23rd September

Since my last post the good autumn passage has continued. For a couple of weeks Burgess Field was on fire with two more Redstarts and five more Spotted Flycatchers. That makes four Redstarts in total and eight Spotted Flycatchers which are pretty amazing totals by Port Meadow standards. 

One of Three Spotted Flycatchers that turned up one lunchtime.
At one point they are all in the same tree

The fourth Redstart to grace Burgess Field this autumn

It does rather seem that this passage has passed as Burgess Field has been decidedly quiet for the last week and a bit. Yellow Wagtail numbers have taken a nosedive as well. We peaked somewhere in the mid twenties in terms of numbers but the last week or so there have been just three birds at most. We've had a few Lapwing and Golden Plover starting to assemble on the Meadow so far. In addition there was a Sedge Warbler along the river (sadly this species is pretty rare on the Meadow these days) and a single Tufted Duck on the river for one afternoon.

Ever since the large number of Cattle Egrets starting congregating at Otmoor in the late summer, I have been hoping that some would disperse to Port Meadow as they did last year. Sadly this doesn't seem to have happened. There was a single bird briefly in amongst the livestock on the 7th but that's been it. At least we've managed to get a genuine on-the-patch tick for this - up until now our year tick was done by extreme-scoping all the way to the Wytham cattle fields with only the observer actually being on the patch. A regular flock is now being seen over at Wytham so it looks like they have all moved over there for the winter now. 

Our one brief Cattle Egret

Talking of Egrets, we've had a couple more Great White Egret sightings. These are presumably the Cassington GP birds popping over to the Meadow for a visit. One spent a couple of hours at Wolvercote Lake one morning and another was seen on the river again. We've had a few more Wheatear sightings with one at the north end of the Meadow and then two more which have lingered at the southern end on the dried up flood area.

Wheatear

Despite my fretting about the state of the year list we have managed to rack up quite a few more ticks. Firstly a Marsh Tit was seen by Phil Barnett in a Hawthorn near the Aristotle Lane entrance briefly before moving off. Presumably this is a bird dispersing from Wytham Wood where they breed. Secondly, Steve Lavington has a brief Stonechat sighting as one flew into the allotments. I often wonder what gems get missed within the allotment area! Finally, Phil Barnett found another goody in the form of a juvenile Grey Plover that spent the afternoon on the Meadow. There's  been a flurry of sightings nearby at Farmoor so it was good that we managed to get this just about annual species on the list. With the early demise of the floods I was sure that we'd missed it this year.

The Grey Plover, courtesy of Ben Sheldon

Looking ahead, with the continued drought there's no sign of the floods returning any time soon. So I would continue to expect slim pickings on the Meadow. However, we've managed to do OK so far this autumn without any water so it's worth staying optimistic.




September 3rd

It's been a pretty reasonable start to autumn on the Meadow. Given that there are no flood waters at all we've had to make do with migrating passerines but fortunately we've been well served on this front. We've had at least two Redstarts in Burgess Field, a male and a female. I say "at least", this is because after no reports of the female for about a week, one was caught in the ringing nets there. It could be the same one or it could be a new bird. 

Female Redstart in the hand courtesy of Thomas Miller

We've also had a couple more Spotted Flycatchers: one in the north east corner of Burgess Field and one in the Trap Grounds. Sadly both were single observer sightings. That does bring the tally for this species to three birds already this autumn, which is pretty good!

We had our first Great White Egret record of the year with a couple of birds seen flying south along the river before heading back north again. Since then there have been several more sightings so they seem to be migrating regularly to the area, probably from Cassington GPs though they may well be finding the Meadow a bit too noisy for them to linger. Vidya Menon did capture a nice photo of one on the river early one morning which would tend to support this thesis.

Early morning Great White Egret courtesy of Vidya Menon

Yellow Wagtail numbers have increased dramatically since my last post and we are now getting over 20 birds in amongst the cattle. 

There have been quite a few sightings of Hobby around the general area, including over Kingston Road and one over the Trap Grounds. 

Hobby courtesy of Nicola Devine

Geese numbers are starting to climb again despite the lack of water on the Meadow. In amongst them have been 3 Egyptian Geese recently which seem to have taken a liking to the Meadow.

On the insect front there have been more sightings of Willow Emeralds on the Trap Grounds with up to 10 seen at a peak count. They are also discovered up at Wolvercote Lakes as well as other new sites throughout the county so they have definitely colonised Oxfordshire now. Apart from that, records of other Odonata species are starting to decline now as we head into autumn. There is one interesting record to report, that of a Southern Migrant Hawker on the Castle Mill Stream opposite Worcester College. Whilst this is strictly off-patch it is certainly possible that this species, another recent colonist of the county, will become more regular in years to come.

Migrant Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

Willow Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine

Southern Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

Looking ahead, until we can get some flood waters back, it's going to be more of the same. We still need Whinchat, Stonechat & Marsh Tit which are reasonable possibilities but beyond that it will have to be something rather unexpected. 

August 11th

Autumn has definitely kicked off, at least in the birding world. This does at least mean that we have some things to report at last. The highlight was an Osprey seen and photographed flying over Wolvercote this evening by Joe Taylor. Whilst not a year tick, it's always tricky to see these wonderful birds as their stay over the Meadow air space tends to be very brief. It's a matter of happening to be in the right place at the right time in order to get a sighting.

Courtesy of Joe Taylor

What was a year tick was a Spotted Flycatcher that was found by Steve Lavington near the Perch though due to the number of people about, sadly it didn't linger. There was also a Hobby seen by Nick Boyd hunting near the railway line by Aristotle Lane this week. Nick also saw a couple of Yellow Wagtails in amongst the cattle on the Meadow. I would hope that this number will build as we progress through the autumn. In the past we have had a peak count of more than 20 birds on the Meadow during the autumn. A few Lapwing are starting to gather on the Meadow now - they should be joined by a few Golden Plover in due course. A couple of Egyptian Geese were reported by Andrew Siantonas along the river as well.

Apart from the above headline birds, there are lots of young birds around at the moment. Nicola Devine had a family of Grey Wagtails along the wildlife corridor near the Trap Grounds recently. I suspect that the rain-free weather has been kind to breeding efforts so there should be good numbers of young birds around. 

Grey Wagtail courtesy of Nicola Devine

As far as Odonata are concerned, it's still high summer. Common and Ruddy Darters are out in large numbers now and Migrant and Southern Hawkers are on the wing. The good news is that Willow Emeralds have been seen in the Trap Grounds already. Whilst August is traditionally the time when they start emerging, up until this year we've not really seen them until September so it's good to have them out in numbers at the "proper" time. Up to five have been seen already, including mating pairs.


Willow Emeralds

Another top find for the Trap Grounds has been a good number of Small Red-eyed Damselflies. Prior to this year, this species has only been seen once before on the Trap Grounds but suddenly we seem to have a breeding colony with at least 10 seen by Nicola Devine including ovipositing pairs. It is another of these species that is rapidly colonising new areas in the South East and is yet another resident species to add to the burgeoning Trap Grounds list!

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

Nicola has also managed to find a Brown Hairstreak along the wildlife corridor. Through her diligence and sharp eyes she usually manages to find this rare butterfly species each year though the rest of us usually struggle find them!

Brown Hairstreak courtesy of Nicola Devine

Looking ahead our Odonata should be with us for a little while yet. We should also start to get more migrant birds passing through. With Redstart, Stonechat and Whinchat not yet on our year list we should just squeak past 130 if we manage to get those.


June & July Update

I didn't mean for it to be so long since my last post but somehow the days have slipped away and then I was away for a while and suddenly here we are on the threshold of autumn already (at least in the birding world). So I'm going to do a big round-up post of all the news over the last couple of months.


Birding

Despite it traditionally being a very quiet time of year on the birding front we in fact have several things to report including a real patch Mega! This was in the form of a Little Tern that was seen by Denise Wawman, fishing briefly at the south end of the Meadow by the boats. It was seen to catch a fish and then flew off with it. This is presumably the same bird that has been seen at Farmoor a few times over the last couple of months but in terms of Port Meadow to my knowledge there has only been one previous record when a bird spent the afternoon fishing on the floods back in April 2009. It's a shame that this current bird didn't hang around as it would have been much admired. Through sheer rarity value this must be a contender for Port Meadow Bird of the Year though it's a pity it was only seen by one person.

Some video of the 2009 bird. Miraculously this was shot digiscoping
whilst it was flying around - no mean feat!

Less rare though still wonderful to see has been a family of Little Owls that are being raised somewhere on the greater Port Meadow catchment area (I'm being deliberately vague here). There are three young birds, now nicely fledged. This species is recorded a bit less than annually on the Meadow though is probably more or less resident.

Little Owl courtesy of Joe Tobias



Some great footage courtesy of Matthew Lloyd


Talking of Owls, there was also a Barn Owl which was seen for a couple of nights in the fields around Binsey. This too is less than annual and a most welcome year tick.

Barn Owl courtesy of Ben Sheldon

The only other thing to report is a Hobby that was seen over Burgess Field by Thomas Miller towards the end of June.


Flora

I don't usually write much about flowers here as it's generally the same ones in the same places each year. However, I would like to report that it's been another good season for orchids in Burgess Field. I went to take a look and found 22 different Pyramidal Orchids and 5 Bee Orchids. There were probably a lot more than this and I didn't search everywhere but it was lovely to see them out in force in Burgess Field. There used to be Pyramidal Orchids in the Trap Grounds but I haven't seen any there for quite a few years now.

Bee Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid

Insects

This time of year is very much about insects. There have been the usual butterfly species on the wing which have been nice to see. This year I have also been appreciating more and more just what a good site the Trap Grounds is for Odonata. We've been very lucky with Downy Emerald seemingly starting to establish itself as an annual visitor as well as all the usual species. Luckily Nicola Devine has been capturing a lot of the Odonata action there. Below are some of her photos.

Emerging Southern Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

Brown Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

Beautiful Demoiselle courtesy of Nicola Devine

Thanks to the keeness of some observers who have been visiting Burgess Field in the dark, there have been Glow Worms recorded there again this year.

Glow Worm courtesy of Zichen Zhou

Looking Ahead

Autumn is usually the best time of year for birding though without any floods it's going to be slim pickings for us on the Meadow. The best we can hope for are some passage birds such as Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers which we have yet to get on the list. The very dry first half of the year (the driest in the last 48 years across the country) meant that our year list is rather low this year with quite a few of the rarer waders missing. With luck we might break 130 which is my measure for a reasonable year though it could be a tough few months trying to winkle out these extra ticks. Still you never know what might be around the corner. 




4th June

So we've slipped quietly into summer already. In the end the floods didn't last as long into May as I'd hoped and there was little to report on there since my last update before they dried up completely. There have been a few bits and pieces on the bird front to report. A Hobby was seen on the 8th flying over the Meadow. There were a couple of Wheatear sightings this month, one unusually on Burgess Field and one on the Meadow. Given how late these sightings are they are probably the Greenland subspecies. There have been a few Curlew and Cuckoo sightings (or at least hearings) to report throughout the month. There was also a Common Sandpiper record along the river shoreline - only the second record of the year of this species.

Common Sandpiper courtesy of Michael Enticott

Apart from this smattering of interesting records there are of course the usual species busy going about their business of rearing their young and the first fruits of their labours can now be seen blundering their way about in the undergrowth whilst they learn the ropes.

As is only natural at this time of year people are starting to take a look at insects instead. The Trap Grounds continues to go from strength to strength as one of the top Odonata sites in the county, punching well above its weight given its small size. The main highlight has been up to three Downy Emeralds on the main Swan pond. We got very excited last year when we had just one of them for a few days but this year seems like a particularly good year for this scarce Oxon species and with both male and females seen we can have high hopes of them becoming a regularly feature at this site. Another really good record was a Club-tailed Dragonfly that was photographed by Michael Enticott on the main river. This is another scarce county species that is normally confined to the river Thames down at Goring and Cholsey so to have a record on the Meadow is really great! 

Club-tailed Dragonfly courtesy of Michael Enticott

Apart from these two stand-out records we've had good numbers of Hairy Hawkers in the Trap Grounds and another record of a Red-eyed Damselfly there as well. Whilst this species is relatively common along the Castle Mill Stream they are not normally found in the Trap Grounds themselves. 

Hairy Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

Looking ahead, there's not much of particular note to expect over the summer months so it's a chance to relax and enjoy the usual species doing their thing. After all there is always delight to be had in enjoying the simple ebb and flow of the natural world at any time of year.

Common Terns courtesy of Michael Enticott


Oxford Art Weeks

Time for a bit of shameless plugging! This weekend (7th/8th) and next (14th/15th), as well as Thursday 12th  my wife is exhibiting as part of the Oxford Art Weeks programme. I wouldn't normally mention it on here (indeed I have not in the past) except that this year the majority of her new work features local areas of interest. In particular Port Meadow, Burgess Field and the Trap Grounds are the main subjects of her work.

You can see her Art Weeks web page here and her website is here. Below are a couple of examples of her work which feature local sites. I'll be around too so do come along and say hello!

Blackthorn (Burgess Field)

Winter Pond (The Trap Grounds)


3rd May

Once again it's been far too long since my last post, especially since it's the peak time of the year for sightings. Still, my tardiness in this respect does reflect the rather quiet spring passage that we've been having, especially as far as waders are concerned. Indeed it's been very quiet across the county for waders. Still we've managed to get just enough interesting birds drop in to keep the year list ticking over nicely. 

Starting with waders, we've had a couple of good solid county scarcities. A couple of Saturday's ago we had a Bar-tailed Godwit on the floods, part of a national passage through the centre of the country. There are generally only a few records of this species a year though it's been just about annual the last few years on the Meadow. It obliged by hanging around for at least another day.

The Bar-tailed Godwit

Courtesy of Thomas Miller

The second really good wader was a Wood Sandpiper which unfortunately only hung around for an hour after it was found before being flushed by a first summer Peregrine. Again Wood Sandpiper is scarce (though annual) in the county and just about annual on Port Meadow as well.

The Wood Sandpiper

The 1s Peregrine Falcon, courtesy of Joe Tobias

Two other waders worth mentioning are a Green Sandpiper that dropped in for just five minutes on the floods - fortunately whilst there was an observer to spot it. Green Sandpiper is unusually scarce for the Meadow so it's good to get it on the list. A pair of Greenshank were more obliging, with one of them hanging around for multiple days and still present at the time of writing this. Other than these star birds, there have been the usual Little Ringed Plovers in small numbers (peak count was 8) and a few Oystercatchers

Moving on to Gulls and Terns there have been some good sightings to report, thanks largely to an increased "sky watching" efforts by some of the keenest patching regulars. We managed to get Little Gull on the year list when a flock of 9 birds was spotting flying high over the floods by Thomas Miller. This species is less than annual on the Meadow so it's a great record to have. Thomas, along with Ollie Padget, then went one better with an Arctic Tern flying over later in the week. There have only been one or two records of this species on the Meadow during my entire time birding on the Meadow so this is a fantastic record. Apart from these two stand-out records there was a 1w Mediterranean Gull on the floods in amongst the many Black-headed Gulls that are picking over the ever dwindling floods. There have also been up to 4 Common Terns regularly on the Meadow.

In terms of warblers, gradually all the usual species have been seen though we've had to rely on the "extended catchment area" up to King's Lock for Sedge Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler. The first Reed Warblers have been seen in the Trap Grounds and the Garden Warblers are back in Burgess Field. There have been quite a few sightings of Lesser Whitethroats dotted about the place as well.

There's not been much to report on the wildfowl front. Egyptian Geese numbers have been steadily climbing with up to 7 birds seen on the floods. There have also been a few Shelduck seen but that's been about it. 

The spring passage of both Yellow and White Wagtails has been rather muted this year which has been rather disappointing. There have been a few about though no great numbers on any given day. Rounding things up we have had a few more Cuckoo's being heard and a Cattle Egret flew south over the floods. On the raptor front, in addition to the Peregrine mentioned above (which was a rather pale bird) a distant Hobby was seen flying north over towards Wytham Hill.

Looking ahead, the floods are very much on their last legs though there will probably be some kind of puddle for a few more weeks. May is when the Dunlin and Ringed Plover passage starts going so we should expect a few of those and we might get lucky with a Sanderling as well. This month is traditionally the peak one for rarities in the first half of the year and whilst the lack of floods aren't doing us any favours you never know what might drop in.

15th April

The spring passage has really kicked off now and the Meadow is getting lots of coverage. In general spring does feel a little bit late this year though not by so much. As usual I've also left it longer between blog updates than I was intending so this post will cover quite a lot of ground.

Starting with waders, to be honest it's been a bit underwhelming. We've had plenty of Little Ringed Plovers come through with a peak count of 7 at a time and one or two Redshank and up to 7 Oystercatchers but most days it's just these three species in varying numbers. The two highlights have been a single Ringed Plover one day and a Common Sandpiper that was seen by Pam Parsons along the river. This latter species does tend to like the river shoreline but in the springtime most efforts are concentrated on the flood waters so we were lucky that this bird was seen. We did also have another Curlew fly-through in what has been a very good spring for the Meadow for this normally hard to get species. Apart from that there have been up to a few dozen Golden Plover around, looking very smart in their summer plumage though they have now moved on.

On the duck front, again it's been more or less the same species set amidst the backdrop of a continuing decline in overall numbers. Shelduck have been regular with up to 11 seen though that has now dropped off sharply. We've had a few Pintail still around most days with a peak count of 4 birds. The star on the duck front was yet another pair of Garganey - our third record of this spring! This pair stuck around for some time and at times have showed very well indeed. There have also been up to 7 Egyptian Geese - my hope is that after last year's successful breeding we establish a regular colony of this species on the Meadow. Our usual spring Gadwall gathering is continuing with quite a few of them now gracing the floods. Unusually there don't seem to be many Mute Swans about - there is normally a spring gathering of non breeding birds on the floods but there are none this year.

The drake Garganey courtesy of Joe Tobias


Garganey pair, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Spring migrants are starting to appear. We've had Swallows and Sand Martins going over in small numbers and the first House Martins are back in their usual places around the Walton Manor and Waterside houses. Willow Warblers have been seen or at least heard in modest numbers for the last week or so and we had the first Whitethroat back in Burgess Field this week. Common Terns are back on the floods with up to three birds having been seen at a time. We've had a slow start to the Wagtail season with only a few White Wagtails about and so far just a few singleton records of Yellow Wagtails. Let's hope things pick up on this front shortly. We have had our first Cuckoo record when Mary MacDougall heard one up by the King's Lock area. Michael Jezierski heard a Tree Pipit flying along Leckford Road towards the Meadow this evening. Finally, one of the top sightings of this period was an Osprey that was sadly only seen by a single observer. Damion Young wrote:

"Osprey: Went for a fish (unsuccessfully) in front of my sailing dinghy just north of the Perch then flew off north, being mobbed by crows and shaking its wings to dry them off. Amazing sight! 19:02"

It must indeed have been an amazing sight! It's great that this species is once more on the year list.

To round things off with some miscellaneous records: the Cetti’s Warbler was again heard singing at Wolvercote Lake so it seems well established there. There was also a 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull a while back to mention. Also, the Siberian Chiffchaff stuck around for a while before departing though there is some debate as to whether there might in fact have been two Siberian Chiffchaff around as two different looking ones were seen by the gate just a few days apart.

The original Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Joe Tobias

There have also been a couple of tantalising potential records that never came to anything. Firstly, an interesting Bunting was heard to sing and call in the hedge by Burgess Field gate. It was heard to sing by a couple of observers (including myself) - the closest match was a male Cirl Bunting song! A "tic" call has also been heard a few times which might point more towards Little Bunting though this type of call is always very hard to pin down and lots of other birds can make a similar call. Nothing was ever firmed up so it will forever remain a mystery. The second item was a female Wigeon with a bit of any eye mask and a more greyish head that might have been a female American Wigeon. Unfortunately it only seemed to have a few of the necessary diagnostic features that point towards this rarer species and the general consensus was that it was just a strongly marked Eurasian Wigeon.

Looking ahead, the second half of April is traditionally one of the most exciting times of the year on the Meadow. This is when we would hope to get the bulk of our wader year ticks as various passage species drop in. In addition the rest of the summer breeders should arrive back. As usual I am fretting about the size of the floods and this nice hot weather that we're currently experiencing is doing them no favours. Still, we have to make do with what we get and you never know what might turn up!

A Grey Heron picking off Newts from the floods, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

3rd April

Things have continued to be quite exciting on the Meadow since my last post with more spring migrants passing through. Starting off with waders the highlight has been the first Little Ringed Plovers of the year. The first bird wasn't seen until the 28th March but since then we've had them pretty much every day with a peak count of 7 birds. In addition there has been a strong supporting cast of more winter waders with a couple of Ruff (including a striking white-headed bird), Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and up to 4 Redshank. A single Curlew flew through low over the floods one evening and we had a flock of 5 drop in as well for a few minutes. That now makes three records of this species this spring which is pretty good for the Meadow. There have also been up to 7 Oystercatchers about though I view those less as a winter wader as I think they breed nearby

It's always heart-warming to see the first Little Ringed Plover of the year back on the Meadow

As far as other spring migrants are concerned, there has been a single sighting of 4 Sand Martins going through and we've had a couple of Swallow sightings as well. So far none of these has lingered on the floods at all and were just passing through. In the coming days this should change as more arrive. We've also had the first White Wagtails and an unconfirmed single record for a Yellow Wagtail.

White Wagtails (from last year) courtesy of Thomas Miller

On the duck front sadly our Garganey pair had gone by the next day but we did have another drake that dropped in mid morning on Saturday though that too was gone the next day. We've had up to 8 Shelduck about, and up to 5 Pintail and we are getting the usual spring Gadwall gathering. 3 Egyptian Geese were seen by the river so perhaps they will breed again on the Meadow after their success last year. Apart from these highlights, in general duck numbers are declining across the Meadow as birds start to move on from their winter stay.

On the passerine front the main news is the continued presence of the Siberian Chiffchaff. It has stayed faithful to the location by Burgess Field gate for quite some time now and is now singing (as opposed to calling). There have continued to be some Brambling by the feeders with up to 5 seen. A single flyover Redpoll was also seen recently. The Cetti's Warbler up at Wolvercote Lake was heard again over the weekend as well.

We managed to get Cattle Egret on the year list thanks to some Herculean efforts by Ben Sheldon who managed to scope the Wytham birds by standing on a canal bridge near Wolvercote Lock. This does of course spark the age old question of whether the bird or observer should be within the patch boundaries for it to count on the list. This issue has whiled away many a night of pub debate amongst birders but as regular readers will know, I tend to be quite flexible in this respect so have no qualms about including it on the list. In any event I am hoping that they will return to the Meadow in the summer like they did last year.


Extreme Scoping! Those white blobs are Cattle Egrets!

On the bird of prey front a Peregrine has been seen occasionally and there are lots of Buzzards and Red Kites to be seen now. With the firs Osprey record of the year in the county it's time to start looking out for them flying over the Meadow. Talking of expectations, going forward we should see the first Warblers start to arrive as well as more spring waders passing through. Fortunately the cooler more showery weather should keep the floods with us for a bit longer over this key period in the year listing calendar.

21st March: Spring!

At last spring is sprung! Indeed the weather has been absolutely sublime the last few days - a welcome end to a long winter. Chiffchaff have now started singing and the first singing Blackcap was reported yesterday as well. Although it is only March such is the uptick in bird movement and sightings that it feels more like late April. It seems like things are all going to be early this year once more.

On the wader front there had been a lot of movement. It does suddenly seem like it's all kicking off though the reality is that it's all "winter wader" species on the move, . So we've had Black-tailed Godwits coming through in flocks of up to 11, a few Ruff (year tick!), some Dunlin and some Redshank - so all the classic winter wader species. In fact I am somewhat surprised that we've yet to have our first Little Ringed Plover. I guess that my expectations are very high these days of things being early.

Over the last couple of days we've had an influx of Garganey into the county with 8 birds suddenly arriving on the same day. I was very much hoping to get this charismatic species onto the Port Meadow year list and Ben Sheldon duly obliged by finding a pair today that had dropped in mid morning. Fortunately they stuck around until the end of the day so that people could come to pay homage.


The pair of Garganey

Apart from this start find, duck counts are definitely starting to go down. Our Shelduck numbers have dropped sharply from up to a dozen down to just a few pairs. There are still a few Pintail left and we are getting a few spring Gadwall appearing now as they usually do at this time of year. I would guess that with this find settled weather forecast until the end of the month this trend is only going to continue.

On the gull front, roost numbers have dropped sharply though the 2nd summer Mediterranean Gull has been roosting with us most evenings which is always nice to see.

As far as passerines are concerned, the star bird of  year so far, the Siberian Chiffchaff, turned up again after an absence of a couple of weeks. This time it was heard to make it's diagnostic call by Thomas Miller so we can now say with full confidence that it is indeed what we assumed it was. Mind you it was a pretty classic looking bird anyway so if it hadn't been one then I'd have been amazed.


The Siberian Chiffchaff showed very well

Brambling are still being seen at the Burgess Field feeder with three different individuals now recorded there as well as a small flyover flock. It's been an excellent year for what is normally a less than annual species on the patch.

So looking ahead, we've still to get Sand Martin and LRP on the year list and we should start to see some more warbler species arriving over the next few weeks. My one concern is that in this good weather the floods aren't going to last that long so it's important to make the most of them whilst they are still with us,




Trap Grounds AGM plus Port Meadow Birding Talk

In case this of interest to anyone, I've asked and non-Trap Grounds people are welcome to attend. I will be giving a short talk on the Birds of Port Meadow as part of the meeting.

Adam

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The Trap Grounds ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING will be held by Zoom Friday 18 March, at 7.30 pm. We hope you can join us to hear brief reports about last year's activities and our plans for the coming year. 

Following the business part of the meeting, local ornithologist Adam Hartley will give an illustrated talk about the birds of Port Meadow. And Committee members will present A Year In The Life of The Trap Grounds, illustrated by some of Nicola Devine's finest photos. The meeting will be hosted by Ian Haslam. Here is the link:

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Ian Haslam is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87916683468?pwd=Vmd3ZzN6WnlhSVdrdE9vQU8veUdtZz09 Meeting ID: 879 1668 3468 Passcode: 181169

14th March: First Spring Migrants!

You can tell that things are picking up as I'm doing a new blog post so soon after the last one. In March we start to anticipate the arrival of the first spring migrants and as things are generally happening earlier each year, we might start to look out for things that would normally be arriving in April. Indeed we've already had our first spring migrants in the form of a total of three Wheatears. Two were found yesterday loosely following the river north on the Hinterland and then another single bird was seen today in the morning and was still present late afternoon before moving on.

The first Wheatear, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

These are the first Wheatears in the county this year to my knowledge though we've already been beaten to the first Little Ringed Plover by Grimsbury Reservoir. It used to be the Meadow that got this species first most springs but the last few years Grimsbury has taken that award - indeed they've now had two of them already whilst we've yet to have our first.

We did get what was probably our first White Wagtail of the year today though the light was very bright and harsh and the birds were very distance so I wouldn't swear to it. This species normally turns up in April so it would be a very early record if it were one.

There was another Mediterranean Gull in the roost this evening: a fine 2nd summer bird. This is now the fifth Med Gull of the spring season already - a great total! Apart from that the gulling has been a bit quiet with just the regular appearance of a 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull in the roost worthy of note.


The 2s Med Gull

On the wader front we've had the usual 2 or 3 Oystercatchers and 1 or 2 Redshank. We did have a flock of 4 Black-tailed Godwits on the 7th but they didn't linger. A pair of fly-through Curlew on Friday were a welcome year tick: this species normally is seen in February or not at all so I'm pleased to have it on the list.

On the duck front we've been getting up to half a dozen or so Pintail and Shelduck with the occasional Goosander as well. Number seem to be holding up at the moment but I guess will start to dwindle in due course.

On the passerine front the Siberian Chiffchaff proved to be a one day wonder. I've since been told that there have been no prior records of this subspecies on the Meadow so it's currently holding the bird of the year slot though it's early days of course. The 2 Brambling have been more obliging and have been hanging around in Burgess Field for a while now. There was also an intriguing report of a Black Redstart up in Wolvercote but it wasn't firmed up at all so I'm inclined to leave it off the year list.

Looking ahead, we should expect our first Sand Martins and Little Ringed Plover very soon now. My main concern now is the weather: with some fine settled conditions forecast for the rest of the month the floods will start shrinking far too early. Also good weather tends to mean that birds are more inclined to keep on with their migration rather than dropping in for a rest on the Meadow. We shall see!


6th March

Once again I've left it longer between posts than I would have liked and there is a fair bit to catch up on. As I've said previously, February is generally a fairly quiet month on the birding front but we haven't done too badly on the Meadow.

Starting with gulls, the roost is moving towards more of a spring feel to it with lots of Black-headed Gulls but far fewer larger gulls. Sifting through the smaller gulls we've had a great Mediterranean Gull passage so far with single adult birds on four occasions: 15th, 21st, 26th and 6th. Traditionally the Med Gull passage is more of a March phenomenon so it's a bit early this year. It's great to have had so many records already this year.

Med Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

There have still been a few Yellow-legged Gulls around and a splendid 2w Caspian Gull was the star bird on the 3rd March.


Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

On the wader front whilst it's still too early for spring passage waders there has been some definite movement on that front with Redshank numbers changing from the singleton that overwintered with us and up to 5 birds seen one day. A few Dunlin have also started to make an appearance with a peak count of 3 birds. There have been up to 3 Oystercatchers, they seem to be a pair and another single bird. A Black-tailed Godwit has been seen on a few occasions as well. The most unusual record is a couple of Ringed Plover on the floods one day: this is very early for this species which more usually passes through the Meadow in April.

Duck numbers are still good though we might start to see numbers diminishing over the coming weeks now as birds start to move on. We've had up to 11 Shelduck, a few Pintail, good counts of Shoveler (with over 70 seen on one day!) and a few Goosander coming into roost or being seen on the river. The first spring Gadwall are now also starting to appear.

Away from the floods we've had up to two Brambling in Burgess Field which have hung around for a few days now. This is quite a rare species for the Meadow so it's great to have one stay so long so that people can get to see it.

The male Brambling in the feeder cage (for squirrel proofing)

Up at Wolvercote Lake a Little Grebe was heard there recently and a calling Cetti's Warbler (a nice year tick for a less than annual species) was heard one day. A Nuthatch is back at Medley farm after not being heard there for quite a while now.

One of the star passerine records of the period was a putative Siberian Chiffchaff which was hanging around by Burgess Field gate this afternoon. This Siberian subspecies of Chiffchaff is quite distinctive looking, being a grey brown on the head and mantle with only a hint of colour in the wings and this one fit the bill perfectly. Strictly you need to hear them call to be 100% certain of the ID but it looked good to those who saw it.

Siberian Chiffchaff
...and again courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

So all in all, quite a lot of good birds over the last three weeks! Looking forward, over the next few weeks we should start to see Sand Martins appearing and maybe even the first Little Ringed Plover though both these things will very much depend on the weather and the current cold northerly wind won't help matters at all. As usual I am also fretting about the floods: a nice spell of wet weather would certainly help to top up the all important flood waters ready for the spring wader passage.

15th February

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, February is generally not that exciting so it's been a pleasant surprise to have some reasonable birds to report. The headline bird was the brief appearing of a Glossy Ibis at 5pm a few days ago. It was there for all of a minute or two before flying off and then relocating to Otmoor the next day. This species is fast going the way of Great White and Cattle Egret in colonising this country but it is still categorised as nationally Scarce on RBA so warrants inclusion on the hall of fame on the right-hand side bar of the blog. As a point of interest I am now no longer included the two Egret species on this list as they are more or less resident breeders in the county now.

Glossy Ibis, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Glossy Ibis, courtesy of Zhenhuan Zhang

The other point of interest was a smart adult Mediterranean Gull today in the evening's roost. There is usually a spring passage in March so this one is a bit early but then again everything is getting earlier these days. With this find, that marks the completion of all the gulls that we might reasonably find in a year on the Meadow. Sadly white-wingers are no longer in that category but still give us something to look out for as the winter gull season draws to a close.

Apart from that we've had the usual Yellow-legged Gulls and a few Caspians to keep us busy. "Novak" the tennis ball playing first winter Caspian put in another appearance recently and we had a smart adult in the roost a few days ago. Back in the day a Caspian find was something to get exciting about but they are now no longer the rarity that they used to be. This partly down to a marked increase in observer knowledge (thanks almost entirely to Thomas "the gull whisperer" Miller) and partly because they are genuinely getting more numerous in the county.

A smart adult Caspian, courtesy of Thomas Miller

On the wader front we've had one or two Redshank and the single Black-tailed Godwit hung around for a while though has now departed. We've had some huge Golden Plover flocks in excess of a thousand birds of late though it can be very hit and miss as to how many are present. There's not been much change in duck numbers so far though our Pintail have now disappeared. Shelduck numbers fluctuate but we had four on the floods a few days ago. There have been a few Goosander on the river though they've not been coming into the floods in the evening. 

Looking ahead to the second half of the month, I guess that it will be more of the same. We will probably start to see some movement as over-wintering birds start to relocate but it will still be too early for any spring migrants. There is still the gull roost to sift through and in days gone by the end of the season was often when a relocating white winger would turn up though I don't know of any that are south of us in the country at the moment. The real jewel in the crown would be something like a Ring-billed Gull in the Common Gull passage. On a more realistic level we can hope for more Med Gulls and Caspians and we might get a spring Barn Owl in Burgess Field. Speaking personally, my thoughts are very much turning to spring now - I've had enough of this winter!