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