Oxford and Snipe and Redshank in the Oxford district.

Bernard Tucker, in the editorial of the 1932 report, draws attention to the recording and ringing effort made by the Society. “The report bears evidence of much useful field work carried out by members both individually and collectively, and the Society may fairly congratulate itself on attaining the third place in the list of British Birds ringing totals, with an aggregate of 1,940 birds ringed during the year”.

Under special observations for the year is an appeal by Bernard Tucker that he should be informed of any nests of Marsh and Willow Tits as he wished to study their breeding behaviour. It is proposed to supplement the Redshank investigation which is reported, as are the results of the Stonechat and Whinchat investigations. The results of the Great Crested Grebe survey of the three counties is fully reported.

Species for special observation listed in the 1934 report include the status and distribution of the Nightjar, a census of breeding pairs of Kingfisher and Reed Warbler and the winter distribution and status of the Brambling. Members are also encouraged to supply information about the status of the Woodcock in connection with the national enquiry being undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology.

The species for special consideration in 1935 were Pochard, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Redstart.

For 1936 the species for special observation were Magpie, Red-backed Shrike and Coot. The report has the results of the Grey Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll and Little Owl surveys, plus a supplement to the Kingfisher enquiry. There are also observations on Crossbills by J.F. Monk and H.N. Southern and a duck investigation by A. Rampton.

The 1937 report mentions the continued census work at Bagley Wood and Blenheim Park. A systematic list of the birds of Blenheim Park is included. In the 1938 report it is noted that little information was received on the species recommended by the BTO for special study, but the census work in Bagley Wood continued as did the Blenheim waterfowl counts. The species scheduled for special investigation during the year were Goldfinch, Stock Dove and Common Sandpiper. For each species focus was given by additional questions eg. For the Goldfinch:

  1. Does it breed in your district? If so, in what situations?
  2. On what kinds of plants have you observed it feeding and in what seasons?
  3. If it has increased in your district can you suggest causes?

J.K. Adams provided a summary of the Status of the Tufted Duck, providing information on when breeding first occurred in the three counties.

In 1939 the scheduled species were, on the suggestion of the BTO, Sand Martin breeding and roosting sites, the breeding and winter numbers of Teal and for Curlew their breeding occurrence on migration and roosting habits.

The report for 1940 describes the effects of the Second World War and is noted in both the lack of records of the scheduled species and observations regarding the impact of the very severe winter. However the ongoing Bagley Wood census was continued and the dramatic losses in numbers from 1939 to 1940 are given.

From 1941 until 1950 inclusive there is no mention of collaborative field work targeting specific species. The general recording for the systematic accounts did continued but in a more restricted manner. 1951 starts the targeted recording again asking observers to submit reports of the common and not so common species whose status is uncertain. Species particularly required were Lesser Redpoll, Tree Sparrow, Meadow and Tree Pipits, Wood Lark and Wood Warbler. It is also suggested that the recording of the wintering numbers of the common ducks in the area over a period of years would be valuable, a forerunner of the National Wildfowl Counts!

Fieldwork included in the 1952 report are the Starling Roost Investigation organised by J.M. McMeeking from 1950 to 1952 and a Quail report by R.E. Moreau and J.F. Monk. The editor writes that the appeal for records of semi-scarce species did not meet with a great response and suggests that priority should be given to Tree Sparrow, Wood Warbler and Woodlark in 1954. In response to enquiries by the BTO there was a sample survey of Heronries and a census of Great Crested Grebes. In addition the OOS headed the list of contributors to the BTO Nest Record Scheme with J. Field being responsible for over 900 cards! Members made a good contribution to the survey of 30 selected species organised nationally by C.A. Norris and the Winter Gull Roost study led by R.A.O. Hickling. Counts were made for the International Wildfowl Inquiry.

The 1953 report is thinner due to Buckinghamshire records being published separately by the Middle Thames Natural History Society. As in the previous year most fieldwork was in participation with the BTO Ringing and Nest Record Schemes and the censuses of Heronries and Great Crested Grebes.

The 1954 report has the results for the three selected species, with Tree Sparrow being quite well covered but no Wood Warblers in Oxfordshire and Woodlarks only on Shotover and the Chiltern Escarpment. A party of six undergraduates under the leadership of Dr Bruce Campbell undertook a survey of Moor House Nature Reserve in Westmorland, on behalf of the Nature Conservancy Council. In 1955 Bruce Campbell took five undergraduates to survey Scolt Head in Norfolk again on behalf of the NCC.

1956 had selected species for special attention, namely Redshank, Curlew, Kingfisher and Yellow Wagtail, but there was a paucity of records. D.F. Owen contributed a note on visible migration around Oxford. The Chiltern Survey of 23rd May 1948 was repeated by 35 members on 6th May 1956, with a major decrease in Stone Curlew and Woodlark numbers being noted.

There is no mention of fieldwork in the 1957 and 1958 reports, but the editor writes that that the number of records submitted by members had increased enormously. In the 1959 report observers are asked to record waves of migration in addition to the first arrival and last departures dates for migratory species. Targeted species are listed in the 1960 report as all Gulls, Waterfowl (with three exceptions), Kestrel, Sparrow Hawk, Owls, Hirundines and Bullfinches. A request for the location of Mute Swan nests by C.M. Perrins is included. John Brucker in 1961 submitted a report on his census of House Martins in North Oxford to compare any changes since the similar survey by WHB Somerset in 1930; the results of the two censuses were very similar.

H.M. Dobinson wrote in the 1962 report on the Migration and Movement Studies from the Inland Observation Points. For the same year the Movement of Gulls in the two counties is summarised. The 1963 report notes that 30 Inland Observation Points were manned in the two counties. Targeted species were the Redstart and Kingfisher, with especial reference to their breeding strengths. The annual Common Bird Census at Hinksey Hill Farm was completed and again in 1964.

1965 was a landmark for the two counties with the publication of The Birds of Berkshire and Oxfordshire by Dr Mary Radford. Fieldwork for this book had gone on for several preceding years. The editor of the report calls for observers to fill the gaps and to update statuses from this important baseline of ornithological knowledge.

The 1966 report includes a note on the Bird Census at Watlington Hill led in part by the BTO. Also there is an analysis of Sand Martins based on the 1965-1967 surveys, again inspired by the BTO. From 1967 fieldwork for the BTO Atlas, The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland, commenced although officially the fieldwork was from 1968-1972. The results of the Owl enquiry are also in the 1967 report. Throughout 1968-1972 recording for the atlas was the focus and in the 1972 report there is an overview of the Atlas results for Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

The 1973 report reviews the first ten years of observations at Farmoor Reservoir with over 180 species being recorded in the period. S.P. Mills wrote on the BTO Register of Ornithological Sites with an appeal for help in surveying them and also for suggestions of sites that should be included.

1974 was the year of local government boundary changes with north west Berkshire vice-county 22 becoming part of Oxfordshire vice-county 23. An area of Oxfordshire at Caversham became part of Berkshire. One result of these changes was that the 1974 report covered only the new Oxfordshire, with the Reading Ornithological Club becoming responsible for publishing the Berkshire records. A report was submitted to the Oxfordshire County Council planning department on the Lower Windrush and Dorchester gravel pit complexes. Dr Bruce Campbell wrote on the natural history importance of gravel pits.

The 1975 report has a number of articles about the fieldwork that had been accomplished by the Society including the Ten Year Survey of Great Crested Grebes and a Rookeries Survey for the BTO. John Brucker repeated his 1961 House Martin Survey in North Oxford finding a significant increase in nests. An analysis of the counts of House Martin nests at Clifton Hampden and Swinford bridges showed the former crashing from a massive total of 513 nests in 1952 to none in 1967 followed by a slow increase to 100 nests in 1975. S.J. Millington reviewed the wildfowl of the Lower Windrush gravel pits.

The Nightingale survey for the BTO is described in the 1976 report by Roland Knight, as is the survey of Rookeries in the Oxford area repeating the original survey by E.M. Nicholson in 1928. In 1977 the committee to review records of rarer species was formed. A report on the BTO Wintering Golden Plover enquiry and a review of the Birds of Oxford City by M. Bayliss are covered in the 1977 report, as is the result of S.E. Christmas’s study of the Sedge Warbler population at Holywell Meadow. In the 1978 report A.J. Parr summarises the results of the Nuthatch survey and in 1979 the BTO Mute Swan enquiry results are presented along with a review of Gadwall in the county.

The editor in the 1980 report remarks on the ever increasing number of records from members. Computerisation makes it possible to total the records more easily and the table gives the records since computerisation began in 1995.

YearNumber of SpeciesNumber of recordsAccumulative totalRecorders

The 1981 report has the results of the Kingfisher Survey written by Adam Gretton and Brian Shaw describes his ringing study of Corn Buntings. P. Holmes gives an analysis of the movement of Greenfinches and Reed Buntings through Oxfordshire. In 1982 the Farmoor Reservoir log book was started, to be used by any observer at the reservoir. In the 1982 report Roland Knight summarises the results of the BTO Waders of Wet Meadows Survey. 178 species of birds identified between 1973 and 1983 within Oxford City are listed with comments on their status. Brian Shaw describes the success of the scheme to give members an opportunity to experience ringing that was started in 1980; Holywell Meadow being the venue, with thanks to Merton College who own the site.

1983 was the year in which the post of Conservation Officer was created. R. Laugher describes the constant effort ringing site at South Stoke that he and Dr J. Monk established there, a site not known for birds prior to their achievements.

1984 must be one of the more significant years in the history of the Society, being the year when it was agreed to work towards a county atlas, based on mapping the birds in the 734 tetrads that cover Oxfordshire. Andrew Heryet took on the role of Atlas Co-ordinator. In the report for the year there are the results of the BTO Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers Survey. A. Heryet describes the 1983 to 1984 Barn Owl Survey and R. Wiggins provides A Comparison of the Breeding Species and their Densities in two Oxfordshire Woodlands.

From 1985 to 1988 fieldwork concentrated on the proposed atlas culminating in The Birds of Oxfordshire by J.W. Brucker, A. Gosler and A. Heryet, eventually published by Pisces Publications in 1992. Various members of the Society have always been involved in a multiplicity of projects either as part of wider studies or to their own interest, and in the 1988 report three BTO Common Bird Census sites are described. Roy Overall writes on Wytham Wood from 1971-1987, Margaret Gordon on a Little Milton Farm from 1961-1987 and Dr F.A.L. Clowes about Boarstal Duck Decoy from 1968-1987.

1988 to 1991 saw members recording for the BTO second atlas The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. The 1992 report contains the results of M J Bayliss’s Cuckoo/Reed Warbler Survey 1983 to 1992, while John Brucker reviews the birds of the Lower Windrush gravel pit complex from 1989 to 1993.

In 1994 work commenced on the computerisation of OOS records led by David Dunford. Recording was to be based on Hectads (10km squares), each square with its own leader. There is also a report on the Grasshopper Warbler in Oxfordshire by J.R. King. David Dunford in the 1995 report describes the computerisation of records, all inputted by himself. There are also articles by T.A. Stevenson on the birds of Dorchester gravel pits and a review of changes in the avifauna of the AERE Harwell from the early 1950s to 1995 by L. Salmon.

1996 saw the first purchase of land on Otmoor by the RSPB, the beginnings of what has become a birding hotspot in Oxfordshire. In the report for that year P. Abbott describes the results of the BTO Breeding Bird Survey and John Brucker reports on the Spotted Flycatcher survey in hectad SP41. The 1998 report features an account of Crossbills in Bagley Wood by J.Gosling and an update on the Spotted Flycatcher in SP41.In 1999 the report has the Spotted Flycatcher survey on a countywide basis, and P. Barnett reviews some of the changes to the county avifauna in the 20th Century.

In 2001 the patchwork Project was started under the leadership of David Hawkins and for the first time members were encouraged to submit their records electronically. The report contains a description of ringing at South Stoke by B.Shaw and E.Gill which is updated in the 2002 report. John Brucker reviews the role of the Society in Oxfordshire conservation from the earliest days to the present. The first patchwork booklet by David Hawkins was produced on The Birds of North Leigh Common. Two further patchwork booklets appeared in 2003, The Birds of Shipton of Cherwell Quarry and The Birds of Green Lane and Sansoms Lane near Woodstock. OOS members have regularly contributed to various long term national enquiries, and in the 2003 report John Melling reviews the first ten years of the BTO Breeding Bird Survey. There is also a list of Oxfordshire birds with guidelines as to what type of records and which species are particularly required.

A survey of Tawny Owls is described in the 2004 report, being a test for methodologies for the proposed new atlas. In 2005 recording started and in 2007 fieldwork concentrated on the BTO Bird Atlas 2007-2011. In the 2011 report is the first part of a review of OOS Bird Ringing by Roy Overall.

OOS Species Studies

Fieldwork at a glance (up to 1978)

1930Magpie, Goldfinch, Redpoll, Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting, Redstart, Nightingale, Red-backed Shrike.
1931Wheatear, Wryneck, Stone Curlew, House Martin, Snipe.
1932Great Crested Grebe, Redshank, Stonechat, Whinchat
1933Starling roosts, Barn Owl
1934Kingfisher, Brambling, Nightjar
1935Pochard, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Redstart
1936Little Owl, Redpoll, Grey Wagtail, Crossbill
1937Coot, Magpie, Red-backed Shrike
1938Tufted Duck
1939Reed Warbler, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Stock Dove, Goldfinch
1952Starling roosts, Quail
1957Corn Bunting
1968-1972Atlas fieldwork
1975Rook, Great Crested Grebe
1977Golden Plover

Compiled by John Brucker, Newsletter No.5, January 1980.