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!