8th April

Once again personal circumstances have got in the way of my intention to do more updates and there is plenty to report on since my last update. Until the start of the northerly winds that presently plague us we had a nice little wader passage going with plenty more Black-tailed Godwits, lots of Little Ringed Plover, a few Dunlin and Redshank and one or two Ringed Plover. However, with the onset of the winds that effectively ground to a halt.

The winter duck have all but gone though we still have a couple of pairs of Shelduck and a lone female Pintail recently as well as the usual pair of Egyptian Geese that keep putting in an occasional appearance. One other relic of winter was the report of a Peregrine seen overhead one day.

In terms of stand-out sightings it all started on the 28th when Thomas Miller was lucky enough to be present and looking in the right direction as an Osprey went over. I'm sure that lots of such records are missed each spring but we managed to get this iconic species on the year list last year and it's great to have repeated this feat this year.


The Osprey courtesy of Thomas Miller

The next bird of particular note was a wonderful Little Gull which Manoj Nair found on the 30th. This bird had been lingering at Blenheim previously but graced our patch with it's presence for the morning.

Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Not one but two Redstarts were found in Burgess Field on the 5th. A male and a female were seen separately and not too far apart. Manoj Nair found a Wheatear in the Hinterland near the Poplars one morning and a Marsh Tit was reported along the river near the boatyard by someone one day. This species is less than annual though we sometimes get them dispersing from Wytham Wood.

Apart from these standout sightings there have been a number of the usual species that one might see arriving in April. We have had numerous Yellow Wagtails, White Wagtails and Common Terns. The usual Hirundines are starting to be seen as well with House Martins and Swallows starting to appear. The first male Willow Warblers have been singing in Burgess Field.

So looking ahead, it's all going to happen over the next few weeks. The rest of the Warblers will be passing through soon and we might start to listen out for Cuckoo and look out for Hobbies. Whinchat and Tree Pipit would be great to get on the list and if we can get some more wader passage then there are lots of species we still need there. It's everything to play for now: very exciting!


28th March

The spring passage seems to be early this year. Certainly the first Sand Martin records were very early and since then things have been building up nicely to the point where it really has all kicked off already. Indeed, if it wasn't for being personally very busy on many fronts at the moment I would be doing far more updates on this blog as the birding action certainly warrants it. In fact there is so much to report since last time that I am going to have to do a brief summary, which is not really going to do justice to what has been a very exciting few weeks on the patch.

Talking of early spring passage, a quite extraordinary record was a House Martin on the 8th March. This must be vying for the earliest county record ever and is certainly about a month earlier than we might usually expect them.

On the wader front things have been building nicely. Most days there have been a couple of Redshank and quite often a pair of Oystercatchers as well. Small numbers of Dunlin have come and gone over the last few weeks. One of the highlights however has been Black-tailed Godwits with some lovely very deeply coloured birds that are the islandica subspecies. Numbers have been fluctuating but a peak count of 6 was seen. 

Islandica sub species of Black-tailed Godwit, courtesy of Thomas Miller
 
The Little Ringed Plover passage started rather early this year with the first seen on the 16th March. After that they have been seen regularly and indeed we have already built up to a peak of 7 birds in one go along with an early Ringed Plover - normally the latter species isn't seen until mid April on the Meadow.

Ringer and Little Ringed Plovers, courtesy of Thomas Miller
 

Duck numbers are dwindling rapidly as spring gets underway. We've not had much to report apart from up to four Shelduck that have often been gracing the floods. There have also been a pair of Egyptian Geese that have been seen on a few occasions but that's been about it. The gull season is also pretty much over now though we did get a couple more Mediterranean Gulls on the floods as part of what has been a stellar spring passage for this usually rather scarce gull.

The latest in a succession of Med Gulls, courtesy of Thomas Miller

One of the highlights of the period though very much a winter rather than spring bird has been a couple of Brambling that were seen sporadically in Burgess Field. We just about scrape this species onto the year list most years, mostly thanks to sightings in a garden in Wolvercote but to have one in Burgess Field itself is a real rarity. It's just a shame that it was so elusive so not many people got to see it.

Rounding things off with various miscellaneous sightings: there have been a few Peregrine sightings over the last few weeks and one day Thomas Miller was lucky enough to see a Merlin in the fields near Wytham Field station. Ravens have also been seen fairly regularly flying back and forth to Wytham Hill. A Cetti's Warbler has been heard over towards King's Lock - it's nice to know that they survived the winter.

So looking ahead we are now about to start the peak spring passage month and arguably the most exciting birding month of the year on the Meadow. Whilst it may not supply the greatest number of rarities, the fact that we often don't have any flood waters for the autumn passage means that April and May get a heavier weighting on the patch than other places. May generally gets more interesting birds but the floods have often gone by then so we'd better make the most of April. Indeed as I have been writing this up we've already been getting some good sightings being seen which I will post on in due course. Things to look out for in the coming weeks are: lots more waders to come; the first warblers arriving back - look out for Willow Warblers from now on; more hirundines to come and perhaps even a Cuckoo though it's getting increasingly hard to come by each year. It's a very exciting time of year!

7th March

You can tell that things are getting better by the fact that I am ready to do a new post after just one week! I mentioned last week about how wader movement was picking up and this week this trend has accelerated. There were more Redshank seen passing through with 14 (a huge count!) seen on Tuesday afternoon.  A pair of Oystercatcers have been around for much of the week along with a Black-tailed Godwit that spent a few days on the floods and a single Curlew (a surprisingly uncommon bird on the Meadow) that spent one day with us. Golden Plover numbers were sporadic though reasonable this week but there were no Lapwing to be seen - they presumably have already moved on to breeding grounds elsehwere. The highlight of the week however was on Sunday when Paul Jepson found a flock of five Avocets on the floods. They hung around for much of the day though were flushed several times including by some overenthusiastic photographers with zero fieldcraft. At one point they flew over the hill to Farmoor before heading off, not to be seen again. Early spring records for this charismatic wader are not that uncommon but nevertheless a most welcome patch year tick.

 


The Five Avocets

Apart from the Avocet, the highlight of the week was the appearance of the first Sand Martins. Four were seen on Thursday and between two and five have been seen in subsequent days. This is pretty early for the Meadow with usually Farmoor getting the first county records of the year. It was a most heartwarming sight to see these little brown bullets zipping low over the water again.

On the duck front, the undoubted highlight was a huge count of 32 Pintail in the second half of the week. Clearly, some end of winter movement is underway and these birds are dispersing to their breeding grounds but I don't recall such a big count previously on the Meadow. Apart from that, Shelduck numbers varied between two and seven birds. There are a few spring Gadwall about but Teal and Wigeon numbers are already dwindling.

The gull roost seems to have fizzled out but this didn't stop us having yet another Mediterranean Gull record with another adult seen on Sunday along with the Avocets. This is now the fifth record of the year (though some of the three first winter birds may be the same returning bird). Apart from that there have been very few large gulls about at all.

Looking ahead, with two of my March predicitions having already happened (Med Gull and Sand Martin) that only leaves Garganey as a likely candidate though we could also get an early Little Ringed Plover as well. The only damper on what has been a good start to the year is that the floods, whilst looking great at the moment, won't last very long unless they get a good topping up. We do have some more showery weather forecast for later on in the week but a good deluge now wouldn't go amiss.

How not to do it!
These two photographers managed to flush the Avocets at least twice



1st March

So it's the end of the month already and we are now into March and the prelude to spring. All things considered it's been a pretty good start to the year with plenty of reasonable birds and good sized floods to keep the interest ticking over. This all culminated a couple of weekends ago in real Meadow Mega and what may well be the first for the Patch itself. The bird in question was a Black Redstart which was reported up in Wolvercote on Sunday 21st. The location, in a garden next to a horse paddock, was rather unlikely as these birds normally like tall buildings on which to loiter. Still the report turned out to be accurate and after a bit of searching (and thankfully bumping into the people who originally found it) it was refound feeding at the back of a house, hopping on and off the fence posts.

Black Redstart courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

We did put this species on the patch list a couple of years ago thanks to a bird that was seen on the Green College observatory building. The truth is that this is a bit of a stretch of the patch boundaries and it should really be in the Oxford city patch list (where there have been quite a few over the years). So this is the first genuine record that could reasonably be said to be within the Port Meadow area.

Apart from the Black Redstart, most of the interest has been coming from the gulls. There have been a number of further Caspian Gull sightings over the last couple of weeks and also some more Mediterranean Gulls.

This gorgeous Mediterranean Gull was seen on the floods the same day as the
Black Restart was found, making for a great day's birding on the Meadow

In the last week or so there has been a bit of movement on the wader front with some Redshank, Oystercatchers and Dunlin being seen on the floods. There has also been a bit of a pick-up in Golden Plover numbers with a flock of 150 seen this week. There are still good numbers of duck around with Shelduck counts varying between 2 and 6 each day. We still have a few Pintail about though Wigeon and Teal numbers are starting to reduce slightly. Also of note was a male Pochard (a year tick) flying back and forth over the floods a couple of weeks ago.

In the warmer weather that we've been having I have been hearing the first warblings of Blackcaps and singing Chiffchaff. In the Trap Grounds on Sunday there were singing Reed Bunting and squealing Water Rail. The natural world is gearing up for the breeding season.

So looking ahead, in March we might reasonably hope to get the first Sand Martin sightings and Garganey is another bird that it worth looking out for this month. March is of course the prime spring passage month for Med Gulls so we might reasonably hope for some more of these in what already has been an unusually good year for this species. Talking of gulls, a nice end-of-season white winger would be much appreciated as it's been a few years since we've had either Iceland or Glaucous Gull on the Meadow.

14h February

With the floods only just starting to retreat from full-on Lake Mode, it's been quite difficult viewing conditions on the Meadow since my last post. Indeed, the only real place to view from has been north of the Perch along the river towpath which meant that there have been fewer reports recently than usual. Still, larid enthusiast Thomas Miller has kept things going with daily visits to the gull roost and has been coming up with good counts of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls. There have been several birds of various ages of each species seen most evening. One regular 2nd winter bird, christened "Eric", has been seen most evenings and clearly likes the location.

"Eric" on the Meadow

With the floods receding, narrow strips of exposed grass between the floods and the river are making for great viewing with the gulls much closer than usual. One evening Thomas manage to find a nice 1w Mediterranean Gull (perhaps the same one from a few weeks ago), which turned out to be ringed though despite his best efforts it wasn't possible to read it.

The first winter Med Gull

Apart from gulls there has been a bit of an increase in wader action with a Ruff, 6 Dunlin, 3 Redshank and an Oystercatcher all seen in the last week. This is perhaps a sign that things are starting to be on the move though whether it was just avoidance of the recent bout of cold weather or a prelude to spring I am not sure.

The Ruff

Things have been rather samey on the wildfowl front though there has been a bit of an increase in Shelduck numbers with up to 6 seen recently. There are still up to 10 Pintail about and Gadwall have suddenly appeared in amongst the usual Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler for the first time this week.

February is traditionally a quiet time of year as we wait for spring so I would predict more of the same for the second half of the month.

 

 

31st January: The Year So Far

As is usual for January, I've ended up not posting anything right up until the end of the month so I thought I'd do a full month update. January is of course when the year list resets and it's always pleasant to go around ticking things off again. Unlike many people who rush out on the first day of the year I tend to have a more leisurely approach to things and am still ticking easy things off even now. Things like a flock of 10 Skylarks flying over during a wintery walk during the weekend of the snowfall, a Fieldfare in the hedgerow and a Kingfisher right next to the bank peering into the murky flood waters are all welcome sightings during what is a quiet birding time of year.

Apart from year listing, in terms of sightings  it's been pretty much the usual stuff. For myself and fellow Larid enthusiast Thomas Miller that means gulls. Thomas has found lots of different Caspian Gulls over the month on Port Meadow which you can read about in his excellent blog here

 

"Eric" the 2w Caspian has been a regular visitor to the floods over the last week or so,
courtesy of Thomas Miller

The floods have expanded throughout the month and are presently in full-on Lake Mode which makes them very hard to bird. At the start of the month Thomas found what is certainly the Port Meadow bird of the month with a first winter Little Gull. This species was relatively common during the spring passage a few years back but we've not had them the last few years. There have been as far as I recall only two previous winter sightings since I've been birding here. 

1w Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Bookmarking the month at the other end was a nice 1st winter Mediterranean Gull that was seen (at great distance) last week - it's great to get this species on the list so early on in the year.

As far as wildfowl are concerned, the usual birds have been about in their usual numbers. Wigeon and Teal are plentiful with a couple of dozen Shoveler and a handful of Pintail. We've had a few Shelduck gracing the floods and even some Egyptian Geese that were seen at the start of the month. Talking of geese, the Barnacle Goose flock has been present for most of the month in good numbers (about 180) and we even had a visit from the "mongrel" Blenheim White-fronted Geese. This winter has been an excellent one for wild versions of this species with very good numbers overwintering at Otmoor and I've been hoping that some would stray over to the Meadow but no luck so far.

We have had precious little on the wader front so far apart from a Black-tailed Godwit that graced the floods one evening. The truth is that the floods have been a bit too extended for much of the month for waders to get much out of them.

Away from the floods there have been a couple of overwintering Chiffchaff that have been seen in Burgess Field and in the Trap Grounds and a pair of Blackcap have been regular visitors to my garden. A good Meadow record was from Steve Goddard who was pretty certain that he had a Common Crane (presumably one of the Otmoor birds) in a field south east of King's Lock near to Oxey Mead.

So in general the usual stuff in the usual places but with a few interesting sightings to keep us going. February can often be a quiet month with not many additions to the year list so we will have to work hard to winkle something like a white winger out from the gull roost.


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!