26th August: Creeping Marshwort Annual Survey

For those botanists amongst you, you might be interested to know that the annual Port Meadow Creeping Marshwort survey is taking place tomorrow on Saturday 27th August. If you're interested in coming along then meet on the Meadow side of Aristotle Lane bridge  at 10 a.m. Please remember that the bridge itself is currently closed so you'll have to come in from Walton Well Road.

22nd August

I didn't mean to leave it so long between posts but some how I've let things slip and it's nearly the end of August already. The floods are completely gone and the whole area is "greening up" nicely. So we're now down to scrabbling around for passing migrants in Burgess Field and waiting for the floods to return for the winter gulling. 

Talking of passage migrants Ian Elkin paid a visit to the Patch yesterday and managed to turn up some great birds. For starters he had 22 Lapwing and 7 YELLOW WAGTAIL on the Meadow itself and in Burgess Field he managed to turn up  a Garden Warbler, a Blackcap, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Green Woodpecker, one SPOTTED FLYCATCHER and a 1st winter male REDSTART. The latter is in fact a year tick for the Meadow, a rather scarce commodity these days!

There is some exciting moth news for the Meadow. Whilst I've more or less given up trapping in my garden so poor have the results been, Nicola Devine had continued to scour the Trap Grounds diligently and has spotted a RED-TIPPED CLEARWING moth visiting the Wild Marjoram in the central clearing. I went along and managed to see one too. This is a rare enough moth to get the area recorder interested so well done to Nicola for spotting it. Apparently she also saw them there last year so they're clearly nicely established in the area.

Red-tipped Clearwing moth courtesy of Nicola Devine (c)
Not only has Nicola managed to find a rare moth at the Trap Grounds but she's also turned up a couple of locally rare butterflies in the form of not one but two SILVER-WASHED FRITILLARIES. These are a woodland species which can be found at Otmoor and also just over the county border at Bernwood Forest but I would have thought that somewhere like the Trap Grounds is too small for them. It would be great though if a colony were to be established.

Migrant Hawkers are out and about now. In fact I've managed to see Brown, Southern and Migrant in my garden this year which is not bad since it's a good five minutes walk to the nearest water. Down on the Castle Mill Stream yesterday I managed to spot a couple of Brown Hawkers, a mating pair of Migrant Hawkers, a male Ruddy Darter, a male Banded Demoiselle and the usual Damselflies.

Mating Migrant Hawkers

4th August

So we're into August already. The floods have basically gone now which is a real shame as, despite the dwindling water, we were starting to get some decent wader action towards the end of last month. We had a couple of GREENSHANK, several COMMON SANDPIPERS, a few LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, a male RUFF and five BLACK-TAILED GODWITS all popping in en route back southwards. Add to this the usual OYSTERCATCHERS and it all makes for a reasonable haul of waders, especially for the time of year. Sadly, unless there is an unseasonal deluge over the next few weeks, we are destined once more to miss out on the best time of year for waders in the county.

One of the Greenshank
We've also started to get YELLOW WAGTAILS again with two or three dotted about the place along with loads of juvenile Pied Wagtails, all busily picking over the dried up floods for the hoards of flies that are everywhere. July is traditionally also the start of the YELLOW-LEGGED GULL season and despite the lack of water we managed to get a single near-adult bird for a short while in amongst the huddle of Black-headed Gulls that are still about. 

Yellow-legged Gull
Finally, some good news. Nicola Devine managed to spot a family of juvenile WATER RAILS in amongst the reeds at the Trap Grounds. It's great to know that they've bred successfully there.

One of two juvenile Water Rails courtesy of Nicola Devine (c)

22nd July - Odonata Update

The hot weather that we're now enjoying is finishing off the floods now - they're really on their last legs but are being picked over by the Little Egrets and Herons who are fishing out the last of the trapped fry.

Still the good weather has brought out the dragonflies at last and there have been lots of sightings. I've even had a Brown Hawker and a couple of Southern Hawkers pass through my garden. Down at the Trap Grounds on my last two visits I've managed to see a patrolling male Emperor, a Four-spotted Chaser, a couple of Brown Hawkers, a Southern Hawker, a Common Darter, a Ruddy Darter, and plenty of Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies. Over the last few weeks the combination of the better weather and the then still full floods was attracting a lot of dragonflies with several Black-tailed Skimmers, Emperors and Brown Hawkers being seen.

Brown Hawker

Common Darter

Ruddy Darter
Male Azure Damselfly
Male Blue-tailed Damselfly
A freshly emerged Souther Hawker, about to make its first flight courtesy of Nicola Devine (c)
Male Black-tailed Skimmer by the Port Meadow floods a couple of weeks ago

13th July

I must admit that I've not really been giving the Patch my full attention over the last few weeks: this is traditionally such a quiet time of year in the birding calendar that I've been looking elsewhere for my nature fix. Still, when I did make a visit on Monday I was rewarded with 5 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, 2 OYSTERCATCHERS and 5 LITTLE EGRETS as well as hoards of Black-headed Gulls and just one or two larger gulls. The Godwits are a sign that in wader world it's the return passage already for those that have failed in their breeding attempts up north. As if to confirm this, the following day Stever Goddard had 3 COMMON SANDPIPER as well as 3 Oystercatchers. Given this increase in wader action I'll have to make more of an effort to visit the floods which are still looking remarkably good for the time of year though we do need some rain just to keep them topped up.

A couple of weeks ago I paid a visit to Burgess Field where despite the heavy cloud there were loads of Ringlets and Marbled Whites about - I always love to see these species at this time of year.

Marbled Whites


3rd July

A couple of snippets of bird news to report first of all. Some late news from the 25th when Bob Pomfret reported a GREEN SANDPIPER (possibly the same one that I saw a couple of days later) and 3 REDSHANK. I also forgot to mention a COMMON SANDPIPER on the floods on the last day of the month. Apart from that the floods are still in good shape with the regular rain keeping them well topped up.

On the plant front I went to take a look to see if I could find any CREEPING MARSHWORT about yet. Of course with the floods still being present there's not so many places to look but I managed to find some OK. For those of you who aren't familiar, this plant is only found at Port Meadow in this country though the Oxford Rare Plant Group have now established a second colony at another site nearby by way of a backup and I've been told that that colony is doing very well.

Creeping Marshwort

I also went a few weeks ago to a site at the north end of the Meadow area to catch up with the BIRTHWORT population there. This plant is so named as it was formerly used to induce labour though it's usefulness is doubtful as it's rather poisonous! Anyway, it has rather interesting flowers and this site is one of only a handful in the country where it can be seen.


28th June

Sorry for the lack of updates but I've been occupied with other things and haven't actually had much of a chance to visit the Meadow of late. There is finally some bird news to post about: first of all a WHITE STORK was seen circling over Summertown on Saturday late morning before heading southwards where it was eventually relocated at Culham in a field near the Thames. Whilst this is just outside the Patch catchment area it's still great to have such a rarity in the general area. Regular readers may remember that we had a bird actually on the Meadow briefly back in May 2011.

The White Stork at Culham courtesy of Badger
The second piece of bird news is more mundane but did at least happen on the patch. Today I finally visited the floods to find them still looking very healthy with the recent rain having topped them up nicely. There were loads of Black-headed Gulls about including lots of juveniles so they've had a great year breeding. The interesting bit is that I did manage to turn up a GREEN SANDPIPER working its way along the North Shore which was great as this is in fact a year tick.

I've rather been neglecting the Trap Grounds as well but fortunately there are some very keen and regular visitors there so we have news of the first sightings of some larger dragonflies with a Common Darter and a Southern Hawker both seen there by Nicola Devine.

Female Southern Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

June 13th

So, June is progressing pretty much as expected at present. The recent rain has ensured that we've still got remarkably good floods for the time of year though the only bird life to report really is the plethora of Black-headed Gulls with lots of juveniles in amongst them - they've clearly had a good breeding season so far. There have been one or two LITTLE EGRETS still around and the odd SHELDUCK and OYSTERCATCHER but it's otherwise just a few straggler ducks now.

One of many juvenile Black-headed Gulls on the floods at present

On the insect front we're starting to get the summer butterflies on the wing now. I spotted my first Large Skipper and a Common Blue in Burgess Field though the rather poor weather over the last couple of days is rather limiting things. I've managed to spot all the expected smaller odonata now with Common Blue, Azure, Red-eyed, Large Red and Blue-tailed Damselflies all seen as well as Banded Demoiselle. However, as far as the larger dragonflies are concerned, the only one I've seen so far has been a female Broad-bodied Chaser and that was several weeks ago.

Broad-bodied Chaser, taken a few weeks ago

The flowers are of course less weather dependent. I've managed to come across a colony of half a dozen or so Bee Orchids which I was very pleased to see. Apart from that there are all sorts of interesting plants to find that I'm still very much learning about - I'm finding new stuff most days.

Bee Orchid

Friday 3rd June

So here we are in "flaming" June though the weather has been quite frankly freezing. My talk of the end of the birding season in my previous post may have been a little premature, partly indeed because of this weather as everything is several weeks behind at present. For starters, all the Cow Parsley and May Flower is still in full bloom and Burgess Field is looking wonderful with an absolute riot of flowers and lush greeness - it's fantastic! On the bird front, we're still getting a trickle of late passage migrants coming through:  today there were 7 RINGED PLOVER along with the usual OYSTERCATCHERS and SHELDUCK. The floods are looking pretty good still with the algal scum being held at bay by the regular top-ups of rain. There are lots of Mute Swans and a motley miscellany of ducks enjoying feeding off the aforementioned scum and along with the Black-headed Gulls it makes for quite a birdy scene still. It's still possible that we could get another late Wood Sandpiper or even another Spoonbill and I keep reminding myself that only an hour's drive away in Warwickshire this week a Broad-billed Sandpiper spent a few hours on a local reserve there so it's not impossible that it could turn up on the Meadow.

Yellow Belle
I've not made much mention of my mothing of late, partly because the cold weather is making for dire catches. Still I have had a few noteworthy moths to mention so far this season. I've actually caught a couple of TOADFLAX BROCADE, still a rather scarce moth for the recording region though it seems to be a speciality of my garden as I seem to get it fairly regularly. I also caught another PSYCHOIDES FILICIVORA, a fern-loving micro that again is rather rare in the recording area. Finally, a couple of days ago came across a YELLOW BELLE in my garden shed. This is a coastal species so to find it inland is highly unusual and it turns out that it is the first record for the VC23 region that I'm in - hurrah! So very much quality over quantity at present.

Toadflax Brocade - a garden speciality
Psychoides filicivora

Monday 30th May

May has more or less now come to an end and we've still got water in the floods which is a good thing. Mind you, it's starting to accumulate the usual summer "algal scum" so it's not looking its best any more. Still it was good enough to attract a couple of late waders still this last week: a few days ago there were a couple of LITTLE RINGED PLOVER lurking by the North Reach and today there was a REDSHANK along the North Shore. Apart from that it's just been OYSTERCATCHERS and SHELDUCK to report with the odd LITTLE EGRET thrown in for good measure.

June is traditionally very poor on the birding front so I wouldn't expect much even if we manage somehow to keep the floods through the month turning out to be unseasonably wet. Mind you, we can't really complain as it's been a very good first half of the year with lots of good county birds being seen that are far from guaranteed each year. In fact our year list total of 128 is just about what I'd expect for the end of the year already. We've even managed a genuine national rarity in the form of the Spoonbill so if the worst comes to the worst and we have no floods at all for the second half of the year then I'll still be reasonably content with how the year has turned out.

Traditionally at this time I turn my thoughts to insects and flowers and this is what I intend to do this year as well. I'm still very much learning, certainly as far as the flowers are concerned, but I hope to find enough of interest to keep the blog posts coming through the summer doldrums.

Common Terns up by Godstow Lock, taken a few weeks ago

Sunday 22nd May Spoonbill!

I've been predicting a SPOONBILL on the Meadow for several weeks now and today we finally got one. They tend not to hang around for very long (I think that there's too much disturbance on the Meadow in general) and it's often just one observer who sees them (usually just me!). Well, today's bird was very much a single observer sighting though this time the lucky person was Tom Evans who saw one flying over the Trap Grounds at 8 a.m. this morning. He kindly gave me a call so I hurried over to the floods to see if it had landed there but sadly there was no sign of it. The floods do look perfect for one at present (and are in fact a little too full for waders just now) so you never know we may get a return visit. Still at least it's good to have a proper rare bird on the year list.

Here's the one from April 2014

The only birds that are on the floods presently are SHELDUCK in various numbers (peaking at 8 a few days ago) and OYSTERCATCHERS (in reduced numbers of late). Today we had a single bonus DUNLIN which dropped in briefly but as I said there's not much of a shoreline at present for small waders.

Thursday 19th May

I just thought that I'd share a photo of this little chap, a lovely Water Vole, that I spotted on the canal near the Trap Grounds this week. The canal is a stronghold for this sadly all too rare species these days but it's not often that you see one out in the open for long enough to get a photo of it.

Tuesday 17th May

It seems that we may well have passed the peak in passage waders now. On Saturday there were still 11 GREENSHANK and 7 DUNLIN about, along with a splendid male RUFF which was great to see. However, since then there's been nothing to report apart from 5 SHELDUCK and the usual OYSTERCATCHERS. The floods I have to say are looking lovely, very nicely topped up with lots of water but all the birds should be in their breeding grounds by now so apart from one or two stragglers (like a RINGED PLOVER that was lurking in the long grass today) that's basically it. I shall keep visiting of course and you never know what might turn up but it's starting to have a bit of a feel of the summer doldrums to it. So expect more posts on flowers and insects in the coming weeks now.

The male Ruff - I shall refrain from making my usual "nice bit of Ruff" joke this time!

Friday 13th May

We seem to have reverted to the cold northerly winds that we were suffering from earlier in the spring - it's been freezing the last couple of days! However, at least the floods are looking very full from their recent top-up. This is of course a good thing but actually they are just at present too full in order to be really attractive to waders which seem to like a bit of a shoreline to wander along. Our wader counts seem to reflect this with decreasing numbers of the same birds still about. There were 13 GREENSHANK about in the morning when Barry Batchelor visited though by the evening the count had halved to about 7. 8 DUNLIN are still hanging about and Barry also had a single REDSHANK though that had moved on by the evening as well. Apart from that there were four SHELDUCK and the usual smattering of OYSTERCATCHERS and good numbers of Hirundines hawking low over the water.

I forgot to mention that I went to visit the Trap Grounds earlier in the week and that the reed bed was full of singing REED WARBLERS - there must have been at least four or more singing males in what is after all a pretty small area. Talking of the Trap Grounds, we're lucky that Nicola Devine is checking them out on a regular basis as today she found a splendid SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (a year tick) which stopped off briefly (and sang as well!) before heading on northwards. She also managed to find a SEDGE WARBLER in the area last weekend, sadly not that common a bird these days on the patch.

The Spotted Flycatcher courtesy of Nicola Devine
The Sedge Warbler courtesy of Nicola Devine

Thursday 12th May

We're still dealing with the left-overs from Tuesday's mega-fall with a dozen or so GREENSHANK and a few REDSHANK still around as well as 30 or so RINGED PLOVER and 7 DUNLIN. The Wickster reported a BAR-TAILED GODWIT first thing in the morning so that's at least the fourth one of this species we've now had this spring - amazing! The delayed reaction to all the recent rain has meant that the floods have increased even more and the river has overspilled the banks a bit by the boat moorings. So no shortage of ideal habitat to lure in a rare wader or two.

Walking back from my evening visit to the Meadow today I spotted a HOBBY flying around near the railway bridge and Steve Goddard had another (or the same one) being mobbed by Swifts near Leckford Road. That's another year tick and one step closer to my psychological target figure of 130 on the year.

I've still not had a chance to go through all the video footage yet of our wader fall so here's a stocking filler in the form of a Common Field Speedwell, taken in Burgess Field

Wednesday 11th May

Yesterday's massive wader-fest (I've still not had a proper chance to go through all the photos) lead to quite a few visiting birders today which was most useful as there was quite a turn-over in birds throughout the day. Top billing today goes to a new BAR-TAILED GODWIT, a different winter-plumage bird from yesterday's one, though it didn't linger and was gone by late morning. Also noteworthy were a total of two WHIMBREL - a fly-over seen by Ewan Urquhart and another which landed (albeit distantly) was reported by Tom Wickens. This is a much-anticipated year tick - I'm very pleased to get it on the list even if I didn't see it myself.

Peak counts for the rest of the waders were (thanks to Ewan, Tom, James Evry & Keith Clack)

16 Greenshank
3 Redshank

47 Ringed Plover
1 Little Ringed Plover

22 Dunlin
6 Common Sandpiper
4 Oystercatcher
2 Shelduck
1 Common Tern
1 Little Egret

Some of the Greenshank, taken a couple of days ago by Pete Roby

Data: HBLA & vv.
Data: HBLA & vv.

Tuesday 10th May

Today turned out to be one of the best days that there's been on the Meadow for a long time. It was a "perfect storm" of good prevailing southerly winds for the last few days, early May being the peak for spring migrant passage, the floods looking absolutely perfect and drizzly overcast weather all day to bring in a keep down any passing waders. 

I went out early evening as usual relishing the prospect of looking over the floods in such wonderfully overcast conditions. I always dream of turning up a good bird or two in such conditions but I didn't think that there would be quite so many as this evening. Here's the full list of what I found:

1 Bar-tailed Godwit
2 Knot in summer plumage
16 Greenshank
3 Redshank
27 Ringed Plover
11 Dunlin
4 Sanderling
1 Common Sandpiper
1 Common Tern
1 Yellow Wagtail
3 Shelduck
5 Oystercatcher

It was really a massive fall and it took quite a long time to double-check all the counts, there were just so many birds everywhere. Normally, the Godwit, or the Knot or the Sanderling on their own would be enough to make for a good day but to have all of them was just great. The only slight downer was that there wasn't the "killer bird" the one really rare one to trump it all. Still, I won't forget such as day in a hurry.

Photos & Video
I'm still working my way through all the photos and video which I'll post here as I go along so expect more updates throughout the day.

Video grab of the two summer plumage Knot
..and one of theBar-tailed Godwit

Sunday 8th May

On Friday evening as I was lounging in my sick bed with some non-specific malaise I got a text from Steve Goddard saying that he had what he thought was either a Green or a Wood Sandpiper by Burgess Field Gate. At first I didn't really feel up to going out to check but in the end curiosity got the better of me. The first bird that I actually saw when I started scanning was a lovely GREY PLOVER working its way along the shore but once Steve had directed me to the right spot I soon found what was indeed a WOOD SANDPIPER - the first one we've had on the Meadow for a few years now. Also present was a GREENSHANK though it was hobbling quite badly in stark contrast to the agile and quick-moving bird from earlier in the week - sadly it probably won't be able to survive unless it finds a really good feeding spot and stays there rather than trying to breed. Also present were 3 RINGED PLOVER, 1 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, 5 OYSTERCATCHER, 5 COMMON SANDPIPER and 2 SHELDUCK.

A very brief bit of video of the Wood Sandpiper. In my illness-befuddled state I kept cocking things up like not panning with the bird or shooting a Common Sandpiper instead!

The Grey Plover and Wood Sandpiper were both present first thing on Saturday morning though soon departed, probably due to the weekend disturbance on the Meadow - it gets very busy this time of year when the weather is good. I did check it out on Saturday evening and there were just 2 Common Sandpiper, 1 YELLOW WAGTAIL and a smattering of the usual other stuff.

On Sunday evening after a scorchingly hot day Mary MacDougall reported that there was a bit of a feeding frenzy going on with the trapped fish fry and that 3 LITTLE EGRETS, the two COMMON TERNS and loads of Black-headed Gulls were all joining in the bonanza. A good top-up of rain wouldn't go amiss about now.

A Wood Sandpiper grab from the video

Thursday 5th May

The warm spring weather at last has meant that my evening visits out to check on the floods have been a real pleasure over the last few days though I must admit that the sunny conditions are eating away the flood levels which are now receding alarmingly quickly. You can tell this because suddenly there are loads of Herons and even a LITTLE EGRET all fishing away in the waters for the trapped fish.

We continue to get a good mix of birds on the floods though it's been the same species (albeit in differing numbers) each day. Today we had 5 COMMON SANDPIPERS, 9 OYSTERCATCHERS, 4 RINGED PLOVER, 1 DUNLIN and 3 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER. The Greenshank was still with us yesterday though has now moved on. There's been a noticeable increase in YELLOW WAGTAILS with four of them today and for the first time there were some female birds there as well. I think I'm right in saying that the two sexes migrate at different times so you get the males going through first and then the females follow. 2 COMMON TERN and 1 SHELDUCK completed the flood tally for today.

Earlier on in the day I nipped into Burgess Field to see if I could find any GARDEN WARBLERS and sure enough there were a couple of singing males, including one very showy individual which gave great views near the entrance gate. The male LESSER WHITETHROAT was still still about and singing in his hedge so it looks like he's decided to stay.

Hunting Little Egret

Tuesday 3rd May

So here we are in May and I'm pleased to say that for the first time in three years the floods are still looking good for the start of this month. We're still very much in the optimal window for spring wader passage and we can now hope for things like Wood Sandpiper, Spoonbill and Temminck's Stint at the top of our wish list. 

As far as what we're actually seeing, at present we're continuing to get a nice mix of waders though the length of the grass along the currently-favoured west shore is making it increasingly hard to pick out the smaller waders. Top of the list is our GREENSHANK which has been with us for several days now. COMMON SANDPIPER numbers have swelled from our two that we've had for a few days all the way up to 6 today. Today was more a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER rather than a RINGED PLOVER day with 9 of the former and just 3 of the latter, accompanied today by 5 DUNLIN. Finally on the wader front, we're now down to just 3 OYSTERCATCHERS.

Other birds of note included: a YELLOW WAGTAIL, 2 WHITE WAGTAILS (it's been a good spring for this sub-species here on the Meadow), 3 SHELDUCK and a singing LESSER WHITETHROAT that was working its way along the river. I'll save the best till last but I heard a very distant calling CUCKOO this evening as well, coming from way over towards the Wytham area (but still very much countable on the patch year list).

Talking of the patch year list, I heard the first REED WARBLER chugging away from deep within the Trap Grounds reed bed this morning, so that's another tick as well. We still need to get Garden Warbler on the list and they should more or less be back now.

The Greenshank