End of Year Review

As usual I am late with my end of year review. Still with not much happening in January apart from reticking the usual suspects it gives me time to reflect on the last year. In terms of the final year total it was another record breaking year. The previous record of 135 was created in 2020 and this year we have gone "at least" one better. I say "at least" because the final total depends very much on what birds you include on this list. To give an exact description of the state of affairs let me quote the figures as strict BOU + extras. So we have:

2020: 135 + Crane (r/s)
2021: 136 + Crane (r/s) + White Stork (r/s) + Snow Goose (f) + Red-breasted Goose (pf)

Key:
r/s = release scheme
f   = feral but not BOU Cat. C
pf = probably feral (though could be wild)

Exactly what to include on a list is the topic of many a long conversation in the pub. Personally I like to be fairly lenient on the ticking front and so my personal list includes multiple layers but that is another whole blog post in its own right. For now I'll leave it as above and will decide what listing authority the Meadow is going to use at some point down the line. Anyway, onto the round-up of the year.

 

Winter
This started off with the usual fare. Fortunately there were plenty of gulls to keep the interest up and thanks largely to Thomas Miller's efforts we had plenty of Caspian Gulls, Mediterranean Gulls and a first winter Little Gull. The latter is rather unusual for the Meadow at this time of year with only one previous winter record during my time.

"Eric" the Casian Gull became a regular on the floods, courtesy of Thomas Miller

The unusual winter Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

In March we had this lovely Med Gull

The tail end of winter brough us a couple of Brambling in Burgess Field. This smart finch is less than annual on the patch so it was nice to have a record on the year list. 


Spring
Spring was early this year. In March we not only had Sand Martins but a very early House Martin as well as Little Ringed Plovers and even a Ringed Plover. The latter we wouldn't normally expect until April. We also had a lovely flock of five Avocets that spent the day on the Meadow despite the efforts of a couple of photographers to flush them. 


The highlight of March was a wonderful Black Redstart that was found up in Wolvercote. This was the first proper record for the patch, with previous birds consisting only of a boundary stretching one in Jericho a few years previously.

The Wolvercote Black Redstart courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Also of note for March was a flurry of islandica Black-tailed Godwit records.

Islandica Black-tailed Godwitcourtesy of Thomas Miller

Things really stepped up a gear as we moved into April. Given that we don't usually have any flood waters in the autumn, this month marks the peak of passage movement on the Meadow of the year and is always an exciting month. We had an Osprey sighting and the Blenheim Little Gull dropped in for a few days on the Meadow.

Ospreycourtesy of Thomas Miller

Little Gullcourtesy of Thomas Miller

It was an excellent spring for Wagtails with very large daily counts of White Wagtails and quite a few Blue-headed and Channel Wagtails in among the Yellows.

Blue-headed Wagtailcourtesy of Thomas Miller

Some of the highlights of the spring were of "larger birds". We had a visit by a White Stork from the Knepp reintroduction project. It would occasionally be seen the Meadow but ended up spending much of its time over towards Wytham in the fields near the river.

The White Stork courtesy of Mario Garcia

One of the highlights of the spring was the appearance of three Glossy Ibis. This bird is following in the footsteps of Cattle and Great White Egrets in colonising this country though it's somewhat behind those species. So to have three of these smart birds around on the Meadow offering such good views was something special.

Two of the three Glossy Ibis

Towards the end of April we managed to get Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit on the year list. Both these species are less than annual so it was good to have them there. As we moved into May things quietened down some more despite some unseasonal rain that kept the floods topped up. We added Grey Plover and Wood Sandpiper to the list as well before the spring passage ended.


Summer
The summer months are traditionally slow on the bird front. We had the pair of Otmoor Cranes commuting over our air space to Chimney Meadows and the feral flock of Snow Geese dropped into the Meadow for a visit.

Commuting Cranescourtesy of Thomas Miller

The feral Snow Goose flock

In these quieter times other aspects of nature often become the focus of our attention. There was a lovely Downy Emerald dragonfly in the Trap Grounds for a few days. This is a comparatively uncommon species in Oxfordshire.

Down Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine

There were also orchids to look at with lots of Bee Orchids and Pyramidal Orchids to be found thanks to optimal growing conditions for flowers. Indeed Burgess Field was a riot of colour this summer with far more species and growing far taller than usual.

As we moved into autumn, our star odonata species from last year, Willow Emerald, was once again found in the Trap Grounds.

Willow Emerald

Autumn
There was a slow start to Autumn with not much to report beyond a few Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers. We did have a Great White Egret sightings when one flew down the river but there was little else. The Blenheim and then Otmoor Cattle Egrets eventually found their way to the Meadow and it was lovely to see them in amongst the cattle. They eventually moved on to the livestock fields in Wytham where they are spending the winter.

Cattle Egretscourtesy of Matthew Lloyd
 

Things all stepped up a gear towards the end of October. The floods returned earlier than usual which meant that we had some small pools which ended up pulling in a Pectoral Sandpiper. This neartic wader has only been recorded twice before on the Meadow and was a proper national scarcity with many people coming from far and wide to see it. It ended up staying for about a week.

Pectoral Sandpiper courtesy of Stephen Burch

Winter Again
November was predictably quiet and it looked like December was heading that way as well until a wonderful first winter Dotterel was found in amongst the Golden Plover flock. This species is rarer in the county than Pectoral Sandpiper and is certainly a first for the Meadow. It was seen sporadically over a week or two before relocating to Otmoor on the last day of the year.

Dotterel courtesy of Ollie Padget

The only other birds of note were the two Otmoor Red-breasted Geese which relocated from Otmoor to join the Meadow Barnacle Goose flock. Whilst these are more likely to be escaped birds they make a colourful addition to the Meadow geese.

Red-breasted Geese courtesy of Joe Tobias

The Bird of the Year

So its finally time for the coveted bird of the year award. With another record breaking year and some great birds, the short list is pretty strong but in the end it has to go to the first winter Dotterel. It was the rarest county bird and a first for the Meadow. Let's hope that it pops in again sometime soon to grace the pages of the new year list.


31st December

There's not been anything of particular note for the rest of  December to push me to doing another blog post and somehow things have drifted until the end of the year. The star Dotterel was belatedly reported once again on the 16th by a photographer and subsequently turned up at Otmoor so it's still very much around though not staying faithful to any one spot. The Golden Plover flock seems to have disappeared now so we're less likely to see it again on the Meadow for the time being.

The floods just about held together until finally we got a decent amount of rain which pushed them up to a larger size. We ideally need the river to flood at some point to ensure that they are nice and full for the spring passage. We finally started to get a bit of a gull roost towards the middle of the month with a few Yellow-legged Gulls and a 4w Caspian Gull (the latter courtesy of Thomas Miller). Towards the end of the year, the increased number of people on the Meadow meant that any roost was highly likely to be disturbed and the gulling was difficult.

The 4w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Regarding water fowl, apart from the usual species there was a Pintail one day that Mary MacDougall reported. At the end of the month the Otmoor Red-breasted Geese decided to change location and started to hang out with the Barnacle Geese on the Meadow. They make a most colourful addition to the goose population on the Meadow even if they are in all probability escapes. 

The Red-breasted Geese courtesy of Joe Tobias

In terms of waders, there was a female Ruff on a couple of occasions and a single Redshank was seen for a few days. Regarding other species, a heard-only Brambling flew over Wolvercote at dusk (per Nick Boyd) and a few Redpoll have been heard going over Burgess Field by Ollie Padget.

So that's the end of another birding year on the Meadow. My next post will the customary annual review but now it's time to scrub out the year list and start all over again!.


12th December

December had been rather quiet up until a few days ago. Indeed, when thinking about what to post for the next blog update the most exciting thing that I could think of was the fact that the winter gull roost had finally kicked off. We've had up to 500 large gulls at the evening roost though so far the best that has turned up has been a few Yellow-legged Gulls.

Apart from the gulls it's been the usal birds: a flock of several hundred Golden Plover, a dozen or so Lapwing, a few hundred Wigeon and a smaller number of Teal and good counts of Canada Geese and Greylags with a moderate flock of forty or so Barnacle Geese thrown in for good measure. Winter duck numbers have been steadily increasing throughout the month though we really need more rain to take things to the next level.

A few of us have been dutifully scouring through the various flocks each visit, with American vagrants the main object of our searches. So for the Wigeon it would be American Wigeon, for the Teal it would be Green-winged Teal and the Golden Plover have been searched for American Golden Plover. Of course it's a long shot for each of these but that is how these things are found. This diligent searching suddenly paid off big time this week when on Tuesday Ollie Padget turned up an overwinterting Dotterel in amongst the Golen Plover flock. Completely left field this it not something you'd expect to find at all at this time of year and indeed is the first ever record for the Meadow. The bird was found early afternoon and hung around until about 4pm when it flew off in a northerly direction.

Dotterel, courtesy of the finder, Ollie Padget

Once news was released this prompted a photograph from a less experienced birder who it turns out has seen it on Saturday in amongst the Goldies though didn't know what it was. 

On Saturday, courtesy of Paul Torevell

The next morning it was seen again in the morning before a bastard photographer flushed it by trying to get too close. That was the last time that it was seen.

This bird nicely trumps the Pectoral Sandpiper in taking the Bird of the Year slot. Whilst nationally a Dotterel is a summer breeder whereas Pectoral Sandpiper is a scarce vagrant, in terms of Oxon records Dotterel has only been seen three times since 2001, far fewer than Pec Sand:
a) May 2004, one day bird near White Horse Hill
b) Apr-May 2012: long stayer near Balscote Quarry, Banbury area
c) May 2016: single observer record near Barford St John

So a cracking new Meadow record and a wonderful bird to see.

To add icing to the cake, a non birder reported via Twitter a Whooper Swan on the river the previous weekend and even backed it up with a (rather blurry) photograph. So that is a second year tick and pushes the tally further ahead to a new record breaking total of 138 (including Snow Goose). Could we possibly squeeze one more tick out this year? It's not impossible!

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.