Merry Christmas!

The Port Meadow Birding blog wishes all its readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Sunday 23rd December

I had an errand to run down the Botley Road this afternoon so I thought that whilst I was in the area I'd check out the Binsey area to the west of Port Meadow. In particular I was interested in the owls that Tom Wickens had reported on Friday: not only had he heard and seen several Tawny Owls but he'd also heard a possible Little Owl though it had only called twice and he'd not been sure of it. 

I arrived at around 3:30 by which time it was getting rather dark. The Meadow is back in full-on lake mode with the waters reaching all the way up to the top of Burgess Field NR. When it's like this it's rather difficult to bird as all the birds are up along the North shore. I wandered along the river as far as the Poplars to get a better view but it was getting too dark to see much though I did make out a few GOOSANDER floating about in the distance. 

At dusk as I was wandering back I did manage to hear a LITTLE OWL calling several times at a reasonably close distance which is a great result as there have been no reports of any for several years on the patch. Back near Medley Farm despite hanging around for quite a while I only heard a TAWNY OWL call briefly twice. As I drove along the road I kept seeing moths in the car headlights. At this time of year there are only a few on the wing and they would have Winter Moths. I even nipped out of the car to photograph one that was resting momentarily on the curb though it never put its wings down so I could get a full view of it.

A Winter Moth

Friday 21st December

I didn't get down to the Meadow but fortunately Tom Wickens did. He reported that the floods were greatly extended so the birding was rather difficult. It was rather quiet on the bird front but he managed to spot 3 REDSHANK on the distant flood shoreline. The highlight was hearing several TAWNY OWLS calling along Binsey Lane at dusk.

Thursday 20th December

Yesterday in miserable rainy conditions there was unfortunately no sign of the Iceland gull despite a few birders turning out to look for it. In fact visibility was so bad that I couldn't really make out much at all.

Today the floods were up again on the back of yesterday's rain so it was back to the west bank of the river for viewing. It was remarkably mild and there was a good gull roost to sift through. Highlight of the evening was a couple of MEDITERRANEAN GULLS, one adult and one first winter, as well as at least 20 common gulls. On the duck front there was a SHELDUCK on the floods, the first for quite a while this year and at least 6 GOOSANDER came in to roost as well. The golden plover flock was larger, being about 500 birds though I couldn't spot any other waders this evening apart from the usual lapwings. I did have a dark-mantled, streaky-headed gull in the roost which had me wondering about Azorean Yellow-legged Gull but after reviewing the video (which is too poor for public viewing) I think it's probably just a streaky argentatus.

Some record shot video of the two Med. gulls this evening

Tuesday 18th December: Iceland Gull & Bar-tailed Godwits

Yesterday I didn't visit the floods but instead went to see if the Waxwings were still around on Frenchay Road though unfortunately there was no sign of them at midday.

Today I was back on the Meadow for my usual last hour viewing and with the river still high once more I viewed from the west river bank back across towards the strip of grass between the river and the floods. There was plenty to see today: to start with there were a couple of BAR-TAILED GODWITS on the grass island near the river. Usually at this time of year one expects to see Black-tailed Godwits and so this is a rather unusual county record. The golden plover flock numbered around 300 birds with 4 DUNLIN in amongst them. On the floods themselves there were five GOOSANDER, comprising 3 males and two red-heads. There were also around 10 or so PINTAILS (mostly drakes). The best was reserved for last though when in the fading light I picked out a first-winter ICELAND GULL in amongst the throng. It was a rather grubby looking individual but its pale primaries stood out nicely in the fading light. Three YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were also worthy of note this evening.

One of the two Bar-tailed Godwits taking a rest

Strictly record-shot quality video footage of the Iceland Gull

Sunday 16th December: Waxwings

I went down to the Meadow today for the first time in a few days to find that the river was up again and there was once more just a narrow strip of grass separating the floods from the river. It was very much a case of the usual birds being around with a reasonable golden plover flock along the North Shore and about 50 lapwings also knocking around. In amongst the ducks were 7 PINTAILS (mostly drakes) and a couple of gadwall. There were three REDSHANK over near the river beyond the Perch. The gull roost was relatively modest with a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (adult and 3rd winter) being the only birds of note.

Elsewhere, Ian Curtis and Adrian Gray reported at least 10 GOOSANDER over in the Gullet in Wolvercote. The highlight of the weekend though were some WAXWINGS feeding by the bike racks next to the Trap Grounds on Frenchay Road just by the canal bridge (about here). Tom Evans reported 10 of them on Saturday and I managed to find six of them today at around midday. They really are gorgeous birds and well worth taking a look at.


Friday 14th December

It's been a rather strange week with the weather playing quite a large part in the various visits that I've made. On Tuesday it was the combination of cold and extreme fog which meant that it was almost impossible to see the birds that were toughing it out on the then partially frozen floods. I did manage to make out several BLACK-TAILED GODWITS still though not much else. By Wednesday the freeze proper had set in and the floods were completely frozen apart from a large pool in which a very large number of duck were crowded: there must have been a good couple of hundred teal. Of particular note was a total of 16 PINTAIL crammed into this small pool. On Friday the weather had turned to rain and the floods were starting to thaw out though there was still quite a bit of ice. In rather miserable conditions the best I could find was a couple of PINTAIL and several SNIPE. With milder weather forecast for the next few days the floods should soon be back in their stride and with an Iceland gull now kicking around the county there's plenty still to look out for.

One other item to report, Matthew Foster found a flock of six LESSER REDPOLL in Burgess Field last week.

Because of the weather conditions I don't have any photos myself
 so here's a stunning Redpoll photographed by Wayne Bull (c) 
Check out his great blog here

Sunday 9th December

I wasn't able to get down to the Meadow this weekend but fortunately it was well covered on Saturday at least with reports from two observers (thanks to Sydney Penner and Alex Martin). The combined totals are:

1 Dunlin
5 Black-tailed Godwit
9 Redshank
7 Ruff
1 Yellow-legged Gull
20 Snipe
A couple of drake Pintails.
The Brent Goose still in the South East corner near the Aristotle Lane entrance.

The hot county news on Sunday was of a drake Falcated Duck just over the hill at Farmoor. It's always hard to assess the credentials of a bird like this but for what it's worth it was un-ringed, fully winged and wary. As a dabbling duck it's not really suited to Farmoor so I'm really hoping that it will hop over the hill and take up residence with the Wigeon and Teal on the Meadow.

Coming to the Meadow soon?

Friday 7th December

Another late afternoon visit to the Meadow today found things pretty similar to yesterday. The BRENT GOOSE was in the same spot, looking very much at home - if he stays too long I'll have to give him a name, something like Brendon perhaps. The BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, RUFF and REDSHANK were all still about though I didn't see the Dunlin today. Now that the floods have receded enough for there to be lots of grass again the golden plovers are back in good numbers. In amongst the gull roost there were a couple of adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS in what was a rather small roost.

"Brendon" the Brent Goose - I don't know how easy it is to sex a 
Brent Goose, perhaps it should be "Brenda" instead

Thursday 6th December: Brent Goose & Caspian Gull

I haven't been able to get out to the Meadow over the previous two days but I was intrigued to hear of a sighting yesterday of a Brent Goose that had been reported to Ian Lewington. Therefore, this afternoon with some time on my hands I decided to check it out. The floods have receded a bit more and now there is a perfect narrow strip of grass between the river and the flood waters. The latter are partially frozen at present though the river flow is managing to keep the western half ice free still. As expected the birds were all congregating on this grass island at a nice close distance. As I walked along the west bank of the river almost the first bird that I saw was indeed the DARK-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE feeding away opposite the sailing club. Close by there was a host of waders with now 7 RUFF, the four BLACK-TAILED GODWITS still, 5 REDSHANK and one DUNLIN all showing nicely just across the river. 

Although it was still a while before dusk there were already quite a few gulls around and I soon came across a gorgeous first winter CASPIAN GULL on the floods. Amazingly this is the fourth different individual of this species that we've had in about a month now. We don't get so many juvenile/first-winter birds of any gull species on the Meadow, certainly not compared to somewhere like Appleford so it was nice to see a first winter as a change from the usual adult birds.

A couple of digiscoped shots of the Brent Goose...

...and some videograbs of the Caspian Gull... well as some record shot Caspian video.

The Meadow has been making great strides over the last month or so with lots of new year ticks and the Brent Goose adds one more to the year tally as well as being another personal patch life tick following on from the Marsh Tit. With the floods in the state that they're in at present the Meadow really is on top form and if anyone fancies some top class winter birding then I can thoroughly recommend a visit down to the Meadow before the floods go down too much.

Monday 4th December

Today was the first time in four days that I've visited the Meadow. Partly it was that I had a busy weekend with family activities but also the fact that the floods have been so extensive makes it rather difficult to bird. However, today curiosity got the better of me and I went for a midday walk in the winter sunshine to check out the floods. I found that whilst they are still very much doing a good imitation of a sizeable lake, the north shoreline had now receded so that it was roughly in line with the north west corner of Burgess Field. What's more there is now a very thin sliver of grass along the river shoreline just north of the Perch Inn and this was enough to tempt me to walk up along the river bank to have a closer look. From here I found a nice flock of four RUFF and a single SNIPE in amongst the lapwings on the tiny grass island. A scan of the north shore up towards Wolvercote revealed four distant BLACK-TAILED GODWITS and plenty more lapwings - in fact I reckon there were at least 100 of the latter dotted around the Meadow. In amongst the ducks in the middle of the lake there were 12 PINTAIL and roughly half a dozen gadwall. Over the next few days as the floods recede further the west shore grass island should increase in size and more of the birds should congregate there. I always enjoy it when this happens as one gets excellent close-up views from across the river.

Time for me to wheel out the old joke again about liking a nice bit of Ruff

Thursday 29th November

There are still plenty of floods around on the Meadow - this is taken from the roadside at Wolvercote so you can see that it's reached pretty much all the way up to the top. It's rather hard to bird at the moment as the shoreline is right up in Wolvercote and is spread out a lot. The ducks seem to be loitering out in the middle from what I could make out. All in all, not much to report at present.

Just a couple of snippets to add: Steve Goddard had three LESSER REDPOLLS in his garden in Wolvercote and Alex Martin reported 12 drake PINTAIL on the floods.

Monday 26th November: Jack Snipe

I decided to go for a midday run around the patch today, well at least those bits of the patch that I could still reach given the extensive flooding. The main flood waters now extend well beyond the north end of Burgess Field NR to within a reasonably short distance of Wolvercote and most of the ducks, waders and plovers are right up near the shoreline. On the "lake" itself I spotted three PINTAIL (two drakes and a duck) and along the shoreline of one of the grass "islands" the two REDSHANK were still about together with the usual lapwings and a relatively small number of golden plover

In Burgess Field NR there were loads of Fieldfare and Redwing about everywhere in the hedges. However, the highlight of the day was flushing a JACK SNIPE which gave nice views as it flew away and which is yet another patch year tick.

Sunday 25th November: Waxwing

What with the rain and family commitments, I haven't been out to the patch much this weekend though on Sunday afternoon Luke (my 6 year old son) and I did managed a brief walk when we went to check out the floods. He needed some fresh air and I wanted to see how extensive the floods were now and also to take a note of where the gulls were roosting. The water is still going all the way up to the North end of Burgess Field NR with no grass between the river and the usual flood area. The gulls were roosting out in the middle, best viewed from the southern Burgess Field gate. Without my scope the only birds of note that I could spot were four roosting GOOSANDER (one drake and three red-heads). 

Earlier in the day Tom Evans managed to find another WAXWING, reporting a single bird just south of the Trap Ground allotments. I'm putting some apple halves out in strategic locations in my garden to see if I can tempt one of the masked berry bandits to linger.

This photo was actually taken in Marston on Saturday where a
 flock of nearly thirty birds were hanging around for a while.

Friday 23rd November: Marsh Tit

Not much to report since Wednesday - yesterday it was too windy for me to bother venturing out onto the Meadow. Today by contrast was a gorgeous sunny and calm day so with poor prospects for the evening gull roost I thought that I would instead go for a run around the patch. In the sunshine there was plenty of bird activity - no doubt they're all catching up on feeding after the rain yesterday. The Trap Grounds grounds were very flooded but I managed to spot a Treecreeper, a Reed Bunting and a Kingfisher whilst I was there. The Meadow was in full lake-mode with not even a strip of grass between the river and the flood water. This meant that all the birds were miles away along the North Shore up at the Wolvercote end so I've no idea what was about. In the hawthorns between the boat yard and the Perch there were a huge number of winter thrushes - mostly Redwings with some Fieldfares and Blackbirds. There must have been at least 70 but one had no idea how many there were until they all flew off when a helicopter flew over. Along the swollen Castle Mill Stream I managed to hear and then see a MARSH TIT briefly as it worked its way rapidly through the trees along the bank. This is a personal patch life tick though it's not a year tick as one was seen a month or two back by someone else.

Water as far as the eye can see today - taken from the 
west bank between the boat yard and the Perch

Wednesday 21st November

Afterall the gulling excitement of recent days, the weather today put paid to it all. Despite being miserably grey and drizzly for most of the day, at around 3pm it miraculously stopped raining and the sun even came out - which is a Bad Thing on the gulling front. When I went down to the Meadow I found the river and floods both rather swollen and precious few gulls around. The ones that were there were floating out in the middle and they kept taking off and heading over the hill to Farmoor so I soon gave up on the whole roost. There was the rather sad sight of a herring gull floating in the water, barely alive. It was on it's last legs and hardly had the strength to hold it's head out of the water. On a happier note, the sunny conditions meant that I was able to check out the wader situation properly and I'm pleased to report that the two REDSHANK and 6 DUNLIN are still around. I even counted the lapwings today (69) though the golden plover spent the whole time in the air today (~500). Plenty of winter ducks about including a long drake PINTAIL. Quite a few fieldfares were "chukking" away as they flew over. Finally, Tom Evans heard a WATER RAIL in the Trap Grounds this morning - it's nice to know that they're back again.

Sparrowhawk (c) Pete Styles

Tuesday 20th November: Another Caspian Gull

Today was rather drizzly and very overcast - in other words a good gull day so despite the strong wind I was out there again grilling the roost and once again there were plenty of birds to look through. To my amazement I managed to turn up a another CASPIAN GULL, definitely a different individual from the other two as can be seen from the markings on it's bill. It obliged me with a nice wing flap without too long a wait and showed itself to be a nice "Pontic Gull". There were also the usual handful of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and I even had a very dark-mantled (one shade off a Lesser Black-backed) and strongly head-streaked bird which had me thinking of Azorean Yellow-legged though by this time it was so dark that you can't really make anything out on the video footage that I took. The Meadow really is on top gulling form at present. 

Apart form gulls it was almost too gloomy to make out much though the DUNLIN are certainly still around associating with the still-huge golden plover flock and there were noticeably more lapwing about this evening as well.

Digiscoped videograbs taken in very blustery conditions...

...and for hardcore gulling fans some dodgy thigh-rubbingly good video. 
I had to remove the audio as the wind noise was far too loud

Sunday 18th November: Waxwings!

There are a few snippets of news from the last couple of days. Firstly, yesterday the CASPIAN GULL was on show in the roost again along with at least 3 adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS once again. Unfortunately for some unknown reason the majority of the roost was spooked suddenly at one point and headed off to Farmoor instead. Despite losing so many birds, it's always a stunning sight when the whole gull roost takes off en masse, creating an amazing "snow storm" effect. We're getting a wonderfully huge roost on the Meadow at present and the birds are much closer than you'll ever get at somewhere like Farmoor so people who enjoy sifting through a gull flock (I know it's not to everyone's taste) might well like to consider a visit down to the Meadow whilst it's on such good form.

The Caspian Gull (c) Badger

I've heard back from Ian Lewington about this latest Caspian and he agrees with me that it's a different bird from last week's one. The latter had the classic underwing of a "Pontic" gull, i.e. a western Caspian Gull, whereas this latest one has a lot more black on the primary undersides which indicates that it's an eastern bird. If it lingers I'll try to get a decent underwing shot so that this can be checked out in more detail.

There's been a pick-up in activity on the wader front. Today Sydney Penner reported 15 RUFF, 1 REDSHANK and 7 DUNLIN on the floods though apparently some dogs were allowed to run rampage over the floods which probably resulted in everything being flushed.

The highlight of the day was a report of 4 WAXWINGS found by Tom Evans in a tree in Bainton Road briefly before they flew off. Normally, Oxfordshire doesn't manage to get these gorgeous birds until right at the end of the season so to have some sightings so early is a real bonus - it looks like being another good Waxwing year. I really hope that I manage to get some in my garden again like I did a couple of years ago. Anyway, Bainton Road is certainly within the Port Meadow catchment area so that's another year tick bringing up the total to a more respectable 130.

Garden Waxwing in February 2011

Friday 16th November: Caspian Gull again

It's been a rather quiet week on the Meadow. After the excitement of the Caspian Gull last week there'd been no sign of it for most of the week. On the wader front the two REDSHANK and handful of DUNLIN have been around as well as the usual ducks and plovers but there'd not been anything particularly noteworthy.

Tonight when I went to visit the Meadow for the usual gull roost it was rather foggy and very atmospheric. The light was so poor and the gull roost was so huge that I hardly had time to scan through them all even once before it was too dark to see properly. In amongst the throng I soon managed to find the (or another - see below) adult CASPIAN GULL gull as well as three adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS.

A digiscoped videograb of the star bird...
Note the "full nappy" look that is often characteristic of this species

...and for really hard-core gull fans here's nearly five minutes of 
uninterrupted Caspian Gull preening action

I am wondering whether this might be a different bird from last week's as it seems to me that it has more black under the outermost (P10) primary than the previous bird. I'm awaiting the export opinion of Ian Lewington on this.

Monday 12th November: Brambling

I paid my usual end of day visit to the Meadow today but the roost was rather small and there was no sign of the Caspian Gull though several common gulls and couple of smart adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were some consolation. It was so gloomy that that couldn't really check out the waders though I did manage to spot at least one DUNLIN in amongst the golden plover flock.

Top news of the day was a sighting by Steve Goddard of three BRAMBLING (patch year tick) in his garden in Wolvercote. Apparently they spent the day there so let's hope that they linger and bring some friends who might want to come and visit my garden too!

Sunday 11th November: Caspian Gull again

I managed to find time to visit the evening gull roost once again and today, in the wake of the Caspian Gull find yesterday I had company with up to four other birders around including Ewan Urquhart, Peter Law and Jarrod Hadfield. Together we enjoyed good views of the adult CASPIAN GULL again which was in the roost from reasonably early on. There were also at least four YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (2 adult, 1 1w & 1 2w) in amongst the usual suspects. Other birds included 5 DUNLIN, 2 REDSHANK and 1 PINTAIL (per Ewan). Peter Law also reported 3 GOOSANDER on the Thames up at King's Lock.

The Caspian Gull - it's certainly got the "phwoar factor" in my book!

Saturday 10th November: Caspian Gull

Since my last posting the flood levels have been falling back from their near-lake status to something more resembling their usual shape. The boggy conditions have been suiting the bird life and it's been classic winter birding on the patch. Over the previous two days there's not been anything particularly remarkable (a REDSHANK has been the only noteworthy bird) but it's just great to see so many birds around all enjoying the floods including the wonderful golden plover flock and the hoards of winter ducks. 

I don't always get to visit the Meadow at the weekend as family activities often intervene but today I was able to get out for the last hour of light. Scanning through the gull roost I soon came across a gorgeous adult CASPIAN GULL though it promptly went to sleep as soon as I tried to video it. I ended up spending getting on for an hour there trying to get sufficient video footage to check out all the necessary details to confirm the ID and fortunately my persistence paid off in the end. Anyway, it's been quite a while since the last one and it's a most welcome year tick. What with the American Golden Plover last week the Meadow seems to be having a bit of a resurgence at the end of what's been a rather quiet year.

The obligatory digiscoped video

 A rather grainy grab of the bird, showing it's huge rather pale yellow 
bill, dark eye and distinctive head shape. It's not as elegant as some Caspians 
but this is apparently because it's a large male bird 
(thanks to Ian Lewington for that)

This is why I spent so long filming the bird:  in these 
three shots you can see the diagnostic large white tip and 
narrow dark lozenge on the underside of the P10 primary.  

Wednesday 7th November

Predictably, there's been no further sign of the American Golden Plover in the days since my last posting and it's very much winter birding on the Meadow now. Indeed, over the last few days the floods have been increasing in size until now we're back in full "lake mode" with the presence of a drake TUFTED DUCK yesterday bearing testament to this new phase. Indeed the waters are so extensive that there is now only a narrow strip of grass separating the floods from the river and near the boats the grass is now completely underwater. I always enjoy this particular mode of Meadow birding as the birds often congregate along the narrow grass strip and by viewing from the river towpath you get nice close views. Today however, a trio of canoeists managed to flush all the close birds and they ended up on the North Shore where they were much more distant. Over the last couple of days there have been a REDSHANK, a RUFF and a few DUNLIN around along with the large golden plover flock still. The gulls enjoy the enlarged floods and there was a huge roost tonight with several YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and common gulls in the throng.Over the last couple of weeks I've been getting the odd report of GOOSANDER coming in to roost on the floods and Ian Curtis reported one on Wolvercote lake as well.

Last week Pete Styles (c) took this great shot of some flying Snipe

Sunday 4th November

Jarrod Hadfield writes:
"No sign of the AGP between 12-1 this afternoon, but the flock was only at half strength.  Everything else as usual: 9 Dunlin, Redshank, 2m Pintail + Fieldfare in Burgess Field."

Saturday 3rd November

After all the excitement of the last couple of days it was back to reality today. Despite what I imagine was a reasonable turn-out this morning there was no sign of the American Golden Plover and indeed it wasn't seen all day. In fact an AGP was reported in Cambridgeshire today so it's possible that "our" bird left yesterday afternoon and has now made it over there. This would fit in with the theory that it was the same bird that was seen at Tring Reservoirs on Wednesday which would make it quite a wide ranging bird. This makes it all the more fortunate that the bird was actually found on the patch during its brief sojourn in God's Own County.

In terms of birds that were actually there, of note were the 6+ DUNLIN still as well as one REDSHANK and the drake PINTAIL. In the gull roost were several adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS.

It's worth reminding ourselves of what a gorgeous little bird it was - 
here's a shot from our esteemed County Recorder Ian Lewington  (c)

Friday 2nd November: AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER Still

The AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER stayed around for another day, which at least was more than the previous one in 2008 did - that one lingered only a couple of hours. However it was by no means an easy bird to connect with. The birders who arrived at first light found that the golden plover flock flew around almost constantly for over two hours without settling and quite a number of people had to leave to go to work without having seen it. However mid morning the bird was re-found by the handful of die-hard birders who'd refused to give up and it stayed around for long enough for those who were able to return to the Meadow to get back and see it. To add confusion to the situation the grey-toned golden plover from a couple of weeks ago returned as well and indeed at one stage it was reported on RBA that there were two American Golden Plover though eventually this was sorted out. Nevertheless, apparently some people left happily having ticked the wrong bird. The AGP was last seen at around 2pm and unfortunately for the people who arrived after that hoping to see it, there was no further sign by dusk. Some plover were still coming into roost as the light was fading so it's entirely possible that it is somewhere in the vicinity and it may well be seen again tomorrow. I'm not sure what tactics to recommend as I don't normally bird the Meadow first thing in the morning so I'm not sure how common it is for the flock to be flying around for such a long time to start with. I would guess that the thing to do it go early and be prepared to stay around for a while.

Trying to pick out the AGP as the light starts to fade

In terms of distinguishing it from the grey-toned golden plover this is not easy at a distance as the imposter bird has the same grey colouring (with no gold) as the real deal. You really need to look for the following features to be certain that you've got the correct bird:

  • A strong supercilium
  • A really long primary projection - the primaries are so long that they often cross over at the tail in the way that they would on a Baird's Sandpiper for example
  • A dark cap and dark mantle - this is quite distinctive
  • Proportionately long legs - the AGP is a "leggy" bird
  • If you get to see the underwing colour then it will be grey rather than the usual white
  • Structurally it's smaller than the normal golden plover

Apart from our star bird there wasn't a great deal to report: the 6 DUNLIN were still around and there are good numbers of SNIPE about still. The gull roost was a rather disappointing affair with little of note apart from a couple of COMMON GULLS. According to Lee Evans the plover flock was 699 birds this morning so a bit less than my estimate of 1000 birds that I've lazily been using for a while.

 The American Golden Plover - note the long primary projection (c) Jason Coppock

Here's a nice photo showing the structural differences between a standard 
goldie and the AGP (c) Jason Coppock

...And here's the Imposter bird, structurally the same as the standard ones though 
almost identical in colour to the AGP (c) Jason Coppock

Thursday 1st November: AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER

I went for my usual "last hour of light" visit to the Meadow to check up on the gull roost. While there's still light I generally look through everything else first to check up on the waders and ducks etc. In amongst the golden plover flock I soon spotted what turned out to be a juvenile AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER. After the false alarm a few weeks ago with the grey-toned golden plover I gave it a good grilling and fortunately this time it looked the real deal. Unfortunately it was found too late by this time for anyone to be able to twitch it so let's hope that it's still around tomorrow morning.

Record shot digiscoped video footage of the bird (c) Gnome

Other birds noted were several DUNLIN, a good number of SNIPE and I think I heard the REDSHANK though I didn't see it and there was no sign of the ruff either. The gull roost was modest in size and didn't hold anything noteworthy. 

For those interested in twitching the American Golden Plover tomorrow, the plover flock presently generally favours the shallower flooded area in the north east corner of the floods, best viewed by looking north from the gate into Burgess Field NR. Alternatively they often settle opposite the gate on the west (river) side of the floods. They are usually very flighty so should only be viewed from a distance. Good luck to all those going at first light tomorrow! 

There was a reported fly-over "lesser" golden plover yesterday at Wilstone reservoir so it may well be the same bird. After a very lean year on the Meadow it's nice finally to get a decent rare bird on the list!

Tuesday 30th October

The Meadow continues to play host to a good variety of winter birds. The duck are still around in about the same number and there is at least the drake PINTAIL about still though I haven't seen the female for this last couple of days. The huge golden plover flock is still there together with its hangers-on DUNLIN (12 yesterday still though only 6 today) and there are still plenty of SNIPE about too. The REDSHANK is still present and now there are two RUFF though no sign of the godwit. Unfortunately there have been no further reports of the short-eared owl so it may well have moved on. The gull roost continues to grow in number with the odd YELLOW-LEGGED GULL the pick of the bunch. Along the Castle Mill stream this morning there were several redwing enjoying the large berry crop.

Jarrod Hadfield reported a 3rd winter YELLOW-LEGGED GULL, 2 grey wagtail and both PINTAILS on the floods this morning.

Sunday 28th October

I had a mid-morning visit to the Meadow today to see if any of yesterday's waders were still around. The Meadow is on top form at present with conditions ideal for both ducks and waders and loads of birds to be seen. It's great to have a good bunch of waders around again after quite an absence: there was a single BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, 1 RUFF, 1 REDSHANK, 12 DUNLIN, plenty of SNIPE and the huge golden plover flock. In amongst the usual ducks were the first two PINTAIL of the season and three gadwall. All in all a great selection of winter birds

Shoveler at sunset
This poor Goldfinch was looking very poorly in my garden today. I took it inside and put it somewhere dark and warm to see if it would recover but sadly it died a few hours later 

After my recent posting about birds that we still needed for the year list Steve Goddard e-mailed to say that he remembered seeing a TAWNY OWL back in May in his garden and that he hears them calling regularly throughout the year. So that's another one for the list.

Saturday 27th October

I wasn't able to get out until last light today. There was a decent sized gull roost though without my scope I wasn't able to give them the grilling they deserved. However I did hear the piping calls of a REDSHANK. In Burgess Field there was no sign of the owl tonight thought I wasn't able to stay quite as late as I would ideally have liked.

Jodie & Joe from Wolvercote reported (via a comment on this blog - thanks very much!) a handful of BARNACLE GEESE on the floods at around midday today as well as a pair of GODWITS and a RUFF. They also reported the leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE which has been in amongst the greylags down at the southern end of the Meadow for several days now.

Friday 26th October

I ended up paying a couple of visits to the Meadow today as I've done something to my back which requires lots of walking to try and loosen it. Making the best of the circumstances I thought that I'd check for the Barnacle Geese this morning though at 9 a.m. there was no sign of them. By way of compensation though I did spot a splendid adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL loafing on the North Shore with some Lesser Black-backed's. The golden plover flock seems to have grown even more in numbers and the 6 attendant DUNLIN are still there. SNIPE numbers continue to remain much smaller in the absence of any mist. There were a few flocks of fieldfares going over as well as some light skylark passage. No news on the SE Owl so far though if anyone sees it this evening I'll update this entry accordingly.

This morning's adult Yellow-legged gull - the first of the season here.

Thursday 25th October: Short-eared Owl & Barnacle Geese

The weather has started to change today: it's still cloudy but the wind has picked up and blown away the mist. This made the visibility better than of late for my afternoon visit to the Meadow where I met up with Tom Wickens. On the wader front there were still the 6 DUNLIN on the far shore with the 1000+ golden plover and the CURLEW was still around. Without the cover of the fog there were noticeably fewer SNIPE though a few dozen still lingered along the soggy North Shore. The gull roost was average with nothing of note. Tom and I ventured into Burgess Field where we had some good albeit brief views of the SHORT-EARED OWL hunting actively over the fields. As it got dark I had to leave but Tom stayed a bit long and managed to see a flock of 20 BARNACLE GEESE come in to roost at last light. It's always hard to know the provenance of such birds but they are most likely from one of the feral flocks in the surrounding counties. Apparently some of these flocks are deigned by the BOU to be self-sustaining and therefore Category C birds (i.e. tickable) though quite how one tells when they're away from their usual haunts is anyone's guess. Anyway, I've got no qualms about ticking them for the year list as at least with that flock size they're unlikely to be escapees and with the Port Meadow total so low this year I need all the ticks I can get!

I tried to take some video footage of the hunting owl but the combination of the poor light and the fast moving bird meant that I got no where with it. Instead, here are some much more static fungi to contemplate. I've not idea what species they are but of course at this time of year there are loads of interesting ones springing up all over Burgess Field.

Wednesday 24th October

The weather has been the same for several days now: a blanket of white cloud and misty with very little wind. This afternoon once more there were loads of birds to sift through with even more golden plover (1200?), now with 6 DUNLIN in attendance, at least 100 SNIPE (probably a lot more but they're so well hidden and hard to pick out in the mist at a distance) and hundreds of wigeon, teal and shoveler. A reasonable gull roost once more held a few COMMON GULLS and greater black-backed gulls in amongst the usual throng. I did a quick tour of Burgess Field as the light started to fade but there was no sign of the owl though a fly-through PEREGRINE was some compensation.

Tuesday 23rd October: Short-eared Owl

Suddenly the Meadow has got "birdy" again. It's almost like a switch has been flipped: the dull, damp conditions and the rain has softened up the surrounding grass and the patch is now alive with birds. There are of course the usual winter ducks: the wigeon are widely spread out along the North Shore and the Hinterland with the teal and shoveler dabbling along the margins. The golden plover flock is still about one thousand strong with the striking grey-toned bird still in amongst them. Suddenly we've got waders again: there have been two or three DUNLIN in amongst the plover flock, yesterday there was a REDSHANK with them as well and today there was a CURLEW on the Hinterland. It's also SNIPE city out there at present with the boggy conditions attracting at least 100 birds along the North Shore.

There was a good gull roost tonight with 8 COMMON GULLS in amongst them (all adults apart from one first winter), 1 greater black-backed gull and a couple of herring gulls in amongst the lesser black-backed contingent.

The pride of place however goes to a SHORT-EARED OWL sighting in Burgess Field, seen independently by myself a couple of days ago and Alexander Martin today.

A couple of action snaps of the Golden Plover in flight - these shots belie just 
how gloomy it actually was out there this evening.

Sunday 21st October

It's been a very quiet week on the Meadow. The floods continue to extend with the rainy weather but are still attracting just the same birds albeit in increasing numbers. So good numbers of shoveler, teal and wigeon, golden plover, lapwing and plenty of geese about. On the passerine front pied wagtails, linnets and meadow pipits are still around in reasonable numbers.
Mid-week I went for a run and managed to spot a rather interesting plover in amongst the large (1000+) golden plover flock. It looked remarkably grey-ish (though clearly not a grey plover) and appeared to have a rather attenuated look to it though I only had my bins and my point & shoot camera with me at the time.

Here's my P&S record shot: it's the right-hand most bird in this photo.

Given that we have had American Golden Plover on the Meadow a few years ago I gave it as good a grilling as I was able to with my bins but decided in the end that it was just a rather oddly coloured standard Golden Plover - for one thing structurally it looked identical to the surrounding birds. A couple of days later I re-found it when I had my scope and bins and managed to get some footage. I also saw it in flight where it clearly had white underwing coverts which confirmed it as not a "lesser golden plover" of any description. Still it at least gave me something to think about.

youTube have done some post-processing to the video to brighten it up a bit which is why the colours are all rather strange. You can see that the bird stands out in being remarkably un-golden though it's not an American Golden Plover. 

Today, due to family commitments I wasn't able to get out until it was nearly dusk so I thought that I'd have a wander around Burgess Field to see if I could find the barn owl that had been reported there recently. I had no luck with the owls though I did find 5 SNIPE whilst tramping around and spotted my first flock of REDWING flying around. It was also great to see the geese flying in at last light. The gull roost is still rather modest though it's early days yet.

Monday 15th October

After my week away I was keen to get back to the patch to see how it was faring. Remarkably, there'd been no reports from the Meadow whilst I was away and I wondered whether this was because no one had bothered to visit or whether there was nothing to see. After my visit today I realise that it was more likely to be the latter unfortunately. The floods themselves are nice and large and looking good but at present they are rather birdless. The usual winter ducks of wigeon, teal and shoveler are all present, there were a few groups of gulls loafing around, mostly black-headed though with a few lesser black-backed in amongst them. The golden plover flock was looking very healthy with about 750 birds I estimated, and there were a few lapwing scattered around. There are plenty of linnets, the odd meadow pipit is still about as are the pied wagtails. So all the usual "default" birds but little else. Still, soon the clocks will go back and then the gulling season begins - perhaps that will turn up something of note.

Friday 5th October

All quiet on the western front still: Jarrod Hadfield checked out the Meadow this morning and apart from the usual golden plover, lapwings and ducks the only bird of note was a WHEATEAR with even the dunlin and the godwit having moved on.

I will be away for a week from tomorrow Saturday off birding down in Cornwall. This will give you all the chance to grip me off so please do take this opportunity to check out the Meadow and Burgess Field. If you're particularly keen then obvious patch year ticks that we still need include Stonechat, Knot, Spotted Redshank, Tawny Owl, Rock, Water & Tree Pipit and Redstart.

I'll still post updates to the blog remotely so please either e-mail me your sightings or post them on Going Birding or add them as a comment to this message. If you feel so inclined you can follow my Cornish exploits on my Cornish blog: Pendeen Birding.

I leave you with this lovely Chestnut moth which I caught in my trap in my garden this week.

Thursday 4th October

I haven't been able to get out to the Meadow for a couple of days now as I've been fighting off (unsuccessfully) a cold that the rest of the family has kindly passed on to me. However, after a couple of days of taking it easy I was getting a severe case of cabin fever so this morning went for a brief visit to the Patch in the autumn sunshine. The floods are looking very healthy now with all the recent rain having done its trick and are starting to push out from their narrow channel again back towards the river area. This all looks great for waders and as well as the ever-increasing golden plover flock (now about 300 birds) there was a single DUNLIN and a juvenile BLACK-TAILED GODWIT to show for my efforts. The usual winter ducks are looking nicely settled in though I expect numbers to increase steadily over the next month or two.

Lapwing are often neglected but they're lovely birds. I did have a picture of an Avocet, taken from the OOS Bulletin which had been reported as being at Port Meadow. Unfortunately, this actually turned out to have been at Radley so I've had to remove the retrospective tick.

Sunday 30th September

With the passing of the autumn equinox we are now well and truly into autumn. Fortunately the rain has meant that the floods are still well topped up and looking quite healthy but despite this there has been rather a lack of waders on the Meadow this week with just the odd DUNLIN in amongst the ever-increasing golden plover flock worthy of note. Winter duck numbers are increasing too with good numbers of wigeon, teal, shoveler and mallard all settling in nicely and enjoying the floods. There was a good passage of hirundines this morning with house and sand martins and swallows all hawking low over the floods, re-fuelling for their journey south. As we enter October we are coming to the best month for vagrant birds so let's hope that something good turns up soon.

It's nice to have the Wigeon back

Monday 25th September

What a difference a couple of days of rain makes! Last posting I was bemoaning the fact that the floods were all but gone but now they're almost completely covered again, albeit with a rather shallow layer of water. To be honest that rain has come just in time - much more of a delay and the ground would have dried out enough so that any ensuing rain would have soaked away rather than staying. Anyway, I'm pleased to have my patch back for a while at least and with some more rain it should consolidate nicely. 

In very windy conditions today there weren't many waders around apart from a single windswept RINGED PLOVER but suddenly the winter ducks are back in force with several dozen WIGEON back, looking as lovely as ever. Teal have been around for several weeks now but for me it's when the wigeon return that the winter ducks are properly in. I just love their piping calls! There were a few SHOVELER in the mix as well.

My only complaint is that the shoreline is very churned up at the moment which makes it rather hard to pick birds out from in the mounds of earth and a skulking wader could easily be missed - not something that you want to do at this time of year!

Golden Plover (c) Roger Wyatt

Saturday 22nd September

Sadly the floods are all but gone now with a small pond-size area of water left by what used to be Burgess Channel. I've been dutifully checking it out when I'm able but there have only been a few DUNLIN and RINGED PLOVER left to pick over the shoreline. There was a returning WHEATEAR working its way along the Meadow mid week and the RUFF was still about for the first couple of days. There has been a noticeable increase in meadow pipits of late with quite a few of them scouring the mud and grass for morsels along with the pied wagtails. Golden plover numbers continue to increase and the count is well over a hundred birds by now. Along the Castle Mills stream there have been a few Migrant Hawkers and the odd Brown Hawker still.

 Reflective Heron

This ugly looking Black-headed Gull has been around the Meadow for about a month now. I think that it lost all it's head feathers which it's slowly growing back. It seems to be able to feed quite happily.

 A Bar-head Goose - no doubt blown off course from it's Asian migration - Not!

As you can see I've been reduced to photographing some of the everyday birds on the Meadow. With rain forecast for much of this coming week the floods may well spring back into life - let's hope so!