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