Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Rose tinted optics in East Challow 28th July 2020


News came through late yesterday of an adult Rose-coloured Starling being seen in the Oxfordshire village of East Challow, which lies in the south of the county and close to the Berkshire border. This spring and summer has seen a major influx of adult Rose-coloured Starlings into western Europe. A pair have even bred in France for the first time ever, whilst a good number have managed to reach Britain, birds being found from Shetland in the far north of Scotland to Dorset on the south coast of England.

Rose-coloured Starlings or Rosy Starlings to give them their other name, come, as their exotic plumage would suggest, from sunnier climes in southeast Europe and central Asia and normally spend the winter in India and tropical parts of Asia. An adult Rose-coloured Starling is a very handsome bird indeed, its plumage showing a pleasing contrast of glossy black feathers on head, wings and tail with deep pink feathering on the rest of the body. 

The cause of this latest irruption is probably an abundance of the starling's principal food of grasshoppers and locusts which stimulates the starlings to expand from their normal range. Those individual Rose-coloured Starlings that reach our shores can turn up literally anywhere and being gregarious, often favour back gardens on housing estates, being attracted there by the large numbers of Common Starlings which also visit the gardens to feed on food put out for them and other birds.

Such is the situation at East Challow, with the starling only intermittently showing itself when it flies up with other starlings onto the adjacent roof to whatever garden it has been feeding in. Justin, another Oxonbirder colleague, had reported it early this morning, managing to get a view of the starling on a rooftop at just after 6.30am, so I knew it was still around. 

With little else on my personal agenda today and with East Challow only some thirty minutes from my home, it was too tempting an opportunity to resist and so I made my way across the pleasant Oxfordshire countryside to East Challow, on a windy but obligingly sunny morning.

I parked my car in Hedge Hill Road and joined Peter, Colin and Paul to survey the roofs of the surrounding houses. They had been here for a while but had not yet seen the starling although there were plenty of Common Starlings flying hither and thither, in small flocks, over the village rooftops or perching in the highest tree available.

We wandered around the village looking at every starling we could see, flying over, perched in trees  or lined up on roofs and chimney stacks but they were all a mixture of adult and juvenile Common Starlings. In the end it seemed logical to remain at the spot where the starling had been first seen yesterday rather than forever tramp around the roads, endlessly looking at rooftops.

We made our way back from the village hall to nearby Hedge Hill Road and stood on the pavement and waited. A lady came out of her house opposite and told us that it was her that first alerted everyone to the presence of the starling and she had seen it in her back garden on a number of occasions yesterday, feeding on fat balls she put out for the birds. This convinced me that this would be a good place to wait for the starling to appear.

Conor, Colin and Peter in Field Gardens just after the
Rose-coloured Starling had flown off

Looking back down Field Gardens to Hedge
Hill Road at the bottom

The rooftop where we saw the Rose-coloured
Starling
We split up and surrounded the general area around the lady's house and neighbouring properties and waited. Plenty of Common Starlings would regularly fly up onto the roof of her house and next door's but still there was no sign of our target bird. Colin and Paul were standing on the corner where another road, Field Gardens ran off Hedge Hill Road, just fifty metres from myself and Peter, so we had both sides of the house roofs covered. A good number of Common Starlings came and went on the rooftops and then, after about twenty minutes of anticipation, Paul and Colin located the starling as it flew up from the lady's garden, to perch on the apex of the roof.



Alerted by the others I ran the few metres to Field Gardens and there was the Rose-coloured Starling perched on the roof, slightly apart from some Common Starlings. It appeared unconcerned and even stood on one leg, a sure sign of being relaxed. My main worry was that it would quickly fly off but it stayed on the roof  for a full five minutes before flying with the other starlings, across the road to a distant birch tree just beyond the houses and remained there for a brief spell before flying again and was lost to view behind the roofs and trees.




We waited to see if it would come back but there was no sign. Various curious residents came to ask us what we were looking for and it was very friendly and civilized as they all, without fail showed interest. One lady told us it had been present for a number of days. I always feel very self conscious birding in housing estates, surrounded by people's homes and using high powered optics to look at the houses and gardens but, as is usual in these situations, no-one objected to our presence and could not have been more welcoming.

The long wait for the starling's return continued and slowly our number increased to around a dozen, all of us 'local' birders.

We only saw the elusive bird once more and then but very briefly as it flew past us and over the roofs and was lost to view once again. We waited in vain for it to return and Colin eventually departed to look for Quails on nearby Crog Hill, while Paul and Peter gave it another ten minutes before they too departed. I waited a little longer but gave it up at 1145 and made my way back to my car. 

This is the third Rose-coloured Starling I have been fortunate to see in Oxfordshire.The first was a juvenile at Forest Hill in November 2009. This bird being the first of its kind to be seen in Oxfordshire since 1871! Then a second individual, an adult this time, appeared in a back garden in Botley on the outskirts of Oxford, in January 2019 and was virtually unviewable as it mainly fed on fallen apples in the inaccessible garden and now here was a third, a lovely summer plumaged adult, frustratingly elusive but well worth the effort to see, if and when it flew up onto a roof or tree!


With the sighting of this bird I have now seen eleven Rose coloured Starlings in Britain

Here they are.

Pendeen Cornwall 2008 a juvenile

Forest Green Oxfordshire 2009/10 a juvenile

Newhaven Cliffs East Sussex 2010 an adult feeding on blackberries


Wells next Sea Norfolk 2013 an adult


Hordle Devon 2013 an adult

Crawley West Sussex 2017/18 a juvenile moulting into adult plumage


Botley Oxfordshire 2019 an adult feeding on apples



Lerwick Shetland 2018 an adult

Weymouth Dorset 2020 an adult feeding on cherries


Collingham Yorkshire 2020 an adult feeding on cherries


East Challow Oxfordshire 2020 an adult


























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