2022 End of Year Review

Here is the traditional Port Meadow review of the year post. As I mentioned in my last post, despite the severe drought at the time of the crucial spring passage, we still ended up amassing a reasonable end of year total of 137 + 1 extra in the form of a Red-breasted Goose. Whilst there wasn't a stand-out national rare there were enough good county and patch birds to make it an exciting year with plenty to keep us interested.

 

Winter

Winter is usually the best time of year in terms of sheer bird numbers with lots of water fowl as well as plenty of gulls to look at. In terms of gulls we had a good season with lots of Caspian and Mediterranean Gulls found though sadly once again we failed to turn up any white-wingers. It's been far too many years since we've had one of those beauties on the Meadow (or indeed in the county).


Above two photos, Caspian Gulls, Below: Mediterranean Gull, all courtesy of Thomas Miller

 

We had at least one of the Red-breasted Geese stay with us for a while in January, adding a splash of colour to the large numbers of geese. Thanks to the feeding station in Burgess Field it turned out to be a great year for Bramling with well into double figures seen for this charismatic finch.

One of many Brambling

We managed to get Glossy Ibis on the year list for the third year running when one dropped in briefly at dusk. It then decamped to Otmoor where it stayed for a while.

The brief visit of the Glossy Ibis courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Spring

Spring started off with a bang with the discovery of a Siberian Chiffchaff loitering by Burgess Field gate. This is the first record of what is currently a subspecies of Chiffchaff for Port Meadow. Fortunately it ended up lingering for quite a while and was much enjoyed.

Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Joe Tobias

It was an unusually good spring for Garganey on the Meadow with quite a few records whilst the floods were still with us.

Garganey pair, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

As mentioned above, due to the unusually dry spring, the floods were gone by the start of May which is usually the best time to get some quality species. Still we managed to get Bar-tailed Godwit and Wood Sandpiper, two of the rarer waders that we might hope to add to the year list. However we ended up missing out on quite a few waders (Sanderling, Whimbrel, Knot and Avocet) that we might reasonably hope to get in a good year.

Bar-tailed Godwit, courtesy of Thomas Miller


 

Wood Sandpiper

 

We also scored some stonking spring fly-over ticks with Little Gull and Arctic Tern both seen on the same day.



Summer

Summer is traditionally a quiet season for birding on the Meadow so the sighting of a Little Tern briefly on the the patch was a stand-out record. This was almost certainly the Farmoor bird popping over the hill for a visit but at only the second record ever on the patch it is a really great record. It's just a shame that only one observer saw it.

We were also entertained by a family of Little Owls in the summer which showed well at dusk for quite a number of days before dispersing.

Little Owl, courtesy of Joe Tobias

Of course, as the birding slows down, summer is traditionally the time for insects and we had a very good season in that respect. We started off with a Club-tailed Dragonfly photographed along the Thames. This is a rare dragonfly in this part of the river with not many records at all.

Club-tailed Dragonfly courtesy of Michael Enticott

Our new Downy Emerlad colony seems well established now with several seen in the Trap Grounds on the main pond. The same can also be said of our Willow Emerald population with plenty of sightings around the various Trap Ground ponds.

Willow Emerald

We also had a new colonist this year with a population of Small Red-eyed Damselflies seen in good numbers. Let's hope they become regulars as well.

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

Once again we managed one or two sightings of Brown Hairstreak thanks to the eagle eyes of Nicola Devine. Sadly Nicola is no longer with us, having died this year. We will all miss her wonderful photos and great enthusiasm for the Trap Grounds.

Brown Hairstreak, courtesy of Nicola Devine

Once again we had some Glow Worm sightings in Burgess Field in the summer.

Burgess Field Glow Worm, courtesy of Zichen Zhou


Autumn

Whereas spring was somewhat disappointing, we ended up having a very good autumn. There were unusually good numbers of Spotted Flycatchers and Redstart within Burgess Field this autumn which made for great birding.


Burgess Field Spotted Flycatcher (one of nine seen this autumn)

One of the Four Redstarts seen this autumn


This flyover Osprey in Wolvercote made for a great photo, courtesy of Joe Taylor

Despite the complete lack of flood waters the grassy plains of Port Meadow attracted some good birds this autumn. We had a Grey Plover grace the area for several days.

The Grey Plover (courtesy of Ben Sheldon) hung around for a while,

On the Pipit front it was a stand-out autumn. A Rock Pipit was found in the Hinterland area north of the dried up floods. This only the fourth record for the Meadow with the last two being back in 2010.

The Rock Pipit, courtesy of Joe Tobias

Following that we had an even rarer Pipit with a Water Pipit loitering near the returning flood waters. This was probably the Farmoor bird which seemed to navigate between that location, the Meadow and Wytham for a little while. This was only the second record, with the last being in 2007.

The Water Pipit, courtesy of Steve Lavington

We also had a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Trap Grounds for one day. This was the first of what proved to be a specacular autumn across the county for the once rare Siberian warbler. Another outstanding record was a flyover Hawfinch seen over the Meadow. The post breeding Cattle Egret colony relocated to a field north of Wytham for several weeks.

Cattle Egrets near Wytham

We also had a dark-bellied Brent Goose drop in on the floods for one day.

Brent Goose, courtesy of Ben Sheldon

Bird of the Year

Finally it's time to award the Port Meadow Bird of the Year award. This year it was rather difficult as there was no obvious stand-out bird. Below is the short list along with the number of previous records for the Meadow:

Siberian Chiffchaff (first record)
Little Tern (second record)
Arctic Tern (first record for several years)
Water Pipit (second record)
Rock Pipit (fourth record)
Yellow-browed Warbler (fourth record)
Hawfinch (second record)

Some of these contenders (e.g. Little Tern and Hawfinch) were single observer records which rather counts against them. The Sibe Chiffy is only a sub-species though still an excellent record. After due consideration I am going to give it to the Water Pipit (which was also a personal patch tick for me). I've long felt that this species should occur more often than it does on the Meadow so it's great finally to have another record.

Let's hope 2023 proves to be at least as good as this last year.

31st December

December has been unusually quiet, largely due to the Big Freeze that gripped the country over the first part of the month. It was so severe and prolonged that the Meadow became largely birdless though it did mean that my garden feeders suddenly became a much sought after source of food for the local Goldfinches and Greenfinches. They ended up in residence in the garden for the entire time - a welcome sight when everywhere else was frozen and barren. We've also had a pair of Blackcaps gracing the garden on a regular basis. This species is pretty much annual in my garden over the winter. After this frozen weather, it was back to mild and wet weather and a welcome return of the birds. Indeed the Meadow has been very "birdy" for the second half of the month with lots of the usual suspects.

Perhaps one of the highlights was a distinctly dodgy Caspian Gull which graced the roost one evening. Definitely with some mixed genes it was so marginal a call as to whether it could be classed as a Caspian or just a hybrid that even I (normally only too ready to claim a Casp when I see a candidate bird) thought it wasn't one. It was only our esteemed county recorder who said that it was "good enough" to be one. In any event it's not a year tick as we had plenty of this charismatic species at the start of the year, but it's nice to have the first of the season under our belt. There was not much else on the gull front apart from a few Yellow-legged gulls. The real gulling season kicks off properly the new year.

The Dodgy Caspian Gull

On the waterfowl front it's been the usual species in fairly good numbers. There are plenty of Wigeon and Teal about with a dozen or so Shoveler. On some days we've had a few Pintail gracing the floods as well. A couple of Shelduck for several days running were an unusual sight for this time of year. There are plenty of geese about with the Barnacle Goose flock more or less in permanent residence and plenty of Canada Geese. The Blenheim White-fronted Geese (sadly not tickable) have been popping into the roost on occasion as well. There have been up to 8 Goosander along the river, with some occasionally appearing on the floods at dusk. There was an intriguing "reported" Ring-necked Duck on RBA recently though with a couple of Tufted Duck on the river and nothing more know about it than this one mention I can't really in all good conscience claim this as a tick.



Winter Duck, courtesy of Peter Batty (www.batty.photos)

Waders have been mostly represented by Golden Plover and Lapwing in modest numbers. We have had the odd Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin record though none that have lingered. A couple of Redshank were seen along the river in their usual place near the fallen trees towards the end of the month. During the frozen period a lot (50+) of Snipe were seen in the Hinterland where presumably the ground was less frozen.

There's not been much else to report apart from the pair of Stonechat which seemed to be wintering in the thistle area between the Aristotle Lane and Walter Well Rd exits. However, the cold spell eventually proved too much and they seem to have departed now.

 

Pied Wagtails, courtesy of Peter Batty (www.batty.photos)

The only other piece of news is a report (in a comment of the previous blog post) of a Whooper Swan flying low over Wolvercote on the 20th November at around 11 am. This is a welcome year tick which pushes the final total to 137 strict BOU + 1 bonus bird (Red-breasted Goose). This compares very favourable to last year which was 136 + 4 (White Stork, Crane, Red-breasted Goose, Snow Goose). So in terms of strict BOU records this is a record breaking year. In any event it's a great effort given how quickly the floods disappeared during the crucial spring passage period.

Finally it only remains for me to wish all blog readers a very Happy New Year. My thanks go out to the great team of patch birders that Port Meadow has. It's been great birding the patch with you all this year and our year list total is a real team effort. Here's to another great year for 2023! 

Kingfisher, courtesy of Peter Batty (www.batty.photos)


 PS As usual I will post the end of year review sometime next month.


 



3rd December

November is not normally known for great birding excitement. However there have been a few things of note to keep ones interest up. Firstly, by way of background, the floods reformed at the start of the month and have been growing steadily in size so that now they are a pretty good expanse. Indeed the Meadow is looking superb at the moment and has once more attracted a host of different bird species. 

On the duck front, alongside the usual Wigeon, Teal and a few Shoveler, we've had up to 4 Pintail and a few Goosander on the floods. The latter species has also been reported along the river quite a bit this month as were Two Tufted Duck one day. The Barnacle Geese are now a regular feature on the Meadow at this time with up to 130 present throughout the month. The highlight of the month as far as water fowl is concerned has been a dark-bellied Brent Goose, presumably the Dorchester bird, which was found on the floods this morning and which hung around all day. We've also had up to 8 White-fronted Geese coming in at dusk to roost. One of the birds looks like a hybrid but as yet we've not been able to ascertain whether the remaining 7 birds are part of the Blenheim flock or are proper wild birds. There were 6 White-fronts on Otmoor recently though that was a family part of two adults and four first winters so these are different birds. Genuine wild White-fronts are very rare on the Meadow so it would be great if they can be properly seen at some point

The Brent on the floods, courtesy of Ben Sheldon


...and in flight courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

There have been slim pickings as far as waders are concerned. A couple of Dunlin were reported mid month and over the last few days we've had up to 3 Black-tailed Godwits. Lapwing numbers have increased noticeably and we're starting to get bigger numbers of Golden Plover as well. The highlight was an unseasonable Curlew that was picked out of the foggy gloom one evening.

The gull roost has got to a reasonable size now. So far just a few Yellow-legged Gulls have been found but now that we are into December it all really kicks off on the gull front.

In terms of passerines, there have been a few snippets to report. By far the best sighting was a Hawfinch which flew over south, seen by Phil Barnett. This is only the second record of this species on the Meadow after a few were seen a couple of years ago flying over Burgess Field amongst some Redwing. Both the male and female Stonechat have been seen this month. As they are generally rather elusive and covering a large area they are often hard to spot even when they are there so it's not known if they are still about or not. A singing male Cetti's Warbler has been heard a couple of times around the Wolvercote Lake complex this month as well.

In other news there have been a few Noctule bat sightings from our resident bat expert, Matthew Lloyd.

In terms of the year list, thanks to the Brent Goose we are now on 136 + 1 extra (Red-breasted Goose). Depending on how you measure it, this compares well with last year's record breaking tally of 136 + 4 extra (White Stork, Crane, Red-breasted Goose, Snow Goose): equalling it on strict BOU terms and only 3 behind on "extra" ticks. Looking ahead to the last month of the year, it's going to be water fowl and gulls mostly though something left field could turn up. Last year we had the Dotterel in December so there's still plenty to play for.

31st October

There have been a couple of proper Patch Mega's since my last post. Nothing of national importance but enough to get locals hurrying out to the Meadow. The first was a Rock Pipit found by chance by Phil Barnett out in the Hinterland to the north of the flood area. There have only been four records of this species since 2007. There were several in the autumn of 2007, then a couple in 2010 and then this bird today. It didn't linger and (bar a possible sighting along the river shore the next day) was not seen again.


Rock Pipit, both courtesy of Joe Tobias

The next Mega was even rarer and came in the form of a Water Pipit. Again found by Phil (who is having a great autumn in terms of rare bird findings on the patch) this is only the second record since 2007. Actually, a Water Pipit had been seen on and off at Farmoor and a "buzzy" sounding Pipit was kicked up from the grass a few days earlier but wasn't found again so in all likelihood it's been the same bird loitering in the general area and commuting between various local sites. This bird has been seen on at least two subsequent occasions though is often not on the Meadow so is continuing to roam widely.

Water Pipit record shots above and below courtesy of Steve Lavington

The Cattle Egrets have been settled up at Wytham for some time now with 30 lingering in amongst the cattle to the north of the Field Station.

Just some of the 30 odd Cattle Egrets

The three Stonechats lingered for a while and another pair were found up near King's Lock. It's proving to be a good year for these charming chats.

Stonechat courtesy of Mathew Lloyd

One of the Great White Egrets has been seen a couple more times, once on Wolvercote Lake and once along the river. 

Great White Egret on Wolvercote Lake

There was another potential Patch Mega, indeed what would have been a patch first in the form of a Mandarin Duck when a "probable" was flushed from the trees up at Wolvercote Lake. Sadly it could not be refound but the habitat looks good for them so it's possible that one may turn up there again at some point in the future.

In other news, a Little Grebe was seen on the river near the Perch one day by Andrew Siantonas. 12 Ring-necked Parakeets flew over calling one morning. These are probably from the University Parks but it's a record count for the Patch with sightings up until now comprising just of one or two birds. At least one Barn Owl is continuing to be seen up past the ring road towards Kings Lock. 

Now that we are well into autumn there are noticeable changes in the bird population with regular Siskins, Redpolls and Fieldfare see or at least heard overhead. In the Meadow area it's now Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Linnet and Redwing that are being seen. At long last we have some flood waters back again and the first winter duck sightings have been had with a few Wigeon and Teal seen. The Barnacle Geese are being seen regularly along with a couple of Egyptian Geese. We are even starting to get a bit of a gull roost with about 500 Black-headed Gulls reported recently one evening. As the flood waters extend it will soon be time to start grilling the gull roost once more. Happy days!



11th October

Things have been ticking along nicely on the patch, especially considering that the floods are still bone dry.

Firstly things really stepped up a gear when Phil Barnett found a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Trap Grounds on Sunday 25th September. This is only the third record for the patch of what is no longer the national or county rarity that it used to be. However, for Port Meadow it is still very much a Mega and although it proved mobile and elusive throughout the day a number of locals and county birders managed at least to hear if not see it.

In the absence of a photo of the Yellow-browed Warbler, here is one of the first one for the patch, found back in October 2013, taken by master lensman Roger Wyatt

We also managed another year tick when Jonathan Parsons found a Whinchat at Wolvercote Allotments along the south boundary facing the meadow. This species is just about annual so it was good to get it on the list.

Talking of chats, we've had a flurry of Stonechats arriving with three found on Monday in the rough grass/thistle area between the Aristotle Lane gate and the southern end. A pair of them lingered in the same place and either the third bird or a fourth relocated to Burgess Field.

One of the three original Stonechats

In terms of other birds, our Grey Plover ended up hanging around for a little while. It wasn't always present at the southern end and was sometimes seen to fly in so it may have been lingering unseen higher up the Meadow. On the wader front, apart from the Grey Plover, 2 Redshank were the only real point of interest. There have been a few Lapwing and the occasional Golden Plover hanging around.

On the water fowl front, the only real point of interest has been a flock of about 180 Barnacle Geese. As they were ringed it was possible to tell that they were from Merseyside, this being the first sighting of them since they were originally ringed. 

Some of the Merseyside Barnacle Geese

One of the Great White Egret dropped into Wolvercote Lake on Saturday 8th October.

There have been 3 or 4 Barn Owls hunting over the fields towards King's Lock (part of the "extended patch") at dusk over the last couple of days along with a couple of Cetti's Warblers.

In general, Meadow Pipit and Linnet numbers have been building up on the Meadow and the first Snipe are starting to be flushed from the longer grass. The first Redwings have been seen and autumn passage birds are becoming hard to find now. We are now definitely well into autumn.


23rd September

Since my last post the good autumn passage has continued. For a couple of weeks Burgess Field was on fire with two more Redstarts and five more Spotted Flycatchers. That makes four Redstarts in total and eight Spotted Flycatchers which are pretty amazing totals by Port Meadow standards. 

One of Three Spotted Flycatchers that turned up one lunchtime.
At one point they are all in the same tree

The fourth Redstart to grace Burgess Field this autumn

It does rather seem that this passage has passed as Burgess Field has been decidedly quiet for the last week and a bit. Yellow Wagtail numbers have taken a nosedive as well. We peaked somewhere in the mid twenties in terms of numbers but the last week or so there have been just three birds at most. We've had a few Lapwing and Golden Plover starting to assemble on the Meadow so far. In addition there was a Sedge Warbler along the river (sadly this species is pretty rare on the Meadow these days) and a single Tufted Duck on the river for one afternoon.

Ever since the large number of Cattle Egrets starting congregating at Otmoor in the late summer, I have been hoping that some would disperse to Port Meadow as they did last year. Sadly this doesn't seem to have happened. There was a single bird briefly in amongst the livestock on the 7th but that's been it. At least we've managed to get a genuine on-the-patch tick for this - up until now our year tick was done by extreme-scoping all the way to the Wytham cattle fields with only the observer actually being on the patch. A regular flock is now being seen over at Wytham so it looks like they have all moved over there for the winter now. 

Our one brief Cattle Egret

Talking of Egrets, we've had a couple more Great White Egret sightings. These are presumably the Cassington GP birds popping over to the Meadow for a visit. One spent a couple of hours at Wolvercote Lake one morning and another was seen on the river again. We've had a few more Wheatear sightings with one at the north end of the Meadow and then two more which have lingered at the southern end on the dried up flood area.

Wheatear

Despite my fretting about the state of the year list we have managed to rack up quite a few more ticks. Firstly a Marsh Tit was seen by Phil Barnett in a Hawthorn near the Aristotle Lane entrance briefly before moving off. Presumably this is a bird dispersing from Wytham Wood where they breed. Secondly, Steve Lavington has a brief Stonechat sighting as one flew into the allotments. I often wonder what gems get missed within the allotment area! Finally, Phil Barnett found another goody in the form of a juvenile Grey Plover that spent the afternoon on the Meadow. There's  been a flurry of sightings nearby at Farmoor so it was good that we managed to get this just about annual species on the list. With the early demise of the floods I was sure that we'd missed it this year.

The Grey Plover, courtesy of Ben Sheldon

Looking ahead, with the continued drought there's no sign of the floods returning any time soon. So I would continue to expect slim pickings on the Meadow. However, we've managed to do OK so far this autumn without any water so it's worth staying optimistic.




September 3rd

It's been a pretty reasonable start to autumn on the Meadow. Given that there are no flood waters at all we've had to make do with migrating passerines but fortunately we've been well served on this front. We've had at least two Redstarts in Burgess Field, a male and a female. I say "at least", this is because after no reports of the female for about a week, one was caught in the ringing nets there. It could be the same one or it could be a new bird. 

Female Redstart in the hand courtesy of Thomas Miller

We've also had a couple more Spotted Flycatchers: one in the north east corner of Burgess Field and one in the Trap Grounds. Sadly both were single observer sightings. That does bring the tally for this species to three birds already this autumn, which is pretty good!

We had our first Great White Egret record of the year with a couple of birds seen flying south along the river before heading back north again. Since then there have been several more sightings so they seem to be migrating regularly to the area, probably from Cassington GPs though they may well be finding the Meadow a bit too noisy for them to linger. Vidya Menon did capture a nice photo of one on the river early one morning which would tend to support this thesis.

Early morning Great White Egret courtesy of Vidya Menon

Yellow Wagtail numbers have increased dramatically since my last post and we are now getting over 20 birds in amongst the cattle. 

There have been quite a few sightings of Hobby around the general area, including over Kingston Road and one over the Trap Grounds. 

Hobby courtesy of Nicola Devine

Geese numbers are starting to climb again despite the lack of water on the Meadow. In amongst them have been 3 Egyptian Geese recently which seem to have taken a liking to the Meadow.

On the insect front there have been more sightings of Willow Emeralds on the Trap Grounds with up to 10 seen at a peak count. They are also discovered up at Wolvercote Lakes as well as other new sites throughout the county so they have definitely colonised Oxfordshire now. Apart from that, records of other Odonata species are starting to decline now as we head into autumn. There is one interesting record to report, that of a Southern Migrant Hawker on the Castle Mill Stream opposite Worcester College. Whilst this is strictly off-patch it is certainly possible that this species, another recent colonist of the county, will become more regular in years to come.

Migrant Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

Willow Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine

Southern Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

Looking ahead, until we can get some flood waters back, it's going to be more of the same. We still need Whinchat, Stonechat & Marsh Tit which are reasonable possibilities but beyond that it will have to be something rather unexpected.