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

24th November

My usual last light visit to the Meadow turned what I thought was up the first Yellow-legged Gull of the season with a nice adult bird in amongst a reasonably sized flock. However, when Ian Lewington saw it he re-identified it as a CASPIAN GULL - a most welcome upgrade!

There were quite a few Lapwing today though still no Golden Plover and no other waders this evening.


This evening's Caspian Gull. Expect plenty more grainy gull grabs over the next couple of months
I'm gradually making counts of the numbers of wintering duck present on the Meadow, partly as I've taken over the WeBS counts for the site and partly out of curiosity. Today it was the turn of the Wigeon where there were an amazing 1250 birds.With several thousand Starlings and Black-headed Gulls we must have at least 5000 birds on the Meadow at present.

22nd November

The recent heavy rainfall has done it's job and pushed the floods from being embryonic through to full-grown. What's more the damp conditions have been bringing in birds far and wide and the Meadow is now absolutely heaving with birds. We've even had our first waders of the season back with a lone REDSHANK, a single DUNLIN and a couple of SNIPE. There was also an impressive count of 100 Lapwings today though no Golden Plover.

On the wildfowl front there are lots of Wigeon, Teal and Mallard and loads of geese. These are mostly the feral Greylags but there were at least 50 Canada Geese this evening. The star birds of my visit though were four WHITE-FRONTED GEESE which flew in as the light was fading. I presumed at the time that they were the four Otmoor birds which hung around there for several weeks. If they linger then I'll need to check their ages as the Otmoor ones consisted of two adults and two juveniles. Anyway, there were a most welcome year tick for the Patch.

I'm pleased to report that we're also getting a modest gull roost in the evenings again. As usual, the numbers seem to vary but on good nights we're getting several thousand Black-headed Gulls and hundreds of larger gulls (mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls). It's time to start looking for Caspians and Yellow-legged Gulls again - hoorah!

A Lesser Black-backed Gull

11th November

I'm very pleased to announce that after a rather prolonged dry spell the recent rain has at last re-instated the floods. As yet they are rather modestly proportioned and whether they stay or not very much depends on how much rain we get in near future but for now at least they're back. What's more it didn't take long for the winter duck to return and a few days ago I was pleased to see about 350 WIGEON and about 100 TEAL once more gracing the floods with their presence along with good numbers of Mallards as well.

It's good to have the Wigeon back again!
Apart from the ducks there are still Linnet, Starlings, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails to be seen on the Meadow area and we've even had some loafing gulls as well. Let's hope the floods get extensive enough for them to start roosting there again.

Apart from that there's been a few things of note: the GREY WAGTAIL has been seen regularly about the place, I saw the KINGFISHER along the Castle Mill Stream again recently and I've had a fly-over LESSER REDPOLL and a few SISKINS. I also thought I heard the NUTHATCH over by Medley Farm copse again this week.

On the raptor front it's mostly been the RED KITE and a Kestrel though Adrian Grey reported a possible MERLIN a few weeks back on the Meadow. This is a species which has been reported as "possible" quite a few times over the years though we've yet to have a definite sighting whilst I've been birding the area.

18th October

I realised that it's been several weeks since my last update so I thought that I'd better post something. It's been depressingly quiet on the Meadow since our exciting Yellow-browed Warbler and as it's been a rather dry period so far there is no sign of any emerging flood waters at all. Of late there have been surprisingly few Lapwings about and no Golden Plover at all. At least Linnet numbers are increasing and the flock now numbers about 150 birds. Meadow Pipit numbers are still relatively modest but there are plenty of Pied Wagtails about. A few Siskins have been seen, mostly just flying over and I've been seeing several Kestrels of late as well as the usual Kite. I've been keeping an eye out for Stonechats and Whinchats which we've yet to get on the year list but so far I've had no luck.

This Grey Wagtail was being seen regularly a couple of weeks ago

Adrian Gray is still keeping an eye on things up in Wolvercote and recently he reported the following:

"Another trip to the Gullet today - still very, very low water, but the winter ducks are starting to come in. There's at least eight Shoveller, two clear drakes, two drakes just starting to come out of eclipse, and the rest... who knows at the mo? A couple of Teal - one perhaps starting to moult out of eclipse, and a Grey Wagtail busying itself. To my amusement, a passing couple asked if you got Kingfisher there - just as one flew across in front of us! A nice surprise.

Somewhat more bizarrely for the second time I saw a whacking great Terrapin sunning itself - must be at least dinner plate size."

So, it's all rather quiet at present. Once the floods re-emerge then we can look forward to the return of the winter duck and of course all those lovely gulls but until then we're rather scratching around.


Sunday 25th September: Yellow-browed Warbler!

At last a real Rare to report! This morning Steve Goddard (our man in Wolvercote) was cycling past the common ground near the Wolvercote village hall when he heard the unmistakable call of a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER. Screeching to a stop he had good views of it as it worked its way amongst the trees that surround College Pond (see here). Unfortunately at the time he was in a hurry and so couldn't linger and despite extensive searching later on in the day by both Steve and other people, it wasn't seen or heard again. Still a great record to get on the Patch year list, coming hot on the heels of the first one in October 2013 at the other end of the Meadow. These Siberian sprites have been getting increasingly common in the country over the last few years though they're still rarely seen inland so this is a fantastic find.

Onto more mundane matters, there's not been much to report over the last couple of weeks. It's amazing how we've slipped into winter birding mode now: the Meadow is being steadily populated by Linnets, Lapwings and Meadow Pipit with numbers increasing on a daily basis. In addition, Cherry Robinson reported a couple of Golden Plover and a Greenland WHEATEAR over the last couple of weeks. I've not seen any Yellow Wagtails recently though the livestock are now hanging out at the north end of the Meadow so I've not been able to search in amongst them. A Grey Wagtail has been hanging out down at the southern end of the Meadow the last week or so and indeed regularly flies over my house calling loudly. Adrian Gray reports a few Teal back in the Gullet now.

On the insect front there are still lots of Migrant Hawkers around, both along the Castle Mill Stream and also up at College Pond today. What we really need now is some decent rain to get the floods back in business.

Here's a reminder of the Yellow-browed Warbler from three years ago (c) Roger Wyatt

Friday 16th September

There is a distinctive autumnal feel to the Meadow though only in terms of the wild life. The weather certainly this week has been most unseasonally hot and humid though it now seems that we're back to more usual fare.

There has actually been some bird news to report. At this time of the year and without any floods the main points of interest are going to be migrant passerines working their way southwards. It's always worth therefore scouring the many hedgerows in the area though it can often be hard work for little reward. On the 11th Luca and Tom Pizzari reported a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER and a REDSTART in the fields past the Perch, a great double-find in an area that I don't normally check out though I know that migrants often follow the river south so it makes sense. As a bonus they also reported a couple of HOBBIES as well. On the 8th of the month Dave Gandy had a TREE PIPIT in flight heading south and calling over the main flood area. It's great to get this species on the year list as this is the one harder-to-get passage migrant passerine that we still need. To round things off Mary MacDougall found a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER in Burgess Field last weekend. 


Apart from these goodies, the main birds at present are the large numbers of YELLOW WAGTAILS (up to 25 or more) in amongst the cattle. There have also been large numbers of House Martins gathering in big pre-migration flocks and hawking for flies over the dried up flood area.


On the insect front, things are naturally winding down now there there are good numbers of Migrant Hawkers (I counted 6) along the Castle Mill Stream along with a Brown Hawker and the odd Ruddy and Common Darter.

Migrant Hawker
I've not been doing much mothing of late though I did manage my first Sallow of the autumn. These species are coloured to mimic autumn leaves and are traditionally a harbinger of the changing season in the mothing world.

Centre-barred Sallow

31st August - Creeping Marshwort Survey Results

I'm pleased to report back that that rarest of plants, Creeping Marshwort, is still hanging on on Port Meadow. Apart from the newly established back-up location nearby, Port Meadow is the only location in the country where Apium repens can still be found. Due to the fact that the flood waters were still about into the second half of the year, plant numbers were down this year but it was still found in a number of locations on the Meadow.

We did find once plant actually in flower...
...though mostly it was just trying to pick out the leaf shape in amongst some very similar look-alikes.

This plant is a very specialised one which is very fussy about habitat which is why it struggles. It's a pioneer plant, being the first to re-colonise mud banks after floods and relying on its low profile (it's "creeping" nature) to survive grazing by livestock which therefore will eat comparatively more of its competitor plants. So, it needs a flood meadow that is reasonably heavily grazed but apparently, variations in how much flooding there is and how much grazing there is can make big differences to its survival rate. Somehow though it clings on in the Meadow. Due to it's pioneering nature, it moves around a lot and so isn't always found in the same place. Still, with Judy Webb, the species guardian, to guide us we managed to find quite a few patches dotted about various key locations on the Meadow.

The livestock took a keen interest in proceedings!

Showing its runners nicely!
Marsh Arrowgrass





Sunday 28th August - Blue-headed Wagtail

Whilst helping out on the Creeping Marshwort survey on Saturday I noticed a rather blue-headed Wagtail in amongst the flock of a dozen or so YELLOW WAGTAILS which looked good for an adult female BLUE-HEADED WAGTAIL, the continental sub-species of our Yellow Wagtail. I wasn't able to get a photo yesterday so came back today where I finally managed to get some shots. It was interesting how it's call was significantly different from our flavissima birds, being much more buzzy (almost pipit like) and bi-syllabic. Also present was a nice WHEATEAR, a couple of SKYLARKS, plenty of Linnets and a handful of Lapwing.


Blue-headed Wagtail

26th August: Creeping Marshwort Annual Survey

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

22nd August

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

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


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

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


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

Mating Migrant Hawkers

4th August

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

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

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

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


22nd July - Odonata Update

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

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

Brown Hawker

Common Darter

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

13th July

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

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


Marbled Whites

Ringlet

3rd July

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

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

Creeping Marshwort

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

Birthwort

28th June

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

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

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

Female Southern Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

June 13th

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

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

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

Broad-bodied Chaser, taken a few weeks ago

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

Bee Orchid

Friday 3rd June

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

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

Toadflax Brocade - a garden speciality
Psychoides filicivora