Wednesday 29th February: Mediterranean Gull

The floods are continuing the processes of losing their winter birds and they seemed even more empty today. This was partly exacerbated by a jogger running right along the shoreline, putting everything up. Nevertheless, the birds are fairly tolerant of this sort of disturbance and whilst we lost a proportion of the (rather small) gull roost, most of them stayed. This was just as well as in amongst the black-headed gulls I found a splendid adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL. These very smart gulls normally pass through the county in March so this one was a bit early but very much appreciated nonetheless. There was no sign of yesterday's oystercatchers nor the ruff but there were 6 REDSHANK and 1 DUNLIN on the wader front and duck interest was boosted by the presence of 5 SHELDUCK as well as a few PINTAIL still. To round things off the LITTLE GREBE was back on the Spinney stream again this evening.

Med. gulls are such smart looking birds in their full summer plumage

Here's a bit of video footage as well.

28th February

I was away today (see my blog) but Mary Gregory came up with some good birds including a new patch year tick in the form of an oystercatcher:

2 Shelduck
2 Oystercatcher
4 Dunlin
2 Redshank
4 Ruff

Monday 27th February

Bird numbers are noticeably down in recent days: the ducks seem to be starting to depart and even the gull roost has been rather paltry of late. On the wader front there are still 4 REDSHANK and 3 DUNLIN and the golden plover flock is down to about 150 birds with much reduced lapwing numbers as well. The two SHELDUCK are still about and there were two or three GOOSANDER still coming in to roost though a couple of those just seemed to drop in briefly before flying off again. There are still a few PINTAIL around and a good count of 32 shoveler today. All in all we're making the transition from winter birding to spring birding and the first migrants might start arriving in the next few weeks.

Thursday 23rd February

It was considerably milder, calmer and brighter today which made for a rather pleasant late afternoon visit to the Meadow today. There were a couple of other birders hanging around, presumably looking for the merganser though unfortunately for them it didn't turn up this evening. In fact the sawbill count was much lower than of late with only 5 GOOSANDERS arriving to roost by the time I left. There was an extra RUFF by way of compensation with now four birds present, together with 3 DUNLIN and 2 REDSHANK. Two SHELDUCK added to the duck interest along with several PINTAIL. There was a bit more of interest on the gull front tonight with at least 3 common gulls (2 adults and a 1st winter), one 2nd winter YELLOW-LEGGED GULL and a couple of interesting cases that I still need to think about (though they aren't anything particularly exciting).

The 2nd winter yellow-legged gull this evening

Wednesday 22nd February: Merganser Still

A rather windy and overcast day today on the Meadow. A gull that flew in trailing a long string of plastic behind it managed to freak out all the gulls this evening which then went up on mass and thereafter were extremely skittish. This in turn made the rest of the birds more wary so there was a lot of movement whilst I was there. The RED-BREASTED MERGANSER was still around and is attracting a lot of interest: yesterday one person twitched it and this evening four birders were there for it, for either their county life or at least county year lists. Fortunately the bird co-operated and came in some time after 5 p.m. together with about 8 GOOSANDER. There were 3 SHELDUCK about this evening - they may be roosting regularly but normally coming in rather late because 4 were reported early morning a couple of days ago though I hadn't seen them the previous evening. On the wader front the 3 RUFF were still about together with 2 DUNLIN and a single REDSHANK. In amongst the gulls the common gull was present for the third evening and I found one dark-winged large gull which could have been a YELLOW-LEGGED GULL though I only saw it asleep with its head tucked in so couldn't be certain.

In my garden the blackcap is still around and there's been a male bullfinch around for the last couple of days, which is quite a rarity for my garden.

Here's another ruff - one can't have too many ruff photos!

Tuesday 21st February: Merganser Still

Pretty similar to yesterday really though not quite as cold with a moderate westerly breeze and overcast conditions. There was an extra RUFF today with three birds now present along with 3 DUNLIN and just 2 REDSHANK today. The PINTAIL count today was 10 birds. There was plenty of hot sawbill action again tonight with 19 GOOSANDERS and the RED-BREASTED MERGANSER still.

I know that this blog has quite an eclectic readership, ranging from hardcore seasoned birders through to occasional dabblers so for the benefit of those who are less experienced but who might be interested in seeing the merganser I thought that I would offer a few pointers on picking it out. It's identification can be quite tricky as, since it is a red-head, it is only subtly different from the red-head goosanders. The merganser is smaller and slimmer (think scrawny goosander) with a shorter crest, darker back and a less well-defined border between the red head and the paler breast. One of the most noticeable differences is the bill: goosanders have a dark bill whereas the mergansers is noticeably paler and slimmer with a hint of an up-curve to it, compared to the goosanders bill which is more solid and with a definite hook downwards at the tip. After practice it becomes easy to tell them apart but at a distance in poor light it does require careful looking.

The merganser this evening

Monday 20th February: Merganser

Today it was back to the usual late afternoon visits for the Meadow gull roost. There was a bit of a breeze which gave it a rather chilly feel this afternoon. The waders from yesterday were still about with the 2 RUFF, 3 REDSHANK and 3 DUNLIN as well as a flock of a couple of hundred golden plover, a couple of which were sporting nearly complete black underparts already. There were eight PINTAIL today in amongst the ducks. The gull roost was a rather modest affair with one common gull and a second winter YELLOW-LEGGED GULL the pick of the bunch. The highlight of the day was with sawbills: first three GOOSANDER flew low over the floods towards the Castle Mill Stream, presumably the same three birds that were there last week. As it got darker four more came down to the floods themselves together with a red-head RED-BREASTED MERGANSER. This last species is not that common a bird in the county (probably just about an annual visitor) so it was a good bird to see on the patch and is another patch year tick.

There are definite hints of springs about: yesterday there was a singing reed bunting on Burgess Field and a skylark in full song on the Hinterland. Today's black-bellied golden plovers are further signs that it's just around the corner now and I can't wait for the sand martins and little ringed plovers that should be coming in March.

A videograb of tonight's merganser

Sunday 19th February

I'm back from my holiday and so this morning I went on a run in order to check out the state of the patch. When I'd left things had all still been frozen over but of course now the floods are fully restored to their proper state and the birds were of course back again in reasonable numbers. As well as the usual wigeon, teal and shoveler there were half a dozen PINTAIL and waders were well represented with 2 RUFF, 4 REDSHANK and 3 DUNLIN as well as forty odd golden plover. I don't know whether larger plover numbers have been coming in to roost this week but before the big freeze we were getting 800+ goldies at roost time. A soaring sparrowhawk over Wolvercote was accompanied by common buzzard, the latter being a surprisingly late year tick for the patch. I also saw a distant goose species flying around over Wolvercote before heading off to land in the fields by the river to the North of Godstow Bridge. It was comparatively small looking and didn't look like a greylag (not having the grey wings of that species) but I couldn't tell any more than that.

I like a nice bit of ruff

February 17th

Photo du jour...

A cormorant in the Castle Mill Stream

Sydney Penner reported on Going Birding:
200 golden plover

Adrian Gray writes on OxonBirds
"... there's been a sudden increase in interest on Wolvercote Common as well. Having been bemoaning the lack of interest there all winter, on Wednesday there was a TUFTED DUCK on the pond by the road, and in the evening there were a pair of teal and a drake shoveler. The wigeon flock has pretty much quadrupled (over 100 birds now, I'd say, though they tend to form three or four seperate flocks). This morning there were canada geese on the ponds (common by the bathing place, but not at this end of the Lower village), plus his and hers matching GOOSANDER in the gullet, plus the teal, two drake shoveler, several adolescent swans over and above last years local brood, and several tufties on the meadow side of the road. All this within a few yards of the road! Why they've all appeared now I've no idea - maybe something to do with being moved on by the freeze, and settling on pastures new?"

February 16th

Photo du jour...

Shoveler waiting for the ice to melt

Addendum - Bob Pomfret writes on OxonBirds
"Got up early and had half an hour on the meadow before work this morning. All
the ice has gone and there were good numbers of duck on the flood: c300 Widgeon,
c250 Teal, 3 Pintail, 20 Shoveler and a Shelduck. Not so many waders, only about
20 each of Lapwing and Golden Plover.They were a long way off and I only had
binoculars, so there may well have been others with them. Also displaying Great
Crested Grebe on the stream by Fiddlers Island and a Kingfisher to make it all
very worth while."

February 14th

As promised, while I'm away here is the photo du jour...

A better photo of the Castle Mill Stream drake tufted duck

Addendum - Mary Gregory writes:
"Today (Tues) on the Meadow
With the cold spell over, the flood thawing and a hint of spring in the air this morning the bird scene has changed substantially. The patches of open water at the south of the flood have brought back subtantial numbers of wigeon, teal and gulls, a dozen shovellers and a few pintails. The lapwing flock has also returned, and a lone redshank was feeding frenetically as if had starved for days. A pair of red kites were circling over Medley and a cormorant flew upriver. The tufted duck and goosanders had departed, leaving the Castle Mill Stream to the usual great crested grebes and moorhens, with a small flock of redwings in the bushes. Just below the railway bridge a group of goldfinches were hopping conspicuously in the trees. Also 80 jackdaws were seen. As the sun shone birdsong was in the air."

February 13th

As it's half term I'm going to be away for a week on a family holiday in Cornwall. To keep readers entertained whilst I'm away I've cued up some Port Meadow photos which should appear one each day. If you've got nothing better to do you could guess in advance what birds are going to appear (as a clue they were all taken in the Castle Mill stream over the last few days) but there's no prize for this. Really keen readers can follow my Cornish birding exploits at Pendeen Birding

A swan at a bird feeding fest on Saturday afternoon

Sunday 12th February

Mary Gregory reports a jay in Burgess Field near the railway, a treecreeper in the Trap Grounds and the Jericho red kite over the Trap Grounds.

Saturday 11th February

The last couple of days the floods have remained largely frozen with only a few birds trying to eke out a living on them - the highlight on Friday there was 5 PINTAIL. In the mean time the Castle Mill Stream has continued to host various refugee water birds including the TUFTED DUCK, a few wigeon and teal, a couple of PINTAIL, a cormorant and yesterday the three GOOSANDER were back.

One of the two drake goosander on the Castle Mill Stream

Loads of winter thrushes around, including more in my garden. It's interesting to note how when it gets really cold, the local blackbirds all head to a small cherry tree on Kingston Road where they sit there all day munching away on the fruit. I've seen up to four of them in this rather small tree. However they've nearly finished all the fruit and I was wondering where they would go to next though fortunately some warmer weather should be on it's way in the next couple of days so they can go back to their usual feeding patterns.

Thursday 9th February

A midday walk around the patch found things to be pretty similar to recent days. The two LITTLE GREBES were still on the Castle Mill Stream, as was the TUFTED DUCK and a few wigeon and teal. On the ice there was still a smattering of birds around the one open pool including a couple of PINTAIL. In the Spinney there was a flock of four bullfinches adding some colour to the scene. Finally, the Jericho RED KITE was soaring over Kingston Road again today.

The Pintail pair by the ice pool

Wednesday 8th February

Very much cold weather birding at present with noticeably more birds in the garden today. A male BLACKCAP spent the entire day in the garden feeding on apple and orange segments that I've put out. Other garden sightings today included a couple of dozen fieldfares that flew over, a soaring SPARROWHAWK (a patch year tick) and also the Jericho RED KITE.

The garden blackcap enjoying the apple segments
(shot with ISO800 through a window, hence the poor quality)

A late afternoon walk on the Meadow along the Castle Mill Stream found quite a few displaced birds: the drake TUFTED DUCK was still about and there were a couple of LITTLE GREBES and three GOOSANDER (two drakes and a red-head) as well as a few teal and wigeon and a grey heron. The Meadow floods themselves are still almost completely frozen over with just a small pool left in the central area on which a few die-hard ducks and black-headed gulls were attempting to eke out a living.

Given the darkness (I had to use ISO1600) and the distance
this shot of the three Castle Mill Stream goosander hasn't
come out too badly

Tuesday 7th February

A midday run around the patch today found quite a bit of bird life in the thawing conditions. The floods themselves were still almost completely frozen but a large pool in the middle was full of wigeon, teal and about a dozen PINTAIL and the surrounding grass is largely free of snow so presumably they can all feed ok. As I was watching, a flock of three RUFF flew in and landed on the ice - I presume that they'd been feeding along the river shoreline and had been disturbed by some walkers.

The ducks crowding around the one ice-free pool on the floods

The Castle Mill Stream held a couple of refugee wigeon, a few teal and a best of all a drake TUFTED DUCK (a good bird for the Patch). There were loads of tits and redwing buzzing around all over the place. However, the highlight of the morning was finding a flock of 10+ SISKIN (a Patch year tick) feeding in the alders in the Waterside development alongside the Spinney. This seems to be a good spot for them and I've seen them along here in previous years.

The joys of patch birding: a tufted duck is something
to get excited about on the Meadow!

Sunday 5th February

I've been away for a few days down in Cornwall (see Pendeen Birding or the forthcoming write-up in Gnome's Birding Diary in a few days time) and today was the first opportunity to see just how the recent cold weather had affected the floods when I visited this afternoon. As expected they were completely frozen with just a few crows and a token assembly of a hundred or so large gulls, (nearly all lesser black-backed) standing around on the ice for a bit before heading off to Farmoor. As usual there were a few refugee teal along the Castle Mill Stream but apart from that it was all pretty birdless.

Snowy Meadow Scene