Sunday 18th February - Great White Egret

Apologies for the lack of posts but I've been away for a week on holiday. To be honest there's not been a great deal of interest to blog about anyway. Over the last few weeks the gull roost has rather fizzled out with only the occasional YELLOW-LEGGED GULL as reward for the effort of checking it out. Over at Farmoor, apparently they're getting the same reduction in numbers though they are starting to get the first Mediterranean Gulls coming through now so that's probably going to be the new target gull for the coming weeks ahead.

On the wader front I've not heard any news but on Saturday I did find four REDSHANK and about 25 Golden Plover in with the 30 or so Lapwing. As far as ducks are concerned, there are a few lingering PINTAIL and a handful of GOOSANDER are still coming in to roost in the evening.

The highlight since my last posting was a brief sighting of a GREAT WHITE EGRET that Nicola Devine saw fly over the Trap Grounds last Monday early afternoon. We had a brief sighting of this species last year up in Wolvercote and that proved to be the Port Meadow Bird of the Year so it's nice to get a good bird on the list so early in the year.

Here's a randon photo of a Great White Egret in flight that I found on the internet (c) original photographer

On the year listing front Steve Goddard reported a SKYLARK up at the Wolvercote end of the Meadow so that now leaves the following birds that we might expect:

Lesser Redpoll
Jack Snipe

Saturday 3rd February

So we're into February already, often quite a slow month on the birding calendar with all the excitement of new year ticks more or less died down and yet no migrants to look forward to for another month at least. For this last week there hasn't been much to report: the gull roost has been a rather modest affair with just one or two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS each evening worthy of note. There hasn't been much change on the wildfowl and wader front either though on Friday I did manage to find the first BLACK-TAILED GODWIT of the year tucked up asleep in amongst the Lapwing flock. The pair of SHELDUCK did visit the floods one day this week, we've a handful of PINTAIL with us still and we're still getting modest counts of GOOSANDER roosting with us each evening.

The over-wintering Stonechat is still around down by the bridge neat the boat moorings

After my posting of the wanted list for the year list last week I have had a few sightings reported to me with Coot and TUFTED DUCK both found by Ian Curtis as predicted at Wolvercote. A flock of 8 SNIPE were seen by Thomas Miller on the floods one day recently and BUZZARD was reported by both Mary MacDougall in Burgess Field and Nicola Devine over the Trap Grounds. So below is a list of the remaining birds that I might expect at this time of year.

Lesser Redpoll

The Winter Heliotrope has been in flower in the Trap Grounds for some time now

Sunday 28th January

Another week has gone by on the patch and the floods have been up and down once more due to recent rain. Indeed it was during an "up" phase that the star bird of the week turning up, a gorgeous 2nd winter CASPIAN GULL. Whereas the previous two birds had been less than classic birds this was about as classic as you can get - it really was stunning (if you're into that sort of thing, which of course I am!).

Apart from that there's not been anything of special note. As I often do at this time of year, I've been down at the Trap Grounds a lot, trying to catch up with some of the usual species for my personal year list. This week I've seen a nice pair of STOCK DOVES, Coal Tit, SISKIN, Treecreeper, and I finally caught up with Bullfinch in my own back garden.

Now that we're more or less at the end of the month I can start publishing a "wanted list" of things which I'm expecting to see on the Patch but haven't yet come across. So here we go:

Tufted Duck
Lesser Redpoll

The Coot and  Tufted Duck can probably be found on the Wolvercote lakes somewhere but do let me know if you see any of them. Also, as we move into February it's time to start looking out for Curlew as this seems to be the best month for us to get one.

Monday 22nd January

I did the monthly Port Meadow WeBS survey (Wetland Bird Survey) today. The recent rain had meant that the river had breached its banks and indeed it was still rising as I found to my cost when I had to wade back over my boots where it had been OK on the way out! There were plenty of birds to count including an amazing number of Teal. Below are the full tallies

Redshank 3  (on their usual log by the Poplar trees)
Shelduck 2
Pintail 47
Goosander 2
Mallard 156
Moorhen 3
Greylag Goose 430
Canada Goose 17
Cormorant 3
Black-headed Gull 41
Lesser Black-backed Gull 14
Lapwing 231
Mute Swan 7
Great Crested Grebe 2
Teal 979
Wigeon 460

In passing I spotted the STONECHAT, still down near the Weir Cottage bridge - it's nice to know that it's still with us. Having spent two hours doing the survey I didn't venture down there again but Thomas Miller did the evening gull roost and found a nice 2nd winter CASPIAN GULL for his troubles.

2nd winter Caspian Gull


Sunday 21st January

It's been another good week on the Meadow. Whilst bird numbers have decline from the stellar heights of recent weeks there's still plenty to look at and we're still getting a reasonable gull roost in the evening. Indeed it was the gulls which provided the highlight of the week when the long-staying Farmoor juvenile ICELAND GULL popped over the hill to pay us a visit one evening. I got a text from Nic Hallam, the resident Farmoor gull watcher saying that he'd been watching this bird but that it had flown off at around 3:30 towards the Meadow and about half an hour later we found it in the roost. The 1w CASPIAN GULL was reported on a couple of evenings at the start of the week but hasn't been seen since. Apart from that there's been a smattering of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS to keep the roost watchers happy.

The Iceland Gull

On the duck front there's not much to report. With the disappearance of the Green-winged Teal from Standlake mid-week I've been looking carefully through our Teal to see if it had turned up but to no avail. We're still getting a dozen or so GOOSANDER coming in to roost each evening though goose numbers are well down as they're back to grazing the Hinterland now. We did have a couple of dozen BARNACLE GEESE this week on one evening but not the huge flock of 170 birds.

I managed to catch up with a patch REED BUNTING along the stream just north of the Trap Grounds this week. They always seem to hang out here in the winter - I think that they are frequenting a garden bird feeder near by. SISKIN has also been added to the patch year list thanks to one visiting Martin Gebauer's garden feeder. Martin also spotted a RAVEN in Burgess Field this week and Nicola Devine added TREECREEPER with a Trap Grounds sighting. We've also now got GOLDEN PLOVER finally, thanks to a flock of about 500 birds that came in on the same day as the Iceland Gull.

The Reed Bunting

Sunday 14th January

The Meadow is still on top form at the moment with large numbers of birds to look through. Geese numbers have been as high as one thousand birds during peak times though they seem to be easing off now. It's been the usual suspects with Greylags, Canada's, the 150+ BARNACLE GEESE, the leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE again and up to 15 WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (with their BAR-HEADED GEESE cousins in tow too). I didn't know that there were this many in the feral White-front flock though it's a tough call to say that there are some wild birds in there as well (I'll need to think about that).

Duck numbers are still good though not spectacular with reasonable Wigeon and Teal numbers as well as some Shoveller. The evening GOOSANDER roost count has been as high as the mid teens this week. On the wader front we've had a couple of REDSHANK knocking around and we even had a visit from Farmoor's escaped AVOCET this evening as well. Lapwing numbers peaked at over 200 this week though as the floods have returned to normality so they have dispersed and we back to standard numbers now. There are still no Golden Plover - Otmoor seems to have them all at present with over 5000 birds there at the moment!

The gull roost has been good with good numbers of large gulls. The 2w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL has been seen on several occasions and this evening there was also a smart adult bird in the throng. The highlight however was a less than classic (but still good enough) 1w CASPIAN GULL which graced us with its presence this evening. It's always nice to find the first one of the season!

The 1w Caspian Gull

In other news the STONECHAT is still hanging around in amongst the dead Nettle patches down near the bridge by Weir Cottage.

Tuesday 9th January: Woodcock

A lunch time tour of the Patch today in the company of Martin Gebauer proved productive with plenty to see. There were a couple of over-wintering Chiffchaff down near the boat moorings, a rather unusual place to see this species at any time of year. By the river just north of the boats were a couple of REDSHANK and a smart pair of drake GOOSANDER. The floods themselves were absolutely heaving with Geese, there must have been getting on for a thousand of them, both Greylags and Canadas as well as three of the feral WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. There were good numbers of Wigeon and Teal, with modest counts of SHOVELER and a handful of PINTAIL. There was also the first GADWALL of the year, a bird I more usually associate with spring on the Meadow. Lapwing numbers were vast as well with at least 200 birds there - far more than we usual get at winter time on the Meadow. Add in hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, mostly on the flooded grass in the Hinterland and it all made for a remarkably birdy scene.

We did have a tramp around Burgess Field which as almost completely deserted. However at the north end we happened to flush a couple of WOODCOCK from the long grass, a great find as this species is very hard to come by on the Patch and is only ever seen on accidental flushings such as this. So all in all some nice year ticks, especially the Woodcock which was a personal Patch tick.

The boat moorings Chiffchaff courtesy of George Best, taken a couple of days ago

Sunday 7th January

It's been quite a good start to the new year on the Meadow. The floods have been increasing each day until now we're in full blown "lake mode" with the waters stretching a fair way up towards Wolvercote now. I've paid a few visits to the Meadow and was rewarded for my efforts with a splendid WHOOPER SWAN a few evenings back. Whoopers and Bewicks are pretty rare on the Meadow, certainly less than annual and it's been several years since our last one so I was very pleased to see this adult bird on the 3rd.

Whooper Swan
It was an amazingly "birdy" visit actually, with the floods then being just right for the geese and in fact we had all the species that we might reasonably expect. There were 150 or so of the usual Home Counties BARANACLE GEESE, 9 WHITE-FRONTS (the usual feral birds), 3 BAR-HEADED GEESE as well as countless Greylags and Canada Geese. There was even a feral BLACK SWAN as well. Duck numbers were large with quite a few PINTAIL and a red-head GOOSANDER. Ian Curtis also reported a pair of drakes of this species on Wolvercote Lakes this week. On the Meadow floods the next day there were also a couple of drake POCHARD, a rare bird on the Meadow which we only ever get when it's really flooded and lake-like.

Apart from this it's mostly been about getting the usual stuff on the year list. I did actually see (rather than just hear) the Medley Farm NUTHATCH near the boat moorings. The best of the rest was a sighting by Roly Pitts of the over-wintering STONECHAT down at the southern end of the Meadow. My guess is that it's mostly spending time in the allotments but that it occasionally comes out onto the Meadow itself for a bit of variety. There have also been a couple of over-wintering Chiffchaff sightings as well.

Stonechat courtesy of Roly Pitts
So a nice start to the new year. This coming week I'm going to try to concentrate on the gull roost as the Farmoor Iceland Gull was seen to fly over the hill towards the Meadow and with the huge water expanse it's a great chance to see some of the rarer county gulls on the patch. 

Do please keep reports coming in to me and I'd be particularly interested in things like Brambling, Marsh Tit, Redpoll, Tree Sparrow and even Greenfinch (which has suddenly become a bit of a rarity thanks to the dreaded disease that's been wiping them out).

Review of 2017

It's time for the review of the past year on the Meadow. By all measures it's been a lean one on the birding front, thanks to the unusually dry conditions for both spring and autumn. The floods had to all intents and purposes dried up by early April and didn't reform at all until November and indeed weren't back to a reasonable size until right at the end of December. This paucity of flood water took its toll on the year list which came in at a measly 114, well below the 120 figure that we can expect on an average year and 130 on a good one. A telling statistic was just how few blog posts I made in the year with a mere 36 compared to between 60 and 80 over the previous three years. Indeed during the autumn months I was only managing one post per month so little was there to blog about. That is the nature of birding on the Meadow unfortunately - it is ultra-sensitive to the amount of water that is about.

So down to the actual review. January started off OK with good flood waters and some reasonable gull action. Indeed we managed both Caspian and Iceland Gulls this month along with a Red-crested Pochard, quite a Patch rarity.

The 3rd winter Caspian Gull

There was little of note in February apart from the usual over-wintering birds. Come March and the early migrants start to make things interesting again and we had our first Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers as well as a few spring waders and a smart adult Mediterranean Gull

The first Ringed and Little Ringed Plvoers (c) Nicola Devine
April is when we get the warblers back and they did indeed arrive this month though the fact that the floods dried up at the start of the month meant that we missed out on what is normally the best birding month of the year as the spring waders pass through in their greatest numbers.

It was nice to have the Swallws back again

In May, with no flood water at all it was left to an exciting dragonfly sighting to provide the interest when a rare Club-tailed Dragonfly spent a couple of days in the Trap Grounds.

Club-tailed Dragonfly

The summer months were very quiet and I passed my time re-acquainting myself with some of the rarer plants in the locality. A returning Redstart was the only noteworthy record on the birding front.

Birthwort up by Godstow nunnery

Creeping Marshwort
There was still no water in September but in the flock of Yellow Wagtail that are often to be found in amongst the cattle on the Meadow in this month I winkled out female Blue-headed Wagtail (the continental sub-species of Yellow Wagtail).

Blue-headed Wagtail
Come November and we started to get some embryonic flood waters back, and with them came the first few waders and gulls. However, the highlight of the month was a brief sighting of a Great White Egret up at Wolvercote for a few minutes. Whilst this is not the national rarity it once was and indeed they are in the process of colonising this country in the same way that Little Egrets did, nevertheless it's still a great sighting for the Meadow which doesn't have the right sort of habitat to attract this species.

This is not the actual bird but one I photographed in Dorset

Finally in December the snow tipped the balance with the flood waters and some long-overdue rain pushed them back to full size. With the waters came the geese, ducks and gulls again and the birding desert was once more transformed into an oasis of bird activity.

So, the Port Meadow Bird of the Year title has to go to the Great White Egret really as there was nothing else at all close to it in terms of rarity. I'm always a bit reluctant to give this award to a bird that was seen by a single observer (especially since it wasn't me!) but apart from the Blue-headed Wagtail there was little else of note this year.

Looking forward, we're at least starting the year with decent sized flood waters but it will all be down to what happens in the spring and autumn once again. Sadly, with global warming it's possible that years like this will become more of the norm. Let's hope note!

29th December

Since my last post we've had a snowy cold snap and then a mild wet period of weather. During the cold period there wasn't much to report except for a displaced WATER RAIL along the ditch next to the Trap Ground allotments - a welcome view of what is normally such a secretive bird. I was also getting regular visits from a couple of over-wintering BLACKCAPS in my garden - always nice to see.

Female garden Blackcap
The legacy from the snow was to double the size of the floods and the decent rain since then has been enough to get the river to breach its banks. With the return of the water so too have the winter ducks come back to us. Indeed today there were more than one thousand birds, mostly Wigeon but also Teal, Mallard and Shoveller all dotted about the place. PINTAIL are back too with 16 birds counted today (mostly drakes). Yesterday we have a couple of dozen BARNACLE GEESE with us and now that we have the waters back I would expect to see the Home Counties flock pay us a visit some time soon. There was also the leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE a couple of days ago which was even a much-needed year tick.

Talking of geese, in my last post I mentioned the possible Pink-footed Geese sighting. Since then about a week ago I saw the feral White-fronts again on the floods (with a Bar-headed Goose in tow) and having listened to them calling as they flew in I now think that my mystery birds were probable these White-fronts rather than Pink-foots (which is much more likely anyway).

We've been getting a decent gull roost again though the best I've managed in amongst them so far has been a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. With the extensive floods we might now attract a white-winger to the Patch - after all there's an Iceland Gull that's visiting Farmoor regularly.

So all in all it's great finally to have the Patch back in full working order ready for the start of the new year list.

There haven't been many photo opportunities of late but I did manage to spot this Kingfisher by the Trap Ground allotments the other day

10th December

Another couple of weeks have gone by and there's not been much change on the Meadow. The "floods" are still just about hanging on though we've still had precious little rain. In fact I'm rather hoping that all this snow will finally make a difference to the water levels once it melts.

Since I last posted the BARNACLE GEESE have been seen in the fields between Wytham and the Thames on one day. Talking of geese, I forgot to mention an interesting sighting that I had a while back: I'd just got up and had popped my head out the window to see what the weather was like when a flock of size geese caught my attention as they flew low over the neighbouring roof tops. This is nothing unusual: as we live so close to the Meadow we're always getting Greylag and Canada geese fly over the house but these looked a bit different somehow though I couldn't quite place them. I could only see them in silhouette and they just called once which made me think of Pink-footed Geese. Had they called again then I would have known for sure but as they stand they'll just have to be "possibles".

The Wytham Barnacle Geese courtesy of Gordon Gray
On the floods there has been a REDSHANK one day and we had our first proper flock of Teal with fifty birds there one day. Lapwing are the main residents there at present with numbers varying between 20 and 30 odd and there was a small flock of about ten Golden Plover in the grass just north of the boats one morning. Adrian Grey reported a few Wigeon finally up in Wolvercote so at least we can tick this species off for this winter (who thought that I would be saying that in December?). In my garden I've still been getting regular visits from my female Blackcap and talking of over over-wintering warblers, I did see a Chiffchaff in the Trap Grounds one morning.

The Kingfisher can still be seen regularly down by the river

So, all in all, still desperately quiet and we really need some prolonged rain to revive the birding at what is normally a very productive time of year.

Tuesday 28th November

The embryonic floods are still with us - we've had just enough rain to keep them alive though not to extend them to any degree. Lapwing and Black-headed Gull have making use of them with numbers of the former gradually increasing over the last couple of weeks to a count of 29 today. The highlight as far as the floods have been concerned was the arrival of a single BLACK-TAILED GODWIT today, hanging out with the Lapwing. This bird is relatively common over the winter period, being one of the four waders (alongside Dunlin, Redshank and occasionally Ruff) that often pop in during the season.

The Black-tailed Godwit was feeding very actively whilst I was there
Apart from that there has been precious little to report. Apart from the birds already mentioned the Meadow area itself is still playing host to Linnets, Starlings and Meadow Pipits. A Kestrel has taken up residence in the southern half of the Meadow, regularly being spotted on the Railway Field or near the Castle Mill Strea/Willow Walk area. One bird of note was the re-emergence of what looks like last month's STONECHAT, still hanging out near the Aristotle Lane footpath exit area.

It was nice to see the Stonechat again

In my garden there have been increasing numbers of Redwing feeding on my holly berries, a Coal Tit occasionally visiting my feeders and I've had several Blackcaps visiting (both male and female) taking advantage of some small purple berries. 

So all in all, as far as the Meadow is concerned, there is just enough to keep me occupied though we really need some decent rain to reform the floods and attract back the winter ducks (as well as the gulls of course!).

Saturday 18th November

At last we've got some water on the Meadow! Whilst at this stage they are very embryonic floods, still it's enough to attract some birds back to the area again. It was about a couple of weeks ago that some rain finally tipped the balance in the water table and a thin sliver of water was formed at the northern end as well as a small pool by the Aristotle Lane entrance. I decided to pay a visit to see whether any birds had been attracted to the area and I was rewarded with a good haul. To start with there was a mixed flock of several hundred Greylags and Canada Geese all looking very much at home. Add to the mix a large number of Starlings, lots of Pied Wagtails and a dozen or so Lapwings and it was all looking great! I was just admiring the assembled throng when a dog walker decided to walk right through the centre of them putting every last bird up! This did at least flush ten or so Wigeon which I'd not spotted (only having my bins with me) who flew around making their distinctive calls before heading off elsewhere. Finally a flock of 25 Golden Plover made a low pass over the area, the first I'd seen in a while.

Young Lapwing on the floods
I've been visiting regularly since though there's not been much else of note apart from a brief brace of Teal and some loafing gulls (mostly Black-headed with one or two Lesser Black-backed). We did get our first waders in a long while in the form of a Dunlin and a also a Redshank (found by Ton Yeh) - it's nice to have these Meadow specialities back on the patch again. There was a brief flurry of interest when Martin Gebauer found four WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, though these turned out to be the usual, somewhat dodgy feral birds that have been knocking around for a number of years. They are somewhat darker than you'd expect and on some of them the white on their faces extends further up the forehead than normal so I think that there is some mixed parentage in there somewhere along the line.

The Dunlin
The "dodgy" White-fronted Geese
Other bits and bobs to report include the Little Grebe still about on the Castle Mill Stream, a Little Egret hanging out by the river as well as regular sightings of the Kingfisher. Finally a small flock of BRAMBLING, a real patch rarity, were seen by Nick Boyd along the river on Friday. Another Patch year tick no less!

Little Egret in a tree

What we really need is a lot more rain to take the floods to the next stage because as it stands they will soon dry out again. Sadly though it's been an unusually dry autumn so far and as yet there's no substantial rain on the horizon.

6th November - Great White Egret

At last a noteworthy bird to report! Nick Boyd spotted a GREAT WHITE EGRET that was loitering briefly in the north east corner of the Meadow near Wolvercote railway bridge just after 3 pm this afternoon. Apparently it flew south over Godstow Road onto the Meadow, spent a few minutes foraging on the grass and then flew off south west.

Whilst Great White Egrets aren't the rarity that they once were and indeed look set to be colonising the country in the same way that Little Egrets did, they are still a good bird to see, certainly on the Meadow which is not really ideally suited for this species. Given our current lack of water and the consequent dearth of good birds, there's a real possibility that this could end up being our Patch bird of the year.

No photos from Nick so here's a photo of a Great White Egret that I saw recently down in Dorset

3rd November

It's been exactly a month since my last update which sadly says it all really. It's been an unusually dry October which means that there's no sign of the floods at all. Still, there have been a few bits and pieces that are worthy of note and there's a general trend of increasing winter birds about.

I've been hearing SISKINS about the place of late, a sure sign of the changing season. There was also the first Golden Plover of the autumn which I flushed from the rank vegetation at the southern end of the Meadow and a short while later I put up the first SNIPE of autumn as well. Seven Lapwing were also about today though whether they'll stay given the lack of water remains to be seen. Apart from that there are increasing Meadow Pipits about and regular Skylarks flying over though I've not really seen the Linnet flock for a while now. Whilst other locations have plenty of Redwings about, I've personally yet to see or even hear any about the Meadow though it shouldn't be long though before they're back. Incidentally, it's worth keeping an eye out for Hawfinches in amongst flying Redwing flocks as there's been a major irruption of continental birds this year with loads of sightings within the county - most unusual! The NUTHATCH is still about near Medley Farm - I heard it piping away the other day.

The under-appreciated Meadow Pipit

On the wildfowl front, the lack of water has meant that there's precious little to report. The regular Home Counties BARNACLE GEESE, which in past years have visited the Meadow each winter, have been frequenting Farmoor instead though on one occasion I did see what was almost certainly them flying over the north end before landing in one of the fields north of the A34. I spotted the LITTLE GREBE back in its usual corner of the Castle Mill Stream yesterday, so it's nice to have it around. I also saw a COOT down by the boat moorings - this is a surprisingly rare bird on the Meadow, where it's usually Moorhen that I see.

Very little to report on the gull front though there was a single COMMON GULL in amongst the Black-headed Gulls down by the river this morning.

The Common Gull
The highlight of the month, however was yesterday when I spotted a STONECHAT being harrassed by a Dunnock down at the end of the new Aristotle Lane footbridge. This species hasn't become very rare on the Meadow, ever since the very harsh winters a few years ago decimated the population and it's a real Patch rarity these days. So at last another year list tick to celebrate.

A Grey Heron skulking along the banks of the Castle Mill Stream

3rd October

So that's September finished and now that we've passed the equinox we're officially into Autumn and the nights are drawing in. There's still no flood water on the Meadow though after the recent rain there were at least a few small puddles for a few days. On the birding front there's been little of note and the most exciting event was on the 18th when I came across a very large flock of YELLOW WAGTAILS - there were at least 35 of them and it could well have been as high as 50. They were all in amongst the cattle which, unusually, were right down at the southern end. Despite carefully sifting through them all I couldn't find anything unusual in amongst them but this is definitely a record count for the Meadow at least for as long as I've been birding it. 

Just one of the big flock of Yellow Wagtails
Apart from that the most interest as far as birding is concerned is finding the roving mixed tit flocks. It's always exciting trying to pick out the different species from these fast moving groups and there are usually Goldcrests, Treecreepers and Chiffchaffs to be found in amongst them. I do live in hope of a rarer Phyllosc (that's birder talk for Phylloscopus, the leaf warbler group) one of these days. You never know!

The Long-tailed Tits usually seem to form the core of any roving tit flock
On the insect front we're at the end of the dragonfly season now though there have been plenty of Migrant Hawkers around and there are still some red Darters to be seen. 

A recent Migrant Hawker

Steve Goddard has been mothing away up in Wolvercote and in the last couple of weeks he caught the much sought after (and wonderfully named) Merveille du Jour which I went to pay homage to.

The aptly named Merveille du Jour moth

There's not much to report on the flower front either but I've been doing some more rummaging around and have managed to find some more Creeping Marshwort tucked away in various places.

13th September

Now that autumn is upon us I've been making a bit more of an effort with the patch. I've been walking over to the cattle, which are very often a fair way into the Hinterland area, to check out the YELLOW WAGTAIL. There have been up to 20 of these birds all feeding away at the feet of the livestock looking for flies that have been disturbed. The main thing that I look out for in amongst the Yellows is the possibility of a Blue-headed Wagtail. This is the continental form of this species and the past few autumns I've managed to find one. Fortunately this time around I managed to find yet another BLUE-HEADED WAGTAIL, yet again a female - the very white throat and upper breast are diagnostic for this sub-species.

Female Blue-heded Wagtail

There was a juvenile HOBBY kicking around the southern end of the Meadow for a few days last week, hunting Swallows and Martins I guess. It was nice to see this bird hanging around for a while. Lapwing numbers are still in single figures - we really need to have some more rain so that the floods reform. Meadow Pipits are back on the Meadow now and Linnet numbers are building up.

A Kingfisher down by the boat moorings

Along the Castle Mill stream there have been plenty of dragonflies with Southern Hawker, Brown Hawker and Migrant Hawker all seen as well as both red Darter species.

Southern Hawker

31st August

I can't quite believe that it's been so long since my last post, my apologies for that. The truth is that there hasn't been a great deal to post about though of course the usual insects and plants are about in the usual places and they're always nice to see.

On the bird front, without the flood water we're left looking around for scraps. By far the most interesting news was the find by Tom Bedford of a male REDSTART (a patch year tick no less) up near Godstow lock. I did go to look for it the next day but sadly there was no sign of it. Apart from that the most noticeable thing has been the shift to "Autumn Mode" in the bird world: tits are now moving around in large feeding flocks, the Swifts have left Jericho already (indeed they were gone by the start of the month) and House Martins are gathering in large flocks overhead as well. In the hedgerows there is a steady trickle southwards of juvenile warblers, mostly Chiffchaffs though I did have a Blackcap in the garden today. I've been keeping an eye out for Yellow Wagtails in amongst the livestock though I've not personally seen any so far this half of the year. On the Meadow itself the Linnet flock is already impressively large and the first Lapwings are now starting to gather in their post-breeding flock.

The first of the post-breeding Lapwings are back on the Meadow

Insects are still around in good numbers with a regular Souther Hawker dragonfly visiting my garden and in the Trap Grounds and along the Castle Mill Stream there are plenty of Common and Ruddy Darters and Brown Hawkers. I've not personally seen any Migrant Hawkers yet but I expect that they are around if one cares to look.

Male Ruddy Darter
On the plant front, the Hawthorn trees are starting to change colour already and many of the plants have gone over though there is still some Chicory and Purple Loosestrife along the river. I did have a little look for Creeping Marshwort on the Meadow itself and though it's quite hard to pick out I did manage to find a few clumps.

Creeping Marshwort - still hanging on though as the floods ended early this year there's been more competition from other plants
Looking ahead, this transition to autumn mode is going to carry on apace over the coming weeks. The next big change will be if/when the floods return: then we can expect the winter duck back as well as some lovely gulls.

Thursday 13th July

In a fit of enthusiasm I went for a run up to Godstow last weekend. I didn't take my camera so only had my phone (hence the poor picture quality) but there were a few interesting things to see along the way which I thought that I'd share. They were mostly of a botanical nature but it is July after all so there's not much else about at present.

Chicory always adds a bit of colour at this time of year

A Comma butterlfy showing the white underwing mark that gives it its name.

Good King Henry, growing by the nunnery ruins at Godstow

I hadn't realised that Himalayan Balsam grew along the riverside here. It's a bit of a pest once it gets established but I've not seen it here before

Marbled White on Black Horehound

Birthwort (nationally a rare plant) growing behind the nunnery

Monday 3rd July

I can't believe that it's been more than a month since my last posting so to all expectant readers I'm sorry about that. There's been plenty of stuff to report albeit nothing out of the ordinary. In view of the long interval since my last post I'll endeavour to do a fairly comprehensive summary of what's going on presently.

This is probably the section with least to report. With no flood waters it's really just a case of enjoying the summer visitors and following the progress of the breeding birds as they try to bring up their offspring. In fact the most noteworthy report this month was a couple of LITTLE EGRETS feeding down by the boat moorings recently. Common Tern have been feeding along the river and the usual hirundines and Swifts have been about. I've kept a look out for Hobbies but so far haven't seen any.

The two Little Egrets were catching lots of fish fry

With help from Will Langdon, we've managed to find a total of six BEE ORCHIDS within Burgess Field though the council's policy of mowing the paths at this time of year doesn't exactly help the cause. Still it's good to see this species holding its own in the reserve. It's a shame that we no longer have the Pyramidal Orchids in the Trap Grounds - there used to be quite a few of them a few years back but I've not seen any for quite a while.

Bee Orchid

One of my pet botanical obsessions is looking at weeds growing in unlikely places and the recent works down by the Aristotle footbridge, whilst being highly distruptive and leaving what is quite frankly a bit of an eye-sore in its wake, have had an effect in this respect. The imported soil that they used to construct the bank opposite Phil & Jim's school must have been full of seeds as all sorts of interesting weeds have sprung up along the bank there. I'll report more on this in another post.

The Tubular Water Dropwort is out in good numbers and I managed to find the Wild Clary down at the southern end of the flood area once again this year.

Tubular Water Dropwort

Wild Clary
As you'd expect at this time of year there is plenty of insect action. The Common Clubtail only ended up staying a couple of days but the Hairy Hawker stayed around for longer. It was great to see this latter species in the Trap Grounds as this is, to my knowledge, the first year that this species has been recorded here. In the Trap Grounds I saw my first Brown Hawker of the year today and also spotted a newly emerged Four Spotted Chaser in Tim's Pond. Ruddy and Common Darters are now also about - it's nice to have them back again.

Hair Hawker

Down by the river there has been a fair bit of Odonata action with a Black-tailed Skimmer, a couple of Emperors and a pair of Four Spots all seen. There have also of course been all the usual damselflies with Common, Azure, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed all to be found along the Castle Mill Stream along with the ever-exotic Banded Demoiselles.

Black-tailed Skimmer

On the butterfly front the Marbled Whites and Ringlets are out now, especially the latter in the Trap Grounds. I've not looked for the Small and Essex Skippers in Burgess Field yet but they should be out now too.

So all in all it's an exciting time of year with lots happening. I'll endeavour to post more frequently going forward.