22nd November

After a couple of weeks with some great sightings it was only to be expected that things have been a little quieter these last couple of weeks though there was still plenty to see. Things started well with four Pochard found by Ollie Padget on the floods though they didn't linger. Like their recent more exotic Red-crested cousins they are not naturally at home on such shallow wasters as the Port Meadow floods have to offer so it was only to be expected that they would soon be gone. These actually weren't a year tick but were still nice to see. Apart from that, on the duck front this week there have been a smattering of Pintail records most days and a flock of up to 9 Egyptian Geese. This latter species count is a record, certainly since I've been birding the Meadow. Goosander numbers have been creeping up slowly with now 6 red-heads either roosting on the floods or hanging out on the river.

On the wader front there have been a few Dunlin about and a few Snipe records including a mystery one that was flushed at a very close distance by Thomas Miller at dusk. Close-flushing Snipe often turn out to be Jack Snipe and they can usually be identified by their jizz with a much more fluttery, silent and low flight than their commoner counterparts. Whilst Thomas's bird was indeed silent it was too dark to asses the flight style so it will have to be one that got away. Five Black-tailed Godwits one evening were a welcome sight though, despite the floods looking really great at the moment, they decided not to linger.

The gulling is improving steadily with at last some good numbers of larger gulls to look through. This has produced quite a few Yellow-legged Gulls (all adults so far) and another Mediterranean Gull one evening, a 1w bird courtesy of Ollie Padget. The highlight on the gulling front was the discovery of the first Caspian Gulls of the season by Thomas Miller with 2w and a 3w birds seen on the same day.

 

3w Caspian

2w Caspian, both courtesy of Thomas Miller

Away from gulls, Nick Boyd found a pair of Stonechat in the northern wilderness between the A34 and King's Lock. Also Manoj Nair saw a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets fly over recently. This species is just about annual and with the strengthening colony in the University Parks we can probably look forward to more sightings of this colourful species.

Final, Thomas Miller did the WeBS count (the Wetland Bird Survey) for November last week and came up with the following totals.

189 Barnacle Geese
164 Greylag Geese
176 Canada Geese
424 Wigeon
8 Shoveler
6 Mallard
72 Teal
15 Pintail
8 Golden Plover
259 Black-headed Gulls
12 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
3 Cormorant
3 Black-tailed Godwit

8th November

It's been another good week with once again the weekend providing the icing on the cake. With settled high pressure dominating the weather for the whole week, my daily visits to the gull roost were proving to be decidedly unproductive. However on Tuesday things were livened up when the Glossy Ibis from last week popped in again at last light. It was first seen flying low over Otmoor at 4:25 pm before arriving at the Meadow at 4:40 pm. The distance is about 8 km so that makes a nice 32 km/h average speed. It seemed settled enough as it fed that evening though sadly it was gone the next morning. A special mention must be made of a heroic twitch to see it by Thomas Miller who managed to get from Farmoor to Botley in time to tick it in nearly total darkness.


The Glossy Ibis on the floods at dusk

Apart from that there was precious little during the week but at the weekend there was lots of action. Ollie Padget and I were in Burgess Field Saturday morning doing some vis migging whilst we were chatting away. A flock birds flew fairly low overhead and we both independently called them as Hawfinches! Thanks to the winter invasion of this species a couple of years ago everyone has become more aware of them and it's paid off with what is a patch first! Things carried on in a similar vein that afternoon when Ollie saw a Woodcock fly over Burgess Field mid afternoon. This is a less than annual species on the Meadow and is pretty hard to come by though they do occasionally roost in the long grass in Burgess Field. What's more on Sunday evening Matthew Lloyd had another (or maybe the same) Woodcock fly over near the gate to Burgess Field at dusk. Let's hope that it's roosting there and so might be seen again. Talking of nocturnal birds, a female Tawny Owl was heard again in Burgess Field on Saturday evening by Ollie. Also, during the week Andrew Siantonas managed to find a Little Grebe on the river which (amazingly) is actually the first one of the year.

Apart from these highlights it was pretty much the usual stuff. The four Goosander have continued to hang around in the vicinity, often to be seen on the river. The Barnacle Geese have not been around so much though there have been more Canada Geese by way of compensation. Talking of geese, there was an Egpyptian Goose on the floods on Saturday morning. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits dropped in and spent a couple of days with us before moving on and a Dunlin was hanging out with the Golden Plover on Saturday morning.

Thanks to Matthew Lloyd who has been educating us, we are all getting much more clued up on our local bats. Most evenings there are two species of Pipistrelles, Noctules and Daubenton bats to be seen (though you need a bat detector in order to separate the Pipistrelles). The Pipistrelles are the small ones, the Noctules are the large ones and the Daubentons hunt just above the water surface. Matthew has had other species as well though they are harder to tell apart without a detector.

So all good stuff! The Hawfinch, Woodcock and Little Grebe have now taken the year list total to 135 which is actually the record since I've been birding the Meadow. More confirmation if it were needed that this is indeed a vintage year. As far as what we might still hope for in terms of year ticks it would have to be one of the rarer waders (on which we are rather light this year), a Short-eared Owl perhaps  or something pretty unusual. Given the year so far, it might just be a monster rare!



1st November

In my last post things had been relatively quiet up until the weekend and for this last week more or less the same thing happened. There had been relatively little to report during the week: I had been checking out the gull roost each evening though it's still mostly just Black-headed Gulls with one or two Common Gulls and hardly any larger gulls. One evening there was an adult Yellow Legged Gull (the first of the season) but that was about it. Golden Plover numbers have been building gradually so that by Sunday there were about 300 of them. Part of my daily ritual on a visit to the Meadow is to scour through the Plover flock looking for American Golden Plover, somewhat of a speciality of the Meadow with the only two county records for this species both coming from Port Meadow. The Barnacle Geese are still around, numbering up to 250 or more at times. There are also increasing number of Wigeon and Teal, all enjoying the perfect flood conditions.

The hightlight of the week was on a Sunday visit during the blustery conditions of Storm Aiden with the discovery of three Red-crested Pochards on the floods. This species is less than annual on the Meadow - as a diving duck the shallow waters of the floods are not really suited to their feeding habits. There were not very settled and kept swimming about during the time I was there and it was not really surprising that they'd gone by the evening.

A video grab of the three Red-crested Pochards

To round off a good day, Ollie Padget discovered yet another Mediterranean Gull (a 2nd winter) in the roost. I particularly like his video grab as it's sums up the difficulty of picking out Med Gulls from the sea of Black-headed Gulls - see if you can spot it yourself!

Spot the Med Gull!

Looking forward to November, historically there have been a few decent records on the Meadow during this month with Great White Egret, Grey Phalarope and of course American Golden Plover all seen in past years. With so many westerly storms having passed through recently I'm still hopeful of something American, perhaps a Pectoral Sandpiper or even a Franklin's Gull. I find that I need some kind of dream like this to keep me motivated enough to check out the patch each day and you never know, one day it might just happen!



25th October

Despite it being statistically the best month of the year for rare birds, up until this weekend October had been rather quiet. Sure, there were plenty of flood waters and lots of birds to look through but it was pretty much the same birds each day. To give you an idea of what was generally around below are the WeBS (the monthly countrywide wetland bird survey that is carried out each winter) counts from Thomas Miller.

Garganey 1
Greylag 296
Barnacles 209
Canada 249
Wigeon 422
Teal 56
Mallard 1
Gadwall 1
Pintail 1
Golden plover 58
Lapwing 25 + 44 over
Bhg 243
Common gull 1
Herring gull 1
Lbbg 2
Little egret 1

Firstly, it was nice to see that the Garganey was still around. It hadn't been reported since it was originally found and it just shows how easily missed it is that has (presumably) been here all this time.

I was finally able to do some gulling this weekend - a luxury I am no longer able to do during the week due to work commitments. On Saturday there were barely a couple of dozen large gulls in the roost but quite late on one intriguing bird flew in which caught my eye. The mantle was really dark being just one shade off a Lesser Black-backed Gull and it had a very neatly defined streaked head. It flew in and immediately tucked itself up and went to sleep. I only had the briefest of views of its head but the bill did look reasonable for an Azorean Yellow-legged Gull (which was what I was thinking, given the other characteristics). Given how dark it was and the fact that it never moved from being asleep I wasn't able to get better video footage. In discussion with Ian Lewington it was agreed that really decent head and wind shots would be required to clinch the ID. I'm just hoping that either it returns to the Meadow or it's found at one of the other county sites during the day where the ID will be confirmed.

It's the bird in the centre behind and to the left of a Lesser Black-backed Gull

Just to give you an idea of what an Azorean Yellow-legged Gull should look like, this is a picture of the one at Appleford 11 years ago.

Courtesy of Ian Lewington

A lazy Sunday morning en famille was turned upside down mid morning when Ollie Padget messaged that a Glossy Ibis had just flown in and settled on the floods. I rushed down there and managed to see it for all of one minute on the ground before it flew up, spiralled around for a few minutes before drifting off to the north east. 



Some video footage courtesy of Ollie Padget


A record shot that I took whilst it was spiralling around for a while

About three quarters of an hour later a "probable" Glossy Ibis was seen at Otmoor so it may well have relocated there. This is just the second record of this species on the Meadow, the first one being in May 2014 - yet another good bird for the Meadow in what is turning out to be a vintage year.

I was back Sunday evening for the gull roost along with Ollie and Thomas Miller. Sadly there were almost no large gulls at all and no sign of "Ozzie" the Azorean. However, Thomas managed to confirm his credentials as the new county "gull whisperer" by finding two (adult and 2nd winter) Mediterranean Gulls in the space of a few minutes - something I've failed to do in several weeks of searching. This was the second year tick to be added within the same day so a very productive day!



12th October

It's been a good week for birding on the Meadow. The floods expanded enough for the river briefly to burst its banks and we had a couple of days in Lake Mode before it quickly subsided where it's now been pretty stable in size for a few days now. The birds are all loving it and the water is covered in all directions, mostly with geese with Canadas and Greylags and the Barnacles all hanging out in good numbers. Duck numbers actually haven't been that large with just modest counts of Wigeon and Teal and a few Shoveler but it's still rather early in the season. Our star Garganey has been hanging around all week and we've also had one or two Ruff which have dropped in though the shoreline is rather "lumpy" at the moment because of the vegetation so it's often difficult to spot the waders. However, the stand-out bird since last time has been a Whooper Swan which was found on Saturday by Colm O'Caomhanaigh.


The Whooper Swan on the day it was found

In the past "winter" swans such as Whoopers and Bewicks have occasionally dropped in on the Meadow at around this time of year. However they never normally stay at all and indeed this bird headed off fairly early on Sunday morning. However it didn't seem quite to know where it wanted to go: it was found (by Colm again!) up by the Victoria pub on the river Cherwell mid morning before coming back to the Meadow where it spent the rest of the day. Finally on Monday morning it was off fairly early.

Apart from that there's been various reports of increased bird movement recently including Redwings which are now starting to be seen regularly. Indeed in a ringing session in Burgess Field Ollie Padget and his team managed to catch a pair.

A couple of Redwing "in the hand"

Finally, one of the star birds of the week was actually only mentioned to me en passant when Nick Boyd happened to say that he'd had a Yellowhammer fly over during a moring visit. This species is a real Patch Mega - there's only been one record during my time on the Meadow which was during one of the extraordinary winters where thick snow lead to a lot of winter bird displacement and Steve Goddard had this species in his garden. You would think that you might find them around the farmland over by Medley Farm but, whilst it is indeed a rather underwatched area, I've not heard of any records there.

Looking ahead the wind is swinging back to easterlies for the next few days which is great for east coast birding but whether this will mean anything filters through to us or not is another matter. Personally I'm still hoping for a yank wader of some kind to turn up now that we've got the floods back. One can dream!




4th October

What a difference a few days of rain makes: the torrential rain of the last few days has taken the Meadow from dry and birdless to completely reforming the floods and full of birds! On Friday there were some noticeable puddles and a big increase in birds with lots of geese everywhere. Come Saturday and we had actual flood waters albeit still in two parts. By Sunday the floods were back to a proper size and there were birds everywhere with more flying in by the hour. You could gauge progress by the number of Wigeon that were about. On Friday it was about 10, on Saturday it had grown to 25 and on Sunday it was over 200! It's great to have this charismatic duck back on the Meadow along with it's lovely "pieuw" call.


 
Video showing just some of the birds all flocking to the floods

As you can see from the video, the usual Barnacle Geese are back for the winter. They've been around for a few days now though they were hanging out half way up the Meadow until the floods tempted them back to the southern end. We've had a noticeable increase in Canada Geese as well with over 300 alongside the usual feral Greylags. As I mentioned, we now have a couple of hundred Wigeon alongside a more modest count of Teal. Ollie Padget managed to find the star bird of weekend however when he picked out a female Garganey from in amongst the Teal. The bird was distant and the light terrible but between us we managed to pick out the saliant ID features to make sure of what we had.


A couple of "record shot" photos of the female Garganey

Other ducks that were about were four female Pintail, four Gadwall and a couple of Shoveler. On Saturday we also had the usual feral White-fronted Geese pay us a visit. These birds usually live at Blenheim and at least two of them have some Bar-headed Goose genes in them and look very weird.

We also had our first waders of the autumn with a Dunlin and a Snipe on the floods along with half a dozen Lapwing - I'm hoping for a lot more over the coming days. To round things off Joe Wynn had a Peregrine, no doubt lured to the area by the huge number of birds about. Other species that are around are lots of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, a few Skylarks and the usual Linnets.

Other sightings over the last few says have included more flyover Siskins, a couple of fly-over Redpolls, a Wheatear up by the allotments and a Cetti's Warbler just past the A34 fly-over (both of the latter two courtesy of Nick Boyd). Ollie Padget and Joe Wynn had the first Redwings of autumn in Burgess Field as well. Nicola Devine also heard a female Tawny Owl calling by the woods alongside the railway one evening.

The Garganey and the Tawny Owl are both year ticks - it's really nice to have the total "ticking over" again. In terms of what we're still missing that we might reasonably expect I have: Little Grebe, Fieldfare, Knot, Med Gull, Sanderling and Green Sandpiper all on my list. It's only thanks to the early reformation of the floods that we can even contemplate some of those waders. I must emphasise how unusual it is to have floods in October - it's usually November when they reform so this is a golden opportunity to try to find some proper rares during the best birding month of the year. At the very least we should get the tail end of the wader passage and I'm starting to day dream about some yank waders - for some reason I keep thinking about Buff-breasted Sandpiper, which would be a county first! One can dream and it does at least keep me motivated to check out the floods each day.

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!