So here we are at the end of the month. In the event, the second week of May (which in the past has been OK) was unusually quiet and the second half of the month rather limped its way to the close.
Starting with waders, the highlight was another Grey Plover on the floods (our second of the year). Arriving on the 15th it stayed for a while, occasionally popping over the hill to Farmoor.
Grey Plover, courtesy of Thomas Miller
We also had a couple of Greenshank that stayed with us until the end of the month, joined by another two birds on one day. This spring has been noticeable for the low counts of small waders, not only here but also across the county. We did have a smattering of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover but never more than a couple at a time. The only other waders of note were a Common Sandpiper or two.
What we lacked in waders we more than made up for with Egrets. Now that the floods are getting to the end of their life the great fish eating bonanza has begun. This has drawn in good numbers of Little Egrets (up to 19), Grey Herons and even a Great White Egret on a number of occasions. All have been feasting on the trapped fish in the floods.
The Great White Egret on the floods
In terms of passerines we've had a few late Yellow Wagtail records and we also had our first Spotted Flycatcher of the year thanks to a bird seen up along the river towpath towards Godstow Lock. There is also a record of a Nightingale, heard by the Trap Grounds over a few evenings by Mary MacDougall and her son. This species seems to like commuting up the canal as there have been occasional records in previous years, all at various locations along the canal.
A Little Egret enjoying the feast
As far as ducks are concerned, we've had up to 5 Shelduck sill hanging around and two broods of Egyptian Geese. At this rate this latter species will soon become well established on the Meadow. A drake Garganey (perhaps a failed breeder) has been seen on and off on the floods over the period.
Rounding things off we've had a few Hobby sightings and what was probably the rarest record of the period with a fly-through Arctic Tern that was seen briefly on the 22nd.
The Odonata season has kicked off and there is now good activity in the Trap Grounds. The highlight has been a couple of Downy Emerald once again, cementing this site's position as a premier location for this species. We've also had Hairy Hawker and a Four-spotted Chaser along with large numbers of Azure Damselflies and a few Large Red Damselflies. Along the Castle Mill Stream there are plenty of Red-eyed Damselflies and Banded Demoiselles to be seen as well as a few Hairy Hawkers. I did also see a Broad-bodied Chaser near the allotment hedge on the Meadow itself.
Large Red Damselfly
Looking ahead, we are now into the summer doldrums as far as birding is concerned. Whilst the floods have lasted well this year, their days are certainly numbered now. Still, there is plenty of other stuff to look at with summer flowers and insects to enjoy for the next couple of months..
We've now had the first week of May. Usually there is one more week of good potential birding before things start to tail off. This week has been solid enough without anything really stellar. As a mark of this, there have been no new additions to the year list.
Starting off with waders, the star of the week was a Bar-tailed Godwit that spent the day on the floods midweek. Unlike the large flock that flew over last month, this singleton on the floods in May is the more usual way that this species gets onto the year list. In any event it was a nice opportunity for local birders to catch up with this species on the Meadow.
The Barwit above and below courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
We also had up to 7 Ruff (actually Reeves) on the floods. The two sexes of this species migrate separately which is why the flock was all female. Apart from that we had two Whimbrel fly over, a single Redshank on the floods, and a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. 4 Oystercatcher also dropped in one day. This last species seems to have disappeared from the floods of late after being regular visitors earlier in the spring.
The seven Reeves courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
The only news on the duck front was the continuing presence of up to 9 Shelduck and a few Egyptian Geese. Actually there was a report of some goslings recently so they may well have bred once again on the Meadow. We've also got the usual non-breeding gathering of Mute Swans with over 50 counted at a peak. There are a few Gadwall and Mallards still about but no more Wigeon or Teal.
On the raptor front we were lucky to get two further Osprey sightings. We had the usual brief fly-over on Friday but on Saturday, one lingered for about half an hour in the pouring rain where it was seen to hunt and catch a fish in the river. It even landed on the grass in the Hinterland for a bit. Apart from that there was a Hobby seen hunting House Martins over Southmoor Rd one evening.
The Osprey hunting along the river in the pouring rain
Rounding things off, a Great White Egret was seen flying over
the floods mid morning today and was in fact reported first thing on the
floods. There have also been a few late Yellow Wagtail seen though numbers have predicatably dropped right off now. Finally, we had a singing male Redstart and another male Cuckoo in Burgess Field one day.
While it's always dangerous to make any kind of prediction with birding, as I said at the beginning, we've probably got one more good week before things start to tail off. In terms of waders that we still need for the year list Knot and Sanderling are the two remaining ones. As a sign of how tough these two are, neither has been recorded at all in the last three years on the Meadow. We've yet to have Glossy Ibis and as I mentioned last time, Spoonbill is an outside possibility. Actually some of the Meadow locals have been talking about Black-winged Stilt as a possibility and indeed one did turn up reasonably close at Otmoor so it's not impossible. The reality is that it's going to get a lot tougher from now on to add new year list ticks. Let's see what this coming week brings.
So we've come to the end of what is probably the most exciting month of the year in terms of year ticks and variety. Fortunately, this year April certainly lived up to expectations with a superb month of all sorts of goodies. What's more, the time since my last post certainly pulled its weight in terms of contributions.
Starting with waders, there has been a bit of slow down this last week or so as we move past the peak passage time. We had up to 7 Dunlin and a few Ringed Plover pass through though I think the lack of shoreline isn't really suiting the smaller species much. In any event they are currently harder to see because of all the vegetation cover. We finally got Ruff on the year list with a female that spent a day on the floods. We had a few Common Sandpipers at last with up to 6 recorded on one day. A Wood Sandpiper put in a brief appearance on the 28th though only stayed about half an hour. A Greenshank dropped in for a few hours one day. Finally today we had a couple of Whimbrel fly over calling so that got onto the year list as well.
On the duck front, we had a few more Garganey turn up and stay for a few days since my last post. Estimates are that we've had up to 9 individuals now this spring! Apart from this there has been little else to report with almost all the winter duck now gone. There are some lingering Gadwall still and we've still had up to 9 Shelduck and up to 3 Egyptian Geese but little else of note.
What we've lacked on the duck front we've more than made up for with Warblers. We have to start with an absolutely stellar find in the form of a singing male Wood Warbler. This was found on the 24th in Burgess Field by a visiting European birder who didn't know the English name for it. Fortunately Thomas Miller was on hand to check it out. Sadly it didn't linger long enough for more than the most quick off the mark locals to twitch it and there was no further sign that day. However the next day, remarkably it was found again still singing in a slightly different place. Once again it soon stopped singing after which it became almost impossible to locate. However the bird may have relocated to Wytham as a singing male has subsequently been found there and has stayed several days already. Our star bird was only the second ever on the patch to my knowledge after a single observer record a couple of years ago. Just to add icing on the cake, another singing male was reported along the canal by the back of Worcester College gardens near the lock one day though there was no subsequent reports or sightings of this bird.
The Wood Warbler courtesy of Pete Roby
The Wood Warbler courtesy of Ben Sheldon
Apart from this the other warblers that we might expect duly turned up with Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler all being seen. Indeed it's been a rather good spring for the latter species which is normally rather hard to record in the patch. There have been at least 5 records already this month alone. This also applies to Willow Warbler: I don't think I ever remember so many records of this species passing through on the patch. I'm not quite sure why this should be but it's very welcome all the same.
There was some more hot Tern action this week when 6 Arctic Terns flew through. Added to this Thomas Miller had an outrageous garden tick when a Sandwich Tern flew over his house in Abbey Road, just south of the Meadow. Apart from that, there have been regular Common Tern sightings all week. Nothing to report on the gull front apart from a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull in amongst the lingering Black-headed Gulls one evening.
The first summer Med Gull
In terms of other sightings, a male Redstart was spotted in
Burgess Field one evening though didn't linger. We had a couple of
fly-over Great White Egret sightings as well. There have been several
calling Cuckoo records in Burgess Field.
The first Hobby of the year was seen over the Meadow. We've had some more Yellow Wagtails (up to 20) hiding away in the long vegetation on the river side of the floods. Finally a Wheatear was seen in the Hinterland this week - I can't help but wonder how many of these we are missing as this area is birded far less often.
Hobby courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
Looking ahead, we've already amassed a pretty reasonable year list total and it's only the end of April! However, this does mean that there is not much "low hanging fruit" left in terms of year ticks. Glossy Ibis, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Knot and Sanderling are the main ones which spring to mind. I also can't help but wonder about Spoonbill which used to be a bit of a patch speciality back in the day. Of course May is also the peak month for rarities in the first half of the year so something much juicier could always turn up. Let's hope so!
I've been meaning to do more frequent updates during this key month but somehow records keep getting ahead of me and I'm always thinking "I'll just wait so I can include today's sightings" and it never quite happens. So in the end I'm doing it at the end of the day where I know what's what.
As expected, there have been a lot of sightings since my last post. With the flood waters still large there's been plenty of wader action though often they haven't lingered. We had 4 Common Sandpipers drop in for the morning only of the 11th. Up to 8 Black-tailed Godwits have dropped in and then moving on during the period. We had a flock of 16 Redshank that stayed for a while. 3 Greenshank also visited the floods. The highlight on the wader front was a flock of 50 Bar-tailed Godwits that were seen to fly over the floods on the morning of the 19th. This was during a period where a lot of Barwit action was happening across the county so it was good to get in on that. Usually Meadow records just comprise of singleton sightings so a flock this large is really unusual for us.
On the waterfowl front, we had two more pairs of Garganey turn up, now making 6 birds in total so far this spring. There have been up to 8 Shelduck and the usual spring Gadwall flock though there are now only a few lingering Teal and Wigeon left on the floods. The exotic pair of Black Swans returned to the floods after a few days away.
One of the three pairs of Garganey courtesy of Thomas Miller. The drake has rather distinctive spotty flanks and had been seen over at Day's Lock previously.
As far as gulls and terns are concerned, we were lucky to have 5 Arctic Terns fly over the Meadow. This is a real Meadow rarity but thanks to eager eyes on the skies this is the second year in succession that we've had this species on the year list. Common Terns have started to be seen again in small numbers in amongst the lingering Black-headed Gulls. One of the highlights of the period was a wonderful flock of 13 Little Gulls that dropped into the floods for a few hours before being lured away by 3 over-flying others.
Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
We managed to get Osprey on the year list with a bird that flew over on the 21st. What was altogether more left field was a Short-eared Owl that was seen to fly out of Burgess Field and off to the north this morning. This is a scarce patch species which is more usually seen in the winter than in the spring.
The more usual spring fare has been turning up gradually as well. We finally got Wheatear on the year list with a couple of birds on the 17th. The relative lack of grass has meant that there is less area for this species to be seen on. This also applies to Yellow Wagtails which have only been seen in modest numbers so far as well. We had the first calling Cuckoo heard from Burgess Field today as well. The usual warblers are gradually being ticked off with Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler all being recorded now. More interested was a singing Grasshopper Warbler in the scrub fields along the canal opposite St Edwards playing fields. This species is now sadly less than annual so it's good to get it on the list. We also has the first Swifts over the last couple of days.
Wheatear courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
Just to round things off we finally got Cattle Egret on the year list with one being seen briefly on the 14th and two Cranes flew over today (presumably on their way to Otmoor).
So looking ahead we have perhaps three weeks or so left of prime passage action before things start to tail off. With plenty of flood waters we might hope to get some more waders on the year list as there are quite a few we haven't had yet. Given the state of the floods one might even hope for something like a Spoonbill, which used to be a bit of Meadow speciality back in the day though it's been a few years now since we last had one. There are various other more or less to be expected species still to get and there's always the chance of something left-field at this time of year.
We are now well into what is probably the most exciting month of the year in terms of year ticks with summer migrants now arriving thick and fast. It is also the peak time for passage waders though records for them depend very much on the state of the floods. Talking of which, as mentioned in the previous post, the incredibly wet March has meant that they are if anything too full at the moment. They were all the way up to Wolvercote at the start of the month though have been dropping fast as the continuous rain finally eased off. In terms of actual sightings its been an eventful time since my last update with some top draw patch birds.
Starting with the waders: the large flock of Black-tailed Godwits lingered for a few days in the end. Ben Sheldon did spot a smaller, smarter bird with a rather up-turned bill in amongst them and there was some speculation that it might be the Asian subspecies. This would have been a first for Britain had it been confirmed but there just wasn't enough to go on given the distances involved.
The possible Asian Black-tailed Godwit, courtesy of Ben Sheldon
We have had a few Oystercatchers still knocking about as well as a single Redshank but the star wader of the month so far has been a Grey Plover
which spent the day on the floods. This species is pretty much annual
on the Meadow though usually only by virtue of a single record so it's
by no means certain. It also normally turns up a bit later in the month
so it's rather an early record.
Moving on to ducks now and the extended floods have been drawing in some ducks (and Grebes) that we might not normally see on the Meadow that often. Four Tufted Ducks lingered for a bit, feeding on the trapped fish within the flood waters. There have also been a few Great Crested Grebes feeding on the floods. The numbers of Teal and Wigeon have dropped dramatically, with the too-deep flood waters no doubt hastening their departure. We've had the usual Shelduck still lingering as well as a few Egyptian Geese and a pair of late Pintail. Right on cue a pair of Garganey turned up - it's great to have this charismatic duck back on the year list. However the best duck sighting since the last post was a stonking flyover drake Mandarin that two lucky observers had go low over towards Burgess Field one morning. This is a pretty rare record for the Meadow with just one "possible" previous record from last year up at Wolvercote Lakes.
Gulls next, not normally a category that I have much to say on at this time of year. However, there was a huge surge in inland Kittiwake records across the midlands recently and the Meadow was lucky enough to get in on this action when a pair of birds turned up just over a week ago. This is a really rare bird for the Meadow with just a handful of records by one observer over previous years. Apart from that we've had an adult Mediterranean Gull still being seen regularly and several hundred Common Gulls seen during their spring passage.
The two Kittiwakes courtesy of Steve Lavington
In terms of spring migrants we've had a good passage of Willow Warblers moving through, particularly along the allotment hedge which seemed full of them on some days. Talking of warblers, the Siberian Chiffchaff is still with us though looking more scruffy by the day. This subspecies seems to do a spring moult unlike their more common cousins.
The scruffy Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Steve Lavington
A couple of singing Cetti's Warblers have been heard up in Wolvercote. We've also had small counts of Sand Martins and Swallows passing through and the first House Martins are now starting to be seen as well. The spring Yellow Wagtail passage has been rather curtailed by the lack of grass at the southern end for them to feed on though we've still had some flyovers and the odd lingering bird in various places.
A Yellow Wagtail, courtesy of Ben Sheldon
I can finally report a Water Rail record on the year list. Normally we get this each winter in the Trap Grounds but due to the extensive reed cutting, we've not managed one this year so far. However, there was a singing male in the scrub by the start of the boat moorings along the canal near St Edward's palying fields last week so we can finally relax on that front.
Finally, a couple of more "feral" sightings have included a Crane that flew low over Leckford Road (probably one of the Otmoor release scheme birds) and a pair of Black Swans (not tickable) have been lingering on the floods recently.
Looking ahead, we've got plenty (almost too much) water for the key spring passage so hopefully we should be able to pull down some good waders. With the rest of the returning summer visitors to look out for as well, there's a lot to look forward to.
It's the end of March but it seems more like mid April: everything is a good couple of weeks early at the moment. In fact we have a fair bit of early spring migrant action to report already. Testamony to this is the fact that we've had the first singing Willow Warbler working its way north already - normally it's towards the end of the second week of April when we might start to expect this species.
Another key development has been how wet March is. In stark contrast to the drought that was Feburary, this month has been extremely wet which has meant that the floods are very full. This bodes very well for the crucial spring passage period but at the moment there is no smooth shoreline for the smaller waders to feed along so it's got a different feel to it. Also birds are a long way away as far as viewing is concerned.
Let's start by giving a round-up of the waders that have graced the floods. We've had up to four Little Ringed Plover before the floods got too large. There were also a couple of Redshank, up to 4 Oystercatchers and one or two Dunlin. The main wader happening was right towards the end of the month when a flock of 29 Black-tailed Godwits turned up along with a single Greenshank. Again March is very early for the latter species which I tend more to associate with mid to late April.
The Black-tailed Godwit flock courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
Two Little Ringed Plover
On the Gulls and Terns front the highlight was a fly-through Sandwich Tern. This is a realy patch rarity though in recent years there have been a smattering of records so I think this is the fourth one for the Meadow since my time birding it. There has also been an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost regularly, joined by a 2nd winter bird one evening.
The adult Mediterranean Gull
We've had a few small flocks of Sand Martins starting to come through though none have lingered so far. We also had our first Swallow pass through as well. Another sign of spring is the arrival of the first White Wagtails with a couple having been seen already. Again this is normally an April species so it too is early. The Siberian Chiffchaff has been seen on and off until the end of the month in its usual place along the allotment hedgerow.
There's not been much to report amongst the waterfowl, with some dodgy White-fronted Geese having been seen again. There have been up to 4 Egyptian Geese about - they may well breed in the area again like last year. Sadly there have been no Garganey so far.
Finally a really left-field record of a Merlin (a patch Mega) being chased by a couple of Peregrines along Leckford Rd!
Looking ahead, we are now heading into what is arguable the most exciting month of the year on the Meadow with a lot of passage birds to look out for whilst we still have the flood waters. This month and the first couple of weeks of May are when we would look to bank the majority of our year list ticks including those crucial wader records. It's an exciting time of year!
You can tell that things are picking up as I'm doing a mid month update. There has been a noticable change in bird activity with things starting to pass through after a relatively static period up until the end of February. With the first migrants now starting to appear it's getting to an exciting time of year!
Starting with gulling, we've had a really purple patch with some great roosts. We've had good numbers of Caspian Gulls of various ages pass through. Below are some photos of some of them.
...and adult Caspian. All courtesy of Thomas Miller
We have also been blessed with some regular sightings of one or sometimes two Mediterranean Gulls in the roost. One evening there was even some attempted courting going on.
The two Mediterranean Gulls courtesy of Steve Lavington
Apart from that there have been good numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls most evenings. On recent visits, there is a definite sense that the roost is now starting to wind down as we move into the second half of the month.
As the gulling winds down so wader action is picking up. The first migrants have started to appear with a Ringed Plover and a Little Ringed Plover both having been seen. In addition we've had up to 7 Redshank and up to 4 Dunlin as well as regular visits from a pair of Oystercatchers. As we move into spring proper we can expect the wader passage to kick off properly.
There's not been much to report on the duck and geese front. It's been pretty much the same birds as usual. We were visited by a pair of White-fronted Geese on a couple of occasions. As I've said before here, due to the presence of the Blenheim hybrid birds, it's hard to tell the authenticity of bird on the Meadow though these ones appeared to look OK . We already have this species on the year list from the start of the year so it doesn't make much difference either way.
At least one of the Siberian Chiffchaff has been around in the allotment hedge still though sightings are starting to taper off now. The Stonechats were seen once more at the start of the month but have not been seen since.
One cause for concern was the state of the floods. With February having been the driest on record (yet another weather record being set as climate change continues to bite) the floods were looking decidedly thin. Thankfully the recent wetter weather has helped a bit though we do still really need some prolonged decent rain during these next few weeks for the critical spring passage period.
Looking ahead, we can start expecting more spring wader passage
and also the first Sand Martins though so far there has only been a
smattering of sightings in the county so it's early days yet. It's also time to look out for Garganey - last year was really good for this charming duck. We're coming up to the most exciting birding time of the year on the Patch so it's time to get out there!
Here we are in March already and the start of the meteorological Spring (though for me it will still be the spring equinox which marks the start). Back in the day I would of course do far more posts than the one per month that I am presently doing over the winter. However, times have changed and methods of communication have shifted to WhatsApp so there is less need for regular updates on the blog. Also, to be honest, it becomes a bit of a chore to do blog updates too frequently and the heady days of youthful enthusiasm have now given way to the jaded reluctance of middle age. Also, February is usually a fairly quiet month with the same winter birds being seen each day. Still, we've had some good birds this month to keep interest ticking over.
Let's start with waders where it's been a good month. The highlight was an Avocet which dropped into the floods just for the morning where it was a much welcomed year tick addition. This species is a bit less than annual on the Meadow but is always a treat to see.
Avocet courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
Some video footage of the Avocet
We had the first Black-tailed Godwit for the year (and the county year) on the Meadow this month. We also had some returning Oystercatchers with up to 3 birds seen and a couple of Redshank. Another good bird was a Curlew which dropped in one evening. February is the typical month where we get this species but it can be suprisingly hard to connect with unless you happen to be there when one drops in.
Curlew on the floods
Next onto gulling, which is serving up the usual mix of good county gulls. We've had a number of Caspian Gulls this month of various ages and an adult Mediterranean Gull which is has been putting in a regular appearance in the roost along with a supporting cast of plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls.
3w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
Above and below, a couple of 1w Caspian Gulls, courtesy of Thomas Miller
On the wildfowl front where last month's heady excitment of the American Wigeon was not reprised with that star bird instead relocating to Otmoor. So we've had to be content with the usual species. There have been up to 12 Shelduck, up to 5 Egyptian Geese and up to 31 Pintail in amongst the numerous Wigeon and Teal.
It's been quiet on the raptor front though a regular 1w Peregrine has been hunting over the floods.
Onto passerines where last month's 3 allotment hedge Chiffchaffs have swollen in number considerably and now include no less than two Siberian Chiffchaffs. Could one be last year's Sibe chiffy returning - who knows? There are at least 10 Siberian Chiffchaffs in the county at the moment which is pretty good! Maybe they are going the way of Yellow-browed Warblers in starting to view the UK as an over-wintering location rather than just heading south.
Siberian Chiffchaff: above Ben Sheldon & below Matthew Lloyd
The two Stonechats have been seen occasionally on the Meadow this month though they can often be surprisingly elusive and I suspect that they spend time in the allotments where they won't be seen.
The female Stonechat
There is one more passerine record to report, a totally left-field record of a Willow Tit seen briefly in Warnborough road. This is such an unlikely location for this species which is now unfortunately no longer resident in this county that, had it not been myself who saw and heard it, I wouldn't have believed it. Truly a "bonkers" record, but part of what makes birding such a fascinating pastime.
As usual, the first blog post on the new year is not until towards the end of the month. Normally, January consists of little more than catching up with the usual species that are around at this time of year for the purposes of the year list. However, this time we've had a proper top draw rarity on the Meadow, almost certainly a shoe-in for the Port Meadow Bird of the Year no less. I am of course referring to the drake American Wigeon that was found by Thomas Miller on the evening of the 12th.
A couple of record shots of the American Wigeon courtesy of Thomas Miller
This species has been a long anticipated find on the Meadow in amongst the large number of Eurasion Wigeon that we have each winter but it's to Thomas' credit that he found it at all given that we were in proper "lake mode" at the time and the birds were about half a mile away from where he was viewing. Sadly it was only found untwitchably late at dusk and was not seen again the next day (much to the chagrin of the other patch birders - myself included!).
Apart from this star bird, there has been a good supporting cast, mostly of water fowl, as you would expect at this time of year. The best of the rest was a pair of White-fronted Geese that was found whilst the Meadow was in "lake mode". WF Geese are always a headache on the Meadow due to the regular visits of the mongrel Blenheim birds but they normally travel together in a flock of 6 or more birds. This pair seemingly relocated to Standlake at Pit 60 where they appeared to be genuine and so are going to go on the year list.
Other worthy mentions on the waterfowl front are: a Little Grebe at Wolvercote Lake; a Great-crested Grebe that enjoyed fishing on the "lake" for quite a period of time; four Egyptian Geese; up to 10 Pintail; up to 5 Shelduck and up to 8 Goosander
As you would expect at this time of year, there has been some good gulling with a couple of Caspian Gulls (3w & 2w), several Yellow-legged Gulls and an adult Mediterranean Gull all already on the year list.
3w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
We've not had any waders so far apart from two resident Redshank on the river, one flock of 15 Dunlin and a singleton Dunlin. We might well still get a Black-tailed Godwit before spring arrives.
Other birds of note include the return of the pair of Stonechat that graced the thistle scrub between the Aristotle Lane and Walton Well Road entrances for some time in December. It's nice to have them back again. This does beg the question as to where they have been in the meantime - I wonder if they've been spending time in the Trap Ground allotments which is not generally accessible.
The female Stonechat
There have also been some Cetti's Warbler reports up at
Wolvercote Lake. Talking of Warblers, we've had up to 3 delightful
Chiffchaff, showing very nicely in the allotment hedgerow and coming
down to the ice to pick off insects. They've been a pleasure to watch! I've had a male Blackcap in my garden over the winter which has jealously been guarding the feeders from all comers - he has been most agressive! It's a shame as it means that I am no longer seeing the large flocks of Goldfinch and Greenfinch that I normally get in my garden.
One of the three Chiffchaff
Looking ahead, February is generally a pretty quiet month before the spring passage begins. There will still be the Wigeon and Teal flock to look through in case our star bird happens to return and you never know what else might turn up.
Here is the traditional Port Meadow review of the year post. As I mentioned in my last post, despite the severe drought at the time of the crucial spring passage, we still ended up amassing a reasonable end of year total of 137 + 1 extra in the form of a Red-breasted Goose. Whilst there wasn't a stand-out national rare there were enough good county and patch birds to make it an exciting year with plenty to keep us interested.
Winter is usually the best time of year in terms of sheer bird numbers with lots of water fowl as well as plenty of gulls to look at. In terms of gulls we had a good season with lots of Caspian and Mediterranean Gulls found though sadly once again we failed to turn up any white-wingers. It's been far too many years since we've had one of those beauties on the Meadow (or indeed in the county).
Above two photos, Caspian Gulls, Below: Mediterranean Gull, all courtesy of Thomas Miller
We had at least one of the Red-breasted Geese stay with us for a while in January, adding a splash of colour to the large numbers of geese. Thanks to the feeding station in Burgess Field it turned out to be a great year for Bramling with well into double figures seen for this charismatic finch.
One of many Brambling
We managed to get Glossy Ibis on the year list for the third year running when one dropped in briefly at dusk. It then decamped to Otmoor where it stayed for a while.
The brief visit of the Glossy Ibis courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
Spring started off with a bang with the discovery of a Siberian Chiffchaff loitering by Burgess Field gate. This is the first record of what is currently a subspecies of Chiffchaff for Port Meadow. Fortunately it ended up lingering for quite a while and was much enjoyed.
Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Joe Tobias
It was an unusually good spring for Garganey on the Meadow with quite a few records whilst the floods were still with us.
Garganey pair, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
As mentioned above, due to the unusually dry spring, the floods were
gone by the start of May which is usually the best time to get some
quality species. Still we managed to get Bar-tailed Godwit and Wood Sandpiper, two of the rarer waders that we might hope to add to the year list. However we ended up missing out on quite a few waders (Sanderling, Whimbrel, Knot and Avocet) that we might reasonably hope to get in a good year.
Bar-tailed Godwit, courtesy of Thomas Miller
We also scored some stonking spring fly-over ticks with Little Gull and Arctic Tern both seen on the same day.
Summer is traditionally a quiet season for birding on the Meadow so the sighting of a Little Tern briefly on the the patch was a stand-out record. This was almost certainly the Farmoor bird popping over the hill for a visit but at only the second record ever on the patch it is a really great record. It's just a shame that only one observer saw it.
We were also entertained by a family of Little Owls in the summer which showed well at dusk for quite a number of days before dispersing.
Little Owl, courtesy of Joe Tobias
Of course, as the birding slows down, summer is traditionally the time for insects and we had a very good season in that respect. We started off with a Club-tailed Dragonfly photographed along the Thames. This is a rare dragonfly in this part of the river with not many records at all.
Club-tailed Dragonfly courtesy of Michael Enticott
Our new Downy Emerlad colony seems well established now with several seen in the Trap Grounds on the main pond. The same can also be said of our Willow Emerald population with plenty of sightings around the various Trap Ground ponds.
We also had a new colonist this year with a population of Small Red-eyed
Damselflies seen in good numbers. Let's hope they become regulars as
Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Once again we managed one or two sightings of Brown Hairstreak thanks to the eagle eyes of Nicola Devine. Sadly Nicola is no longer with us, having died this year. We will all miss her wonderful photos and great enthusiasm for the Trap Grounds.
Brown Hairstreak, courtesy of Nicola Devine
Once again we had some Glow Worm sightings in Burgess Field in the summer.
Burgess Field Glow Worm, courtesy of Zichen Zhou
Whereas spring was somewhat disappointing, we ended up having a very good autumn. There were unusually good numbers of Spotted Flycatchers and Redstart within Burgess Field this autumn which made for great birding.
Burgess Field Spotted Flycatcher (one of nine seen this autumn)
One of the Four Redstarts seen this autumn
This flyover Osprey in Wolvercote made for a great photo, courtesy of Joe Taylor
Despite the complete lack of flood waters the grassy plains of Port Meadow attracted some good birds this autumn. We had a Grey Plover grace the area for several days.
The Grey Plover (courtesy of Ben Sheldon) hung around for a while,
On the Pipit front it was a stand-out autumn. A Rock Pipit was found in the Hinterland area north of the dried up floods. This only the fourth record for the Meadow with the last two being back in 2010.
The Rock Pipit, courtesy of Joe Tobias
Following that we had an even rarer Pipit with a Water Pipit loitering near the returning flood waters. This was probably the Farmoor bird which seemed to navigate between that location, the Meadow and Wytham for a little while. This was only the second record, with the last being in 2007.
The Water Pipit, courtesy of Steve Lavington
We also had a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Trap Grounds for one day. This was the first of what proved to be a specacular autumn across the county for the once rare Siberian warbler. Another outstanding record was a flyover Hawfinch seen over the Meadow. The post breeding Cattle Egret colony relocated to a field north of Wytham for several weeks.
Cattle Egrets near Wytham
We also had a dark-bellied Brent Goose drop in on the floods for one day.
Brent Goose, courtesy of Ben Sheldon
Bird of the Year
Finally it's time to award the Port Meadow Bird of the Year award. This year it was rather difficult as there was no obvious stand-out bird. Below is the short list along with the number of previous records for the Meadow:
Siberian Chiffchaff (first record) Little Tern (second record) Arctic Tern (first record for several years) Water Pipit (second record) Rock Pipit (fourth record) Yellow-browed Warbler (fourth record) Hawfinch (second record)
Some of these contenders (e.g. Little Tern and Hawfinch) were single observer records which rather counts against them. The Sibe Chiffy is only a sub-species though still an excellent record. After due consideration I am going to give it to the Water Pipit (which was also a personal patch tick for me). I've long felt that this species should occur more often than it does on the Meadow so it's great finally to have another record.
Let's hope 2023 proves to be at least as good as this last year.