23rd September: Cattle Egret!

There was a bit of excitment this afternoon when news broke of a Cattle Egret on Port Meadow! Unfortunately the news was about an hour old by the time I got to hear it but I wasted no time in hurrying down there along with Thomas Miller, Ollie Padget and Hugh Petter though we could find no obvious sign of it. It had originally been found by Andrew Siantonas at 3:15 pm on the river shoreline opposite the sailing club before it flew into a tree where he was able to get this nice photo of it.

Cattle Egret courtesy of Andrew Siantonas

It then proceeded to feed in amongst the cattle which were then at the southern end. Andrew left soon after at 3:30 pm because of the pouring rain.

By the time the rest of us turned up at around 4:30 pm, the cattle had all moved half way up the Meadow towards Wolvercote and there was, as I said, no obvious sign of it. We stood around scanning everywhere we could and found a Little Egret in a tree by the river but little else. As is usual in such situations with no sign of our target we soon started chatting about various birding matters instead. Finally at around 5:10 pm I had one final scan of a more distant herd of cattle which was right up in Wolvercote next to the car park there. I'd already scanned this herd several times but low and behold this time there was a white egret-sized blob in amongst them! By cranking the scope zoom up to 70x I was able to see glimpses of yellow on the bill though some of my companions only had bins and so couldn't see this detail. However almost as soon as it had been found it was flushed and started flying, fortunately towards us south along the river where we were all able to get reasonable flight views. It circled briefly at the southern end of the Meadow and we did hope that it might land again but instead it drifted off southwards once more and was lost to sight.

Flight shot courtesy of Thomas Miller

Cattle Egret is another egret species which is becoming increasingly common in the country though it lags far behind Great White in terms of colonisation. The first record was November 2008 at Day's Lock with the next twitchable one being January 2017 near Middleton Stoney. Since then there have been a few non-lingering records (such as this one was) and I'm sure that records will only continue to increase. This is the first record for Port Meadow and one which was very much anticipated though the degree of disturbance on the Meadow means that despite the tempting cattle herds, they are not likely to linger.

In other news, Nicola Devine reckons that there have been at least 6 Willow Emeralds on the Swan Pond and probably more like 10! Several mating pairs have been seen in various trees surrounding the pond which bodes well for next year. However, given the sudden change in the weather to far more autumnal fare it remains to be seen how much longer they'll last this year.



17th September

More good news to report from Port  Meadow! Firstly, after my post last week Nicola Devine pretty much immediately came up with a lovely Spotted Flycatcher in the Trap Grounds. It didn't hang around so only she saw it but she managed some photos. It's great to have this  bird on the year list.

Spotted Flycatcher courtesy of Nicola Devine

Nicola's eagle eyes have been keeping track on the Willow Emeralds within the Trap Grounds. There seem to be four in total, three males and a female who have now settled on the Swan Pond. Fortunately Nicola managed to spot one pair in tandem, presumably laying eggs. For this species eggs are laid in the bar of trees overhanging water. In the spring the eggs hatch and the larvae drop into the water where they hatch in the autumn ready to restart the cycle. The Trap Grounds is an ideal location for them with lots of overhanging Willows around the main Swan Pond. In addition there are also some ideal Willows on the canal nearby so there's plenty of room for expansion. Let's hope that this year's pioneers are able to establish a colony going forward.

Egg laying Willow Emeralds courtesy of Nicola Devine

Also on the bird front I've been noticing a lot more overhead movement early morning when I've been unpacking the moth trap. I regularly hear Siskins going over as well as Meadow Pipits and finches. Generally things seem a lot more active as the cold weather starts to creep in. On the Meadow itself the winter Linnet flock is starting to accumulate as are the Meadow Pipits. In addition Kim Polgreen reported a Wheatear on the Meadow recently.

Opportunistic Sparrowhawk

On a walk around the block this evenign my wife and I came across this opportunistic Sparrowhawk. It was along Southmoor Road where there is a large colony of House Martins nesting. I think that it had noticed all the tasty snacks that were hidden in the nests under the eaves and was hoping to  surprise one as it came out. I don't know if it was successful or not but it was great to see this handsome bird so close up.

I'm continuing to do my mothing on a daily basis. The first two weeks of September are usually pretty rubbish with just the same species being found every day but now that we're into the second half of the month things have started to pick up. There are some lovely orange and yellow moths called Sallows which mimic autumn leaf colours that can be found at this time of year but so far I've yet to catch any.

Lunar Underwing - one of the commoner species at this time of year





8th September

Now that we're back into Autumn, posting frequency should pick up somewhat. There is certainly quite a bit to report since last time. 

To start with Nick Boyd has been making more trips up to King's Lock where he disovered both a Cetti's Warbler and also a Whinchat (both year ticks). There is a certain amount of fudging that goes on in terms of where exactly the patch boundaries lie but as Nick visits King's Lock regularly and it doesn't obviously fall within any other patch boundaries I'm more than happy to include such sightings under the Port Meadow banner.

There have also been a number of Siskin sightings over the last few days and I've been noticing several groups flying about. Apparently it was a very good breeding year for this species and they are now starting to move south in good numbers. This is good news, not least because until now it was still missing from our year list.

Our long-staying Redstart has sadly now departed though there are still plenty of warblers passing through there, mostly Whitethroats and Chiffchaff.

Whitethroat

There are good numbers of Yellow Wagtails in amongst the cattle on the Meadow: it's always worth rummaging through then for something more interesting. When I last checked I estimated that there were 16 present I've had much larger peak counts in previous years and over in Otmoor they are getting 100+ figures going to roost in the reedbed there.

One of the Yellow Wagtails

However, the highlight since my last post was the discovery by Nicola Devine of the first ever record of Willow Emerald damselfly on the patch. I've been flagging this up as a possibility for a while now and with an influx in the county this summer it was certainly on the cards - the habitat at the Trap Grounds looks perfect for them. Nicola found one high up in the trees on Monday over the Heron pond though it didn't linger for long. The next day I found it (or another) in a much more convenient location resting on some overhanging Willow (appropriately enough!) by the main viewing area of the main (Swan) pond. If we can get an egg laying female on the site then I would hope that a new colony would spring up here.

Willow Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine...

...and a photo of my own of it

With the autumn passage well underway but still with no water it's going to be more Stonechats and Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts and Tree Pipit to look out for. The Flycatcher we still need for the year in fact though we've already recorded all the others this year. Of course we could also get something rarer: who knows, we might even luck in on a Wryneck!


1st September

With the present "Indian Summer" weather you really feel that nature is holding its breath ready for the tubble down into unsettled weather and colder days ahead. Of course in the birding world we are already well into autumn.

After the quiet summer doldrums (at least on the bird front) August saw a noticeable increase in bird activity with warblers starting to work their way south through Burgess Field. The highlight of the month was a lovely female type Redstart which I found in the middle of the month just before I went away on holiday for a couple of weeks. Imagine my surprise when on my return at the end of the month it was still there in exactly the same place. Of course birds on the return passage can often linger somewhere that they find to their liking: they're not being driven by an urge to find territory and mate.

The long staying Redstart

Yellow Wagtails are once again back on the Meadow. Indeed this time of year is the best for seeing this colourful wagtail as they work their way around the cattle herd picking off flies that are disturbed by the cattle's feet. It's always worth scrutinising the birds carefully for the continental Blue-headed subspecies.

We're getting towards the end of  the Odonata season but Nicola Devine has be busy with her camera checking out the Trap Grounds on a regular basis. With Willow Emerald now starting to establish itself in the county I'm hoping that we'll soon have one of these rapid colonists in the Trap Grounds where there are plenty of overhanging Willows for them to use for their egg laying.

Common Darter courtesy of Nicola Devine

Despite the lack of flood waters we did have a single wader report recently when Matthew Lloyd found a Common Sandpiper working its way along the river shoreline. Having said that, the recent storms have left a couple of boggy patches on the Meadow: too small to be called "floods" but if we can get more rain then they might start to grow and attract some birds to them.Until then it's going to be passage passerines that will hold the main interest. I'm personally on the hunt for Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchat though more Redstarts and perhaps even a Tree Pipit are certainly on the cards. Roll on autumn!



31st July

I thought that I'd do an end of month update to round up what's been happening on the patch. Despite the time of year, there have actually been quite a few good things to report.

I'll kick off with birds where I've personally been distinctly neglectful but other more enthusiastic members of the Port Meadow team have been out and about finding stuff. By far and away the best record and indeed even a possible candidate for bird of the year was a Quail that was heard calling by Nick Boyd on Burgess Field at midnight. It called four times but not again so I am wondering if it was actually flying over and calling - something that apparently they do do (see Gavin Haig's "Not Quite Scilly" blog here). It's been a good year for Quail in the county but I never thought we'd get a record on the Meadow! Mind you, I never expected a Ring Ouzel either, so you just never know!

The second birding record was another report of a Little Owl by Nick along the northern boundary of Burgess Field. With two records now in this area, they may well be resident in this area - worth keeping an eye out for them then.

I've been spending most of my time mothing of late. It's always exciting to start the day unpacking the trap to see what's turned up. One day recently on top of the trap I came across a rather unassuming micro. I couldn't find it in the field guide which either means you've stumbled on something truly rare, or more usually, you're just being dense. So I asked my go to moth ID expert, Sean Foote (@MothIDUK on Twitter) and he came back with Zelleria oleastrella which I'd never even heard of so in this instance it was actually the "truly rare" option after all! It turns out to be an immigrant moth with fewer than a dozen national records and a first for the county (well more strictly VC23 which is the legacy county boundary that is still used for mothing). Its larvae mine Olive leaves so it's most likely route into the country is via imported Olive trees. It's not often that you get a county first when mothing!


Zelleria oleastrella - a real national Mega & county first!

Apart from that there's not been anything else that unusual on the mothing front though with my more concerted efforts than usual I'm catching lots of "new for garden" species to extend my rather modest garden moth list.

Also on the insect front, Nick Boyd has been seeing lots of Glow Worms in Burgess Field. Apparently numbers are diminishing now as we reach the end of the month so I guess we're at the end of their season but it's great to know that they're around here. Next year I must make an effort to try and see them.

There are plent  of the usual Odonata about and Migrant Hawkers are now starting to turn up in the county. Below are a couple of photos courtesy of the eagle-eyed Nicola Devine.

Female Emerald Damselfly courtesy of Nicola Devine


Southern Hawker courtesy of Nicola Devine

9th July

I see that it's been over a month since my last post. This is of course a reflection of the quieter time of year that we now find ourselves in. It's also a reflection on the fact that I am presently much busier than in the past so am not so easily able to get out during the week. So this post is a round up of the various snippets of news from the last month.

Firstly on the birding front there has been very little news. The resident and summer visiting breeders have all been busy trying to raise their young which can be seen blundering around the place as they learn to master their environment.

A young Reed Warbler blundering around in the reeds

There was one piece of good bir news: Nicky Boyd has been hearing a Grasshopper Warbler up just past the Trout Inn near the ring road. Whilst the bird I think was located just outside the ring road it could apparently be heard from Godstow Nunnery and in any event we've counted bird for the year list just past the ring road in the past so it's going to be a very welcome tick.

As we're now into summer it's all about the insects and flowers now. The usual butterfly species are now on the wing with all three skipper species to be found on the patch as well as Marbled Whites and Ringlets.

A Marbled White

On the odonata front there have been some exciting finds in the county in the last month with a colony of Southern Migrant (Blue-eyed) Hawkers on Otmoor and a colony of Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies up near Banbury. Sadly neither of these rarities have yet to be found on Port Meadow or the Trap Grounds but it's not beyond the realms of possibility. Another one to look out for is Willow Emerald (though it's still a bit early for them) which is spreading rapidly across the country and which was seen for the first time last year in the county not too far away in Whytham Wood. So plenty to look out for! In the meantime we've had to make do with the usual species which are of course just as enjoyable as ever.

Male Azure Damselfly in the Trap Grounds

Blue-tailed Damselfly in the Trap Grounds

A female Emperor in the Trap Grounds

Red-eyed Damselfly on the Castle Mill Stream

There have been some snippets of botanical interest in the last month. I managed to find a Pyramidal Orchid in the unmown field between the sailing club and Binsey village. However, the most exciting news was the find of some Common Broomrape growing in some Musk Thistle at the south east corner of the Meadow. Broomrape is a parasitic species which taps into the roots of a host species and takes its nutrients from there. For this reason they don't have any chlorophyl and so are often rather strange colours. To my (admittedly limited) knowledge this is the first record of this species on the Meadow though I will check this with an expert.

Pyramidal Orchid near Binsey



Common Broomrape

So for the rest of July expect more of the same really. Things will start to change in the autumn when we can start to look for returning migrants though without any water it will have to be restricted to passerines in Burgess Field.

5th June

Since my last post and the drying up of the floods I must confess that I've  hardly been out to the Meadow. To be honest the hoards of people that are getting their exercise there make it a less pleasant location to visit and without the incentive of some good birds to find I've not made the effort. Still there have been a couple of snippets of bird news to report. The first was a real stroke of good fortune. One Sunday a couple of weeks ago I was relaxing with the family up in the bedroom on the top floor when our daughter, who was facing the Velux window said "Oh look, there's a big bird!". I popped my head out of the window and to my astonishment there was a Crane circling low over the house. It did a complete circuit at quite a low height before heading off to the south west. I can't say for certain but I didn't notice any rings on its legs as it circled. Either way it's an excellent record! Now we have had one record of a Crane last year in May up at the Wolvercote end so this isn't the first for the site but it's the first that I've personally seen.

The second good bit of bird news was a Little Owl which Ian Curtis saw at 7 a.m. one morning along the north end of Burgess Field in the Willows. This species is recorded less than annually on the Meadow so I'm very pleased to have it on the list.

My lack of visits to Burgess Field mean that I've not been keeping track of the butterflies there. We should be getting Marbled Whites and Ringlets in flight  now as well as the various Skipper species (we're lucky enough to get Essex and Small Skipper in Burgess Field). The trouble is that now that I'm working (albeit from home) during the week, it's harder for me to pop out during the day. Still there's been plenty of Odonata action from the Trap Grounds. Indeed Nicola Devine (the local Dragonfly whisperer!) has been excelling herself once again when she found the site's first ever Downy Emerald in trees around the Heron Pond. This species is rather localised in the county and hard to catch up with so it's great to have one added to the list. That now makes a total of 21 out of the possible 33 Oxon species that have been recorded in the Trap Grounds - a great statistic!

Downy Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine
All the other regular species, including a couple of Hairy Hawkers, have been seen in good numbers in the Trap Grounds, all taking advantage of what is perfect weather for them. You can enjoy loads more photos of them on the Trap Grounds Wildlife blog. Please note, my understanding is that sightings will soon be moving to a new dedicated website here.

Broad-bodied Chaser
For my part I've been enjoying my garden mothing, even adding a few new species to my modest garden list. There's not been anything spectacular in my catches though I've had three Poplar  Hawkmoths which are always impressive beasts to catch.

Popar Hawkmoth







19th May

On an evening visit to the Meadow today I found that the floods had finally completely dried so that marks the end of the spring passage season. There have been a few more snippets of interest to report: last week I had a good run of Little Ringed Plover each evening with counts of 3, 2, 4 and 1 on consecutive visits. There were also the usual Sheduck and one evening the Ruddy Shelduck pair were there as well which was nice to see. There's been a lone, rather sick looking Wigeon who was actually still there today, who has been loitering for the last few days. Apart from that it's the usual smattering of Black-headed Gulls and Pied Wagtails.

The two Ruddy Shelduck

Away from the floods there have been quite a few more Cuckoo reports. They've also centred around the canal area ranging from St Edwards playing fields down to the Trap Grounds area. It's actually turned out to be quite a good spring for them in the end.

For those who might be interested, I've done a review of the spring season on the Meadow on my other "Gnome's Birding Diary" blog. In  it, I give a countdown of the top 7 birds of the spring passage: if you want you can read it here.

So now that the birding season is drawing to a close it's time to turn our focus on flowers and insects. I'm still busy moth trapping away though so far without anything of particular interest. Nicola Devine has been taking some great photos of the Odonata life in the Trap Grounds which you can see on the Trap Grounds Wildlife blog as well as on the new Oxon Dragonflies blog. It will soon be time to start looking for Bee Orchids in Burgess Field once more as well as the emergence of our summer butterflies. There's still plenty to see out there!

Broad Bodied Chaser, courtesy of Nicola Devine.

8th May

The fact that it's been nearly a week since my last post tells you all you need to know about the  birding so far this month. Far from being the bonanza of rarities that I'd been hoping for, instead it's a been a light run of interest, with even that drying up to no more than a trickle over the last couple of days. The truth is that the weather is just too nice: any late passage migrants are just carrying on through rather than stopping. What's more the hot conditions are starting to take their toll on the floods - we've now lost half the southern leg already and are approaching the point where the floods split into two pools. 

Our Greenshank hung around for a couple more days at the start of the week and we had a good flock of 8 Ringed Plover one evening along with one or two Dunlin and a pair of Little Ringed Plover. Mid week a late Black-tailed Godwit popped in for a couple of days and unusually we had a fly-over Lapwing one morning. But, apart from the near resident Oystercatchers that's been about it on the wader front.


The Black-tailed Godwit on the floods

There's been a late smattering of Yellow Wagtails and another Wheatear was also seen working its way north along the Meadow. On the duck front there's been the usual gathering of Shelduck of varying numbers and interestingly there have been a few Egyptian Geese hanging around as well. On the warbler front a Sedge Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat both working their way northwards along the allotment hedge next to the floods were both nice to see this week. 

In Burgess Field the usual warblers are well established by now. I reckon that we have six warbler species on territory this year with just Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler missing from the common list of eight species that we might get.


Northwards on the Godstow to King's Lock stretch there have been a couple of Cuckoo sightings and there were also several Sedge Warblers seen there as well as several Egyptian Geese (probably the same ones which are popping in on the floods from time to time). Talking of Cuckoo's, one resident of Kingston Road heard one calling at close quarters just to the east, so very much in the residential area - a most unusual record! 

The Swifts are back in the area and are to be seen on a daily basis flying over the Meadow and surrounding areas. It's always lovely to have these "devil birds" screaming in the skies overhead.

As far as birds of prey are concerned, I had a Hobby fly low over my house one afternoon, just above roof-top height which was nice to see. My wife had a kettle of 6 Buzzards soarding over our house another afternoon as well though I didn't get to see it. Apart from that it's been the usual species though a resident Sparrowhawk has been giving good views on the Meadow of late.

Sparrowhawk with male Reed Bunting prey courtesy of Nick Boyd

Looking ahead, from what I remember of May records we're about in the last week of good possible sightings though the way things have been going I'm not holding my breath. What we really need is a good sudden downpour to bring down a fall though there's not a drop of rain forecast for the next couple of weeks. Failing that we're just going to have to hope that we get lucky somehow with something dropping in though to be honest I'm starting to get "patch fatigue" from checking out the same area for such a long time!

2nd May

And so we're into May already. The mere fact that it's May and we've got the floods still in tip top condition is indeed something to celebrate - it's been many years since this has happened. The last few days have been relatively quiet by comparison with previous ones but there's still been plenty to see. 

As far as waders are concerned, we've had a Greenshank with us for several days now. In addition there's been a reasonable count of smaller waders with up to 8 Dunlin along with a Ringed Plover and a couple of Little Ringed Plover. The usual Oystercatchers have been with us but that has more or less been it.



On the duck front apart from one or two Mallards there are none left now apart from the lingering Shelduck of various numbers. One of these seems to be rather unwell and spends lots of its time  asleep on the shore or looking miserable. We did have a single Egyptian Goose drop in one evening which  was more unusual. But perhaps the highlight on the duck front was a very brief visit by a pair of Ruddy Shelduck that Dan Miller managed to photograph. Sadly records of this smart looking species are generally considered to be feral escapes rather than genuinely wild birds.

Ruddy Shelduck courtesy of Dan Miller

Raptors haven't had a mention for quite a while now but Ollie Padget spotted a Peregrine and a Hobby (the latter being a year tick) together one evening. Dave Lowe also had a Hobby over Burgess Field the following morning. 

On the Warbler front they're all pretty much in now. I had a walk around Burgess Field early one morning in good weather and the bird song was amazing! There must be at least half a dozen Garden Warblers on territory there - it seems like a good year for them. There also seems to be a Willow Warbler breeding on the patch this year which is nice.


So what can be expect over the coming days? I've been racking my brains trying to remember what May birding is like with good floods. In general it gets quieter as many of the passage waders have already passed through. Dunlin and Ringed Plover are the staple sightings but we can look out for Knot, Sanderling and perhaps even a Turnstone (though Farmoor generally has the monopoly on this species). In general as the quantity diminishes so the quality goes up and there's more likelihood of something rarer being spotted. Possible candidates would include both Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis or Temminck's Stint. However, it's possible that we might end up with a non wader rarity: last year it was a Grey-headed Wagtail that stole the show and for some reason  I keep obsessing about a Hoopoe on the patch.

Rarities aside I strongly recommend getting out to Burgess Field early one morning as the bird song is at its peak right now. Be warned, it's all over by 9a.m. at the latest presently and it gets very quiet after that. What's  more soon it will stop much earlier as the birds get stuck into raising their young.

29th April

The change in the weather to a more unsettled regime has transformed the floods from looking very anaemic (we'd already lost half the southern leg) through to being back on top form. What's more the change had brought us a couple of really good birds. The first was on Tuesday which was pretty rainy all day. I ventured out for a lighting visit at lunchtime and was rewarded with a Greenshank, a Little Ringed Plover and a late Yellow Wagtail. Later that afternoon when Dave Lowe paid a visit, along with another Wheatear, he managed to turn up a Black Tern, grounded by the weather and sitting on a small rock at the north end. This species is a real patch Mega with only one other record (in early May 2011) since 2000. Whilst it's a more than annual passage visitor to the county, they are almost always seen at Farmoor rather than in such a shallow pool as the Meadow floods. The bird stayed until about 7:15 pm when it flew northwards along the river.


The Black Tern in the gloom

The next day Dave Lowe was out again at first light and at 6:45 a.m posted news about a Grey Plover on the floods. This species used to be a just about annual visitor to the floods but always turned up quite late in the passage season and since over the last few years we've not had any flood waters left by then, we've not had one for a while now. I ventured down before starting work for the day and it was still there though there were no more subsequent reports after that.  An evening visit turned up a party of small waders with 4 Ringed Plover, 1 Little Ringed Plover and 1 Dunlin as well as 9 Shelduck and the usual two Oystercatchers. There was also a bonus Egyptian Goose on the floods which was nice to see.

The Grey Plover

The forecast had been for this unsettled weather to continue for quite some time but sadly it now seems to have reverted back to predicting more sunny conditions ahead. So this will in all likelyhood be the start of the terminal decline in the floods. I'm just hoping that we're going to have one more really good bird for the season. Fingers crossed!



27th April

We had a reprieve from the largely uneventful last few days when on Saturday evening Joe Wynn discovered a lovely Wood Sandpiper on the floods. This scarce county wader is a bit less than annual but is somewhat of a speciality of Port Meadow where we must be vying for the top county spot for sightings, along with Otmoor of course.

Wood Sandpiper courtesy of Joe Wynn
Quite a few birders (myself included) were on site early the next day but sadly it had moved on already. It's always fascinating to get a glimpse into the journeys of these waders: stopping off overnight for a refuel at somewhere like the Meadow floods before carrying on northwards.

Talking of overnight stop-offs, over the last week or so I've noticed a pattern of Little Ringed Plover sightings. I often head out to check the floods just before dinner at around 5pm where there's usually not much to be found at the moment apart from a few Yellow Wagtails and the usual Shelduck and Oystercatchers. However a couple of hours later when Ollie Padget pays a visit he more often than not turns up an "LRP" or two. So it seems very much to be a case of this species dropping in at last light to rest up before carrying on again as soon as it's light.

I've noticed a definite build-up in Black-headed Gull numbers over the last couple of days. There is a spring passage for this species which can often carry other more interesting species with it. This includes Bonaparte's Gull for which April and May are the months for county records (see my blog post here from last year). Accordingly each visit I've been checking out all the BHG's carefully. You never know!

There's not been much to report in Burgess Field of late. On Sunday morning there was a nice Lesser Whitethroat signing briefly by the gate before moving on and I've had a couple of reports of House Sparrows in there now. This species, whilst common in the surrounding residential area is not normally seen in the nature reserve at all.

Finally I should mention insects. We've got to that time of year: the usual butterfly species are now on the wing and our resident "insect whisperer" Nicola Devine has been turning up all sorts of goodies in the Trap Grounds already including a lovely Broad-bodied Chaser recently. Myself and Steve Goddard have been running our moth traps each night though the clear rather cold overnight conditions of late have made for rather low catches.

Broad-bodied Chaser courtesy of Nicola Devine
This Shoulder Stripe is not especially rare though it was a first for my garden

Brindle Beauty
Expect more on insects over the coming months as the birding dries up. Incidentally there is a new county dragonfly blog where you can see lots of hot Odonata action - see here.




24th April

There's been a distinct sense of things going quiet over the last few days. There's not been the same buzz of news about birds on the patch and whenever I've visited myself it's been the same few species.

The floods are rapidly shrinking. This prolonged dry and sunny spell is doing them no favours at all and in fact I'm surprised that they've lasted as well as they have. In the meantime we've had to be content with the usual Shelduck and a few Yellow Wagtails. Even the Oystercatcher visits have tailed off -  I guess that they're now tending their eggs where ever it is that they are nesting. The passage of White Wagtails seems to be over as well - I've not seen any in the last few days. Swallows and House Martins are "in" now and being seen daily on the Meadow though Swifts have yet properly to arrive.

Yellow Wagtail

Perhaps the highlight since my last post is the record of a Cuckoo up along the Thames path beyond Wolvercote from Steve Goddard's daughter who both saw and heard it call. Whilst the location may perhaps be more part of the environs rather than core patch, as you know, I'm fairly flexible in that respect, especially when there's a tick at stake!

On the Warbler front, our usual species now all seem to be "in" as well. Nicola Devine had the first Reed Warblers in the Trap Grounds reedbed - always an exciting event! Garden Warblers have taken up residence in Burgess Field, as have the Whitethroats and Blackcaps. I'm still hearing Willow Warblers working their way northwards through Burgess Field each visit though I don't think any have established a territory yet. We've had a few sightings of Lesser Whitethroats in various areas though again  they don't usually actually breed on the patch. 

Reed Warbler courtesy of Nicola Devine
Reports of our star Ouzel have stopped. I did take a brief look this evening without any luck and given how we're heading towards the end of April I would indeed have expected it to move on. There have also been a few Raven sightings of late. I suspect that they breed on Wytham Hill so will be fairly regular visitors.

So what is there still to look out for? The key Warblers that we've yet to see are Grasshopper and Cetti's. The former used to be guaranteed with up to four pairs in Burgess Field but they just suddenly stopped turning up. Cetti's on the other hand is less than annual anyway but we may well get one still. There are also some of the later migrants such as Spotted Flycatcher to search for and we still need Whinchat and Hobby for example. However, the main area for potential progress is waders. We do have a period of more unsettled weather coming  up. Rainy weather in May with some floods still present is really as good as it gets for spring Meadow birding and theirs nothing more exciting that a real "fall" of waders. So expect me to be out in the rain this week looking hard!

20th April

The year ticks are continuing to fall thick and fast at the moment though it can't last much longer as we'll soon have seen most things that we're likely to see! After that it will get down to the real grind!

Sunday
Dave Lowe gave the patch a thorough grilling on Sunday morning and managed to turn up a great albeit brief Redstart sighting in Burgess Field. He then found a couple of Wheatear working their way northwards in the Hinterland. It's always a relief to get this surprisingly difficult latter species on the year list. That evening Ollie Padget had a heard-only fly-over Whimbrel that called four or five times as it flew over northwards though sadly he wasn't able to pin-point it before it was out of sight. I'm happy to count heard-only on the year list so that's another to add to the tally. Apart from that a single Little Ringed Plover was the only wader of note.

As well as the usual Yellow Wagtails (5 this evening) there were good numbers of White Wagtails on the floods with a count of 4. This sub-species is normally quite hard to find on the Meadow but for some reason we're having a really bumper year.

White Wagtail
Monday
Monday was generally a quieter day with very little on the floods in the morning. Apart from the usual Oystercatchers and Shelduck there were just 4 Yellow Wagtails. However in the evening, along with a single Little Ringed Plover Ollie Padget managed to turn up another wader year tick, this time in the form of our first Common Sandpiper.

Our star Ring Ouzel seems to be so at home in his little spot that he's very reluctant to leave. I managed to find him today skulking about under a tree despite large numbers of joggers and walkers in the reserve. In fact there was even a family picnicking in the general area that he likes to hang out. By deploying a bit of field craft I actually managed to get a half-decent photo of him though it was a shame that it was so dark where he was skulking.

He seems to like it here!


18th April

Port Meadow is continuing to get some excellent coverage at the moment with a whole posse of birders who would otherwise usually be birding elsewhere, now forced to use the Meadow as an outlet for their birding interest. Because of this much more is being seen than usual and it's a great opportunity to see what species turn up when and how bird numbers ebb and flow throughout the day. I've been visiting rather early for several days before starting my home working at 8 a.m. and have been finding the floods virtually empty. Apart from the more or less resident 4 Shelduck and 2 Oystercatchers and a few Little Egrets there's been almost nothing to report. On the other hand people who have been visiting towards the end of the day have been reporting a good variety of birds, including a smattering of Yellow Wagtails along with some White Wagtails as well as the odd Little Ringed Plover or two.

On Friday we finally had some much-needed rain. It's been getting on for a month now since we've had any decent rain and to be honest I've been surprised at how well the floods have been holding up. I chose to head down there during the rain on the off chance that the weather would lead to a "fall" of migrants. Some of my best days birding on the Meadow have been when bad weather has grounded loads of waders. Sadly it never happened and there was remarkably little on the floods. With rain for much of Saturday as well we did get a bit more action with the first batch of Dunlin and Ringed Plover coming through - as I said recently, these two species often seem to travel together. Thanks to excellent coverage that day on the Meadow it was possible to track the build up of birds throughout the day as they arrived and then decided to linger in what was clearly a favourable site. In fact it's worth mentioning the final tallies by the end of the day in detail:

6 Dunlin
3 Ringed Plover
1 Little Ringed Plover
26 (!) Yellow Wagtail
3 White Wagtail
5 Common Tern
100's of Swallows and House Martins with a couple of Sand Martins as well.

In addition Isaac West had the first Swift of the year go over. This is quite early for this species by a couple of weeks though Farmoor often seems to get one or two records way before they arrive at Port Meadow.

A pair of Common Terns resting on a tiny island in the floods

Amazingly our star Ring Ouzel has stuck around until Saturday at least, remaining faithful to a fairly small area. It's been very hard to see - it took me over an hour today to get a definite view after several brief glimpses. Matters aren't helped by the fact that there are a pair of Song Thrushes and Blackbirds in the same small area.

Video grab courtesy of Ollie Padget

Apart from that the first Garden Warblers have been seen. Mary MacDougall got the first from a canalside garden and since then there have been one or two in Burgess Field but they're not properly "in" yet.


So what can we expect in the next week or so? With many of our summer visitors now arrived, as well as continuing to enjoy them we might hope to catch some waders as they pass through. We might expect Common Sandpiper and perhaps also Green Sandpiper (though this is much harder to get here). It's prime time for Whimbrel and we might get lucky with a Sanderling or even a Knot or Barwit. On the passerine front there are Whinchat, Wheatear, Redstart and Tree Pipit still too look out for and we've yet to see Cuckoo or Hobby this year. Everything to play for in this time of peak spring passage!




14th April

After the excitement of the Osprey sighting on Saturday it's been a quiet couple of days on Sunday and Monday. Dave Lowe had four LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (that's now double figures of this species) and a few YELLOW WAGTAILS but apart from that it's just been the usual SHELDUCK and OYSTERCATCHERS that seem to be about the only noteworthy birds that are always there.

This morning I was up earlier than usual and went to check out the floods. Fresh in were a pair of BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and a single GREENSHANK, the latter being another year tick. Satisfied with this I went back to work for the day. I was just winding up at around 5 pm when Ollie Padget messaged to say that he'd found a RING OUZEL in Burgess Field! Now, you know how excited I got from one being reported in the Cripley Meadow allotments last week but here was one that could actually be viewable! Myself and several other local birders all converged on Burgess Field where the target bird turned out to be very skulking.  Fortunately it was periodically relocated and we all got to get good albeit brief views of it. 

Male Ring Ouzel courtesy of the finder Ollie Padget


Social Distancing Twitching

It turned out that someone had taken a very blurry photo the previous day of a "pale looking Blackbird" that on closer inspection could well have been the same bird. It's even possible that this might be the allotment bird relocating a short distance to some habitat with more cover. April Ring Ouzels in their usual county location of Linkey Down can hang about for quite some time so it's certainly possible. Anyway, it was a wonderful chance to see this species on the patch and one I'll long cherish.

I more or less assumed that it would be gone the next day but the next morning Steve Jennings managed to locate it more or less in the same spot, allowing more local birders to get to see it. Let's hope it sticks around a bit longer!

11th April

This Meadow purple patch just keeps on giving! This morning I arrived on the Meadow at around 8:15 a.m., a bit later than I'd been intending to. It turned out to be perfect timing however because just as I was walking towards the floods I noticed a couple with bins looking intently at something over towards the bridge. It turned out to be an OSPREY being mobbed by a few crows. It circled around over the floods for a few minutes before eventually heading northwards. What was undoubtely the same bird was seen about 15 minutes earlier flying north along the Thames between Sandford and Iffley Lock by Colin Williams. This clearly reinforces my theory that they follow the river north at this point which is why we have been lucky enough to get quite a few sightings over the years on the Meadow.

A fairly useless photo of the back end of the Osprey!
Apart from this great sighting it's actually been remarkably quiet over the last couple of days. There have been hardly any waders of note, just the usual two SHELDUCK and two OYSTERCATCHERS though there has been a sudden influx of immature Mute Swans with 15 yesterday. There's also been a notable increase in Herons and LITTLE EGRETS no doubt drawn by the trapped fish in the flood waters. Indeed there seem to be some rather large ones there judging by the monster that this Egret was trying to Swallow yesterday.

quite a mouthful!
There have been a smattering of HOUSE MARTIN and SWALLOW sightings about but they're not really "in" yet. The first Mallard ducklings are now appearing on the Meadow, always a delight to see. In Burgess Field it's been quiet as well with just a single WHITETHROAT on each of the last two days and a few WILLOW WARBLERS of note there. Still we can't really complain about the quietness as it's been a pretty good week all in all!




9th April

I said it was an exciting time of year but the last couple of days it has really stepped up a gear. On Wednesday someone reported a RING OUZEL on the Cripley Meadow Allotments "green" (the large communal space in the middle). It was reported at 8:30 but word didn't filter out until mid morning. Matters weren't helped by the fact that there's no public access but Steve Goddard managed to find a vantage point by climbing up a tree along the Thames path and unsurprisingly reported that there was no sign of it. To my knowledge this is the first record for the Port Meadow area and a great addition to the year list. It's just such a shame that it wasn't twitchable.

Another "not twitchable" record was a fly-over TREE PIPIT that was seen and heard by Isaac West later the same morning. This species is less than annual on the patch but it's a scarce county bird anyway and something of a speciality of ours with several twitchable birds in Burgess Field over recent years. Thanks to a lot of lockdown vis migging going on in various county gardens there's been a real glut of flyover Oxon records this spring already - it just shows what's being missed normally.

The next day I was out checking the floods first thing in the morning. There was a LITTLE EGRET fishing away near the Aristotle Lane entrance in it's regular spot but over in the north end was a monster egret that turned out to be a fantastic GREAT WHITE EGRET. Just on its size alone it couldn't be anything else and it was in full breeding plumage with reddish upper legs and an all dark bill compared to the usual non-breeding yellow colour. All in all a stunning bird! Not the first for the patch as we had one up at Wolvercote Lakes a couple of years ago but certainly the first that I've seen on the floods themselves. Sadly it didn't linger and was gone shortly after I saw it.

Great White Egret - looking stunning in full breeding colours
I was just heading back towards the southern end of the floods when Hugh Petter messaged to say that there was an AVOCET on the floods. It must have just that minute dropped in because I swear it wasn't there when I walked passed 10 minutes earlier! The Avocet obliged by staying around all day so people could see it.

More of a record shot of the Avocet this morning.
To round up other new year ticks: the first HOUSE MARTINS turned up over my garden on Tuesday evening and have been seen in small numbers over the floods now. Isaac West also had a couple of SWALLOWS over the floods as well on Wednesday. In Burgess Field Steve Jennings had the first WHITETHROAT of the year - they'll soon be here in numbers. This morning Dave Lowe had a couple of COMMON TERNS fly through. Farmoor breeding birds often pop over the hill to visit the Meadow so they will become regular visitors over the next month or two. Ollie Padget has had a couple of WHITE WAGTAILS on the floods this week as well. This is not a year tick as they're the continental subspecies of our Pied Wagtails but they are always a very smart addition to the spring bird life on the Meadow

We're being helped by the fact that both Farmoor and Otmoor are presently closed so Port Meadow (which normally has the number three spot by year list totals) has become the top county site at the moment and lots more people are birding it than usually do. This increased coverage should mean more sightings and more year ticks! Looking ahead we're right in the middle of the passage season now and lots of stuff should be turning up. Look out for the rest of the Warblers, more waders, chats, Cuckoo's etc. Also, just a reminder that late morning is peak Osprey time if anyone happens to be around then. It's everything to play for out there!



6th April

I've forgotten what an exciting time of year this is! Present global events not withstanding, from a point of view of nature, it's just getting on with things and it's always exciting to see what new species for the year turns up each day. I've been visiting the Meadow more or less on a daily basis though I tend to go very early at the weekend to avoid the greater crowds that are drawn to an open space like this. 

I've noticed a very dramatic drop in duck numbers on the floods just in the last week. This is of course only to be expected but it's always such a shock when we go from many hundreds of overwinter duck suddenly to sub 50 in total. This does of course make the whole process of sifting through the birds easier and it's getting much quicker to check out what is about on my daily visits.

As duck numbers decrease so wader numbers increase or at least change on a daily basis. We've been getting more BLACK-TAILED GODWITS coming through and have had two or three on the floods most days. There have still been a few REDSHANK about: the peak count the other day was 8 birds though they soon moved on. The OYSTERCATCHERS have been coming and going with up to 3 birds about most days. Our GOLDEN PLOVER flock has been with us all week with numbers steady at around 150 - they are starting to look very smart in the summer plumage now. Today there was another LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (our sixth I believe) at the southern end of the floods, accompanied by the first spring passage DUNLIN of the season. We should soon start to get both Dunlin and Ringed Plover coming through - they often seem to travel together.

The first spring passage Dunlin...

...and another Little Ringed Plover

I haven't really mentioned the flood passerines much but there have been a notable number of Meadow Pipits about, particularly about a week ago though numbers seem to have dropped dramatically of late. There are still Pied Wagtails about and today we had our first two male YELLOW WAGTAILS of the season: looking very smart in their bright yellow plumage against the dull brown of the drying mud.

The first Yellow Wagtail of the year

A Meadow Pipit - soon to head off to find somewhere to breed

In terms of larger birds as the floods shrink dramatically so the Herons and Egrets are moving in and there have been a couple of regular LITTLE EGRETS about of late.

On Sunday my early morning visit found the floods almost completely deserted so I ventured into Burgess Field to see if I could find a singing WILLOW WARBLER. I managed to turn one up just south of the Snipe Field and later on Paul Jennings managed two more as well a SEDGE WARBLER. Despite being a common summer visitor, this latter species is surprisingly hard to find on the patch so I am please to have it firmly on the year list so early. 

Looking ahead, my main concern is my usual worry about how quickly we are going to lose the floods. This prolonged dry spell combined with the increasingly hot and sunny weather is eating them up at a rapid rate and whilst they look good at the moment, it won't be long before they will start to shrivel up to something less appealing for a passing wader. In terms of new arrivals the first Garden Warblers have now been seen in the county and we should soon be getting the two Whitethroat species appearing as well as the returning Reed Warblers to the Trap Grounds. There are Cuckoo's to listen out for and we have yet to have a Wheatear on the year list. Swallows and House Martins should be back again soon as well. As I said at the beginning - it's an exciting time of the year!