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!