20th February

Today I did the WeBS survey for Port Meadow. For those who aren't familiar with this, it's a monthly survey which is carried out across wetland areas throughout the country in order to get an idea of how wetland birds are faring. Today's totals were as follows

660 Wigeon
454 Teal
Gadwall: m. 
57 Shoveler
9 Pintail
4 Shelduck
9 Lapwing
4 Oystercatcher
Grey Heron
5 Moorhen
51 Greylag Goose
3 Hybrid Goose
5 Redshank
740 Black-headed Gull
50 Lesser Black-backed Gull
2 Herring Gull
Common Gull
Mute Swan 

There were a few snippets of interest in amongst the list: the OYSTERCATCHER count has now gone up to 4; I had a SKYLARK fly over (not listed) and we had the first GADWALL of the year - this duck doesn't overwinter on the Meadow but put's in an appearance each spring. It also confirms my suspicion that I voiced in the previous post that I felt that the numbers were now starting to go down as birds move away for their spring breeding. Most noticeable in this is the Greylag Geese: over the winter we have getting on for 300 of these but now there were only 50 odd. I don't know where exactly they breed but they disappear off in the spring-time only to return with goslings in tow at a later date.

Two of the four Oystercatchers this morning

18th February

I don't quite understand how it's been so long since my last post but somehow it's happened that half the month has slipped by. I was actually away for this last week (down in Cornwall - see my Cornish blog) which partially accounts for it. Anyway, there have been a few year ticks to record though these have only been in the last few days. February is actually often a rather quiet month on the birding front with the heady start of the year tick rush now long faded and no sign of any migrants yet, it's a lot of slogging about for not much reward.

The new birds to report are an OYSTERCATCHER that was seen by Martin Gebauer and Steve Goddard, a singing SKYLARK that Mary MacDougall reported up at Wolvercote Common and a TAWNY OWL that Steve Goddard heard calling, again up at Wolvercote.

I visited the floods for the first time in a while today to find them looking nice and healthy though there was already a sense that some birds had started to depart. There were only 3 SHELDUCK, 6 GOOSANDER and 5 PINTAIL, noticeably down on peak counts from the previous week. The gull roost was about average in size though with nothing of particular interest at all apart from a handful of Common Gulls. May MacDougall reported a flock of about 50 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS earlier in the day though there were only three when I was there. She also found 5 REDSHANK in their usual location along the river.

Bathing Linnets

2nd February

It was a really good visit to the Meadow today. I went along towards dusk as usual for the gull roost to find the flood water engorged by all the recent rain and the west shore of the floods now a relatively narrow strip of grass next to the river. The birds were certainly loving these conditions with vast numbers in all directions. The BARNACLE GEESE were back again, about 70 in number today. Apparently, this flock has been hanging out by King's Lock a lot recent where it's a relatively short hop over the road to the Meadow. There were also good numbers of Canada Geese, at least 300 or so though I didn't count them. In amongst the plethora of ducks were three SHELDUCK and four GOOSANDER. There were literally thousands of Black-headed Gulls - they were everywhere you looked and reasonable numbers of larger gulls to though the best that I could do in the gloom, strong wind and greater distance was to pick out a single adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. Naturally so many birds in one place was going to attract some predators and a PEREGRINE whizzed through, causing mayhem and confusion as everything scattered.

The highlight of the visit though was when I spotted a flock of 80 or so BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, which had been put up by the falcon and which eventually settled again on the Spit. Unfortunately, it was so dark by this time that I wasn't able to take a photo at all but this is certainly the largest count of this species that we've had on the Meadow in my time birding it. I can recall flocks in their fifties but never this many, it may be a county record!

Flood levels are very much in the balance at the moment as to whether we tip over into full-blown Lake Mode or if we stay as we are. It's rather hard to bird once the floods get too big but just as they are now it's putting the Meadow on top form.

In the absence of any photos from today, here's a recent photo of a Kingfisher, taken at the Trap Grounds

31st January

There was no sign of the Iceland Gull this evening in very murky conditions but by way of compensation the BARNACLE GOOSE flock flew in to the Hinterland area once again. These birds are now becoming fairly regular visitors to the Meadow and it's already the second time this year that they've been seen. Apart from that there were three SHELDUCK, 3 PINTAIL and 7 GOOSANDER.

Redwing

30th January - Iceland Gull

Today was a good day's birding. To start with I went out mid morning to the Trap Grounds where it was really striking just how much bird song there was - birds were singing everywhere I went. I particularly wanted to see if I could catch up with some Reed Buntings that had been reported along the wildlife corridor there. I'd tried and failed yesterday but today I manage brief views of a male bird. This species is rather localised on the patch and although it is seen every year I'm always pleased to catch up with it myself. Whilst I was waiting for the Buntings to put in an appearance I saw my first Chiffchaff of the year, certainly an over-wintering bird rather than a migrant of any sorts.

Later in the afternoon I went to the Meadow to have a look at the gull roost for the first time in quite a while as it's been frozen for much of last week. I was duly rewarded with a great juvenile ICELAND GULL in a moderately sized roost. This is the first white-winger that we've had in quite a while so it was nice to see one again on the Meadow. Also present was a 2w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL, a SHELDUCK, four GOOSANDER and a couple of REDSHANK.

A video grab of the bird. Unfortunately the light was rather poor by this stage...



...and the original video


29th January

I'm still chipping away at the year list, an activity which always livens up an otherwise rather dull month. To that end I managed to find a NUTHATCH at Medley farm last week and a Fieldfare that I heard fly over the Castle Mill stream which Mary MacDougall later saw over by Burgess Field. Sparrowhawk has now been seen on a few occasions and Steve Goddard has reported Stock Dove in his garden up in Wolvercote. Finally this morning I managed to find a Coal Tit singing away in a neighbour's garden - this is a surprisingly difficult species to catch up with on the Patch.

One of the regular Redshank roosting on its usual perch

So what do we still need that I would expect to get at this time of year? Here's the list of things to keep an eye out for. Many are only a matter of time before they turn up. Do let me know if you seen any of them.

Great Crested Grebe (surprisingly haven't seen one on the river so far)
Lesser Redpoll
Chiffchaff
Sky Lark
Little Egret
Peregrine
Curlew (usually in February)
Tufted Duck (Wolvercote Lakes?)
Black-tailed Godwit
Dunlin
Gadwall



19th January

I haven't done much checking of the gull roost of late and on the odd occasion when I have the roost size has been derisory. Still I thought that I'd give it a go though once again numbers were abysmal. However what they lacked in quantity they made up for in quality when a splendid 3rd winter CASPIAN GULL was pick out of the flock by Will Langdon.



Apart from this smart gull, there were 3 REDSHANK, half a dozen or so SNIPE, a couple of COMMON GULLS and a dozen or so GOLDEN PLOVER. In addition a SHELDUCK was reported earlier on in the day.

17th January WeBS Survey

It was time for the monthly WeBS survey today. In rather cold conditions I counted the following totals

Mallard 77
Moorhen 11
Kingfisher 1
Goosander 1
Mute Swan 2
Redshank 3
Grey Heron 1
Cormorant 4
Canada Goose 3
Wigeon 1068
Shelduck 3
Pintail 5
Shoveler 2
Teal 510
Golden Plover 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull 8
Black-headed Gull 66
Greylag Geese & hybrids 207

I also encountered a nice flock of Siskins in the spinney on my way back home.

The year list is coming along though there are still a few things which I'm sure must be around but I've not yet come across them. At the end of the month if there's anything still outstanding I'll let people know.

10th January

I'm chipping away at the year list, ticking off the relatively common birds that I'd expect to see at this time of year and have now got the year list up to 57 though there are still lots of easy ticks around that I just haven't personally come across yet.

When it was frozen a few days ago I headed over to the Trap Grounds to see if I could winkle out a WATER RAIL and I'm pleased to report that not only did I hear one but I actually saw one scuttling between the reeds in front of the screen pool. 

A couple of people reported the presence of a PINTAIL on the floods at the start of the year and today there were a pair of drakes asleep on the floods along with a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS.

The highlight of the last few day though was a flock of 30 BARNACLE GEESE, spotted by Steve Goodard late on yesterday though as before they were gone by first light.

A Grey Heron along the Castle Mill stream

Review of 2016

By all measures 2016 was a good year for Port Meadow birding. For starters the year list came it at 133 which is a good solid total and we managed a couple of nationally scarce species in the form of a Spoonbill and a Yellow-browed Warbler. So what were the highlights of the year?

The first couple of months consisted mostly of the usual fare with perhaps a Raven being the most noteworthy addition to the year list. But in March we really struck patch gold with a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the Trap Grounds. This is a real patch Mega and is certainly rarer than Spoonbill or Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch. Sadly the bird didn't hand around and was chased off by a territorial Greater Spotted cousin but it did offer some great views in the Trap Grounds for a few minutes.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

In March the first migrants started arriving back and we were treated to a couple of Avocets that dropped in for the evening on their way north.

Avocets on the floods

We had a Brent Goose drop in to stay for quite a while in spring. This is quite a rare Goose in the county (though it usually manages to make its way onto the county year list) so I was pleased to have it grace the patch for a while. Also good birds for March were a Sanderling and some Red-crested Pochards

The long-staying Brent Goose

April produced another patch Mega in the form of a Sandwich Tern. This is only the second record ever on Port Meadow of this species which is an annual passage migrant in the county but really hard to catch up with as they so often are just seen flying through places like Farmoor. This one roosted on the Meadow so lingered for a few hours at least.

The only other Meadow record of Sandwich Tern was back in 1995

Little Gull is just about annual on the Meadow though only usually through one or two sightings a year so I was pleased to find one in mid April on the floods - it turned out to be the only one of the year. Also in this vein is Garganey which turned up mid month as well - again usually annual though only thanks to one or two records. The Meadow is one of the top spots in the county for passage waders and we managed this year to get just about all the rarer ones. Towards the end of April we managed to add Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot to the year list.

Whether May is any good on the Meadow each year depends very much on the state of the floods. We were lucky this year with reasonable floods still present in this crucial spring month and this water pulled in a Wood Sandpiper - the first we've had in a few years recently. However, the 10th of May 2016 will go down as one of the best days of patch birding on the Meadow in a long time. I wrote at the time:

It was a "perfect storm" of good prevailing southerly winds for the last few days, early May being the peak for spring migrant passage, the floods looking absolutely perfect and drizzly overcast weather all day to bring in a keep down any passing waders.

We managed 66 waders of 9 different species including Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and Sanderling. It was really amazing! Nothing really extraordinary on paper but normally you have to work pretty hard just to get one bird of these species in a given month let alone multiples of all of them on the same day!

Two of the Knot, part of a huge wader fall

A day later we managed an impressive 47 Ringed Plover - an amazing count for an inland location. Sadly after that sightings started to dwindle as we headed towards the summer doldrums though we did manage to sneak a Spotted Flycatcher onto the list - always a hard bird to get on the Meadow. We finally managed our first national scarcity of the year when a Spoonbill was seen flying over the Trap Grounds in the last week of May. They often seem to turn up at around this time of year on the Meadow.

In the summer months I generally turn to insects and flowers to keep me occupied. Whilst this year was pretty poor for moths I did manage to turn up a couple of county-wide interest with a Yellow Belle and Psychoides filicivora (a fern-loving micro) as well as a Toadflax Brocade (though they're pretty much annual now in the county). Thanks to some good coverage in the Trap Grounds a couple of Silver Washed Fritillary butterflies and a Red-tipped Clearwing moth were found in August both great finds for this location.

Red-tipped Clearwing courtesy of Nicola Devine

August did manage to provide some bird action with already-returning migrants passing through. The bird highlight of the month was a female Blue-headed Wagtail which was in amongst the cattle with our own Yellow Wagtails.

It took quite an effort to pin down this highly mobile bird long enough to get a photo

September turned up some good migrants with Tree Pipit, another Spotted Flycatcher and a Redstart but the highlight of the month was a great Yellow-browed Warbler find up in Wolvercote though sadly it was just passing through and only the original finder ever saw it.

October and November were very quiet months as we had no flood waters at all and all the passage action has long since finished. Finally towards the end of November we got the waters back and we were soon rewarded with our first Caspian Gull of the season. It turned out to be a pretty good period for this tricky gull and we had quite a few more of them up until the end of the year. The feral Home Counties Barnacle Geese also put in an appearance in December to round things off but apart from gulls there was little else of note.

A cracking first winter Caspian Gull
So that was the year. As is so often the case on the Meadow the action rather comes in fits and starts and is very dependent on the presence of the floods. Looking back on it though I'd definitely classify 2016 as a good solid year for the Meadow.

It now only remains for me to award the much-coveted Port Meadow Bird of the Year award. Whilst this often goes to just the scarcest bird that's been found this year there were a number of contenders including Yellow-browed Warbler, Spoonbill, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and collectively all 66 waders on the 10th May (because it was such a special day). And the award this year goes to.... the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, for not only being a Patch Mega but also for providing unusually good views of what is normally quite a secretive species.

Sadly it couldn't be here to accept the award....
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who helped to contribute to the birding effort on Port Meadow. I'm lucky to have a number of people send in information regularly and whilst I don't always have time to respond to e-mails, all the information is always very much appreciated. Let's hope that 2017 is another great year for birding on Port Meadow.


4th January

Firstly a Happy New Year to all my readers! I'm intending to do a review of last year at some point but haven't had the time so far.

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks but the festivities rather got in the way and then I was away for a few days over the New Year. I'm still working my way through getting the new year list up and running so can't provide a total yet but the highlight of the year so far was a splendid female RED-CRESTED POCHARD that was found by Nicola Devine yesterday. This species is less than annual on the Meadow so it's great to have it on the list already.

Female Red-crested Pochard courtesy of Nicola Devine (c)
I went for the first gull roost scan of the year today and was rewarded with no less than five YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (3 adults and 2 second winters). Seven Golden Plover flew in to keep the Lapwings company and there were seven GOOSANDER which came in to roost.

21st December

There was a decent sized roost this evening with perhaps 2000 large gulls though surprisingly few Black-headed Gulls. The pick of the bunch were about 5 adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS though there were no Caspians tonight. The two REDSHANK were still about as was a single DUNLIN and about 8 or so GOOSANDER had assembled by the time that I left.

John Mittermeier managed to spot the 2w CASPIAN GULL in the roost on the 19th. It's good to know that it's still visiting regularly


20th December

Peter Law was at the Meadow at first light where he was able to confirm that the BARNACLE GEESE were still present first thing though they flew off before 8 a.m.

Today I did the WeBS survey for Port Meadow. It was actually quite interesting to make accurate counts for all the different species that were present. Here are the totals.

840 Wigeon
93 Teal
11 Shoveler
20 Mallard
7 Moorhen
1 Coot
3 Mute Swan
261 Greylag Goose (including some hybrids)
2 Cormorant
1 Grey Heron
47 Lapwing
1 Golden Plover
1 Snipe
2 Redshank
45 Black-headed Gull
2 Lesser Black-backed Gull
1 Herring Gull

There were no real surprises on the survey. Wigeon numbers were a bit down on some of the peak counts this month: numbers seem to vary with the conditions and when it's very wet it attracts a lot more of the grazing ducks.

19th December

This evening's visit to the Meadow found very still conditions though the continuing murk was all pervading. The embryonic gull roost was put up by some people walking right along the flood shoreline and given the relatively nice conditions it never really re-formed. A single red-head GOOSANDER came in but, not finding any roosting companions, soon left again. On the wader front there was a single REDSHANK and a single Golden Plover but that was it.

The highlight was when I heard a flock of calling geese and spotted 24 BARNACLE GEESE flying in and landing about 200 yards to the north of the floods in the Hinterland. A little while later a much larger flock of about 100 came in to join them. These are almost certainly the feral Home Counties birds which often pop over to visit us in the winter (and as official Category C birds they are tickable).


The Barnacle Geese, filmed at great distance in very murky conditions at last light

16th December

Firstly I need to report that I found out who reported the 2w Caspian Gull a couple of days ago - it's a new local birder who, what's more, has a keen interest in gulls - hoorah! This is good news as we used to have lots of other birders who would come and help keep a watchful eye on the Meadow though sadly most of them have now moved on and it's been a rather lonely task keeping on top of the patch.

Anyway, there was some top gulling action tonight on the Meadow. It was very atmospheric with not a breath of wind, a wonderfully flat light and a layer of thick mist hovering above the grass to the north of the floods. The two REDSHANK were still about and we had 15 GOOSANDER in the roost by the end. The gull roost was large with loads and loads of large gulls. I found 5 (!!) adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and a very striking 3w CASPIAN GULL which unfortunately took off before I could get any photos. With lots of Caspians also being reported by our esteemed county recorder at the Didcot tip it's shaping up to be a really good winter for them. All we need now is a few white wingers to top things off.

There are lots of Redwing about in the hederows at present, all gorging themselves on the abundant berry crop

14th December

We're still in the grips of unseasonably mild weather, not that I'm complaining as it's much more pleasant when grilling the gull roost in the evening. Over the last few days there have been a regular pair of REDSHANK about on and off, and today there was a single DUNLIN but we're still not getting any regular Golden Plover. 

A rather grainy shot of one of the Redshank
On the duck front the first few Shoveller have arrived, we're getting one or two GOOSANDER coming into the roost each evening and today we had a SHELDUCK. There are vast numbers of Wigeon about at the moment, they're everywhere you look!


The increased size of the floods has been good for the gull roost and there have been several  YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (mostly adults) about but no more Caspians. Mysteriously, the 2nd winter Caspian Gull was reported on RBA this evening at 3:30 but I arrived there 10 minutes after that and the only person I saw was someone with a small camera taking photos. Anyway, I didn't see any sign of it during my time there so who knows?

9th December

Thankfully we've gone from the cold frozen weather back to mild weather again. In fact it is incredibly mild for the time of year. The birds have all returned again now that the ice has gone. Firstly I need to report that Phil Barnett found an adult CASPIAN GULL last Saturday, the third of the season already. This week as well as the usual suspects there were a couple of REDSHANK on one day and a flock of about 200 Golden Plover - the first large flock we've had this season. After lamenting last week about the lack of Fieldfares, there have been quite a few about. There were about half a dozen along the Castle Mill Stream one day and several flocks have been flying over the area this week calling loudly.

The highlight of the week was this evening when there was a good sized gull roost which assembled nice and close to the shore making for excellent viewing conditions. As well as a couple of adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS I also managed to find a splendid 2nd winter CASPIAN GULL. Amazingly, this is now the fourth Caspian Gull in a little over three weeks. Amazing!

A rather grainy video grab...



...and the video from which it came

2nd December

Just as I was really starting to get back into the gull roost properly, the weather changed to a sudden cold snap. The sub-zero temperature meant that the floods were frozen and any gull gathering was tiny with the birds not lingering at all.

During the day there were usually some loafing gulls but the roost never seemed to linger
To find something of interest to view during this time I've been walking along the Castle Mill Stream. Some of the ducks (mostly Teal but with one or two Wigeon as well) have been hanging out there and I managed to come across a LITTLE GREBE there as well. Whilst this latter species is not technically a year tick after one was seen by someone in the Trap Grounds at the start of the year, for me it is a personal Patch year tick. There are lots of thrushes everywhere in the trees and bushes on either side of this side river at present. They are mostly Redwings but with Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush all seen as well. Interestingly, there aren't any Fieldfare about at all - this species seem relatively hard to come by on the Meadow though we often get fly-over flocks at the start and end of the season.

I did also pay a visit to Burgess Field this week for the first time in quite a while. In contrast to the Castle Mill stream there were hardly any thrushes about when I visited though three soaring Buzzards and a Red Kite all enjoying the sunshine were nice to see.

One of the three Buzzards

27th November - Caspian Gull

It's so nice to have things to blog about once more. After our lean summer and early autumn there are now loads of birds to sift through on a daily basis and usually something of interest. Today's star bird was a classic 1w CASPIAN GULL that gave nice close views (well, as good as you can expect in the half light of dusk). There were lots of large gulls in the roost this evening, it's really starting to come into its own now as we head towards December.

On the wader front there were also 16 DUNLIN looking for all the world like little clockwork toys as they worked their way along the shore line.

A pretty classic 1w Caspian: note the clean white head surrounded by a neck shawl, the plain coverts and thumb-nail edged tertials, long wings and the "majestic" expression


...and some video as well

25h November

Firstly, I should point out that my Yellow-legged Gull from two nights ago turns out actually to be a CASPIAN GULL - thanks to Ian Lewington for spotting that and just goes to show how little I still know about gulls!

There were a few interesting birds this evening. Firstly the county's first GOOSANDER of the season turned up with two males and a female coming in to roost. Secondly there was a lovely PEREGRINE which caught and ate a Black-headed Gull just a couple of hundred yards north of the floods. With such huge numbers of birds about at present its bound to attract more raptors over the winter period. There was nothing of particular note in the gull roost this evening but numbers were reasonable given the regular disturbance by dogs and runners.


The Peregrine eating its catch