20th March

It's now officially spring and we've had the first spring migrant to prove it! Today I went for a run on the Meadow and managed to flush a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER along the East Shore. It didn't fly very far but as I didn't have my bins with me I couldn't relocate it. Later on in the day I came back for a more detailed look but it was nowhere to be seen.

There have been a couple of other year ticks to report as well. The first was the surprisingly late addition of Great Crested Grebe to the list. Normally these are about on the river pretty much all year but yesterday on the river just by the sailing club was the first that I've seen this year. The second tick was two separate sightings of BLACK-TAILED GODWIT. The first was a singleton seen by Ben Sandford-Smith a couple of days ago and the second record was a party of five birds that Andrew Siantonas found yesterday. Usually I'd expect to get this species on the list over the winter period so they're a bit late this year.

One of the joys of patch birding is getting excited by common stuff such as this Great Crested Grebe here

Apart from that there have been two or three Oystercatchers about, as well as three Redshank, 1 Dunlin and up to 12 Shelduck. For the first time today in a while we had a decent 100+ flock of Golden Plover. They're all moulting into their summer finery and are looking a bit tatty at the moment as they transition.

One of the regular Oystercatchers

12th March

There's a definite "end of season" feel to the gulling on the Meadow now. For one thing it's got really hard with a lot of the birds all looking frustratingly similar now and a lot of mongrel birds starting to put in an appearance. What's more, with the longer days it means that I'm no longer able to visit right at the peak pre-dusk time so it's no longer so productive. We've still managed to have one more good new gull in the form of a different adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL that eagled-eyed Thomas Miller picked out from the roost and one of the "usual" Caspian Gulls did pop in on one occasion.

The new Med Gull courtesy of Thomass Miller

Some video of the same bird

We've had good numbers of SHELDUCK hanging around still, with 12 there yesterday. We've also had a couple of OYSTERCATCHERS about most days as well as up to four REDSHANK. On occasions we've had some reasonable Golden Plover and one evening I counted several hundred along the shoreline, reminiscent of the good old days for this species.

The recent spell of ridiculously hot weather had been looking very promising for early spring migrants though the change to this very windy and indeed stormy period has rather put the kibosh on all that. Nevertheless with the first spring migrants starting to be seen in the county now (one flock of Sand Martins and a Little Ringed Plover) it's getting time to turn our thoughts in that direction. Who knows, we might well snaffle an early spring migrant (probably one of those two species) ourselves sometime soon.

26th February

What amazing weather - it's more like summer than late winter! I keep expecting to see Swallows and Sand Martins about as I look through the gull roost each evening.Despite the hot weather the gulling hasn't been too bad though rather tellingly numbers have started to decline dramatically over the last couple of days. What's more, the floods are starting to shrink rather alarmingly in this hot weather so we really need some good prolonged rain to top them up again.

Still we've had another couple of good gulls to add to the tally of what has been a remarkably good couple of months on that front. Firstly there was a huge adult CASPIAN GULL and secondly a lovely adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL. The latter species traditionally has a spring passage through the county in March so it looks like that has come early this year. In fact we've now had 7 different Caspian Gulls and two Mediterranean Gulls as well as countless Yellow-legged Gulls just since the start of the year - it's been a remarkable gulling season.

Adult Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
Adult Mediterranean Gull

We've finally started to get some wader action now with up to 8 REDSHANK around the floods, and this evening the OYSTERCATCHER tally had gone up to 3. A single DUNLIN (a year tick) has been around the last couple of days and to top all that we had a brief visit by a CURLEW (a less than annual visitor to the Meadow) though it didn't linger. 

Curlew courtesy of Thomas Miller
In other news Mary MacDougall reported a couple of GREY PARTRIDGE on the Patch as well. As this species actually bred here last year I'm deliberately being vague about the exact location but it's great to have them back again.

18th February

The much milder weather has brought on the first signs of spring in the bird world. Whilst it's still too early for any actual summer migrants we've had a couple of species on the floods which I typically associated with very early spring, namely OYSTERCATCHERS and SHELDUCK. There was one of the former on Friday with the number going up to two over the weekend along with three of the latter species. Whilst we already have Shelduck on the year list, it's around this time of year that they start to be seen on the floods.

The first Oystercatcher of the year

There was also a report of a STONECHAT on the scrub north of the Perch this week from Sam Watson. Since the two extremely cold winters that we had a while back this species has gone from a guaranteed record each year to something much harder to get so it's nice to have one seen on the Patch so early on in the year.

On the gulling front, it's been much quieter this week. I visited each evening from Monday through to Thursday with precious little reward for my efforts apart from a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. Then Thomas Miller took over for the weekend and his keen eyes managed to pick out a couple of CASPIAN GULLS, both birds that we've seen earlier on in the month here.

The warmer weather has brought out the first BRIMSTONE butterflies to various local gardens (including my own) and the first bees are now buzzing about as well. With all the talk being of a record breakingly hot year this year, we might well have a very mild and early spring this year.

I forgot to mention that Dave Doherty found a male POCHARD on the floods this week. As is usually the case with diving ducks they tend not to linger too long once they discover how shallow and fishless the waters are and it was soon gone. Still as a less than anuual visitor it is a good record for the Meadow.

Lost Your Binoculars?

A heavy pair of binoculars -- in good condition apparently, except for a broken strap -- has been found on the Meadow and left on the corner house of Longworth and Southmoor Roads. If you'd like to claim them then please telephone 511474.

11th February

The windy weather, with Storm Eric, brought in a brief purple patch on the Meadow with some huge roosts towards and during the weekend with vast numbers of large gulls. The only trouble was that the wind often made for difficult viewing conditions. On Thursday in very blowy conditions there were at least 4 YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS in the throng and a flock of 200 of the BARNACLE GEESE came in to roost, one of the higher counts for this flock for quite a while. To add to this there were 100 GOLDEN PLOVER, again one of the largest counts that we've had for quite a while. On Saturday Thomas Miller struck gold with no less than 3 CASPIAN GULLS, a 1st winter, a 2nd winter and the 3rd winter from a few weeks back. On Sunday the roost again huge but he reported that it was too windy to do it much justice. This week, in much calmer conditions, the large numbers have now melted away and it's back to more modest numbers.

The three Caspian Gulls, courtesy of Thomas Miller

There are a couple more ticks to report: Kingfishers have been reported to me on a couple of occasions now along the river (it was only a matter of time) and Thomas Miller also had the first PINTAIL of the year a few evenings back.

6th February

Now that we've got through the cold snowy patch and back to milder windier weather, the gulling is back on track. Our first winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL is still being seen most evenings as well as a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (1w, 3w and adult this evening) and we've had a REDSHANK pop in on a few occasions as well. However, after last month's amazing tally of four different Caspian Gulls, so far this month we've not had any.

We also had our first LITTLE EGRET of the year this evening: working its way along the ditch down by the boat moorings.Also a drake TUFTED DUCK on the floods this evening was a most unusual sight. Whilst this common diving duck can usually be found up at the Wolvercote Lakes, we only normally see it down at the south end of the Meadow when it's frozen or the floods are in Lake Mode so this was a notable record.

The most stand-out record since my last post was an amazing sighting of a KNOT up at Wolvercote Common just south of the allotments by Colm O Caomhanaigh on a very snowy 2nd February. I can only guess that it was grounded by the weather and with everything frozen had just decided to tough it out where it was until it thawed - I hope that it got through it all OK. Knot is less than annual on the Meadow so is a good record to get on the books.

I forgot to post this picture of a pair of Goosander on the Castle Mill Stream from a week or two ago

With the Snowdrops and Crocuses now coming out and the milder weather one can't help but start to turn one's thoughts towards Spring though we've still got a fair way to go yet before we can start to think about the first spring arrivals. In the meantime it will have to be gulls to keep us going through the month!

31st January

So that's the first month out of the way. Looking back it's not been too bad really. It's always fun to chase around after the usual winter birds to get them on the year list and the gulling has been excellent this month. Since my last post we've managed to notch up yet another CASPIAN GULL, this time a fine 3rd winter that Thomas Miller found last Saturday. In addition the usual (presumably) 1st winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL popped in again last Friday. However, since the recent spell of cold weather the floods have been completely frozen and I've not bothered with the roost.

3rd Winter Caspian Gull (courtesy of Thomas Miller)
For those who struggle with Caspian Gulls, it's the bird who's head is right in the centre of the picture

The 1st winter Med Gull

Apart from that there's not been anything of particular note.

Now that we've got to the end of the first month I'm going to start posting a "Wanted List" of things that haven't been seen yet that I would expect to be about somewhere. So please let me know if you see any of the following:

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Little Egret
Lesser Redpoll

21st January

I did the January WeBS Count (Wetland Bird Survey) for the Meadow today. Numbers were rather low for some reason, I'm not sure quite why. Still we had our first REDSHANK of the year and I put up 3 SNIPE from the rough grass between the floods and the river. Apart from that there were no surprises. Exact count tallies are below:

Wigeon 655
Teal 53
Mallard 10
Moorhen 9
Canada Geese 138
Greylag Geese 6
Grey Heron 1
Cormorant 1
Redshank 1
Snipe 3
Black-headed Gull 60
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1

Apart from that, it's mostly been about the gulling which has continued to be excellent. The injured first winter CASPIAN GULL has been around most evenings and we've had a first winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL turn up two or three times as well. Thomas Miller has been finding many of these birds - it's great to have a fellow laridophile to keep an eye on the roost.

The 1st winter Med. Gull, courtesy of Thomas Miller
As far as other species are concerned, there have been up to three SHELDUCK on the floods this week. I also spotted my first Fieldfare of the year in the hedgerow bordering the allotments. Away from the Meadow itself, I have been wandering around the Trap Grounds seeking out the usual suspects for the year list. I managed to hear a squealing WATER RAIL in the reedbed and spotted a fine pair of Bullfinches along the side stream. I also found an over-wintering CHIFFCHAFF by the canal next to the Frenchay Road bridge. To round things off, Steve Goddard had a Grey Wagtail up at the Wolvercote end as well.

The floods could do with a bit of a top-up, this settled high pressure system is making for a rather dry spell of weather.

15th January 2019

So the first couple of weeks of the New Year have gone by and the year list is steadily accumulating. What have we had so far then? On New Year's Day the flock of 100+ BARNACLE GEESE flew in at last light (I'd already left by then but heard them come in and Steve Goddard was on site to confirm this). They subsequently have visited on a second evening as well - it's good that they are becoming so regular now. Apart from that on the water fowl front it's just been the usual Wigeon and Teal. Adrian Gray has confirmed Coot and Tufted Duck up at the Gullet and we've had Shoveller but not yet any Pintail though that should be just a matter of time.

The main action (for me at least) has been on the gull front with the reasonably sized flood hosting quite good roost sizes. We've been blessed with three different CASPIAN GULLS already so far: two first winters and a second winter, the latter being found by Thomas Miller this evening. One of them came for four or five consecutive evenings in a row but although originally fine, now appears to have a badly damaged leg so is hopping around.

2w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Some video of the regular 1w Caspian Gull, which unfortunately now has only one usable leg

The highlight on the raptor front has to be a great sighting of a MERLIN zipping through up at the Wolvercote end of the Meadow. Seen well by Steve Goddard and another birder this is a great record for the Patch. There have been a few "probable's" during my time birding the area but this is the first confirmed sighting.

Apart from that I've just been going around winkling out the usual suspects for the year list from their usual haunts. A trip along the wildlife corridor stream near the Trap Grounds produced the hoped-for Reed Bunting at the start of the year and I've managed to find things like Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Siskin and Mistle Thrush and Steve Goddard up at Wolvercote has supplied Stock Dove and Tawny Owl. Nothing earth shattering but it's nice to get them on the list. In a week or two I'll posted a "wanted list" of stuff that's still yet to be seen but it seems a bit early for that as yet.

Reed Bunting

Review of 2018

Happy New Year! The turn of the year is of course traditionally a time to reflect on what has been and to look forward to what we might expect so I thought I'd do the usual review of the year. Both nationally and on a county level, 2018 was a rather poor year, certainly in terms of the number of different species recorded and indeed the county only managed 205 last year compared to a more usual tally of 215 or more. On the Meadow we mustered 124 which is a bit below the usual 130 level that I consider to be a good total though our year lists are very much at the mercy of the vagaries of the flood levels each year so there is a lot of variation in this number and all things considered 124 wasn't too bad. In terms of what we missed that we might have reasonably expected for "winter birds" we never got Lesser Redpoll, Curlew, Jack Snipe or Brambling and for summer birds Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers were both missing, as was Hobby (the first time since I've been birding the Meadow that this hasn't been on the list). We also failed to get many of the rarer county waders that we often get such as Grey Plover, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Stint or Ruff and we never got a Garganey either. 

So much for what we didn't get, what birds were actually seen last year? January started off well with a Stonechat spending a few weeks down at the southern end of the Meadow. With the floods in "Lake Mode" a Whooper Swan was a nice bonus bird at the start of the year. A brace of Woodcock in Burgess Field were an unusual find and on the gull front we were blessed with no less than three Caspian Gulls as well as an Iceland Gull.

The Whooper swan

The juvenile Iceland Gull

...and a gorgeous Caspian Gull

Once the excitement of the first month of the year has died down February can often be rather quiet but we did manage a single-observer Great White Egret that flew over the Trap Grounds as well as a second Iceland Gull on the floods. March saw an Avocet, a Mediterranean Gull and a long-staying Barn Owl as highlights.

Unfortunately the Avocet never got very close

April is always an exciting time of year with the welcome return of our summer visitors. On top of this we had a Sandwich Tern on the Meadow for the second year running. This is an annual visitor in modest numbers to the county but only the third record for the Meadow so was a really special bird. A Spotted Flycatcher and a Pink Footed Goose of unknown (and probably suspect) origin were also noteworthy.

A superb photo of the Sandwich Tern courtesy of Roger Wyatt (c)

May can often be a quiet month though it's also the top month of the first half of the year for something rarer to turn up. This indeed proved to be the case when in amongst a substantial "fall" of waders one evening a gorgeous female Red-necked Phalarope dropped in. This used to be an extremely rare county bird though a flurry of records over the last three years have somewhat taken the shine off it. Still, it's an absolute corker of a bird for the Meadow and is easily our Bird of the Year.

The gorgeous Red-necked Phalarope

We were quite well served with regards to flood waters for the first half of the year - the fact that they survived all the way until the end of May being critical for the record of the Phalarope but by June and the start of what turned out to be a very hot dry summer they were all gone. So it was to insects that Meadow watchers turned their attention.The summer months provided a Club-tailed Dragonfly by the river,  Emerald Damselflies on the Trap Grounds (a new species record), regular Brown Hairstreak sightings (also in the Trap Grounds) and the welcomed return of the Red-tipped Clearwing moth to the Trap Ground meadow area.

Club-tailed Dragonfly courtesy of Felicity Jenkins

Brown Hairstreak courtesy of Nicola Devine

As we moved into Autumn, sadly there was no sign of the floods and the birding was very quiet. In fact a fly-over Ring-necked Parakeet was the only noteworthy record. Finally, come November we started to get back some decent flood waters and the gulling could commence again. We had a long-staying Mediterranean Gull and another Caspian gull as the highlights of the roost and a Short-eared Owl on Burgess Field that I frustratingly personally never managed to get to see. Up in Wolvercote a Great White Egret spent a couple of days by the lake there, which was nice to see.

The Med Gull was seen for five consecutive evenings on the floods

Wolvercote Great White Egret
It was a quiet end to the year but at least we have some flood waters of a reasonable size to start of the New Year. It's time to throw out the old list and start all over again. I wonder what 2019 will bring.