End of May Update

Continuing the theme from April, it's been a rather unsual May. Once again we've been low on waders and the hoped-for usual top drawer spring waders never materialised in the first half of the month. Still we've had some decent non-wading birds to make up for it.

Top of the list was a wonderful Spoonbill that was found by Thomas Miller on the 22nd. There was a period from 2009 to 2011 when it was an annual sighting but since then we've only had one more in 2016. Records are generally towards the end of the first half of the year and this one was very much in character. Still a scarce county bird, it's an excellent bird and candidate for Port Meadow Bird of the Year. The bird was ringed and was therefore identifiable as a bird from Denmark that overwintered down at the Hayle estuary in Cornwall. It had been present the previous day in Cornwall still so clearly had travelled a fair distance just in one day.


The Spoonbill, courtesy of Thomas Miller

We also had another Glossy Ibis drop in. This was a different bird from the last one and didn't linger too long.

A different Glossy Ibis courtesy of Thomas Miller

Whilst we are talking larger wading birds, we've had a couple of Great White Egrets and Cattle Egrets seen periodically throughout the month.

Onto waders, and as I said in the introduction, it's been slim pickings. The star wader was a Little Ringed Plover which was found towards the end of the month. Amazingly, this was the first of the year. A sad state of affairs given that we used to get dozens of them and they would usually be one of the earliest waders on the list. The general consensus is that the shoreline has been over vegetated and not so attractive to a species that generally prefers a rather flat shoreline to work its way over. The other main wader has been Ringed Plover which has started coming through in increasing number with up to 12 seen at one time. Apart from that it's just been the occasional Oystercatcher, presumably one popping over from one of the neighbouring gravel pits where they probably breed.

A record shot of the first Little Ringed Plover of the year courtesy of Thomas Miller

As far as wildfowl are concerned, whilst its not really a time of year of peak interest, the continuing floods have meant there have been plenty of birds around. There have been up to 50 of the feral Snow Goose flock persent for most of the month. Evidentally the nice damp conditions have been enough to tempt the birds away from their usual Farmoor habitat. Similarly there have been up to 30 Barnacle Geese lingering for much of the month. These are usually here only in the winter but some have clearly decided to stay. Shelduck have lingered for most of the month with a peak count of 11 and a few pairs usually around. Egyptian Geese have been seen regularly as well with up to 8 birds. I hope they manage to breed again this year. The spring non-breeder Mute Swan gathering is still on-going though numbers are now down from their peak count somewhere in the 80's. Recently they've been accompanied by a feral Black Swan. Up to four Tufted Duck dropped in a few evenings in a row earlier in the month. The drake Garganey was seen a few more times at the start of the month before departing.

Rounding things off we had a male Cuckoo calling regularly around Burgess Field and the Trap Grounds for about a week at the start of the month. A pair of Ring-necked Parakeets were seen on a couple of occasions at the start of the month. Onto raptors and a Hobby was seen on a couple of occasions and a Peregrine has been hanging around the general area as well. Finally, there has been an unseasonal 2cy Caspian Gull seen a few times.

Looking ahead, we are now into June, traditionally a very quiet time for birds. At least we still have some flood waters but from past experience it is usually only Ringed Plover and Dunlin that we are likely to see this month. Still, you never know what might drop in and it only takes one really good bird. Finger's crossed!

End of April/Early May Update

Up until a few days ago when I was contemplating writing this post, I was thinking that I was going to have to complain about how poor the birding had been. The persistent blocking weather pattern over southern Spain has meant that everything up until now has been very muted and restrained. It feels as though the spring passage is spluttering along but not firing on all cylinders. However, with the warmer weather over the last few days have also come some decent birds and this post is now going to be more of a celebration of some top patch birds.

First up, and certainly a candidate for Port Meadow Bird of the Year was a wonderful female Grey-headed (Thunbergi) Yellow Wagtail found by Thomas Miller on Friday evening. Conditions were gloomy and the bird was very distant so it was hard work getting any photos or video but it was certainly a striking bird. This is at the same time of year as the male Grey-headed Wagtail back in 2019 so it's becoming a bit of a patch habit!

A record shot courtesy of Steve Sansom

Some video courtesy of Steve Lavington

Next on the list was a drake Garganey at last. The Meadow floods have looked ideal for this species all spring so it's great that one finally turned up. So far it has spent much of its time skulking deep in the flooded grass which comes to over head height for a duck so it's been quite hard to see. Hopefully, it will become more confiding and will stick around a while.

The drake Garganey courtesy of Steve Sansom

Video courtesy of Steve Lavington

The third good bird was a Glossy Ibis which turned up today. There has been one for a couple of days on Otmoor and again the floods have looked ideal for this species so it's good that it's found its way here and onto the patch year list. We've been lucky to host one on four of the past five years with last year being the only ommission.


The Glossy Ibis courtesy of Steve Lavington

...video courtesy of Steve Lavington

Apart from that it's been the usual mix of different spring birds. Our Great White Egrets have been a regular feature with up to 5 loitering on the floods though numbers seem to have dropped off sharply in the last few days. Today a single Cattle Egret was showing well at the southern end of the Meadow. At last we had a Wheatear record that wasn't way up by King's Lock,when a tired looking bird dropped in one evening. Cuckoo's have started to be heard in Burgess Field and across the river. The Farmoor Snow Geese have taken a liking to the lush grass of the Meadow and have been dropping in the last few days. Shelduck are still being seen regularly with up to 7 recorded. Apart from our star Wagtail we've had up to 25 Yellow Wagtails and 4 White Wagtails though at this time of year they are not lingering at all. In amongst them have been a few female type Blue-headed (flava) Wagtails. The first Swifts have arrived and are now a regular feature. As a throwback to winter, we did have a Caspian Gull record on a couple of occasions.

Four Great White Egrets courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Finally onto waders and it's been a rather poor spring for these so far. In part this is because the floods have been so full that there has been little in the way of a shoreline for them In fact we've yet to have Little Ringed Plover at all, an amazing statistic given that it's May already. Peak counts have been 2 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover, 4 Greenshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Lapwing and 8 Oystercatcher.

Looking ahead, traditionally, the first couple of weeks of May were the best for the rarer spring waders but given how weird the passage has been so far who knows. We are still missing some pretty basic waders including all three Sandpipers (Common, Green and Wood) as well as Ruff, Little Ringed Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit. Sedge Warbler has yet to be recorded though the last few years this species has become quite difficult for the patch. Other things like Hobby and Spotted Flycatcher should be recorded at some point with any luck. There are also some passerines like Redstart, Whinchat and Tree Pipit to look out for though these are often more return passage species. Anyway, given how it feels like things are picking up, there is everything to play for in the next few weeks.

Mid April Update

It's actually later than mid April but somehow things got away from me! In general it's been a steady start to the peak spring passage. We've managed to get most of the things on the year list that we might expect though there has been a definite feel of it being a trickle of migrants rather than a real flood. I've heard of a blocking weather pattern over Spain holding things back - whatever the reason it will be good when birds really start to move in numbers.

The first Willow Warbler and first Swallow of the season arrived nice and early on 1st April and since then things have turned up in dribs and drabs. House and Sand Martins have come through regulars in modest numbers. Yellow Wagtails have started to turn up with a peak count of 12 recently. Just in the last few days some White Wagtails have been found with up to four counted. Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warber have all started to turn up. One of the highlights has been not one but two Grasshopper Warbler in Burgess Field, one of which was ringed. Whilst they used to breed in Burgess Field, this species is much harder to get on the year list these days. Common Terns arrived in small numbers though didn't linger.

A Grasshopper Warbler in the hand


On the wader front we've had a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits go through and a few Greenshank have been recorded as well. 4 Curlew flew over and up to 4 Oystercatchers have also been seen. A (heard-only) flyover Whimbrel was nice to get on the year list - they are by no means guaranteed. One notable feature has been the relative absence of small waders. I think the shoreline has been a bit too boggy for them: so far we've had just a couple of Ringed Plover and a flyover Dunlin but remarkably, no Little Ringed Plover as yet.

Yellow Wagtail courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

We've been blessed with the usual Great White Egret for the whole preiod, joined by a second bird over the last few days. Cattle Egrets have been seen distantly on Wytham Hill and in the fields near Wytham Field Station.

Rounding things up, some heard-only Little Gulls flying over Jericho in the early hours was an unusual record. We've had a couple of Osprey go through and a late Short-eared Owl as well. On some days there has been a distinct movement of Red Kites with up to 20 seen going through. A Cuckoo was heard up near the King's Lock area. There's been little to report on the duck front with no Garganey as yet but there have been up to 6 Shelduck and 4 Egyptian Geese loafing around.

Looking ahead, we should be getting more top quality spring migrants passing through now so it's everything to play for. We're a bit light on waders on the year list so far so it's a critical time to try and get them before the floods dry up.

End of Winter Update

My end of February update has rather slipped and become instead an end of winter update. There are definite signs of spring in the air with the first migrants starting to appear in the county though the Meadow has yet to have any. Still it's been a reasonable period since my last update at the end of January.

Starting with waders, as a bit of early end of season movement gets underway, at last we've got something to report here. The stand-out highlight was a record of 3 Avocet that dropped in for a few hours along the north shore. This species is a bit less than annual though we've managed them in four of the last five years. The usual time for them is late winter or early spring so this record is fairly typical.

The three Avocet were rather distant and conditions were murky so this is best photo I could manage

Apart from that we've had up to 3 Oystercatchers, up to 67 Dunlin, up to 69 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Redshank and a pair of Curlew. So, after a rather lean wader winter, things have at last been getting up to speed. The Great White Egret has been hanging out still. It is often hidden around the northern end of Burgess Field though sometimes strays out onto the floods themselves.

Digiscoped videograb of the Great White Egret

It's been a rather quiet end of season for gulls. We've had the usual 1st winter Caspian Gull and a fly-through 2nd winter as well as a few Yellow-legged Gulls. An adult Mediterranean Gull roosted several days in a row before moving on. Just recently the spring Common Gull passage has begun with up to 250 of this species being seen in recent evenings.

On the duck and goose front it's been pretty much the usual suspects. We've had the Barnacle Goose flock on occasions though they have been less prevalent than in previous years. In what has been a very lean winter in the county for Goosander we've managed to have a few birds fairly regularly. When the floods have been more extended there have been up to four Great Crested Grebes. The spring Shelduck gathering is well underway with up to 11 birds seen recently. Finally, on occasion we've been getting excellent Pintail counts with 56 birds counted at the most.

On the passerine front the two Siberian Chiffchaff are still being seen on occasion, though less frequently than earlier in the seaon. Siskin numbers have been good with some reasonably sized flocks in the trees along the canal. Up to 6 Redpoll have been seen in the Trap Grounds area. A male Cetti's Warbler has been visiting the Trap Grounds reedbed on and off throughout the winter. Talking of the Trap Grounds, one or two Water Rail have been heard in the reedbed. It's been quiet on the raptor front though a pair of Peregrines is a nice record.

The unringed Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Joe Woodman

Looking forward, we've coming up to the best birding of the year for the Meadow with April being when there is most action. We can expect the first Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martins any day now and Wheatear should be soon as well. It's an exciting time of year!

January Update

So here we are into February already. January is generally a time for catching up with the usual residents and winter visitors for the purposes of the year list but this month we've had some really nice birds. In fact there were two species which didn't make it onto the record breaking year list total of last year so they must be pretty good! The weather has been mixed with lots of floods at the start of the year, then a severe cold snap which froze everything over and then some mild but rather dry weather to see the month out.

We have to start our report with Waxwings. As I'm sure many readers will already be aware, this winter is a "Waxwing Winter" (see here) where sufficient numbers of these Scandinanvian berry bandits have invaded the country for there to be a fighting chance of Oxon getting some. However it wasn't until January that we finally got some twitchable birds in the county and fortunately they were on the Port Meadow patch! There were between 2 and 8 birds, most easily seen at the end of Plater Drive where they would launch raids on a Sorbus Tree there. They stayed on and off for about a week and were much enjoyed by many people.

Waxwing on the lookout

Courtesy of Ben Sheldon

A compilation video

Sadly, there have been no further reports at all for a couple of weeks now anywhere within the county. One almost has the feeling that they are on their way back north now already.

The second bird of note was Jack Snipe. This species is presumably annual on the patch though it is not recorded every year given how elusive and hard to see they are. However, the unuusually extreme flooding gave the opportunity for some of the local ringers to find some of them using a thermal imager and even managing to trap one or two and ring them. I was lucky to be invited along to see one in the hand before it was released.

A Jack Snipe "in the hand"

We've had lots of Chiffchaff loitering around Burgess Field entrance gate with up to two Siberian Chiffchaff (the ringed and the unringed) in amongst them. It's wonderful that this striking subspecies is becoming annual on the patch. Talking of warblers, as for most years, I've had a pair of over-wintering Blackcap in my garden.

The ringed Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Thomas Miller

..and a photo courtesy of Ben Sheldon

Apart from these star birds it was much more ordinary fare that we might expect at this time of year. Winter is typically about wildfowl and there were plenty of those about with good number of Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler about. There was a noticeable influx of Pintail with an amazing peak count of 84 bird at one point. Shelduck numbers have started to build already with a peak count of 8 and the first few Gadwall (normally seen much later on) have already appeared. The first 4 Egyptian Geese have also been seen along with some Goosander on the river. The overwintering Barnacle Geese have been seen in amongst the other usual geese species though they have not been around as much this month as in previous Januarys. The highlight of the month from the duck perspective was the appearance of 5 Pochard for a couple of days. Diving ducks are normally much rarer on the floods so these were most welcome. Another diving species, Great Crested Grebe, was also seen for a few days when the floods were particularly deep.

On the wader front the main point of interest was a single Grey Plover in amongst the Golden Plover flock. This species, normally seen towards the end of the spring passage on the Meadow, was seen on a couple of occasions in the month. Apart from that there were good numbers of Dunlin present with a peak count of 50 this month. There were also one or two Redshank seen sporadicallly during the course of the month

Dunlin on ice courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

January is traditionally a good gulling month though we have not had any really huge roosts this month, symptomatic of a general decline in gull numbers in the county over recent years. However we have been graced with a few Caspian Gulls: the regular 1st winter being joined occasionally by another 1w and a 3w. There have been the usual Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages but once again we have not managed a white-winger so far.

Finally, onto other species and a Great White Egret has been finding the patch to its liking this month. It's been seen regularly from New Year's Day onwards in various parts of the Meadow, including along the Burgess Field border ditch, up at Wolvercote Lakes as well as on the main floods themselves. We have had Cattle Egret on New Year's Day and Little, thereby completing the Egret set on day one!

The two Stonechat have been seen sporadically throughout the month down in their favoured thistle patch between the Walton Well Rd and Aristotle Lane entrances. There have been some Siskin reports during the month with large numbers reported up at the lake at the north end of the Waterside development. 

So onto February, which is traditionally a very quiet month when most of the winter species have already been seen but it's still too early for migrants. Still, you never know what might turn up and it only takes one left-field bird to make things exciting!

2023 End of Year Review

It's time once again for the fashionably late end of year review for Port Meadow. And what a year it's been! The year list total has been absolutely smashed with a stonking 148 birds. Truly remarkable!

January is traditionally a fairly quiet month of gulling and catching up on winter residents but this year things started with a bang with a drake American Wigeon - a pretty rare county bird with only a handful of county records. Sadly the bird was only seen on the patch one evening by a single observer but it later relocated to Otmoor where it stayed quite a while.

The drake American Wigeon courtesy of Thomas Miller

Apart from this star bird it was the usual Caspian Gulls with an adult Mediterranean Gull as an early season bonus. There were also a couple of White-fronted Geese which appeared to be genuine (though it's always hard to tell).

February, which is usually a quiet month, held a surprise Avocet for one morning on the floods. There were also more Caspian Gulls on the floods and up to two Siberian Chiffchaff hanging out by Burgess Field gate.

The Avocet, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

More unusually, there was a single brief visit of a Willow Tit passing through the gardens near Kingston Road.

March is when things start to kick off with the first returning waders. In addition to this there was some really good gulling this month with loads of Caspian Gulls and several Mediterranean Gulls as well, mostly adults with one 2w bird one evening.

1w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Two adult Med Gulls courtesy of Steve Lavington

Spring migrants seemed to arrive early this year with the first Willow Warblers and White Wagtails quite a bit ahead of schedule. There were also another pair of White-fronted Geese that looked genuine. A fly-over Sandwich Tern was a really good record. There was another left-field record this month in the form of a Merlin (a patch Mega) being chased down Leckford Rd by a pair of Peregrine!

April is usually the most exciting month in terms of migrant arrivals and this year was no exception. Apart from the usual fare we had a Grey Plover (more usually seen in May) and an amazing record of a fly-over Mandarin Duck (a patch Mega) seen by a couple of lucky observers. There was still some good gulling to be had when the Meadow got in on the influx of Kittiwakes to the county when two birds turned up one morning.

The two Kittiwakes, courtesy of Steve Lavington

We also had numerious Garganey records this spring. This species is always a delight to see.

Courtesy of Thomas Miller

We also had a couple of flocks of 6 Arctic Tern fly over. This is another rare Meadow bird but thanks to increased vis mig coverage this year we managed to get it on the list. A delightful flock of 13 Little Gulls dropped in on the Meadow for a short while.

One of the Little Gulls courtesy of Thomas Miller

Other noteworthy records this month was our first Osprey sighting, an usually late Short-eared Owl and the first Cattle Egret of the year. We also managed to get Wood Sandpiper and Whimbrel on the year list through a couple of birds that didn't stay long or just flew through. 

The star bird of the month however was a singing male Wood Warbler in Burgess Field. This species is annual in the county, almost always in spring but usually just a single observer, hard to twitch, sighting. So to get one passing through Port Meadow was quite something!

The Wood Warbler, courtesy of Pete Roby

We also managed to get Redstart on the year list in spring. Normally autumn is when we get this species, so that was rather unusual.

May is usually quieter but when we often get the rarer wader species and a Bar-tailed Godwit duly obliged along with our second Grey Plover of the year.

Bar-tailed Godwit courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Grey Plover courtesy of Thomas Miller

There were also a couple more Osprey sightings, one of which was twitchable as it lingered for about an hour. Great White Egret made it onto the year list as well. We also had a Nightingale singing along the canal one evening. This is a rare patch and county species though over the years there have been a few records along the canal.

June was quiet on the birding front as you would expect though we did get a fly-over Crossbill record, a real patch Mega! Our Little Owls bred again this year and it was a delight to see the youngster being fed at dusk. On the Odonata front we had a good season once again with Downy Emerald seen again, as well as Small Red-eyed Damselfly and several Hairy Hawkers along with the usual species.

July and August were quiet with a Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher the pick of the birds along with the first returning Common Sandpipers. 

September was also a quiet month with just another Redstart to show for it. Cattle Egrets started to be seen in greater numbers and the Willow Emeralds appeared in the Trap Grounds once again.

Trap Grounds Willow Emerald

October was also quiet though at least we got the floods back and had more gulls to look at.

1w Caspian Gull courtesy of Steve Lavington

There were two stand-out records this month: firstly a Marsh Harrier was spotted over Wytham Hill. This is yet another Patch Mega. Another good records was a Rock/Water Pipit fly-over that was never nailed down to exact species.

After a very quiet autumn, it was left to November to bring in some good birds. This happened in no small measure when an amazing record of a red-head Smew was found on the much extended flood waters. A truly incredible record!

The red-head Smew courtesy of Steve Lavington

The swollen floods also drew in both Pochard and Red-crested Pochard. As diving ducks these are comparatively rare on the patch. There was more good gulling with quite a few Caspian Gulls and another (our third of the year) fly-over Grey Plover. A ringed Siberian Chiffchaff was an excellent record for Burgess Field.

Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Thomas Miller

After the excitment of November, things got pretty quiet again for December though there was an amazing record of a Marsh Harrier (our second of the year!!) hunting over the floods briefly. 

The Marsh Harrier courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

The ringed Siberian Chiffchaff stuck around and a second unringed bird was seen in Burgess Field one afternoon.

So that was 2023. As you can see, most of the action happened in the first half of the year though there was just enough of interest in the second half to keep things ticking over. In terms of bird of the year it has to go to the American Wigeon though the Smew, the Wood Warbler, the two Kittiwakes and the Marsh Harriers the certainly deserve honerable mentions.

So it only remains for me to wish readers of this blog a Happy New Year and for me to thank the many dedicated birders who work the Port Meadow patch alongside me. Here's to another amazing patch year for 2024!

December Update

I thought that I'd better do the usual monthly round-up for December before I do the review of the year. It was a reasonable month with some good birds though nothing outstanding and we didn't manage to add any more year ticks to the tally. The floods were reasonably large all month so there were plenty of duck around including up to 30 Pintail and 3 Shelduck. On the wader front we managed up to 16 Dunlin along with a Black-tailed Godwit at the start of month. There were also up to 150 Snipe and about 400 Golden Plover.

December is the month when winter gulling gets going properly and we were rewarded with several Caspian Gulls over the month. There was a another 1w Caspian which joined the usual bird on a couple of evenings, a 3w bird one evening and an adult another evening. There were also a few Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages.

The adult Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

The ringed Siberian Chiffchaff was seen a few times near to Burgess Field gate along with quite a few normal Chiffchaff. On one occasion a second un-ringed Siberian Chiffchaff was found (and heard to call) in Burgess Field. Also on the passerine front, there were up to 3 Stonechat in the thistle patch in the south east corner of the Meadow.

The highlight of the month was the brief appearance of a Marsh Harrier hunting over the floods, sending everything up. Whilst this isn't a year tick thanks to the bird seen over Wytham Hill, having one hunting over the actual floods themselves is a great record!

Matthew Lloyd took this cracking photo of the Marsh Harrier as it hunted over the floods

To round things off a couple of Cranes were seen flying over the Meadow one day, presumably commuting to Otmoor.

November Update

It's been a really good month on the Port Meadow patch, especially if you consider that it's November which is not normally known for producing lots of good birds. The clear highlight of the month was a red-head Smew, found by Steve Lavington in the gloom late on the afternoon of the 16th. Those who were able to get out quickly got to see it but it disappeared before sunset and wasn't seen again the next day. Smew is a less than annual county bird and the last bird in the city was 75 years ago at Godstow Lock!

The distant Smew, courtesy of Steve Lavington

While we are talking about ducks, the extended flood waters have been pulling in some other diving duck species as well as the Smew. A Red-creasted Pochard, which is less than annual on the patch, was seen for half a day on the 29th. In addition on the day after the Smew was found there were 4 Pochard and 10 Tufted Duck in the morning. Apart from these, it's been more of the usual fare with up to 20 Pintail and up to 4 Shelduck in amongst the usual Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler. The 7 dodgy White-fronted Geese turned up one evening though the Barnacle Geese seem largely to have moved on to pastures new and were only seen on one or two days.

Onto waders next and we've had a bit more interest this month with a Black-tailed Godwit for the end of the month, up to 15 Dunlin, up to 100 Snipe, up to 500 Golden Plover and a single fly-over Grey Plover. There was also a Cattle Egret sighting though the flock seems to have moved on now.

On the gull front, the roost is gradually building though at the moment there are not very many large gulls about. We have been fortunate enough to host a 1st winter Caspian Gull most evenings in the roost though. 

1w Yellow-legged Gull and 1w Caspian Gull, courtesy of Thomas Miller

In terms of passerines, we had the first Siberian Chiffchaff of the season with a gorgeous bird trapped and ringed in Burgess Field. There is speculation as to whether this might be the returning bird from last year. A pair of Stonechat have been faithful to the thistles at the southern end of the Meadow all month. A Cetti's Warbler has taken up residence in the Trap Grounds. Let's hope it finds it to its liking and sticks around.

Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Thomas Miller

Predators include a Tawny Owl calling up in Wolvercote one evening and a Peregrine seen hunting over the floods. A Great-White Egret was seen flying along the river one day and a pair of Water Rail are in residence in the Trap Grounds reedbed for the winter. Finally, a Woodcock was flushed from Burgess Field one evening.

We are now into the last month of the year. The year list is currently on an astonishing 148, absolutely smashing last year's record total of 141. In fact, I am wondering if we can top 150 this year. With Marsh Tit, Jack Snipe, Brambling, both Partridges and both winter Swans still needed there are plenty of potential ticks that could get us across the line. There's even the chance of a Waxwing, given that it seems to be a good year for them. With the gull season properly kicking off this month as well, there's still plenty to look for out there.


October Update

We've been blessed with a pretty wet October which has restored the floods to their full glory. With the returning waters have come the wild fowl once again and the Meadow is once more back to its birdy best. In terms of what's actually been seen this last month, if truth be told, things have been rather quiet though there has been enough to keep things ticking over as well as one real patch mega. 

Starting with the ducks, the usual species are back with mostly Wigeon and some Teal about in reasonable numbers. A few Shoveler are about as well as some Gadwall and Pintail. All the usual geese are about including our Barnacle Goose flock which are now pretty much resident here for the time being. Four Shelduck have been an unusual sighting for this time of year. There have also been some Goosander sightings on the river.

The usual dodgy White-fronted Geese have paid occasional visits to the Meadow this month (photo courtesy of Steve Lavington)

With the returning waters we've also started to attract some gulls again and a 1st winter Caspian Gull has rather taken a liking to the floods and has been seen fairly regularly. At the moment the gull roost is mostly Black-headed Gulls but in past years, it's not really until December that the gull roost gets going properly.

1w Caspian Gull, courtesy of Steve Lavington

We've not had much on the wader front though we did have up to 4 Dunlin for a couple of days. We are started to get a gathering of Lapwing and Golden Plover now as well, though it's still early days, especially for the latter species which has been rather sporadic.

Onto raptors and it's this category in which we got our patch mega when a Marsh Harrier was spotted soaring over Wytham Hill on the 14th. I've long thought that this would be a reasonable species to get in transit over Wytham but it's thanks to the vigilence of Steve Lavington for putting the hours in that it goes on the patch list.

Steve also managed to get a probable fly-over heard-only Rock Pipit though he couldn't rule out Water Pipit from what he heard. Either species is a great record for the Meadow though Water is certainly the rarer of the two in the county.

There's been plenty of Egret action this last month. When the floods were just starting to return and the newly formed water was flooding out all the worms, this attracated an amazing total of 27 Cattle Egret! We've had more modest counts quite a few times over the month though they now mostly seemed to have moved on. We also had a couple of Great White Egret seen flying along the river one morning this month.

Finally, on to passerines where we've had up to 4 Stonechat hanging out in the uncut Thistles at the southern end of the Meadow. Two of these are still hanging about and might even over-winter as long as the weather doesn't get too severe.

Female Stonechat courtesy of Steve Lavington

There has been an unprecedented number of Money Spiders about this month with their gosamer threads absolutely everywhere. It's been quite a sight!
(photo courtesy of Mary McDougal)

September (& a bit of October) Update

It's a testimony to the lack of much in the way of sightings that what should have been a more active month is reduced to an end of month summary. We did have some embryonic flood waters form during the wetter period at the start of September but now we are back to unseasonably warm, dry conditions and they have gone again. This has left us scratching around for much to report at all. Sad times!

Starting with wild fowl, as you would expect with the lack of flood waters there is precious little to report. The flock of 80 or so Barnacle Geese are back grazing on the Meadow and we did briefly attract the first Teal and Wigeon on the flood waters before they disappeared. The first red-head Goosander of the autumn has been seen on the river. On Wolvercote Lake, the first couple of Tufted Duck have appeared there as well as a handful of Teal, one Wigeon and one Shoveler.

Normally at this time of year you can at least rely on passerine passage in Burgess Field for some points of interest though we've only managed one Redstart record this month and no Spotted Flycatchers. To be honest, I'm not sure how well watched Burgess Field has been this last month - I know that I haven't been that often myself. Sadly, Yellow Wagtails were noticable by there absence this year with very few reported all month on the Meadow.

We did have a brief Whinchat on the Meadow one morning and up to 5 of this species were seen north of King's Lock along the river. There were a couple of Stonechat pairs in the same area along with at least four Cetti's Warbler males on territory along the river.

On a brighter note, Cattle Egrets are back in the Wytham area with up to 15 loitering along the approach road to the field station. Five of them did appear on Wolvercote common one morning in amongst the cattle there.

One of the five Cattle Egrets that were on Wolvercote Common one morning

The first of the winter passerines are now starting to be seen or at least heard with Siskin and Redpoll flying over. A couple of Redpoll were even caught in the ringing nets in Burgess Field.

A Lesser Redpoll in the hand courtesy of Thomas Miller

The unseasonaly warm weather has been great for insects with Willow Emerald at last being recorded in the Trap Grounds and along the Castle Mill Stream. Migrant Hawkers are to be found buzzing around the various nooks and crannies of the patch and there are still plenty of Common Darters around. The last week or so there have been loads of Red Admirals about, encouraged by the bright sunshine and calm conditions.

Trap Grounds Willow Emerald

Looking ahead, unless we get a period of heavy rainfall we are going to continue to be scratching around for things to report this month. Hopefully we might at least get some more Redstart and Spotted Flycatchers in Burgess Field. Dare we hope for another Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch this year? It's not impossible!

August Update

I had meant to do a post at the end of July but somehow I never got around to it. So this will be an update over the last two months. Not that there is much to report: this time of year is always rather quiet thought there is still usually something to see.

Starting with birds and the Little Owl family hung around for a fair while, gradually dispersing further away from their original location. It's good to know that they've had another successful year. 

A rather blurry Little Owl, taken at dusk

Talking of successful breeding, the Egyptian Geese have done well: I recently counted a total of 12 birds, a mix of adults and young so the Port Meadow colony is growing rapidly! We had yet another Crossbill flyover over Jericho though this was only a "possible". There was also a flyover Peregrine on one occasion as well.

One of several Egyptian Goose family groups

Autumn is now very much upon us in the bird world. Without any flood waters we have to rely on the river shoreline for wader sightings which tends only to pull in Common Sandpipers rather than any other species. Still we had up to 7 of these in the King's Lock area as well as one or two others near the Perch area. 

A Common Sandpiper along the river north of the Perch

We also had another Redstart in Burgess Field as well as a Spotted Flycatcher. The first Yellow Wagtails of autumn have started to appear in amongst the livestock on the Meadow. Finally we had three Whinchat up near Hagley Pool past King's Lock a few days ago. This is actually a year tick for us.

The Redstart courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Onto flowers and I have to report that, contrary to what I stated in my previous post, there were in fact some Pyramidal Orchids in Burgess Field which Mary MacDougal managed to find. It's nice to know that they somehow managed to flower despite the very dry conditions. 

One of the Pyramidal Orchids, well past its best

I've been visiting the Trap Grounds regularly over the last couple of months looking out for the Odonata there. We've had Souther Hawker, Brown Hawker and Migrant Hawker as well as Common and Ruddy Darters. The Small Red-eyed Damselflies finally turned up midway through August though we have yet to have any Willow Emeralds. In previous years they have often not turned up until September so it's certainly possible that they will start to appear shortly.

A Trap Grounds Migrant Hawker

The usual butterflies have been around. Whilst there tends not to be much change in what species appear each year it's always nice to see them. 

A Ringlet in the Trap Grounds

Finally, still on the insect front, Andrew Siantonas managed to find up to 7 Glow Worms in Burgess Field in July. It's good to know that they were around again this year.

Looking ahead now that we are heading into September we should get the peak passerine autumn passage. This should hopefully include more Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers. We can also hope for some chats and maybe even a Tree Pipit. The Yellow Wagtail flock should hit peak numbers this month and it is always worth rummaging through them for something rarer. Beyond that we really need to hope for a very wet month so that we can start to get some more flood waters.