Sunday 31st March

Well, that's the end of March though there's no sign of spring yet as far as the weather is concerned. The bird action is definitely starting to pick up now though with some definite wader passage. Below is a summary of the birds seen today provided by Sydney Penner and Peter Law

5 Dunlin
2 Shelduck
2 Pintail
8 Redshank
4 Ringed Plover
1 Little Ringed Plover

I'm going to be away for a few days but will update the blog from afar should something good turn up. In the mean time either e-mail me your sightings or alternatively post them on Going Birding where I'll pick them up.

Saturday 30th March

At last I have a spring migrant sighting to report! Two LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS (new for the year) were reported (per Jarrod Hadfield & two unknown birders) on the river bank near the boat house this morning with at least one of them staying all day. It's about time that we had a sighting of this delightful plover - let's hope that we get plenty more of them to follow. Other waders over the last couple of days include up to 8 RUFF, 6 DUNLIN, 4 REDSHANK and 1 OYSTERCATCHER. We actually ended up having a two tick day today as Tom Evans flushed a WOODCOCK this morning from the Trap Grounds. Tom has been checking out this under-watched area regularly and has of course already found a Firecrest there - let's hope that something even better turns up in due course. 

There was also a splendid PEREGRINE on the ground this morning eating a kill it had made. This bird has been in the area for a few days now: it made a couple of unsuccessful passes over the floods two days ago.

The gull roost has actually been quite good over the last few days, with the calm conditions, the "flat" light, reasonable numbers and the closeness of the birds all making for good evening viewing. Whilst I've only been finding Common Gulls, this evening Jarrod Hadfield managed to turn up a couple of adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL for his efforts, always nice to see though we must be getting near to the end of the spring passage for this species.

Drake Teal (c) Derek Woodard

Thursday 28th March

The unseasonal Arctic conditions continue to plague us - it's nearly April now and yet there's no sign of a break yet. I realise that apart from one Chiffchaff record which may well just be an over-wintering bird, there have been no spring migrant sightings at all so far on the Patch. The recent rain pushed the floods out to "Lake Mode" briefly though they've quickly dropped back and are a nice size again. Over the last few days there has been little of note apart from a few SHELDUCK, an OYSTERCATCHER and a couple of REDSHANK. There are still lots of Siskins and a few Redpolls about along the canal between Walton Well Road and Aristotle Lane - they're in no hurry to leave I can imagine.

Today there was quite a reasonably sized gull roost for the time of year and the light was wonderfully flat for judging mantle tones. Mercifully there was no freezing wind to speak of so I was able to spend some time sifting through the flock. The COMMON GULL passage is well under way now good numbers of these lovely gulls dotting the roost and it's always fun to shift through them looking for that elusive Ring-Billed Gull - though no luck of course. The Golden Plover flock is of a decent size with several hundred birds and they're now coming into their summer plumage nicely. Today they were joined by a RUFF and three DUNLIN. Two of the SHELDUCK were around this evening as were three roosting GOOSANDER. There are plenty of winter ducks still around which quite sensibly are in no hurry to leave. I'm told that after this prolonged winter freeze that we're going to get an April heatwave - bring it on!

One of the many Common Gulls

Sunday 24th March

The recent rain has pushed the floods back up to Lake Mode once again. I've not been out myself over the weekend but Alex Martin and Peter Law between them reported 2 BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and 15 DUNLIN on the narrow grass strip between the river and the floods just north of the Perch Inn.

There are still lots of Siskins and Redpolls about, perhaps delaying their moves north until the weather improves. Elsewhere in the county the first migrants are starting to move through with a Wheatear, a Ring Ouzel, a Garganey and a Black Redstart all having been seen over the last fews days as well as the odd Sand Martin.

Thursday 21st March

Well, the spring equinox is here but there's no sign of spring yet and the cold grey weather continues unabated.  I've been looking out for Sand Martins and Little Ringed Plovers but they're probably (very sensibly) hanging back in warmer climes. All in all it's very quiet at the moment. A flock of SHELDUCK are the most noteworthy birds about at the moment with numbers increasing up to 6 birds this evening. The four Godwits have moved on there are now a couple of RUFF and a single REDSHANK instead. In addition Mary Gregory reported an OYSTERCATCHER a few days ago. Gull numbers are dwindling rapidly now and there's been nothing of note over the last few days.

There have been a lot of SISKINS about over the last few days: I've been seeing and hearing them regularly and along the canal there were quite a few flocks as well. I also had a fly-over REDPOLL yesterday as well.

To cheer us all up here's a reminder of our recent stunning Avocets, 
wonderfully captured by Badger (c)

Monday 18th March

In contrast with yesterday, today's visit was rather a gloomy overcast affair with a light drizzle and no sunshine at all though at least there was little wind. The floods had risen further and all the birds were back up towards the Wolvercote end. The four BLACK-TAILED GODWITS were still about and I also found 7 REDSHANK near the Poplar trees. There was a modest Golden Plover flock and only a small gull roost which contained nothing of interest. 

I forgot to mention that yesterday Jarrod Hadfield had reported the two LITTLE OWLS calling comparatively early on in the afternoon up past the Perch and again today I periodically heard them "yelping" away to each other. There was also a fly-by Kingfisher yesterday which I forgot to mention. On my way back today I found a Chiffchaff working its way along the trees by the river near the boat houses, my first of the year on the Patch.

A couple of Snipe from yesterday

One last item to mention: Ian Lewington has considered yesterday's interesting gull further and had decided that it's actually more like a first winter YELLOW-LEGGED GULL than a Caspian. It just shows how hard gulls can be at this time of year if even Ian struggles with them.

Sunday 17th March

Sorry for the lack of posts but my six year old son managed to break his arm quite badly on Thursday and had to be rushed to hospital. Thankfully all is sorted now but that and then the solid rain between them have contrived to keep me from the Meadow for several days. Today when I went down I found the waters back in Lake Mode once again - it really doesn't take much at the moment to push it over the edge. There was just a faint ridge of grass along the river bank on which a small number of birds had gathered. However what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality: for a start it was what photographers call "the golden hour" - the last hour of daylight when the sun is low and everything is lit with a beautiful golden glow. Also, all the birds are really close in this configuration so one could admire their wonderful lighting at close quarters. In addition, despite there only being perhaps a few dozen large gulls there were two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and a CASPIAN GULL (or hybrid - see below) in amongst them. There were also quite a few Common Gulls, many now in their smart summer plumage. On the wader front, four smart summer-plumaged BLACK-TAILED GODWITS were feeding at close quarters along with four SNIPE. The usual duck were dotted around in the distance and there was a single red-head GOOSANDER.

Caspian Gull

Concerning this gull, Ian Lewington writes:

"It's obviously got Cach tendencies in most ways. It's not a classic as we like to see them. It's scap markings are at the heaviest end of the range (rather mich-like) , the tertials are slightly notched and the underwing is a bit dusky. It might be a 2nd gen hybrid but it's probably closest to Cach than anything else. It's moult is advanced like mich but ok for Cach."

So, it's got the Caspian look and all the various parts fall within the acceptable Caspian range but a number of them are rather at the end of their ranges for it to raise questions about being a possible hybrid. An interesting bird!

..And for you laridophobes here one of the four Godwits

Wednesday 13th March: Avocets & Med. Gull

Firstly I have to report the ignominy of having got my own Mystery Bird Quiz wrong! As you'll probably have seen from the comments under yesterday's post the bird was in fact a sleeping Snipe after all and not the Woodcock that I had thought it was. It's a learning experience!

Anyway, on to today where fortunately the ice has all gone from the floods. Two of the AVOCET are still with us along with five REDSHANK and five DUNLIN and a handful of Golden Plover. As it was actually rather sunny the gull roost was a very modest affair with an adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL (picked out by "Two Eyes" on the opposite side of the floods from myself) the pick of the bunch. There were very few large gulls about at all and no sign of Gary (who incidentally was reported at Calvert yesterday evening).

The Med Gull (c) Badger

Tuesday 12th March: Mystery Bird Quiz

It was very chilly down on the Meadow this afternoon though this didn't stop Badger, Two Eyes and Andy Last joining me for my daily gull roost check in the hope that Gary might turn up again - though they were to be disappointed in that respect. Unfortunately, when the floods are frozen the gull roost tends to be rather small and though there were quite a few open pools still, there was also plenty of ice around tonight and very few large gulls. Actually Andy was there to see the AVOCETS and fortunately a couple of them were still around, wading in one of the larger pools. There were also three REDSHANK, a few DUNLIN and a reasonably sized flock of Golden Plover for this time of year. In addition we did hear a CURLEW call briefly once though never saw it. Apart from that there were still quite a few duck around making the most of the open pools but little else of note.

In the absence of much of particular note I'd like to offer up a mystery bird quiz. I reported this as a sleeping Snipe a couple of days ago but at the time I thought that it looked a bit "funny" so I took some video of it. Shortly after that I found the first Avocet and so forgot about it but I happened to look at a photo on someone else's blog tonight and realised that it was in fact something much better than that. Here's a grab of the original footage taken in the mist.

...and to make it a bit easier here's the same shot after I've tweaked it. Can you tell what it is yet?

I'll put the answer in the Comments for you.

Monday 11th March: Avocets & Glaucous Gull

Well, we're back to arctic weather conditions so it was only appropriate that our arctic gull should return in the form of another visit from our star adult GLAUCOUS GULL. He flew in some time between 5:30 and 6pm though initially he wasn't very settled, seeming to take exception to many of the surrounding large gulls.  The gull roost was nice and close this evening though it was rather sunny which made it hard to search through them all and try as I might I couldn't find any Med. Gulls though Nic Hallam had a couple at Farmoor in the roost there.

The six AVOCETS were reported as having gone this morning so it was a pleasant surprise to find them back again this evening. Five were feeding in the middle of the North Channel together with the sixth preferring to be on his own in the South Channel. Other waders included a DUNLIN and three REDSHANKS with a couple of RUFF and 4 RINGED PLOVER being reported this morning by Andy Last.

Gary the Glaucous Gull looking rather splendid

Sunday 10th March: More Avocets

Yesterday's five AVOCETS were still around and in fact today were joined by a sixth bird at around midday today. Wader numbers continued to improve with a supporting cast of 6 REDSHANK, 2 OYSTERCATCHERS, 3 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, 9 DUNLIN, 5 RINGED PLOVER and around 100 Golden Plover. To add to the spring theme, the first Sand Martins were seen at Farmoor yesterday though this cold snap must be a bit of a shock to them. With this sudden return to winter all these birds may decide to delay their push northwards and instead linger at the Meadow for a while in what are perfect condition for waders

Avocet in flight (c) The Early Birder

Saturday 9th March: Kittiwakes & Avocets

It always catches me by surprise when spring starts to kick off: one minute you're scratching around for the usual winter birds and suddenly there's a rush of new stuff around. It all started off when Dave Doherty found a couple of KITTIWAKES on the Meadow first thing this morning - these are annual passage migrants to the county though almost always at Farmoor and to my knowledge this was the first report on the Meadow, certainly since I've been birding it. There has also been a report of one at Pit 60 as well as lots of inland sightings throughout the country so clearly a strong passage going on today. This was confirmed when Alex Martin had another one (or one of the original two) fly over the Meadow at 3:45 pm. Apparently two birds were seen later at Farmoor before flying back towards the Meadow so they may well have roosted on the patch tonight.

There was strong supporting interest in terms of wader passage today with lots of reports coming in during the day. To start with four more AVOCETS dropped in mid-afternoon to join our long-staying bird which is still with us. A BLACK-TAILED GODWIT was reported by Ian Smith with a second one joining it later on in the day (per Jarrod Hadfield). RINGED PLOVERS accumulated during the day with a total of five by the end. To add to that there were a total of 10 DUNLIN, the usual OYSTERCATCHER, a brief CURLEW (there was also one yesterday) and a single REDSHANK

Here's a videograb of the original Avocet (c)Badger

On the duck front, Badger reported a couple of TUFTED DUCKS and someone actually went to the trouble of estimating the duck numbers with 1500 odd Teal and 521 Wigeon as well as a GOOSANDER and 20 odd PINTAIL. To round things off Jarrod Hadfield had another RAVEN sighting. Alll in all, a very exciting day on the patch.

...and one of the two Tufted Ducks (c) Badger

Thursday 7th March: Avocet Still

Yesterday's AVOCET was still around today, allowing some of the county birders who wanted to see it to catch up with it. However, conditions were misty and gloomy all day so views weren't great. Apart from this star wader there was a single OYSTERCATCHER around and a sleeping SNIPE. Nothing of note in the gull roost this evening but still plenty of duck around.

It's a shame that conditions were so gloomy, making photography 
little more than a record-shot exercise.

Wednesday 6th March: Avocet

Now that we're into March, the gulling season is definitely drawing to a close. Sure, there are still Mediterranean Gulls to look for and in fact the next couple of weeks are the prime spring passage for this species but in general numbers are dwindling. However, as gull interest wanes so interest in waders starts to pick up and today was definitely a "wader day". It started out well enough with the OYSTERCATCHER and 5 REDSHANK knocking about and I soon discovered a couple of spring CURLEW to add to the tally. However as it was starting to get dark (though it was rather gloomy even at the best of times today) a splendid AVOCET turned up along the North Shore. I put the word out and Alex Martin managed to twitch it though annoyingly it disappeared before others who wanted to see it could get there. It may still be about though the Meadow does have a habit of attracting birds that just pop in for a short time in the evening before moving on.

A digiscoped record shot in the evening gloom

In other news over the last few days, there have been serveral DUNLIN knocking around, a maximum of 6 REDSHANK and just a few Golden Plover. On the gull front the best has been a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. There are still plenty of ducks around including good numbers of PINTAIL.

Saturday 2nd March: Mediterranean Gull

Jarrod Hadfield writes:

Male STONECHAT between the Perch and the boat yard - presumably the bird from a few days ago. Also, 2 RAVEN, PEREGINE, 2 GREY WAGTAIL, 4 REDSHANK, 5 DUNLIN, 50+ PINTAIL, 4 SHELDUCK & 8 GADWALL.  No sign of the Oystercatchers or Curlew.

In the evening gull roost, which was attended by Jarrod, Peter Law, John Uren, Mrs. Uren & Andy Last, there was a MEDITERRANEAN GULL (the first of the year). Amazingly this puts Port Meadow at the top of the county site leadership board with a stonking 99 birds for the year. This will of course be short lived as Farmoor and Otmoor always end up with far more year ticks than we can ever muster. Still, it does serve to highlight what a good start to the year we have had - we've managed to get all the birds that one could reasonably hope for at this time of year including a clean sweep of all the good gulls (Glaucous, Iceland, Caspian, Yellow-legged, Med.). It's been a team effort so thanks to everyone who's been out looking and reporting back to me. Let's hope for a really good spring passage next.

To celebrate, here's a lovely Med. Gull from last year

Friday 1st March

I wasn't able to get down to the Meadow this evening as I'm feeling rather under the weather. Fortunately Badger, Andy Last, Mark Merrit and the Wickster paid a visit where between them they found a good selection of waders today. Topping the bill was a CURLEW (the first of the year and never an easy bird to get on the Patch) together with a supporting cast of two OYSTERCATCHERS and 6 DUNLIN. On the duck front five of the SHELDUCK put in an appearance and there were 10 roosting GOOSANDER tonight. In the gull roost unfortunately Gary the Glaucous Gull (he's been around long enough now for me to have to name him) decided not to come in though there were a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (adult & 3rd winter) by way of compensation. To round things off the Jericho RED KITE put in an appearance.

The two Oystercatchers (c) Badger

Thursday 28th February: Glaucous Gull Still

It was quite a sociable occasion at the gull roost this evening with Steve Jennings, Alex Martin, Gareth Blockley and a couple of other people all joining me. They were of course there for the adult GLAUCOUS GULL which duly obliged by turning up at aroudn 5:15 this evening. Apart from that there were a couple of 3w YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS but little else of note in the gull roost. Waders were well represented in the form of 5 REDSHANK, 4 DUNLIN, about 75 Golden Plover and about 100 Lapwing. On the duck front the 6 SHELDUCK were still about, a good number of PINTAIL and a few roosting GOOSANDER. With spring now around the corner we can start looking forward to the arrival of the Sand Martins in a couple of weeks time.

What a handsome beast!