23rd November

So we're getting near to the end of November already and closing in on the end of the year. The floods are still about but looking rather stunted - we really need some decent rain to expand them so that the two pools join up. This would encourage some decent gulls to the roost which is currently still rather anaemic.

Despite the lack of water there have been some modest Wigeon and Teal around as well as a few Lapwing and an increasing flock of Golden Plover with numbers creeping up to four hundred or more. Still no sign of any vagrant plovers in amongst them but we'll keep looking! Geese numbers are reasonable though the Barnacle Geese haven't really been about much of late.

This pair of Egyptian Geese have been around on and off on the Meadow for a while now

With the lack of water, the main birding action has been in Burgess Field. Indeed we have managed to get two new year ticks from here. Firstly a Woodcock was seen in flight at dusk there and secondly a Barn Owl has been seen (again at dusk) on at least two occasions. The second time there were also a couple of calling Tawny Owls about as well.

Apart from that it's been the usual species with a few Siskins, winter thrushes etc that one would expect at this time of year. There have been a few over-wintering Chiffchaffs about recently.

This addition of two birds to the year list has left us tantalisingly matching last year's record year list count of 135. A concerted effort over the last few weeks of the year (or alternatively just some good luck!) could see us break this record. Indeed Nick Boyd came close today with a possible Hawfinch over the St Edward's area but he wasn't able to confirm it. Other good candidates to take us over the line would be Little Owl, Red-crested Pochard, Red-legged Partridge, Whooper or Bewicks Swan. Of course we could get an out and out rare. It's all to play for!

Despite the late floods this spring (which tends to kill things off) there is plenty of Creeping Marshwort around at the moment (if you know where to look). I took this photo when I noticed a clump right next to my tripod when the Pectoral Sandpiper was first found.

 


6th November

Our star Pectoral Sandpiper ended up staying for exactly a week. It was nice to go down to the Meadow each day and to find it still picking its way along the shoreline. It remained faithful to its small pool for the entire time apart from on one occasion when a dog must have scared it as it moved away into the grass. Various out of county birders came to pay homage though numbers were never that large and everyone was well behaved.

The Pectoral Sandpiper courtesy of Steve Burch

The flood levels have held their own but we haven't really had enough rain to increase them in size so far and they are still a bit too small to hold any large counts of birds. Still, the winter duck numbers are starting to increase and this morning there were probably about 100 Wigeon there along with a smattering of Teal. There has been a noticeable increase in Canada Geese numbers with the flock now numbering serveral hundred though I haven't seen the Barnacle Geese for a few days now.

There has been noticeably large counts of Pied Wagtails on the floods in the evening. I think that lots of them come to the Meadow before heading off to roost in the city somehwere. Golden Plover numbers have increased noticeably with several hundred to be found hunkered down on the grass between the two pools most days along with a dozen or so Lapwing. It's the time of year for searching through them carefully for one of their American cousins though no luck so far.

Golden Plover courtesy of Steve Liptrot

One of the highlights since my last post was a Little Grebe that was seen up at Wolvercote Lake by Nick Boyd - a Patch year tick no less! A red-headed Goosander was seen on the river and then on the Castle Mill stream recently. Ollie Padget had a Great White Egret on the floods briefly though there is not enough cover there really and it didn't linger.

The Great White Egret courtesy of Ollie Padget

This morning Ollie and Thomas Miller saw a Brambling (another year tick!) in Burgess Field though sadly it didn't linger. Winter thrushes have started to appear in numbers in Burgess Field with lots of Redwing about and one flock of Fieldfare as well this morning. Siskin are often to be seen flying over and there have been one or two Redpoll as well. 
 
With all these winter birds, the change of the clocks and the nights drawing in, there is no doubting the change of the season. It's very much back to winter birding now.

25th October

I had rather been casting around for something to write about over the last few weeks. Fortunately it's all kicked off and I now have more than enough to report! It all started on Sunday 17th when Thomas Miller found a Jack Snipe around the verges of what were then little more than muddy puddles where the floods normally are. This species is now less than annual on the patch. They used to be fairly regular up in the pools in the Snipe Field in Burgess Field. However, as that field has got more overgrown the pools have disappeared and the Snipe and occasional Jack Snipe have gone with them. So this was a most welcome year tick for the Patch.

Last week we finally had enough rain to restart the floods and with it birds started coming back. The now regular Barnacle Goose flock has been joining the Canada and Greylags on the Meadow. With up to 100 Golden Plover, a handful of Lapwing and a few early Wigeon and Teal and even a red-head Goosander on the river, it was starting to feel like winter already!

However, the best was yet to come when on Saturday morning Thomas Miller, who was leading a group of student birders on a tour around Port Meadow, managed to find a Pectoral Sandpiper feeding away on the southern flood pool (the two halves are still split at the moment). This is a nationally scarce American vagrant which somehow had managed to survive the Atlantic crossing and found it's way to Oxfordshire. Whilst it is the commonest of the American vagrant waders it is still quite a rare vagrant to the county and it's only the third record on the Meadow. The first was a pair that lingered for some while in 2007 whilst the second was a one day singleton in 2011 so it has been 10 years since our last one. This discovery prompted a proper Meadow twitch as all the Meadow regulars as well as lots of county birders descended to pay their respects. 


A fantastic photo courtesy of Steve Burch

Video courtesy of Badger


The early twitchers - mostly the Port Meadow birding gang

There was also a Green Sandpiper on the northern floods. This is quite a scarce bird for the Meadow and would normally warrant a bit of attention but of course it was totally eclipsed by it's Nearctic cousin. In any event it didn't linger and was soon gone.

The Pectoral Sandpiper is clearly liking the Meadow and has stuck around a few days now with a steady stream of out of county birders coming to pay homage. The extra coverage that this has generated means that more birds are being seen on the Meadow and a Great White Egret was found on Monday. It was standing in the Hinterland north of the floods for about fifteen minutes before being flushed by someone and heading off. Whilst we've already had this species on the Meadow this year it is not that common a bird here (the habitat isn't really right for it) so it's something that I still get excited about and at least one hard core Meadow birder still needs it for his patch list.

Courtesy of Ewan Urquhart

From past experience the Pectoral Sandpiper could linger for a while and now that we have some floods again we should start getting some more interesting birding back on the Patch. Personally I am waiting for the gull roost to restart though I think that we need a bit more water yet and it's still rather early in the season. Still, it's something to look forward to!



4th October

There's a definite autumnal feel about the Meadow now. The recent prolonged rain has recreated the two flood areas now which are starting to attract some birds again. A bit more rain and we could have the two areas joined up. Having some proper floods around for October would be really great: we might manage to pull in some decent if that happens.

The big news since my last post has been the large flock of Cattle Egrets that have discovered the Meadow livestock. Even to be writing that last sentence last year would have been unthinkable but thanks to the sudden commencement of breeding by this species on Blenheim Palace lake this year they have gone from a county scarcity to a (presumed) resident breeder within the space of a year! For the most part since leaving Blenheim, the flock had been hanging out at Otmoor but suddenly in the last couple of weeks some of them started to appear in amongst the livestock on the Meadow. We had a peak count of 20 birds with one or two Little Egrets thrown in for good measure though numbers seemed to vary each day. After a while the flock seemed to split in two with some of them following the livestock in the fields on the road to Wytham instead.

Fighting over a frog that one of them has caught! Courtesy of Matthew Lloyd


Just some of the Cattle Egrets in amongst the cattle, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Gradually the livestock numbers have been decreasing and with it our star birds so by Sunday there was just a single bird sitting in one of the three big Poplar trees along the river.

The last Cattle Egret, posing in a tree

Apart from that, the embryonic flood waters have been attracting some "winter" birds. In amongst the Greylags and Canada Geese, the usual 150 odd Barnacle Geese have arrived back. Talking of geese, four of the young Egyptian Geese from this summer's brood were around in amongst the Greylag flock by the river. There are lots of Linnets, Pied WagtailsMeadow Pipits and Skylarks about on the Meadow itself and in the rank vegetation it's possible to put up the odd Snipe or two. 

On the insect front, Nicola Devine has been spotting more Willow Emeralds in the main Swan pond at the Trap Grounds. There have also been some Migrant Hawkers hunting along the Castle Mill stream at the southern end of the Meadow.

Willow Emerald, courtesy of Nicola Devine

Some Siskins were seen by Nick Boyd this morning - a definite harbinger to autumn and winter. With the first Teal back on the floods this morning along with some loafing Black-headed Gulls and a smattering of Lapwing, we're starting to head towards the re-emergence of the floods and some proper Meadow birding again!



September So Far

Despite it being a rather dry autumn so far with hardly any rain and certainly no floods, there has been a definite uptick in sightings in and around the Meadow over the last couple of weeks.

At the start of the month there was a decent sized flock of Yellow Wagtails, perhaps up to 20, in amongst the cattle. I did search for Blue-headed in amongst them but couldn't find any. 

One of the many Yellow Wagtails
 

There was a Hobby on the 2nd September seen by Ollie Padget. Osprey were seen along the river and King's Lock area on two separate occasions on the 8th (seen by Claire Robinson) and 20th (Mary MacDougall). In both cases the bird was actively hunting in the river and gave the observers some great close up views. Whether it's the same bird or two different ones which are both following the river south is hard to tell.

Our only new year tick came on the 10th when Nick Boyd spotted a Great White Egret flying along the river in the company of a Grey Heron. That same day he also spotted three Tufted Duck circling the Meadow. On the 12th a Ring-necked Parakeet visited my garden briefly before being chased off by some Jackdaws. Finally on the 16th Ollie Padget found a Stonechat in Burgess Field.

On the insect front, the main news is that there have been regular sightings of Willow Emerald in the main Swan Pond in the Trap Grounds. With at least two ovipositing pairs and two others seen by Nicola Devine it seems that a new colony is establishing itself here.

Willow Emerald
 

Other good insects seen include some Brown Hairstreak sightings, both in the Trap Grounds in the School Yard Meadow (by Nicola Devine) and also on Burgess Field (Ollie Padget) as well as some Vapourer moths also in the Trap Grounds. There are good numbers of Migrant Hawkers and "red" Darters about still and Steve Goddard caught a rare Clifton Nonpareil moth in his Wolvercote garden in the last few days.

Looking forward, we are coming up to the prime time for rare autumn vagrants though whether any will find their way inland to somewhere that is presently rather featureless without any flood waters remains to be seen. Still we should get some more interesting passage migrants in Burgess Field, perhaps a Tree Pipit or Whinchat. Finally, with an invasion of Wryneck in the country at the moment it's not impossible that one might turn up somewhere on the patch.

August

Once again it's been a fair while since my last post. The combination of holidays, a busy work schedule and the lack of any flood waters is making for rather quiet times on the patch of late. However, there have been a few snippets of news to report. As I mentioned last time, in the absence of any flood waters, winkling out autumn migrants from Burgess Field is going to be the main source of interesting birds. Ollie Padget and Thomas Miller have been dutifully checking out this area and have been rewarded with quite a few Spotted Flycatchers - according to my tally there have been a total of 8 birds since the middle of August! No sign of any chats so far but we have had a few Lesser Whitethroats, a Reed Warbler and several sightings of a Hobby.

Here's a Spotted Flycatcher from the archives

The pre migration flock of Hirundines is building up around the general Meadow area with several Sand Martins in amongst the House Martins and Swallows. As is usual, come September the bulk of the Swifts have departed though there will be one or two stragglers to be seen still. There have been one or two Yellow Wagtails to be seen and now that we are into September, cheking out the livestock herd should produce a lot more of these lovely birds. As usual the name of the game is trying to find some rarer wagtail species or sub species in amongst them.

On the Odonata front, apart from the usual Migrant Hawkers and just when I was starting to give up on any Willow Emeralds this year, our odonata whisperer Nicola Devine went and found an ovipositing pair on the Swan Pond in the Trap Grounds. Given that there were at least three pairs last summer I'm somewhat disappointed if this is all that have managed to emerge from their reproductive efforts but maybe I should give it a bit more time before judging.

Ovipositing Willow Emeralds courtesy of Nicola Devine



 

June & July

I can't believe that it's been two months since my last blog post! I've been meaning to do one for sometime now but if truth be told there has not been a great deal to blog about. So here is a very general catch up of the last couple of months.

Despite the best efforts of our rather indifferent weather to keep things damp, the heatwave week that we had managed to finish off the floods.We never got anything of particular interested on the flood waters while they were still there apart from various geese that were hanging around. The personal highlight for me was when the flock of 55 feral Snow Geese were spotted by Zhenuan Zang on the remains of the floods one evening. I hurried down and managed to see them - a personal Patch Tick no less! This flock has been lingering around Oxfordshire for a number of years now and certainly looks self sustaining to me (hence the tick) though I think that officially they are not yet recognised as proper Category C birds. 

Some of the 50 odd Snow Goose flock

There have been a few other geese species on the Meadow including some of the Barnacle Geese flock which normally only visit us in the winter. Our family of Egyptian Geese, two parents and seven young, are all doing well and are quite grown up now. There has also been a pair of  very pale headed adults on the flood area occasionally.

We did manage to get a few return passage waders: there were one or two Black-tailed Godwits on the fast declining floods and up to 6 Common Sandpipers along the river shore one day. This species seems to like the river shoreline and can be found there from time to time even when there are no flood waters at all.

A Black-tailed Godwit by Medley Sailing Club courtesy of Chris Dale
 

Two or three Redstarts were found by Mary MacDougall one afternoon in Burgess Field though sadly they didn't linger. We finally got Hobby on the year list when one was seen over the sailing club by Matthew Lloyd.

On the Odonata front the Downy Emerald hung around at the Trap Grounds for a few days but then sadly disappeared - maybe it couldn't find a mate. Apart from that there have been the usual dragonflies and damselflies about at the Trap Grounds but nothing of particular note. 

A Mullein moth caterpillar - feeding on a Mullein plant no less!

After a very slow start the mothing in my garden has actually been pretty good and for a while it was keeping pace with my record breaking year list tally of last year. Sadly in the rather windy and showery weather of the last couple of weeks this has rather stalled. Still I've been continuing to add new species to the garden list fairly steadily and I am now at over 400 on my list. This is fairly modest by mothing standards but I'm pleased to have reached this milestone for what is a fairly urban garden.

One of the highlights of the summer so far for me has been the wonderful amount of flowers in Burgess Field. The number of flowers very much depends on rainfall and with our wet spring it's bee prolific for them they are everywhere in great profusion! There were several patches of orchids with both Pyramidal and Bee Orchids to be found in Burgess Field.


Bee and Pyramidal Orchids,
both sadly rather out of focus

So what can we look forward to for the coming month? Whilst this is normally the start of autumn, without any water we are reduced to looking for things like Redstarts, Flycatchers and Chats in Burgess Field. On the odonata front if the efforts of our colonising Willow Emeralds last year have been successful then we should be starting to see them now at the Trap Grounds - fingers crossed!

7th June

So here we are in June already. The second half of May was very quiet on the floods. Thanks to all the rain we've been having, if anything the flood waters were too full to pull in any late waders and they were eerily quiet. However, now that we've moved into June suddenly they have become very birdy again as the Geese and Gulls have returned in good numbers. We have quiet a few Canada Geese and increasing numbers of Barnacle Geese, the latter being rather suprising as usually they are only winter visitors. Talking of Geese, we've had some breeding success with an Egyptian Goose pair having hatched seven youngsters. With 6 Shelduck on the floods, plenty of Mallards and at least a dozen juvenile Black-headed Gulls in amongst hundreds of adults there is lots to look through again.

 

Egyptian Goose plus seven Goslings, courtesy of Manoj Nair

Away from the floods, there was a calling Cuckoo near Godstow Bridge on the 18th. Cetti's Warblers seem to be established at King's Lock and also at Wolvercote Lakes. Manoj Nair saw a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets by the Walton Well Road car park in the last few days. 

There have also been a couple of records of a pair of Cranes flying over Burgess Field. These will certainly be the Otmoor birds which apparently commute to the Chimney Meadows area and so cross over the north end of Port Meadow airspace on their daily journey.


Flyover Cranes courtesy of Thomas Miller

As we move into summer naturally our thoughts turn to insects and flowers etc. On the Odonata front after a very delayed start due to the miserable weather at last things have kicked off. At the Trap Grounds Hairy Hawkers are to be seen along with Azure Blue Damselflies around the various ponds. However, by far the top sighting is another record of a Downy Emerald from our top insect spotter Nicola Devine. Coming on the back of a sighting last year, we are really hoping that they might become established at the Trap Grounds

Downy Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine

So what might we expect over the coming month? With the floods still so full I would suggest that Spoonbill is a possibility. June has been a good month for this species in the past and the Meadow has quite a few past records. Indeed with several sightings in the county over the last few days, it's well worth keeping an eye out for them. Apart from that it's going to be insects and flowers for a while. For me, my garden mothing has finally kicked off with the better weather so I will be keenly unpacking the trap each morning.

Sallow Kitten



16th May

We've now got to the middle of May - a time when historically the spring wader passage is winding down and this year is no exception.  Indeed the floods are basically virtually empty despite looking great thanks to all the rain we've been having. Still, since my last post we have managed one more decent wader in the form of a Grey Plover, found last Sunday morning by Thomas Miller. This is the second of the scarcer waders (along with Wood Sandpiper) that was on the wish list that we've now ticked off with only Sanderling eluding us so far.

Grey Plover courtesy of Thomas Miller

In the poor weather last weekend we also had a good surge of Dunlin and Ringed Plover going through with a mixed flock of a couple of dozen on the floods. Sadly since then it's been much more modest numbers before fizzling out to nothing by this weekend though we did have a sighting of a Common Sandpiper along the river courtesy of Manoj Nair.

Apart from waders there have been some interesting things to report. Firstly Manoj Nair had a cracking male Whinchat briefly at the southern end of the floods last weekend though sadly it moved through quickly. Also we had a record (with recording) of a Nightingale singing in the scrub near the boat moorings by St Edwards playing fields on a couple of evening this week. Sadly by mid week there was no further sound of it despite several of the Patch birders going to listen for it. This is only the second record on the Patch area since 2008 when I first started birding the area so is one of the rarest birds of the year so far.

Apart from that we have a record of a Greenland Wheatear passing through courtesy of Matthew Lloyd and a Sedge Warbler singing in bushes along the river near the sailing club as well as another Cuckoo record. The Swifts are now back in the area and can be heard screaming overhead. House Martins are now gather mud from the river bank for their nests. 

House Martins collecting mud courtesy of Andrew Siantonas
 

Whilst things seem completely dead on the floods at present, looking back to past years interesting bird have still been seen in the second half of the month. Indeed in 2018 we had a Red-necked Phalarope on the 30th of the month and in past years we have had Spoonbill on the floods at this time of year though they seem to have become rarer again in the county over the last few years. There is still that Sanderling to get on the list as well!

 

 

7th May

We've had the first week of May and so far the longed-for Mega has failed to materialise. However, the floods are hanging on and with the forecast rainy weekend they should get a nice top-up. As far as the flood area is concerned, there has been a noticeable change in the type of birds that we are getting - we are now firmly into the Ringed Plover and Dunlin passage with those making the bulk of any sightings, occasionally accompanied by a Little Ringed Plover. With the shoreline now much more chopped up by the hooves of lilvetstock, they can often be quite difficult to pick out as the skulk around in the mud.

Apart from that it's just been the odd Oystercatcher, one or two late Yellow Wagtails and today a couple of Golden Plover. On the duck front there are a couple of Shelduck still visiting from time to time but otherwise it's just a handful of Black-headed Gulls picking over the floods.

Ringed Plover and Dunlin

Away from the floods Nick Boyd managed to get a Burgess Field Spotted Flycatcher on the year list this week on a day when this species was recorded at a number of sites throughout the county. There has also been a male Cuckoo hanging out in Burgess Field for the last few days. One evening it was joined by a second male with lots of calling and chasing each other around before the interloper was seen off. I'm not quite sure what breeding opportunities Cuckoo might find around here: they traditionally use Reed Warblers or Meadow Pipits as hosts so perhaps the former, which breed in the Trap Grounds, might be their target.

Dunlin

Looking forward, we have perhaps another week or two of passage waders before things really start to fizzle out. With the various summer breeders all now in place, we will soon be hitting the birding summer doldrums though with such strange cold weather it doesn't really feel like we are heading into summer anytime soon.

3rd May: Wood Sandpiper

On the last day of April we got one of the three outstanding waders that we might reasonably hope for still in the form of a cracking Wood Sandpiper. First found late afternoon on Friday, it hung around for the weekend before departing overnight on Sunday. This species is just about annual and is indeed something of a speciality of the Meadow though this spring the entire county has excelled itself with quite a few turning up in different locations so it was good that we were part of that general movement.




Apart from that we had our first summer plumaged Dunlin. Late April and early May there is often a noticable passage of this species, often accompanied by Ringed Plover. There have still been one or two Little Ringed Plover about as well. Nick Boyd had a Common Sandpiper along the river on Saturday. One other noteworthy sighting was of 13 Snow Geese that were briefly on the floods this morning. These will be part of the feral flock of about 100 birds that often frequent Farmoor. Whilst not being officially BOU sanctioned Category C birds, to my mind they certainly seem like a sustainable feral flock and so are going on the Port Meadow year list.

We also had yet another female Blue-headed Wagtail in amongst the Yellow Wagtail flock. Now that we are into May numbers of Wagtails should tail off sharply but we can't really complain given the stellar counts we have had for April.

Female Blue-headed Wagtail, courtesy of Thomas Miller

The change to more inclement weather and some decent heavy rain has perked the floods up no end and they should now see us through to the end of the spring passage. Now that we are into May and with some floods still intact there's always a chance of us getting something genuinely rare. Fingers crossed!

28th April

Things have slowed down noticeably over the last few days. The truth is that spring passage action often peaks towards the end of April and we are probably now over the hump. Not that there isn't lots to play for still: what we lose in numbers tends to be made up for in quality with rarer birds starting to turn up as we enter May. We finally got some rain in the nick of time and with some more showers forecast over the next few days we should at least have some sort of floods still around into May.

In terms of things to report, as I said, it's been a quiet few days. On the wader front, first thing on Saturday morning there were 4 Whimbrel and the Bar-tailed Godwit. Gradually these all left with just one lingering Whimbrel which stuch around until mid week. There have been a couple of Oystercatchers and a few Little Ringed Plover. The smart male Ruff turned up again and spent some more time on the floods. With the rain today Thomas Miller and I were both down at the floods hoping for a fall of some kind though the only birds there were five Little Ringed Plover and a summer plumage Dunlin.


The smart male Ruff, courtesy of Thomas Miller

The lingering Whimbrel, courtesy of Thomas Miller

Ducks are almost all gone though there have been a pair of Shelduck and the pair of Egyptian Geese are still knocking around. Apart from that there is just one lingering drake Wigeon

There has been a nice passage of Wheatear over the last few days on the Meadow, probably the Greenland subspecies judging by the later arrival date. Nick Boyd also heard our first Cuckoo up near the King's Lock area and Steve Goddard got our first Swift of the year over Wolvercote.

I've not discussed Warblers much of late: the usual species have arrived back in the usual order and Burgess Field is currently filled with their wonderful song. It's always worth a visit at this time of year as birds race to establish territories and sing their hearts out. Soon they will be knuckling down to the business off raising their young and it goes much quieter. We've had the Whitethroat and Garden Warblers arrive and a Lesser Whitethroat was heard by Nick Boyd up by Hook Meadow. There seem to be a couple of Cetti's Warblers along the canal - it's nice to have this species back again on the patch as they seem to come and go. The first Reed Warbler is back in the Trap Grounds reedbed and Phil Barnett had a Sedge Warbler in Burgess Field. So, apart from Grashopper Warbler, which has sadly become very rare on the Patch just in the last few years, we now have the complete Warbler set. Also in Burgess Field though not a Warbler, there was yet another Redstart with a female that was seen on Tuesday morning.

Wagtail numbers are still good though past their peak now with about a dozen Yellow Wagtails on the floods today. There are still some birds which look good for female Blue-headed Wagtail and female Channel Wagtail though both Thomas and I are starting to find that the more you look at them the less sure you are! We have noticed that late afternoon is the best time for the wagtails with peak counts usually to be had then.

Female Channel Wagtail (?) courtesy of Thomas Miller

So, as we knock on the door of May what might we still reasonably expect? On the wader front I have three on my wish list: Wood Sandpiper, Sanderling and Grey Plover. Apart from waders, Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat and Tree Pipit are all still needed for the year list. Moreover, the exciting thing about May is that we could get something much rarer - you never know!


25th April

 After the excitment of last week it was a lower key weekend. 

Saturday found 4 Whimbrel and the Bar-tailed Godwit still on the floods first thing though 3 of the former soon left. Apart from that there were 2 Oystercatchers and a Little Ringed Plover and 2 Shelduck. Another Wheatear was seen around the floods and we had yet another female Blue-headed Wagtail seen. The highlight was a Cuckoo heard towards the King's Lock area by Nick Boyd. Nick has single-handedly added the King's Lock area to the patch through his on-going efforts to check it out. A couple of Cetti's Warblers were heard by Nick along the canal.

Sunday was quiet with just the one Whimbrel remaining, 3 Little Ringed Plover and a handful of Yellow Wagtails. However, Steve Goddard did score our first Swift of the year up at the Wolvercote end.

We have done well with Whimbrel sightings this year




23rd April: Bar-tailed Godwit

It was another good day of wader passage today. Whilst numbers weren't that great there was some good quality birds in amongst them. It all started this morning with a Bar-tailed Godwit found first thing by Phil Barnett along with a single Whimbrel

The Bar-tailed Godwit

Both these birds stayed all day and were joined late in the afternoon first by a handsome male Ruff and then by a Greenshank. With an Oystercatcher and a Golden Plover stocking fillers it made for a nice variety of waders today.

The male Ruff

There were still at least a dozen Yellow Wagtail dotted about the place with an interesting very pale female bird in amongst them. There is so much to learn about Wagtails - I feel that I am just starting to scratch the surface with them.

Barwit and Greenshank were both year ticks and can now be crossed off our wader wish list. Let's see what the weekend brings!


22nd April

I am still trying to catch up with everything but here are least is the latest news from the 22nd.

The White Stork was around first thing on the Meadow and by all accounts was showing rather well. However the Meadow is too crowded a place for a White Stork to linger long and it was soon gone.

The White Stork first thing this morning courtesy of Mario Garcia

The Glossy Ibis pair were about on the Meadow in the morning but they too soon departed. More cooperative were a pair of Whimbrel which stuck around for the whole day. It's always nice to get this less than annual patch vistor on the year list.

The two Whimbrel

A Green Sandpiper, found by Manor Nair, was another welcome year tick and it too stuck around for the whole day. This species is surprisingly hard to get on the Meadow and is less than annual. An Oystercatcher and a single Little Ringed Plover rounded off the wader news for today.

On the duck front there are precious few about at the moment though five Shelduck are still lingering along with a smattering of Teal and the odd Wigeon or two.

As usual there were lots of Wagtails about, mostly Yellow Wagtail and Ollie Padget found a lovely adult male Channel Wagtail in amongst them in the evening. I am hoping to do a separate write-up on the Wagtails when I have a moment.

The second half of April and early May is the peak time for spring wader passage and indeed is generally the most exciting birding time of the whole year on the Meadow. However, as usual the state of the floods plays a cruical part in how things play out and this year they are rapidly receding just at the critical time so we should make the most of them whilst they last. There are still quite a few waders that we need for the year list: Knot, Greenshank, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Wood Sandpiper would all be reasonably possible about now. Fortunately the Meadow is being well watched at the moment from more or less dawn to dusk. You never know - we might just land a real monster. I've been dreaming of Broad-billed Sandpipers for some reason!


21st April: Glossy Ibis!

This post continues my theme of focused blog posts in order to try and catch up with all the news.

On the evening of the Tuesday 20th whilst people were looking at the White Stork, Steve Jennings spotted three Glossy Ibises flying east at the north end of the Meadow up at Wolvercote. Now there has been a long-staying single Glossy Ibis at Otmoor for several weeks now and a day ago three were seen in flight in the county so presumably this was those same birds. So a great day of Meadow birding was rounded off with Glossy Ibis as icing on the White Stork cake. 

The three Ibises in flight, courtesy of Manoj Nair

The next morning Thomas Miller found the Ibises back on the Meadow which seemed very much to suit them. Indeed they spent most of the day there and offered some great views, in contrast to previous Meadow Ibis views which has been fleeting or distant.



Glossy Ibis shots courtesy of Thomas Miller
 

By the end of the day they seemed to have split up with a pair staying on the floods whereas the singleton had gone (perhaps back to Otmoor). Dare we dream of this pair nesting somewhere in the county at some point? Either way it was great to have such charismatic birds grace our fast dwindling floods.

The pair were also seen on the morning of the 22nd April so may be around for a while yet.


20th April: White Stork!

I realise that I have fallen seriously behind with my Port Meadow blogging once again and now there are so many exciting things to blog that it's going to be far too much to do it all in one hit. Therefore, in order to rectify this I am going to do a series of posts concentrating on some specific aspects of what has been seen recently though it won't necessarily all be in chronological order. This first post is about a very exciting White Stork sighting on Tuesday 20th April. 

Elizabeth Stroud picked out a White Stork circling low over the Meadow at around 5pm. A few of us were on the Meadow at the time and thanks to prompt posting from Elizabeth we managed to get on the bird as it circled and then flew low up the river.

 

White Stork courtesy of Elizabeth Stroud

It was lost to sight heading north over Wolvercote but seemed to be coming into land. It was eventually located by Thomas Miller near King's Lock in the surrounding fields and the rest of the Meadow Team managed to get to see it. 

Courtesy of Manoj Nair

Courtesy of Thomas Miller

This bird is ringed (GB9A) and is part of the Knepp Project reintroduction in which a number of White Storks have been released into the wild in this country. They have been spotted in a number of counties in the southern half of England so it's possible that this (and other birds) may become regular features of the county landscape in months to come. The bird was seen to go to roost near Yarnton Mead and was still around first thing the next morning but after that news dried up on it. It was also reported first thing on 22nd April circling  over the Meadow so it may well hang around for a while and might be feeding in some of the quieter fields surrounding the Meadow.

13th April

It's been an interesting few days since the last post. Frustratingly the sharp northerly wind has kept wader passage to a minimum but now that things are warming up again we are seeing the first signs of renewed passage. Yesterday we had 4 Redshank and 5 Little Ringed Plover on the floods and the day before that we had a Common Sandpiper.

The floods are retreating at a fair pace, as you might expect at this time of year, but nevertheless are looking rather good. Indeed the freshly exposed muddy grass is proving a magnet for Pipits and Wagtail, something of a specialty for the Meadow. Indeed the main interest since my last post has been in this category with a lovely male Blue-headed Wagtail that was found by Thomas Miller being one of the highlights.

Blue-headed Wagtail courtesy of Thomas Miller

Another noteworthy occurrence has been the huge counts of White Wagtails. Up until a couple of years ago we were lucky if we got one or two in a spring but last year that all changed with good counts and this year it's gone off the chart. Indeed the last couple of days we've had about 20 or mote of these very smart birds dotted everywhere about the floods.


White Wagtails, courtesy of Thomas Miller

By contrast, Yellow Wagtail numbers have been rather modest so far this spring (as they often are). The autumn is really the time when the Meadow accumulates good counts of this colourful species.

Yellow Wagtail, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

On the pipit front, in amongst the Meadow Pipits, Nick Boyd found a very striking and colourful bird. Indeed it was interesting enough for our esteemed county recorder to come and take a look though sadly it had disappeared by the time he got there.  Whilst there was some talk of it being one of the two Buff-bellied subspecies, in the end the streakiness on the back and crown, combined with the leg colour (typical Meadow pipit pale) has lead to the conclusion that it is probably just a very colourful and somewhat aberrant whistleri Meadow Pipit. Whilst there are a few subspecies of Meadow Pipit, it's generally thought that they are more on a cline with the more colourful ones to the west ("Iceland" whistleri Meadow Pipits) and the plainer ones to the east. In any event it was a very interesting bird.


Some video of the mystery pipit

There's not been much to report on the duck front with just a few Wigeon and Teal left. There have been up to four Shelduck regularly and the two Egyptian Geese have still been popping in occasionally. Likewise it's all been rather quiet on the gull front though Gull guru Thomas Miller did find an unseasonably late 1w Mediterranean Gull one morning on the floods. Of course April is prime Bonaparte's Gull season so I've been checking the handful of Black-headed Gulls carefully though without success. Common Terns are now being seen regularly on the floods with their distinctive calls echoing across the floods.

The Med Gull, on a snowy morning on the Meadow, courtesy of Thomas Miller

On the warbler front, things have been rather quiet. Whilst we've had our first Willow Warblers singing in Burgess Field, that's been about it so far. The first few Sedge and Reed Warblers have been appearing in the county but the northerly wind has been holding them back as well and we've yet to have any sightings on the patch. We have been graced by the presence of a male Redstart which has been hanging about in Burgess Field for quite a while now. Indeed a second female was also present one day though didn't linger. We did also have a Cetti's Warbler record, much closer to the core patch up in Wolvercote near the lake. It's good to have these skulking warblers around on the patch somewhere at least.

So a good little selection for the last week or so. For the second half of April it's everything to play for - we could really benefit from getting more waders on the year list. We also need to pray for some rain to keep the floods topped up.






8th April

Once again personal circumstances have got in the way of my intention to do more updates and there is plenty to report on since my last update. Until the start of the northerly winds that presently plague us we had a nice little wader passage going with plenty more Black-tailed Godwits, lots of Little Ringed Plover, a few Dunlin and Redshank and one or two Ringed Plover. However, with the onset of the winds that effectively ground to a halt.

The winter duck have all but gone though we still have a couple of pairs of Shelduck and a lone female Pintail recently as well as the usual pair of Egyptian Geese that keep putting in an occasional appearance. One other relic of winter was the report of a Peregrine seen overhead one day.

In terms of stand-out sightings it all started on the 28th when Thomas Miller was lucky enough to be present and looking in the right direction as an Osprey went over. I'm sure that lots of such records are missed each spring but we managed to get this iconic species on the year list last year and it's great to have repeated this feat this year.


The Osprey courtesy of Thomas Miller

The next bird of particular note was a wonderful Little Gull which Manoj Nair found on the 30th. This bird had been lingering at Blenheim previously but graced our patch with it's presence for the morning.

Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Not one but two Redstarts were found in Burgess Field on the 5th. A male and a female were seen separately and not too far apart. Manoj Nair found a Wheatear in the Hinterland near the Poplars one morning and a Marsh Tit was reported along the river near the boatyard by someone one day. This species is less than annual though we sometimes get them dispersing from Wytham Wood.

Apart from these standout sightings there have been a number of the usual species that one might see arriving in April. We have had numerous Yellow Wagtails, White Wagtails and Common Terns. The usual Hirundines are starting to be seen as well with House Martins and Swallows starting to appear. The first male Willow Warblers have been singing in Burgess Field.

So looking ahead, it's all going to happen over the next few weeks. The rest of the Warblers will be passing through soon and we might start to listen out for Cuckoo and look out for Hobbies. Whinchat and Tree Pipit would be great to get on the list and if we can get some more wader passage then there are lots of species we still need there. It's everything to play for now: very exciting!