Review of 2014

So it's that time of year again. It's been a funny old year on Port Meadow this year. There are two main yardsticks that I use for measuring the Patch birding: the Year List and the Rare Count. The Year List has been rather a disappointment with a modest total of 125, well below the 130+ that we usually manage. There have been some notable non-sightings this year with Greenshank and Grasshopper Warbler being the most obvious two. Indeed it was a very poor year for waders: after all we only got our Ruff year tick in December and we never got any of those harder wader species like Sanderling, Turnstone or Spotted Redshank. We were also rather deficient on the Owl front with no sightings of either Barn or Little this year. As far as Gulls were concerned we managed most of the rarer species with just Glaucous being missed out. We even got Kittiwake this year which is a very rare bird for the Patch.

As far as Rares goes we can't really complain. Usually if I get a couple of nationally good birds on the Patch then I'm happy and this year we had Glossy Ibis (a Patch first), Spoonbill (pretty much annual) and Great White Egret (another Patch first) though the latter was only reported on RBA. However there was a GW Egret knocking around the county for much of the summer so I can well believe that one flew over Port Meadow air space.

So looking in more detail, what have been the highlights of the year? We started the year with the floods in full Lake Mode. January was pretty much what you'd expect with a Jack Snipe probably the highlight. February saw the floods still very extended with a Kittiwake and a Red-crested Pochard the pick of the birds. In March, as the floods finally started to get back to their usual size, it was all about the gulls with several Caspian, Iceland and Mediterranean Gulls all seen. Adding a touch of the exotic was also an escapee Cape Shelduck that hung out with an increasingly large Shelduck Flock. The first spring migrants, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, didn't arrive until the 24th, very late this year.

3w Caspian Gull

Iceland Gull

April saw the spring migrants arrive in force. That month there was also a White-fronted Goose (of unknown origin that I ended up not counting on the year list), a Little Gull and a drake Garganey. We also had the last of the winter gulls with another Iceland Gull, a Tree Pipit in Burgess Field (a good bird for Oxon) and the first of the Rares in the form of a Spoonbill that sadly only spent a few minutes on the floods before being flushed.

This was the only Spoonbill in the whole county this year
May brought with it a Bar-tailed Godwit, a drake Garganey and the second of the Rares, a splendid Glossy Ibis that sadly only spent a single day on the Meadow before it moved to Otmoor where it stayed for the next two and a half months. An Avocet turned up and stayed a couple of days but apart from that it was a very quiet month indeed with just a Grey Plover at the end also noteworthy.

Glossy Ibis (c) Pete Roby

The May Avocet

The only birds of note in June were a couple of fly-over Green Sandpipers, normally quite tricky birds to get on the Patch so I was pleased to see them. July too was pretty birdless and I spent my time getting to know the local flowers instead. With the floods firmly dried up, in August it was up to the passerines to try and produce something of interest. We managed several Common Redstart sightings and also a pair of Whinchat and a Spotted Flycatcher - all good birds for the Patch. August did produce the third Rare of the year in the form of a Great White Egret that was reported flying over the A40 towards Port Meadow mid month. September and October were just as tough going with a Tree Sparrow in a garden in Wolvercote the pick of the birds. Towards the end of October the floods started to reform though for a while they were still rather small. 

It wasn't until November that the floods regained their full size and with the extra water came back some decent birds. As well as regular sightings of Yellow-legged Gulls there were a couple of Caspian Gulls: a 1w bird and a smart adult. A Short-eared Owl in Burgess Field was a welcome find one afternoon and there was also a remarkably showy Jack Snipe out in the open on the floods one day. This month all the winter birds came back in force and there were good counts of all the usual winter species. This theme was continued into December with plenty of birds though not much variety. The pick of the birds in December was a Ruff which finally made it onto the Year List.

Adult Caspian Gull
On the moth front the most notable catches were firstly a tiny fern-loving micro called Psychoides filicivora, only the third ever record for the county which I caught in my garden in May. Secondly was a Toadflax Brocade which is technical a national rarity though it's rapidly colonising new areas. It was however the first record for the VC23 recording area so a nice recoding area first for my garden.

Psychoides filicivora
Toadflax Brocade
So there you have it. My general feeling looking back on the year was that it was hard work: with the floods absent for a good proportion of the year and with a very poor spring wader passage throughout the county there was a lot of slogging around for little reward. Still that is what Patch birding is all about and there's always something of interest to look at and learn about. I'm going to give the Patch Bird of the Year award to the Glossy Ibis as it was the first record for the Patch.

Finally it only remains for me to wish all my readers a Happy and Bird-filled New Year.

Saturday 27th December

Firstly, Season's Greetings & I hope that you all had a good Christmas. Today was the first time in quite a while that I've had a chance to nip down to the Meadow to check things out and fortunately there was plenty to look at. There were a lot of birds about with increased Wigeon and Teal numbers and today even some waders with four REDSHANK and eight little DUNLIN all working their way along the West Shore. In amongst the ducks were fourteen PINTAIL (all but three males) and a single SHELDUCK. Whilst it was a bit early for the gull roost proper there was a smart adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL already in by the time that I left. With the weather set to get colder for the next few days we may well have the floods freeze again but hopefully the weather won't be so severe that all the birds leave.

Christmas Wigeon (c) Jason Coppock

Friday 19th December

My apologies for the lack of posting over the last couple of weeks. It hasn't been for lack of birds nor lack of visits on my part but the truth is that it's all been pretty much the same birds each day. There are good numbers of Wigeon and Teal about with a smattering of Shoveler, Gadwall and usually a few PINTAIL. There's been the odd wader about with a DUNLIN and a REDSHANK seen over the last week. The Lapwing flock has numbered about 40 though there haven't really been any Golden Plover to speak of with just the odd bird or two. In the gull roost there have often been a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS about but no more Caspians nor any white-winged gulls yet though to be fair there are hardly any of the latter in the entire country at present.

There are plenty of Wigeon around at present

Today I went down a bit early to rendezvous with Jason Coppock who had conveniently already done all the scanning for me. He managed to unearth 5 distant REDSHANK sitting on their usual log opposite the Poplar trees. It's funny how each winter there are always five Redshank and always on the same log! In addition he found a couple of SHELDUCK and three BLACK-TAILED GODWITS. A good haul for this time of year, he clearly needs to visit more often!

Sunday 7th December

It's been a fairly "samey" few days on the Meadow towards the end of the week with a few PINTAIL, a couple of GOOSANDER, a few Gadwall, some SNIPE and the odd YELLOW-LEGGED GULL the main birds of notes. Overnight on Friday a sharp drop in temperature meant that on my Saturday morning run around the patch I found the floods frozen. In the bright sunshine a few SNIPE were flying about and calling. There were just three groups of birds present on the ice: at the north end where there was a small clear patch of water, all the ducks were huddled together; in the middle section was a small selection of gulls and at the southern end near the boats there was a flock of about 40 Lapwings. In amongst this last group I was very excited to spot the orange legs of a RUFF - normally a fairly regular species on the Meadow but this year somehow we've managed to miss them so this was in fact a year tick. It just shows what a poor spring we had for waders: after all we're still missing Greenshank from the year list!

A Ruff on ice

Wednesday 3rd December

I arrived late afternoon at the floods to find all the gulls in the air once again and they never subsequently settled after that. Looking around the most likely cause was a birder on the far side of the floods who was standing rather close to the water's edge. The gulls are generally not very approachable from that side and it doesn't take much to spook them so I generally stand well back on that side. Still, what with rampaging dogs and this afternoon even a stampede of the horses there's often something that will put the birds up. There was little else to report with a couple of PINTAIL the only birds of note and relatively small flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover.

Tuesday 2nd December

Another typical "birdy" session on the Meadow today. As far as the gulls were concerned a smattering of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS in the roost was the only point of interest. There was more to report on the duck front though: to start with there was a pair of Gadwall in amongst the Wigeon hoard, this being the first record of this species since the floods returned. What's more James Evry had a drake GOOSANDER come in to roost at last light and also saw another on the river in the morning. Best of all was a possible Merlin sighting seen by James speeding over the floods at dusk though unfortunately the ID couldn't be confirmed as that would be a first for the Patch - certainly since I've been birding it.

Monday 1st December

Nothing of interest was reported over the weekend so today it was once again back to the Meadow for my late afternoon visit. The floods are still absolutely heaving with birds and each time as I peer into the gloom trying to make out the distant birds on the far shore I tell myself that I should come earlier to check through the Golden Plover flock for American vagrants. Today there were at a guesstimate about one thousand Golden Plover as well as several hundred Lapwing. I did spot a single DUNLIN in amongst them but as they were behind the gulls it was impossible to see them properly and there were almost certainly more. The gulls roost was once again vast in numbers and held at least 3 adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS as well as a nice 2nd winter bird. With the winds turning northerly and cold we might start to expect some white-wingers some time soon - they're just starting to appear in the country now. 

The highlight of the day was just as I was packing up: a flock of a dozen or so Geese came in, making a call I didn't recognise. These were neither Greylags nor Canadas and a quick re-assemblage of my scope revealed 13 WHITE-FRONTED GEESE and one BAR-HEADED GOOSE. These are going to be the feral flock that turn up from time to time - Dave Doherty saw them a few weeks back flying over the Meadow. I think that there's a bit of hybridisation going on with some of the birds which seem to have too much white on the top of their foreheads - a bit of Bar-head in there perhaps? Anyway, it was nice to see them again.

The 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull

Friday 28th November

It's been a great couple of days on the Patch: the floods are nice and large now and the whole area is absolutely heaving with birds. In fact I'm finding that when I arrive (currently at around 3:30 pm) I feel that I don't have enough daylight really to do justice to all the birds and I have hurriedly to look through all the ducks and waders before moving on to the gulls as the light starts to fade. Over the last couple of days we've actually had some waders to look at with four REDSHANK, a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, four DUNLIN and at least 21 SNIPE (counted by James Every when they all flushed on one occasion). In addition there have been a good couple of hundred Lapwing and at last we're starting to get some decent Golden Plover flocks with a count of several hundred on Friday. On the duck front as well as the vast numbers of Wigeon, Mallard and Teal we're starting to get some other species in with four PINTAIL and four SHOVELER on Thursday. On the gull front there have been good counts coming in to roost with a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS each evening making up the highlights. So all in all the Meadow is back to its birdy best!

Lapwing (obviously not taken recently in our current murky conditions!)

Wednesday 26th November

It was very dark and gloomy when I visited the Meadow today late afternoon which was rather frustrating as the patch was absolutely heaving with birds which were hard to make out in all the murk. There were the usual winter ducks in good numbers with a couple of SHELDUCK of particular note. Still only modest numbers of Golden Plover though the Lapwing count must have been at least 200 birds. There were lots and lots of gulls: easily the largest count so far since the floods have returned though the darkness and the fact that they were densely packed meant that it was hard to look through them. Eventually a dog walker "obliged" by setting his beast free to romp through the water thereby putting everything up. Whilst I always curse when this happens the truth is that it does often give one a chance to see what has been lurking away, especially with small waders such as Dunlin. There weren't any of those today but I did hear (but not see) a REDSHANK calling. After the dog had gone, the reshuffled gulls chose to mill about in the middle of the water and were therefore much easier to sift through. Four adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and 3 Common Gulls were the pick of the bunch.

Tuesday 26th November

The floods are getting bigger by the day and are now looking great. The gulls seem to think so too because they actually decided to stay put this evening in good numbers with a couple of adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS the pick of the bunch. The bird of the day however was a lovely JACK SNIPE that James Evry found, actually out in the open working its way along the line of dead Dock plants on the West Shore. Usually this species is only seen as it's flushed so it was great to actually have a look at it though by the time I'd arrived it was rather gloomy so I didn't bother with a photo.

An adult Yellow-legged Gull from a few days ago

Monday 24th November

It's been a steady few days on the Meadow since I lasted posted. The flood waters have been increasing on a near daily basis and are looking really good now. The whole area is awash with birds - there are really good counts of Wigeon in particular. We're even starting to attract some waders: this evening there were two DUNLIN and a SNIPE along the West Shore. Lapwing numbers have also been increasing with about 100 birds there today. The only possible gripe would be the gull roost which is a bit hit and miss at present. There were reasonable numbers on Friday and Saturday with an adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL being the pick of the bunch but this evening for some reason there were no birds (scared off by a dog I would guess). If there isn't a nucleus of gulls already present at dusk then others just will not come in: we watched them time after time tonight circle low but then head off to Farmoor. The only other news to report is of a SHELDUCK which was hanging about on Friday and Saturday though there was no sign of it today.

This evening it was very misty which, when combined with a pretty sunset made for very atmospheric conditions

Thursday 20th November: Caspian Gull

The settled weather has meant that there's been little change as far as the resident birds are concerned with the usual hoards of winter ducks, a couple of dozen Lapwings and disappointingly few Golden Plover. Each evening we're getting good sized flocks of Starlings shooting overhead towards Otmoor, not something that I remember happening in previous years. The gull roost has been becoming more settled over the last couple of evenings and is now more or less staying put, which is good news. Whilst there was nothing out of the ordinary to report last evening, tonight came up trumps with a nice adult CASPIAN GULL in the roost together with a bonus adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. According to Ian Lewington (who knows all the county's cachinnans individually) this is a new bird that hasn't been seen before. It seems to be a good season for this species so far: as well as this being the Meadow's second bird in less than a week, quite a few have been seen already in the Farmoor roost and also at the Didcot tip. Long may it continue!

Unusually pale-eyed for a Caspian Gull.
The all-important diagnostic P10 underside shot

For those who just can't get enough hot Caspian action,
here's some extended video of it preening.

Tuesday 18th November

It was a rather nice day today with calm and sunny conditions. Certainly when I went for my late morning run it was gorgeous. I didn't find anything of especial note with a couple of Fieldfare in the Trap Ground hedgerow probably the most interesting sighting.

The floods had expanded a little more and are now looking pretty good again. The only thing that one could presently complain about is that the gull roost is very panicky at present. My theory is that it takes a while for the birds to get used to the large amount of disturbance that there is on the Meadow. Certainly the ducks are fair tamer here than somewhere like Otmoor but this resilience probably takes a while to develop so at the start of the flood season they're rather flightly. This evening was a case in point: I arrived to find all the gulls flying around in the air for no obvious reason according to birders who were already there. The gulls didn't settle again and without a nucleus of already settled birds to pull others in there ended up being no roost at all this evening. Apart from the usual suspects in good numbers there wasn't anything else of note and even the Redshank had moved on.

I did a quick tour of Burgess Field to see if I could find the Short-eared Owl from yesterday but apart from 30 odd Meadow Pipits and a Greater-spotted Woodpecker I had no luck. James Evry too made a search though when it was darker and whilst he couldn't find the Shorty either he did hear a calling TAWNY OWL which is not at all easy to get on the Patch - we seem to struggle with owls on the Meadow.

Monday 17th November

A blog posting two days running shows that things must be picking up! The overnight rain had topped up the floods even more so a late afternoon visit in the company of Liam Langley and James Evry found a modest gull roost to sift through. Sadly the birds were rather finicky and kept disappearing as fast as they would arrive so I got bored and left but the other two stuck it out and were rewarded with a bright sighting of a 1st winter CASPIAN GULL and an adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL at last light though apparently neither stayed long. Also of note were a couple of REDSHANK, a flock of several hundred Golden Plover wheeling about high overhead, good Starling flock sizes heading off to roost and hoards of the usual ducks.

As if this wasn't enough Mary MacDougall e-mailed me this morning to say that she'd seen at least one if not two SHORT-EARED OWLS in Burgess Field at close quarters yesterday afternoon from 3:30 pm onwards. It's great to have a sighting of these wonderful birds on Burgess Field again as this species is certainly less than annual there.

Here's a grab of an Otmoor SEO from a couple of years ago

Sunday 17th November: Caspian Gull

It's been a good week on the Meadow. The embryonic floods have managed to stay put and then this week the heavy rain on Friday morning really made a difference with the water area about quadrupling in size overnight. By Sunday morning there was a more or less complete run of water all the way from Stint Corner down to the Southern Tail. The birds are voting with their feet as well. By the end of the week the floods were covered in birds: there must be getting on for a thousand Wigeon now and several hundred Teal and Mallards. Starlings are working over the grass en masse and there are reasonable Lapwing numbers. Linnets and Meadow Pipits are also around in good numbers. In fact the only birds that we might expect that haven't been around are the Golden Plover: there have only been smatterings of this species over the last week.

There has even been the makings of a modest gull roost. Earlier in the week I counted a couple of hundred Black-headed Gulls and perhaps fifty large gulls at last light on Tuesday. However it's been a bit hit and miss with no roost to speak of on Friday. I think that really we need the floods to be a bit larger still for the roost really to kick off consistently. Still we can't really complain on the gull front: on Saturday afternoon Erik Sandvig managed to find a fine 1st winter CASPIAN GULL on the floods. According to Ian Lewington this bird spent much of October in the Didcot area. Let's hope that this is the first of many of this species on the Meadow now that the Meadow is attracting gulls again.

1w Caspian Gull (c) Erik Sandvig

Friday 7th November

Firstly my apologies for the long gap since my last posting but I've been away for a week and frankly there hasn't been that much to talk about. I'm pleased to report that the embryonic floods that I mentioned in my last post have managed to stay put with there having been enough rain to keep them alive and a nice spell of wet weather should be enough to get them to start to expand to a more decent size. Whilst I've been away Meadow regular Dave Doherty has been continuing to check out the patch periodically and in my absence he came up with some good sightings. Firstly he had a probable HONEY BUZZARD which flew over towards Wytham Wood - it's a real shame it was only probable as that would have been a great patch tick. Secondly he had a flock of nine WHITE-FRONTED GEESE fly over as well. There were in all probability the mongrel flock that are seen from time to time - there seems to be a bit of Bar-headed mixed in with some of them.

On my visit today there was a noticeable increase in activity, in fact the Meadow was positively birdy by recent standards. Firstly the Golden Plover flock has suddenly grown from counts of around 50 to about 600 today - at last that gives me something to look through. There were also several hundred Starlings and a good number of Linnets all working their way over the grass. Lapwings numbered about 50 birds and best of all there were some winter duck back on the grass with about 50 Teal busy nibbling away at the grass. Sadly there's no proper gull roost yet - we really need more water before that starts to happen though I did spot a single Common Gull in amongst a few dozen Black-headeds in the last few days.

The first Common Gull of the winter

At least one Kingfisher has been seen regularly near the boats over the last week or so. Also of interest, the leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE was back on the Meadow this week in amongst the feral Greylags. According to Tom Wickens it has been spending most of its time on the boating lake at Hinksey Park of late.

The "ghost" Goose

With the break in the weather I've noticed a lot more birds coming to my garden feeders with quite a few House Sparrows in amongst them. Sadly, this is quite a noteworthy event as this once common bird isn't usually found in my garden.

News from "up north": Adrian Gray reports a few winter duck (Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and a TUFTED DUCK) all hanging out in the Gullet and the first few Wigeon are now back on Wolvercote Common. What's more, he and Ian Curtis have both reported a couple of female GOOSANDER on the Gullet as well over the last few days.

So, a bit more rain and we should be back to some decent floods and winter gull roost watching. I can't wait!

23rd October

I'm pleased to report that we have some embryonic floods back on the Meadow now! The recent spell of rain has left a thin sliver of water along the North Channel and a small pool near the Trap Ground allotment gate. The only birds that seem to have taken advantage of this water so far as the Golden Plover which are starting to congregate for the winter. The peak count that I've had over the last few days has been 72 birds together with a smattering of Lapwings. Linnet numbers continue to grow and a peak estimate is about 150 birds and there are modest numbers of Meadow Pipits about as well.

It's good to have the Golden Plover back at last

The first few Redwing are now back as well, mainly in the Castle Mill Stream hawthorns, which always seems to be a favourite place of theirs. On the stream itself there are now a handful of Teal, waiting in the wings for the floods to be properly restored. Adrian Gray also reports a few winter duck up at Wolvercote in the Gullet.

Whilst we have a bit of water on the Meadow now, we really need a lot more rain to turn it into proper sized floods that will last through the winter. Otherwise, sadly it's just going to dry up again.

Thursday 16th October: Meadow Plant Survey Report

Readers may recall that a while ago I tagged along on a Creeping Marshwort survey conducted by Dr Judith Webb and fellow expert Camilla Lambrick. Well, the report is now finished and can be found here. Basically the plant is doing well despite the couple of recent years when the Meadow was flooded all year (ah happy days!) which whilst being excellent for birds is bad for plants as it kills them off. 

Creeping Marshwort
In addition to the Creeping Marshwort we managed to find plenty of the rare (and tiny!) flower Mudwort which the two expert botanists got very excited about.

It's good to know that the Meadow's plant life is doing well. It certainly keeps me occupied during the long lean birdless summer months.

Sunday 5th October

There's been a bit of excitement (for me at least) on the Meadow over the last few days. On Friday just as I was finishing an early morning walk around the Patch I saw a raptor which I initially thought was a buzzard though when I saw a notch in the tail I started to get more excited. It's dark colouring and relatively compact wings had me thinking about the possibility of a Black Kite though I never got a good enough view of it. Later the same day I saw it again and it certainly seemed dark though this time the notch in the tail looked too deep for Black Kite. 

The next day I went looking for it again though could only turn up the usual RED KITE that hangs out near the Perch Inn. So, one that got away or just me getting a couple of poor views of the usual Red Kite? Who knows! At least it's given me something to look out for on my Meadow walks.

The usual Red Kite on the Meadow earlier in the year

Thursday 2nd October

September was officially the driest on record which sadly certainly hasn't helped out need to re-flood the Meadow. Still, the extended Indian Summer has meant that there has been lots of insects around for the birds which seem to be around in good numbers. Meadow Pipits are accumulating nicely on the Meadow with several dozen now around and the Linnet flock numbering about one hundred birds now. A couple of dozen Lapwings are now hanging around though there have been no Golden Plover as yet. There has been a noticeable influx of Jays, with them often being seen in flight or squawking away in the trees. The highlight of the last couple of weeks has been a pair of Kingfishers which I've seen hanging around the moored boats on a couple of occasions.

One of the two Kingfishers
On the moth front it's been very quiet as well. I caught my first Sallow of the autumn overnight - these are yellow-coloured noctuids which fly in the autumn months. However numbers in the trap have dropped right off though the nights have been rather clear of late which doesn't help.

Fleur du jour: Musk Thistle
With the good weather finally due to break this weekend we might start to get some much-needed rain to start the long haul back to floodage. Fingers crossed!

Sunday 21st September: update from the North

Adrian Gray up in Wolvercote recently reported the following:

Nothing much to report on the Thames at the moment, though I did spend  an enjoyable five minutes or so watching the LITTLE EGRET manically splashing round this morning - I think there must have been a shoal of fry about, because it was like a cat on a hot tin roof! Haven't seen any  of your Yellow Wagtails (mostly because I haven't looked...), but have seen a number of Grey Wagtails this week, especially up by Godstow Lock.

Popped into the Gullet tonight for a few minutes, and got a couple of surprises. There's at least four small ducks in there which I think are Wigeon but round the back was the unmistakeable conks of two Shoveler

The first Wigeon of the season on the Gullet, courtesy of Adrian Gray

17th September

The high pressure system has continued to dominate our weather over the last week though it's not been quite as sunny as previously. The lack of change in the weather is mirrored in the birding which is sadly still pretty minimal. Even the Lapwings and Yellow Wagtails seem to have deserted us though the latter could be hanging out at the north end with the cattle. The most exciting birding at present comes about when you manage to find a roving feeding flock, usually along the Castle Mill Stream. There then follows ten or so minutes of intense birding, following every movement to see what it is. The usual mix is Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits with several Chiffchaffs and perhaps a Goldcrest or two - sadly I've not had any more Flycatchers so far.
I bumped into a local birder who reported a couple of WHEATEARS (the first of the Autumn) and a PEREGRINE over the last week. There's also been a single LITTLE EGRET knocking about on the river.

Castle Mills Stream Moorhen
Even the mothing has gotten rather quiet of late - the cooler and clearer nights making for smaller catchers.

This Small Ranunculus has been the pick of the moths over the last week for me
I'm still trying to get to grips with the local flowers and plants though of course it's now getting late in the season but it gives me something to look out for on my daily walks.

I'd thought that I re-introduce the occasional Flower du Jour - this is Black Nightshade,
so called because it's mature berries are black
So we're very much waiting for some decent rain and a return of the floods. Of course last year we lucked in on a Yellow-browed Warbler in the autumn despite the lack of water. It would be great to have something similar grace our Patch to keep one's interest during this lean period.

9th September

September has started with a nice period of high pressure, giving us lovely Indian Summer days. Nevertheless there are definite signs of autumn where ever you look. On the Meadow, the usual non-water autumn birds are starting to accumulate with the Linnet flock now numbering about 50 birds, quite a few Meadow Pipits and between 20 and 30 Lapwings loafing around most days though I've not seen any more Golden Plover. We've been getting good counts of YELLOW WAGTAILS of late with up to 30 of them seen in recent days. Hirundine numbers seem to be reducing as birds start to move southwards and there are still plenty of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs in the hedgerows. There are plenty of Hawker dragonflies about at present with Southern Hawkers buzzing around in various locations including my garden. Along the Castle Mill Stream there are a couple of Migrant Hawkers  along with a single Brown Hawker though the Damselflies have now gone.

Migrant Hawker - on the far side of the Castle Mill Stream

Various exotic fungi are now starting to appear in Burgess Field, some of which have great names.

Lawyer's Wig...
...also known as Shaggy Ink-Cap
Weeping Widow (probably)
Of course there are lots of spiders around at this time of year as well with the Garden Spider the most common species in our garden present.

Garden Spider - the white cross on it's back is very distinctive
The highlight since my last posting though was a TREE SPARROW that was seen briefly by Steve Goddard in his Wolvercote garden. Whilst in days gone by this species used to breed on the Meadow in abundance now they're never normally seen there. The Tree Sparrow Project run by the Oxford Ornithological Society is making great strides in turning around the fortunes of this delightful sparrow and they are now starting to spread, often along the Thames so it's possible that we may get a colony re-appearing at some point. In the mean time this is a most welcome year tick in what are lean times on the floodless Patch.

28th August

Over the last few days I've been out most days visiting the Patch. There's not been much to report but I managed to find the first two GOLDEN PLOVER of the autumn. I was just watching them when suddenly they disappeared! The explanation was that when there's a predator about they tend to crouch right down and the cause of their concern turned out to be a HOBBY which unusually was on the ground nearby. As I started to walk towards it, it continually flew further away but always landing on the ground again before it finally flew off.

Apart from that over the last few days there has been a sub-song singing SEDGE WARBLER along the Castle Mill Stream recently (only the second one of the year on the Patch) and a nice family of fledged Reed Warblers in the Trap Ground reed bed.

No bird photos again so here's a female Banded Demoiselle that I took at the start of July.

Those of you with botanical leanings might be interested to know that the Oxford Rare Plant Group will be doing a survey of Creeping Marshwort on Port Meadow this Saturday 30th August. Creeping Marshwort is of course a very rare plant which is now in the entire country only found at Port Meadow and North Hinksey Meadow so it's important that it's looked after on the Meadow. If you'd like to come along to help out they're meeting at 10am by the Aristotle Lane entrance to the Meadow.

Creeping Yellow Cress - one of three Yellow Cress species to be found on the Meadow itself

21st August: Spotted Flycatcher

Over the last couple of days I've been checking out Burgess Field each afternoon to see if I can re-find the Redstarts but sadly I've had no luck. I did have a couple of YELLOW WAGTAILS fly over yesterday and today I found what looked like a family party of LESSER WHITETHROATS along the hedge so they may well have bred there.  There were also a couple of juvenile YELLOW WAGTAILS in amongst the horses on the Meadow itself today.

The highlight of today was when I went for a wander along the Castle Mill Stream on my way back home. I came across a roving mixed feeding flock which is always exciting as all sorts of species will join in such flocks at this time of year. In amongst the Warblers, and Tits were a TREE CREEPER and best of all a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER which was a real treat to see as this species is hard to come by on the Patch, being somewhat less than annual. Sadly it was on view for only about twenty seconds before it moved on.

No photos of the Spotted Flycatcher so instead here's a Rusty Dot Pearl,
an immigrant moth that I caught in my garden for the first time last night.

19th August: One Redstart

Encouraged by yesterday's success with the two Redstarts I went for a late afternoon walk around Burgess Field again. On the way out there I spotted a couple of people scouring the Port Meadow grassland carefully and I guessed that they were after the rare plant Creeping Marshwort (which is only found on Port Meadow). In Burgess Field the adult make REDSTART was still in the same hedge and I could well believe that the other one might be about too as there is a lot of cover in which it could hide. Apart from that it was the usual skulking warblers.

On the way home I met up with the two plant chaps who had indeed been looking for Creeping Marshwort though they'd had no luck. I offered to show them where I'd seen it five years previously (see here) as best as I could remember which they happily accepted. 

A reminder of Creeping Marshwort from August 2009
In passing they pointed out all sorts of other good plants that I didn't know. I've always felt that a short time with a good botanist would teach me far more than the hours of amateur bumbling around that I normally do. I left them searching with renewed vigour back on the Meadow though it's a pretty hard task to find such a small creeping plant in such a big area. Below are the plants that they showed me.

Strawberry Clover ... called because the fruit looks a bit like a strawberry
Tubular Water Dropwort
Marsh Arrow-grass

19th August: Two Redstarts

Inspired by James Evry's great sightings recently I thought that I'd better get back out on the Patch to try and find something of my own. Against all odds I did actually manage to come across a couple of REDSTARTS in Burgess Field, in the field in the south east corner of the nature reserve. As is typical for late afternoon birding they were very skulking but I managed to see them well enough in the end to age them as an adult male and a first winter male. This is a hard species to get on the Meadow so I was very pleased to have seen them. Apart from that there were noticeably good numbers of young birds about with juvenile Goldfinches, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff all seen. One mixed feeding flock had well over twenty birds with a variety of Tits and Warblers all tagging along together. The hedgerows are heaving with berries in what must have been a very good summer for them so there's plenty about for the autumn and winter birds.

To round things off as I walked back a lovely HOBBY shot over the Meadow - a nice end to a pleasant afternoon's visit.

The Marbled Whites seem to have gone now in Burgess Field but I
thought that I'd share this one from a few weeks back

17th August: Whinchat & Redstart

James Evry sent me the following e-mail:

I thought I'd share some of my sightings from yesterday (17th) on Port Meadow: there was a Little Egret and a Kingfisher along the river, 2 WHINCHAT in the middle of the meadow, a big flock of Starlings amongst the cows and 1 REDSTART along the towpath.

The Whinchat and the Redstart are both year ticks - most welcome in this straightened times!

Here's a picture of some of the swallows on the boats from a few days ago

14th August

Apologies for the radio silence for a while but I've been away on holiday. Today I went for a long walk around the Meadow to see what I could find. There is of course no water at all and it's a fairly birdless desert sadly at present. Still there's always something to see if one looks hard enough. There are lots of wild flowers that I'm trying to get my head around and I'll continue to post some of them in this blog as we go along. There is a definite feel of autumn in the air as far as the birds are concerned: the Swifts have all gone and the Hirundines are all gathering in large numbers including some Sand Martins. There was a mixed flock of over a hundred round by the moored boats today including lots of juveniles so a successful breeding year for them. They were all swirling around after insects and then resting up on the boats. A juvenile Willow Warbler was working its way clumsily along the hedgerow at the southern end of the Trap Ground allotments, looking yellow enough to make one think of a Hippolais warbler though of course size and shape was all wrong. 

The juvenile Willow Warbler
When there's no flood water the only way to see waders is to walk along the river and sure enough I managed to winkle out a COMMON SANDPIPER and a LITTLE EGRET this way. Sadly, this habitat is a poor substitute for proper floods and unless we get a lot of rain soon we'll continue to have slim pickings on this front. There were only five Lapwings on the grass itself, a rather poor count from the 30+ that I was getting a couple of weeks ago. There was a very large flock of Starlings feeding in amongst the cattle at the north end of the Meadow which were spooked up into one of the Poplar trees were they continued to chatter away very noisily for quite some time.

So all quiet on the western front at present. What we really need now is a good period of prolonged rain otherwise sadly it's going to continue to be quiet for some time to come.

27th July

A female Southern Hawker dragonfly has been visiting our garden regularly of late. In fact the other day she found her way into our kitchen and couldn't get out easily. As she rested this afforded a great opportunity to study her at close quarters. After taking a few snaps she was guided safely back outside. She was none the worse for her visit and has been seen again on subsequent days, hawking around the garden looking for unwary insects to pounc on.

Today's Fleur du Jour is Hogweed. Whilst May finds the hedgerows full of feathery Cow Parsley, come July it's the altogether more chunky Hogweed that is to be found lining the wayside.