End of Year Review

It's end of year review time once again (in fact we're already into the new year but somehow I'm always lagging behind at this time of year). And what a strange year it's been! Actually from a Meadow birding perspective it's been a record breaking year: the year list total was 135 which is the highest total since I've been birding the Meadow. There were also a whole plethora of great birds by Meadow standards so despite the fact that we didn't have any national Mega's it can certainly be considered to be a vintage year. Part of the reason for all this was because of lockdown 1.0 that happened at just the right time in spring. With nothing else to do, lots of birders who would otherwise be going elsewhere, suddenly adopted the Meadow as their patch. These extra eyes meant that much more was found than usual. Anyway, let me remind you of what happend for each of the four seasons.

 

Winter

It was pretty much the usual fare over winter. The main focus was the gull roost which, after a slow start in November and December, really kicked off. Thanks to the efforts of Thomas Miller we had lots of Caspian Gulls though sadly once again no white wingers. It's been a few years now since we last had one.

Just one of the many Caspian Gulls at the start of the year

The other main bird of interest was a loverly Barn Owl which was initially found at the north end of Burgess Field before relocating to a field just north of the nature reserve where it could often be seen at dusk.

The Barn Owl, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Spring

Always my favourite time of year when we get the first returning migrants. It was great to see Little Ringed Plover and Yellow Wagtails on the floods again. As I mentioned earlier, thanks to Lockdown 1.0, there were lots of birders around which meant that lots more was found. There were brief views of an Osprey, a Common Crane, a fly-over Tree Pipit, a calling Whimbrel and a Common Redstart that were all nice additions to the year list but not twitchable. A Grey Plover, found early one morning was a nice record - these used to be quite common but we've not had one for a few years. One of the highlights was a Black Tern that was found by Dave Lowe sitting on a small rock in the floods in really gloomy conditions. This prompted a mini twitch as a lot of the patch regulars came to view it.


Other good records included an Avocet and a Great White Egret, the latter in full breeding plumage, in the same morning visit!

The Avocet...


...and the Great White Egret in full breeding plumage

One of the star birds of the year has to be a lovely Ring Ouzel that took up residence in Burgess Field. Initially this (or another) was seen briefly by a single observer in the allotments just to the south of the Meadow but wasn't seen again. However a couple of days later Ollie Padget found one in a rather underwatched corner of Burgess Field. This prompted a frantic late afternoon twitch by all the patch birders. Remarkably, the bird then went on to stay a couple of weeks though it was extremely skulking and could only be seen with great patience.

The often elusive Ring Ouzel

In terms of numbers we were rather unlucky on the wader front this spring as the flood waters evaporated faster than I would have liked. Still we did manage a nice Wood Sandpiper, found by Joe Wynn one evening though sadly it didn't linger.

Wood Sandpiper, courtesy of Joe Wynn

Summer

This is traditionally a time for flowers and insects and indeed there was precious little to report on the bird front. There was one stand-out record from this time though which was a fly-over Quail that was heard by Nick Boyd one evening at midnight in Burgess Field. And just what he was doing there at that time of night? Actually it was looking for Glow Worms, which he did manage successfully to find - a great record!

Thanks to the lockdown I made a concerted effort with the mothing this year and managed to beat my garden year list record with 257. Just for context, this is actually a pretty poor figure and I know that top county moth'ers garner lists over 600. Still, given my urban location I was very please with this. I even managed a county first in the form of an unremarkable micro which was almost certainly imported inside the leaves of a continental Olive Tree.

Zelleria oleastrella - a real national Mega & county first!

On the Odonata front we had the usual stuff occurring. However two top finds this year were a Downy Emerald that Nicola Devine found in the Trap Grounds and some Willow Emeralds, in the same location that again were first found by Nicola. This latter species was suddenly turning up in various parts of the county but we got by far the largest numbers with at least 6 dotted around the main pond as autumn progressed and some definite mating and ovipositing was seen. So it's with high hopes that we anticipate a thriving colony there next year.

Downy Emerald - a great record for the Trap Grounds
Ovipositing Willow Emeralds, both photos courtesy of Nicola Devine

 

Autumn

Autumn birding on the Meadow can be very hit or miss depending on how much water there is in the floods. Sadly, these days they often don't reappear until November which is far too late for passage waders and whilst the floods were earlier than usual once again we missed most of the passage wader action. Still we managed some good birds and a couple of larger wading birds more than made up for it.

On the passerine front we had a nice lingering Redstart that was faithful to one tree for a couple of weeks. We also had a brief Spotted Flycatcher in the Trap Grounds.

The Common Redstart

One of the star Autumn birds, and indeed a patch first, was a Cattle Egret that was found one rainy afternoon in September by Andrew Siantonas. A frantic twitch by those that were able to get out eventually managed to locate it right up at the Wolvercote end before it flew the length of the Meadow and disappeared from view. Given the increasingly colonisation of the country by this species, this species was always going to turn up eventually on the Meadow but it was nice to see it happen.

The Cattle Egret, courtesy of Andrew Siantonas

Another exciting twitch was a Glossy Ibis that Ollie Padget turned up. It was a very flightly bird that stayed for no more than 30 minutes before moving off to Otmoor. However, a couple of weeks later it turned up again one evening prompted a heroic last gasp twitch from Thomas Miller who managed to get there from Farmoor and to see it in near darkness.



A female-type Garganey was found by Ollie Padget one evening and indeed it was seen sporadically for a couple of weeks though would often go unnoticed in amongst the Teal flock. A Whooper Swan dropped in one day and, unusually for this species hung around a day or two before departing.


Winter

Back to winter and it was back to winkling out Caspian Gulls from the roost. As in the previous year, the roost was rather slow to take off with many weeks of hardly any large gulls but patience was rewarded with occasional good roosts, though still no white wingers. There was a rather extraordinary record of some fly-over Hawfinches that were seen in Burgess Field by a couple of observers.


Port Meadow Birds of the Year Award
 

This much coveted award is actually quite a difficult one. There were lots of really good records such as Black Tern (only one previous record this century), Ring Ouzel (first record this century), Quail (first record), Cattle Egret (first record), Glossy Ibis (one previous record this century) and Hawfinch (first record). The fact that the short list is so rich just shows what a good year it's been. Indeed I personally had five patch ticks this year which is quite a feat. In terms of the final choice, some of the candidates weren't twitchable (e.g.Quail and Hawfinch) or were always going to be inevitable sometime soon (Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis). Therefore, after much deliberation I have decided that it ought to go to the Ring Ouzel as it was such an unlikely record, it hung around long enough to be seen by everyone who wanted to see it but was hard enough to see that you really had to work for it. 

The award winning Ring Ouzel, courtesy of the finder, Ollie Padget








13th December

It's been a few weeks since the last post which tells you all you need to know about the state of the birding which has been very samey. If we start with the ducks then the usual Wigeon and Teal have been around in more or less the usual numbers (in the December WeBS counts there were 634 and 235 respectively). Goosander counts have fluctated with a peak being 9 birds. These smart sawbills often like to hang out on the river during the day, coming into roost on the floods in the evening. Pintail counts have been up and down as well with half a dozen or so being a typical number. There have been up to 6 Shelduck hanging out as well, usually to be seen in the morning on the floods. Shoveler numbers have been gradually increasing with 36 on the December WeBS. Goose numbers have been steady as well though the Barnacle Geese are often absent these days. A flock of 8 White-fronted Geese were spotted by Elizabeth Stroud flying over the Meadow one day: there has been a national influx of this species recently though these birds were probably actually the usual feral Blenheim ones. An usual record of a Black Swan flying south over the Meadow was noteworthy. Actually, we did have one of these on the river one morning near the Perch recently - these feral birds are not tickable for BOU listing though they seem self-sustaining enough to me. Elizabeth Stroud reported a Little Grebe along the Castle Mill Stream: this used to be a guaranteed spot to see this species in the winter though in recent years they've not been so reliable. In fact this was a year tick!

On the wader front it's been rather slim pickings. There have been Lapwing and Golden Plover about in varying numbers. One time a dog flushed  at least 30 Snipe from their hiding places in amongst the tussocks along the shoreline where they are normally invisible. We did have a single Redshank visit us for a few days at the start of the month and Nick Boyd spotted a Ruff on the 2nd but that's been about it.

Foggy Golden Plover, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Gulling has been improving gradually though numbers in the evening roosts are still rather sporadic, depending largely on the weather. We've had a couple more Caspian Gulls recently, an adult one evening and a 1st winter another. Apart from that we might reasonably get a Yellow-legged Gull each evening if there are a reasonable number of large gulls. We've recently had a noticable uptick in Great Black-backed Gulls over the last week or so.

Adult Caspian with a strange mark below it's eye, courtesy of Ollie Padget
 

The 1w Caspian Gull courtesey of Thomas Miller

As far as other birds are concerned, there has been a Grey Wagtail hanging around by Burgess Field gate, a fly-over Ring-necked Parakeet was heard by Ollie Padget, a Peregrine was seen in the Poplars by Mary MacDougall and Nick Boyd reported that a pair of Stonechat are still hanging out in the King's Lock area. Ollie Padget had a close encounter with a Weasel one day over near the Aristotle Lane bridge area.

Finally, I feel that I have to mention the flushing of birds on the Meadow. In the winter it is hard enough as it is for birds to survive. What with reduced hours of daylight and the cold temperatures they have to cram as much feeding as they can into the time that they are awake. For this reason flushing of the birds on the Meadow is a serious matter as they then have to waste energy flying around instead of feeding and it just makes things all the harder for them. Now unfortunately the Meadow is common land open to the public so there is little that can be done about it and thoughtless dog owners allowing their animals to run amuck and flush everything is sadly part and parcel of birding life on the Meadow. However, there have recently been a number of incidents of birders and photographers who have selfishly been going right up to the edge of the shoreline and putting everything up. In the words of one Meadow birder: "these people need to take a long hard look at themselves". The truth is that the Meadow is a difficult site to bird without a scope and it's generally not possible to get very close to the birds without flushing them. However nice it is to see them close up, please be considerate of their welfare and view them or photograph them from reasonable a distance.

Port Meadow landscape, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd


22nd November

After a couple of weeks with some great sightings it was only to be expected that things have been a little quieter these last couple of weeks though there was still plenty to see. Things started well with four Pochard found by Ollie Padget on the floods though they didn't linger. Like their recent more exotic Red-crested cousins they are not naturally at home on such shallow wasters as the Port Meadow floods have to offer so it was only to be expected that they would soon be gone. These actually weren't a year tick but were still nice to see. Apart from that, on the duck front this week there have been a smattering of Pintail records most days and a flock of up to 9 Egyptian Geese. This latter species count is a record, certainly since I've been birding the Meadow. Goosander numbers have been creeping up slowly with now 6 red-heads either roosting on the floods or hanging out on the river.

On the wader front there have been a few Dunlin about and a few Snipe records including a mystery one that was flushed at a very close distance by Thomas Miller at dusk. Close-flushing Snipe often turn out to be Jack Snipe and they can usually be identified by their jizz with a much more fluttery, silent and low flight than their commoner counterparts. Whilst Thomas's bird was indeed silent it was too dark to asses the flight style so it will have to be one that got away. Five Black-tailed Godwits one evening were a welcome sight though, despite the floods looking really great at the moment, they decided not to linger.

The gulling is improving steadily with at last some good numbers of larger gulls to look through. This has produced quite a few Yellow-legged Gulls (all adults so far) and another Mediterranean Gull one evening, a 1w bird courtesy of Ollie Padget. The highlight on the gulling front was the discovery of the first Caspian Gulls of the season by Thomas Miller with 2w and a 3w birds seen on the same day.

 

3w Caspian

2w Caspian, both courtesy of Thomas Miller

Away from gulls, Nick Boyd found a pair of Stonechat in the northern wilderness between the A34 and King's Lock. Also Manoj Nair saw a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets fly over recently. This species is just about annual and with the strengthening colony in the University Parks we can probably look forward to more sightings of this colourful species.

Final, Thomas Miller did the WeBS count (the Wetland Bird Survey) for November last week and came up with the following totals.

189 Barnacle Geese
164 Greylag Geese
176 Canada Geese
424 Wigeon
8 Shoveler
6 Mallard
72 Teal
15 Pintail
8 Golden Plover
259 Black-headed Gulls
12 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
3 Cormorant
3 Black-tailed Godwit

8th November

It's been another good week with once again the weekend providing the icing on the cake. With settled high pressure dominating the weather for the whole week, my daily visits to the gull roost were proving to be decidedly unproductive. However on Tuesday things were livened up when the Glossy Ibis from last week popped in again at last light. It was first seen flying low over Otmoor at 4:25 pm before arriving at the Meadow at 4:40 pm. The distance is about 8 km so that makes a nice 32 km/h average speed. It seemed settled enough as it fed that evening though sadly it was gone the next morning. A special mention must be made of a heroic twitch to see it by Thomas Miller who managed to get from Farmoor to Botley in time to tick it in nearly total darkness.


The Glossy Ibis on the floods at dusk

Apart from that there was precious little during the week but at the weekend there was lots of action. Ollie Padget and I were in Burgess Field Saturday morning doing some vis migging whilst we were chatting away. A flock birds flew fairly low overhead and we both independently called them as Hawfinches! Thanks to the winter invasion of this species a couple of years ago everyone has become more aware of them and it's paid off with what is a patch first! Things carried on in a similar vein that afternoon when Ollie saw a Woodcock fly over Burgess Field mid afternoon. This is a less than annual species on the Meadow and is pretty hard to come by though they do occasionally roost in the long grass in Burgess Field. What's more on Sunday evening Matthew Lloyd had another (or maybe the same) Woodcock fly over near the gate to Burgess Field at dusk. Let's hope that it's roosting there and so might be seen again. Talking of nocturnal birds, a female Tawny Owl was heard again in Burgess Field on Saturday evening by Ollie. Also, during the week Andrew Siantonas managed to find a Little Grebe on the river which (amazingly) is actually the first one of the year.

Apart from these highlights it was pretty much the usual stuff. The four Goosander have continued to hang around in the vicinity, often to be seen on the river. The Barnacle Geese have not been around so much though there have been more Canada Geese by way of compensation. Talking of geese, there was an Egpyptian Goose on the floods on Saturday morning. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits dropped in and spent a couple of days with us before moving on and a Dunlin was hanging out with the Golden Plover on Saturday morning.

Thanks to Matthew Lloyd who has been educating us, we are all getting much more clued up on our local bats. Most evenings there are two species of Pipistrelles, Noctules and Daubenton bats to be seen (though you need a bat detector in order to separate the Pipistrelles). The Pipistrelles are the small ones, the Noctules are the large ones and the Daubentons hunt just above the water surface. Matthew has had other species as well though they are harder to tell apart without a detector.

So all good stuff! The Hawfinch, Woodcock and Little Grebe have now taken the year list total to 135 which is actually the record since I've been birding the Meadow. More confirmation if it were needed that this is indeed a vintage year. As far as what we might still hope for in terms of year ticks it would have to be one of the rarer waders (on which we are rather light this year), a Short-eared Owl perhaps  or something pretty unusual. Given the year so far, it might just be a monster rare!



1st November

In my last post things had been relatively quiet up until the weekend and for this last week more or less the same thing happened. There had been relatively little to report during the week: I had been checking out the gull roost each evening though it's still mostly just Black-headed Gulls with one or two Common Gulls and hardly any larger gulls. One evening there was an adult Yellow Legged Gull (the first of the season) but that was about it. Golden Plover numbers have been building gradually so that by Sunday there were about 300 of them. Part of my daily ritual on a visit to the Meadow is to scour through the Plover flock looking for American Golden Plover, somewhat of a speciality of the Meadow with the only two county records for this species both coming from Port Meadow. The Barnacle Geese are still around, numbering up to 250 or more at times. There are also increasing number of Wigeon and Teal, all enjoying the perfect flood conditions.

The hightlight of the week was on a Sunday visit during the blustery conditions of Storm Aiden with the discovery of three Red-crested Pochards on the floods. This species is less than annual on the Meadow - as a diving duck the shallow waters of the floods are not really suited to their feeding habits. There were not very settled and kept swimming about during the time I was there and it was not really surprising that they'd gone by the evening.

A video grab of the three Red-crested Pochards

To round off a good day, Ollie Padget discovered yet another Mediterranean Gull (a 2nd winter) in the roost. I particularly like his video grab as it's sums up the difficulty of picking out Med Gulls from the sea of Black-headed Gulls - see if you can spot it yourself!

Spot the Med Gull!

Looking forward to November, historically there have been a few decent records on the Meadow during this month with Great White Egret, Grey Phalarope and of course American Golden Plover all seen in past years. With so many westerly storms having passed through recently I'm still hopeful of something American, perhaps a Pectoral Sandpiper or even a Franklin's Gull. I find that I need some kind of dream like this to keep me motivated enough to check out the patch each day and you never know, one day it might just happen!



25th October

Despite it being statistically the best month of the year for rare birds, up until this weekend October had been rather quiet. Sure, there were plenty of flood waters and lots of birds to look through but it was pretty much the same birds each day. To give you an idea of what was generally around below are the WeBS (the monthly countrywide wetland bird survey that is carried out each winter) counts from Thomas Miller.

Garganey 1
Greylag 296
Barnacles 209
Canada 249
Wigeon 422
Teal 56
Mallard 1
Gadwall 1
Pintail 1
Golden plover 58
Lapwing 25 + 44 over
Bhg 243
Common gull 1
Herring gull 1
Lbbg 2
Little egret 1

Firstly, it was nice to see that the Garganey was still around. It hadn't been reported since it was originally found and it just shows how easily missed it is that has (presumably) been here all this time.

I was finally able to do some gulling this weekend - a luxury I am no longer able to do during the week due to work commitments. On Saturday there were barely a couple of dozen large gulls in the roost but quite late on one intriguing bird flew in which caught my eye. The mantle was really dark being just one shade off a Lesser Black-backed Gull and it had a very neatly defined streaked head. It flew in and immediately tucked itself up and went to sleep. I only had the briefest of views of its head but the bill did look reasonable for an Azorean Yellow-legged Gull (which was what I was thinking, given the other characteristics). Given how dark it was and the fact that it never moved from being asleep I wasn't able to get better video footage. In discussion with Ian Lewington it was agreed that really decent head and wind shots would be required to clinch the ID. I'm just hoping that either it returns to the Meadow or it's found at one of the other county sites during the day where the ID will be confirmed.

It's the bird in the centre behind and to the left of a Lesser Black-backed Gull

Just to give you an idea of what an Azorean Yellow-legged Gull should look like, this is a picture of the one at Appleford 11 years ago.

Courtesy of Ian Lewington

A lazy Sunday morning en famille was turned upside down mid morning when Ollie Padget messaged that a Glossy Ibis had just flown in and settled on the floods. I rushed down there and managed to see it for all of one minute on the ground before it flew up, spiralled around for a few minutes before drifting off to the north east. 



Some video footage courtesy of Ollie Padget


A record shot that I took whilst it was spiralling around for a while

About three quarters of an hour later a "probable" Glossy Ibis was seen at Otmoor so it may well have relocated there. This is just the second record of this species on the Meadow, the first one being in May 2014 - yet another good bird for the Meadow in what is turning out to be a vintage year.

I was back Sunday evening for the gull roost along with Ollie and Thomas Miller. Sadly there were almost no large gulls at all and no sign of "Ozzie" the Azorean. However, Thomas managed to confirm his credentials as the new county "gull whisperer" by finding two (adult and 2nd winter) Mediterranean Gulls in the space of a few minutes - something I've failed to do in several weeks of searching. This was the second year tick to be added within the same day so a very productive day!



12th October

It's been a good week for birding on the Meadow. The floods expanded enough for the river briefly to burst its banks and we had a couple of days in Lake Mode before it quickly subsided where it's now been pretty stable in size for a few days now. The birds are all loving it and the water is covered in all directions, mostly with geese with Canadas and Greylags and the Barnacles all hanging out in good numbers. Duck numbers actually haven't been that large with just modest counts of Wigeon and Teal and a few Shoveler but it's still rather early in the season. Our star Garganey has been hanging around all week and we've also had one or two Ruff which have dropped in though the shoreline is rather "lumpy" at the moment because of the vegetation so it's often difficult to spot the waders. However, the stand-out bird since last time has been a Whooper Swan which was found on Saturday by Colm O'Caomhanaigh.


The Whooper Swan on the day it was found

In the past "winter" swans such as Whoopers and Bewicks have occasionally dropped in on the Meadow at around this time of year. However they never normally stay at all and indeed this bird headed off fairly early on Sunday morning. However it didn't seem quite to know where it wanted to go: it was found (by Colm again!) up by the Victoria pub on the river Cherwell mid morning before coming back to the Meadow where it spent the rest of the day. Finally on Monday morning it was off fairly early.

Apart from that there's been various reports of increased bird movement recently including Redwings which are now starting to be seen regularly. Indeed in a ringing session in Burgess Field Ollie Padget and his team managed to catch a pair.

A couple of Redwing "in the hand"

Finally, one of the star birds of the week was actually only mentioned to me en passant when Nick Boyd happened to say that he'd had a Yellowhammer fly over during a moring visit. This species is a real Patch Mega - there's only been one record during my time on the Meadow which was during one of the extraordinary winters where thick snow lead to a lot of winter bird displacement and Steve Goddard had this species in his garden. You would think that you might find them around the farmland over by Medley Farm but, whilst it is indeed a rather underwatched area, I've not heard of any records there.

Looking ahead the wind is swinging back to easterlies for the next few days which is great for east coast birding but whether this will mean anything filters through to us or not is another matter. Personally I'm still hoping for a yank wader of some kind to turn up now that we've got the floods back. One can dream!




4th October

What a difference a few days of rain makes: the torrential rain of the last few days has taken the Meadow from dry and birdless to completely reforming the floods and full of birds! On Friday there were some noticeable puddles and a big increase in birds with lots of geese everywhere. Come Saturday and we had actual flood waters albeit still in two parts. By Sunday the floods were back to a proper size and there were birds everywhere with more flying in by the hour. You could gauge progress by the number of Wigeon that were about. On Friday it was about 10, on Saturday it had grown to 25 and on Sunday it was over 200! It's great to have this charismatic duck back on the Meadow along with it's lovely "pieuw" call.


 
Video showing just some of the birds all flocking to the floods

As you can see from the video, the usual Barnacle Geese are back for the winter. They've been around for a few days now though they were hanging out half way up the Meadow until the floods tempted them back to the southern end. We've had a noticeable increase in Canada Geese as well with over 300 alongside the usual feral Greylags. As I mentioned, we now have a couple of hundred Wigeon alongside a more modest count of Teal. Ollie Padget managed to find the star bird of weekend however when he picked out a female Garganey from in amongst the Teal. The bird was distant and the light terrible but between us we managed to pick out the saliant ID features to make sure of what we had.


A couple of "record shot" photos of the female Garganey

Other ducks that were about were four female Pintail, four Gadwall and a couple of Shoveler. On Saturday we also had the usual feral White-fronted Geese pay us a visit. These birds usually live at Blenheim and at least two of them have some Bar-headed Goose genes in them and look very weird.

We also had our first waders of the autumn with a Dunlin and a Snipe on the floods along with half a dozen Lapwing - I'm hoping for a lot more over the coming days. To round things off Joe Wynn had a Peregrine, no doubt lured to the area by the huge number of birds about. Other species that are around are lots of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, a few Skylarks and the usual Linnets.

Other sightings over the last few says have included more flyover Siskins, a couple of fly-over Redpolls, a Wheatear up by the allotments and a Cetti's Warbler just past the A34 fly-over (both of the latter two courtesy of Nick Boyd). Ollie Padget and Joe Wynn had the first Redwings of autumn in Burgess Field as well. Nicola Devine also heard a female Tawny Owl calling by the woods alongside the railway one evening.

The Garganey and the Tawny Owl are both year ticks - it's really nice to have the total "ticking over" again. In terms of what we're still missing that we might reasonably expect I have: Little Grebe, Fieldfare, Knot, Med Gull, Sanderling and Green Sandpiper all on my list. It's only thanks to the early reformation of the floods that we can even contemplate some of those waders. I must emphasise how unusual it is to have floods in October - it's usually November when they reform so this is a golden opportunity to try to find some proper rares during the best birding month of the year. At the very least we should get the tail end of the wader passage and I'm starting to day dream about some yank waders - for some reason I keep thinking about Buff-breasted Sandpiper, which would be a county first! One can dream and it does at least keep me motivated to check out the floods each day.

23rd September: Cattle Egret!

There was a bit of excitment this afternoon when news broke of a Cattle Egret on Port Meadow! Unfortunately the news was about an hour old by the time I got to hear it but I wasted no time in hurrying down there along with Thomas Miller, Ollie Padget and Hugh Petter though we could find no obvious sign of it. It had originally been found by Andrew Siantonas at 3:15 pm on the river shoreline opposite the sailing club before it flew into a tree where he was able to get this nice photo of it.

Cattle Egret courtesy of Andrew Siantonas

It then proceeded to feed in amongst the cattle which were then at the southern end. Andrew left soon after at 3:30 pm because of the pouring rain.

By the time the rest of us turned up at around 4:30 pm, the cattle had all moved half way up the Meadow towards Wolvercote and there was, as I said, no obvious sign of it. We stood around scanning everywhere we could and found a Little Egret in a tree by the river but little else. As is usual in such situations with no sign of our target we soon started chatting about various birding matters instead. Finally at around 5:10 pm I had one final scan of a more distant herd of cattle which was right up in Wolvercote next to the car park there. I'd already scanned this herd several times but low and behold this time there was a white egret-sized blob in amongst them! By cranking the scope zoom up to 70x I was able to see glimpses of yellow on the bill though some of my companions only had bins and so couldn't see this detail. However almost as soon as it had been found it was flushed and started flying, fortunately towards us south along the river where we were all able to get reasonable flight views. It circled briefly at the southern end of the Meadow and we did hope that it might land again but instead it drifted off southwards once more and was lost to sight.

Flight shot courtesy of Thomas Miller

Cattle Egret is another egret species which is becoming increasingly common in the country though it lags far behind Great White in terms of colonisation. The first record was November 2008 at Day's Lock with the next twitchable one being January 2017 near Middleton Stoney. Since then there have been a few non-lingering records (such as this one was) and I'm sure that records will only continue to increase. This is the first record for Port Meadow and one which was very much anticipated though the degree of disturbance on the Meadow means that despite the tempting cattle herds, they are not likely to linger.

In other news, Nicola Devine reckons that there have been at least 6 Willow Emeralds on the Swan Pond and probably more like 10! Several mating pairs have been seen in various trees surrounding the pond which bodes well for next year. However, given the sudden change in the weather to far more autumnal fare it remains to be seen how much longer they'll last this year.



17th September

More good news to report from Port  Meadow! Firstly, after my post last week Nicola Devine pretty much immediately came up with a lovely Spotted Flycatcher in the Trap Grounds. It didn't hang around so only she saw it but she managed some photos. It's great to have this  bird on the year list.

Spotted Flycatcher courtesy of Nicola Devine

Nicola's eagle eyes have been keeping track on the Willow Emeralds within the Trap Grounds. There seem to be four in total, three males and a female who have now settled on the Swan Pond. Fortunately Nicola managed to spot one pair in tandem, presumably laying eggs. For this species eggs are laid in the bar of trees overhanging water. In the spring the eggs hatch and the larvae drop into the water where they hatch in the autumn ready to restart the cycle. The Trap Grounds is an ideal location for them with lots of overhanging Willows around the main Swan Pond. In addition there are also some ideal Willows on the canal nearby so there's plenty of room for expansion. Let's hope that this year's pioneers are able to establish a colony going forward.

Egg laying Willow Emeralds courtesy of Nicola Devine

Also on the bird front I've been noticing a lot more overhead movement early morning when I've been unpacking the moth trap. I regularly hear Siskins going over as well as Meadow Pipits and finches. Generally things seem a lot more active as the cold weather starts to creep in. On the Meadow itself the winter Linnet flock is starting to accumulate as are the Meadow Pipits. In addition Kim Polgreen reported a Wheatear on the Meadow recently.

Opportunistic Sparrowhawk

On a walk around the block this evenign my wife and I came across this opportunistic Sparrowhawk. It was along Southmoor Road where there is a large colony of House Martins nesting. I think that it had noticed all the tasty snacks that were hidden in the nests under the eaves and was hoping to  surprise one as it came out. I don't know if it was successful or not but it was great to see this handsome bird so close up.

I'm continuing to do my mothing on a daily basis. The first two weeks of September are usually pretty rubbish with just the same species being found every day but now that we're into the second half of the month things have started to pick up. There are some lovely orange and yellow moths called Sallows which mimic autumn leaf colours that can be found at this time of year but so far I've yet to catch any.

Lunar Underwing - one of the commoner species at this time of year





8th September

Now that we're back into Autumn, posting frequency should pick up somewhat. There is certainly quite a bit to report since last time. 

To start with Nick Boyd has been making more trips up to King's Lock where he disovered both a Cetti's Warbler and also a Whinchat (both year ticks). There is a certain amount of fudging that goes on in terms of where exactly the patch boundaries lie but as Nick visits King's Lock regularly and it doesn't obviously fall within any other patch boundaries I'm more than happy to include such sightings under the Port Meadow banner.

There have also been a number of Siskin sightings over the last few days and I've been noticing several groups flying about. Apparently it was a very good breeding year for this species and they are now starting to move south in good numbers. This is good news, not least because until now it was still missing from our year list.

Our long-staying Redstart has sadly now departed though there are still plenty of warblers passing through there, mostly Whitethroats and Chiffchaff.

Whitethroat

There are good numbers of Yellow Wagtails in amongst the cattle on the Meadow: it's always worth rummaging through then for something more interesting. When I last checked I estimated that there were 16 present I've had much larger peak counts in previous years and over in Otmoor they are getting 100+ figures going to roost in the reedbed there.

One of the Yellow Wagtails

However, the highlight since my last post was the discovery by Nicola Devine of the first ever record of Willow Emerald damselfly on the patch. I've been flagging this up as a possibility for a while now and with an influx in the county this summer it was certainly on the cards - the habitat at the Trap Grounds looks perfect for them. Nicola found one high up in the trees on Monday over the Heron pond though it didn't linger for long. The next day I found it (or another) in a much more convenient location resting on some overhanging Willow (appropriately enough!) by the main viewing area of the main (Swan) pond. If we can get an egg laying female on the site then I would hope that a new colony would spring up here.

Willow Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine...

...and a photo of my own of it

With the autumn passage well underway but still with no water it's going to be more Stonechats and Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts and Tree Pipit to look out for. The Flycatcher we still need for the year in fact though we've already recorded all the others this year. Of course we could also get something rarer: who knows, we might even luck in on a Wryneck!


1st September

With the present "Indian Summer" weather you really feel that nature is holding its breath ready for the tubble down into unsettled weather and colder days ahead. Of course in the birding world we are already well into autumn.

After the quiet summer doldrums (at least on the bird front) August saw a noticeable increase in bird activity with warblers starting to work their way south through Burgess Field. The highlight of the month was a lovely female type Redstart which I found in the middle of the month just before I went away on holiday for a couple of weeks. Imagine my surprise when on my return at the end of the month it was still there in exactly the same place. Of course birds on the return passage can often linger somewhere that they find to their liking: they're not being driven by an urge to find territory and mate.

The long staying Redstart

Yellow Wagtails are once again back on the Meadow. Indeed this time of year is the best for seeing this colourful wagtail as they work their way around the cattle herd picking off flies that are disturbed by the cattle's feet. It's always worth scrutinising the birds carefully for the continental Blue-headed subspecies.

We're getting towards the end of  the Odonata season but Nicola Devine has be busy with her camera checking out the Trap Grounds on a regular basis. With Willow Emerald now starting to establish itself in the county I'm hoping that we'll soon have one of these rapid colonists in the Trap Grounds where there are plenty of overhanging Willows for them to use for their egg laying.

Common Darter courtesy of Nicola Devine

Despite the lack of flood waters we did have a single wader report recently when Matthew Lloyd found a Common Sandpiper working its way along the river shoreline. Having said that, the recent storms have left a couple of boggy patches on the Meadow: too small to be called "floods" but if we can get more rain then they might start to grow and attract some birds to them.Until then it's going to be passage passerines that will hold the main interest. I'm personally on the hunt for Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchat though more Redstarts and perhaps even a Tree Pipit are certainly on the cards. Roll on autumn!



31st July

I thought that I'd do an end of month update to round up what's been happening on the patch. Despite the time of year, there have actually been quite a few good things to report.

I'll kick off with birds where I've personally been distinctly neglectful but other more enthusiastic members of the Port Meadow team have been out and about finding stuff. By far and away the best record and indeed even a possible candidate for bird of the year was a Quail that was heard calling by Nick Boyd on Burgess Field at midnight. It called four times but not again so I am wondering if it was actually flying over and calling - something that apparently they do do (see Gavin Haig's "Not Quite Scilly" blog here). It's been a good year for Quail in the county but I never thought we'd get a record on the Meadow! Mind you, I never expected a Ring Ouzel either, so you just never know!

The second birding record was another report of a Little Owl by Nick along the northern boundary of Burgess Field. With two records now in this area, they may well be resident in this area - worth keeping an eye out for them then.

I've been spending most of my time mothing of late. It's always exciting to start the day unpacking the trap to see what's turned up. One day recently on top of the trap I came across a rather unassuming micro. I couldn't find it in the field guide which either means you've stumbled on something truly rare, or more usually, you're just being dense. So I asked my go to moth ID expert, Sean Foote (@MothIDUK on Twitter) and he came back with Zelleria oleastrella which I'd never even heard of so in this instance it was actually the "truly rare" option after all! It turns out to be an immigrant moth with fewer than a dozen national records and a first for the county (well more strictly VC23 which is the legacy county boundary that is still used for mothing). Its larvae mine Olive leaves so it's most likely route into the country is via imported Olive trees. It's not often that you get a county first when mothing!


Zelleria oleastrella - a real national Mega & county first!

Apart from that there's not been anything else that unusual on the mothing front though with my more concerted efforts than usual I'm catching lots of "new for garden" species to extend my rather modest garden moth list.

Also on the insect front, Nick Boyd has been seeing lots of Glow Worms in Burgess Field. Apparently numbers are diminishing now as we reach the end of the month so I guess we're at the end of their season but it's great to know that they're around here. Next year I must make an effort to try and see them.

There are plent  of the usual Odonata about and Migrant Hawkers are now starting to turn up in the county. Below are a couple of photos courtesy of the eagle-eyed Nicola Devine.

Female Emerald Damselfly courtesy of Nicola Devine


Southern Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

9th July

I see that it's been over a month since my last post. This is of course a reflection of the quieter time of year that we now find ourselves in. It's also a reflection on the fact that I am presently much busier than in the past so am not so easily able to get out during the week. So this post is a round up of the various snippets of news from the last month.

Firstly on the birding front there has been very little news. The resident and summer visiting breeders have all been busy trying to raise their young which can be seen blundering around the place as they learn to master their environment.

A young Reed Warbler blundering around in the reeds

There was one piece of good bir news: Nicky Boyd has been hearing a Grasshopper Warbler up just past the Trout Inn near the ring road. Whilst the bird I think was located just outside the ring road it could apparently be heard from Godstow Nunnery and in any event we've counted bird for the year list just past the ring road in the past so it's going to be a very welcome tick.

As we're now into summer it's all about the insects and flowers now. The usual butterfly species are now on the wing with all three skipper species to be found on the patch as well as Marbled Whites and Ringlets.

A Marbled White

On the odonata front there have been some exciting finds in the county in the last month with a colony of Southern Migrant (Blue-eyed) Hawkers on Otmoor and a colony of Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies up near Banbury. Sadly neither of these rarities have yet to be found on Port Meadow or the Trap Grounds but it's not beyond the realms of possibility. Another one to look out for is Willow Emerald (though it's still a bit early for them) which is spreading rapidly across the country and which was seen for the first time last year in the county not too far away in Whytham Wood. So plenty to look out for! In the meantime we've had to make do with the usual species which are of course just as enjoyable as ever.

Male Azure Damselfly in the Trap Grounds

Blue-tailed Damselfly in the Trap Grounds

A female Emperor in the Trap Grounds

Red-eyed Damselfly on the Castle Mill Stream

There have been some snippets of botanical interest in the last month. I managed to find a Pyramidal Orchid in the unmown field between the sailing club and Binsey village. However, the most exciting news was the find of some Common Broomrape growing in some Musk Thistle at the south east corner of the Meadow. Broomrape is a parasitic species which taps into the roots of a host species and takes its nutrients from there. For this reason they don't have any chlorophyl and so are often rather strange colours. To my (admittedly limited) knowledge this is the first record of this species on the Meadow though I will check this with an expert.

Pyramidal Orchid near Binsey



Common Broomrape

So for the rest of July expect more of the same really. Things will start to change in the autumn when we can start to look for returning migrants though without any water it will have to be restricted to passerines in Burgess Field.