25th January

The floods are a nice large size at present without being so big that they're hard to bird. It's been very "birdy" over the last few days with lots of ducks and gulls to look through. The four (or sometimes five) DUNLIN are still with us, hanging out with the Lapwings. Talking of which, there was a huge count (by Meadow standards) of these lovely plovers this evening with several hundred of them gracing the floods. Scattered in amongst them were a few Golden Plover, the first that I've seen this year though others have already seen them. In amongst the usual ducks were three drake PINTAIL and there were two SHELDUCK present today as well. The gull roost has been reasonably big and with both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls having been seen in the county as well as a few Caspians there's lots to look out for at present though sadly I didn't turn up anything unusual this evening. The pick of the sightings today was a PEREGRINE resting on the grass in the Hinterland between making various passes low over the birds on the flood.

Distant resting Peregrine

The only other news is that I managed to add Coal Tit to the Patch Year List by virtue of a bird in amongst a mixed feeding flock down near the car park. To the north, Adrian Grey reported three TUFTED DUCK on the Gullet pond up in Wolvercote.

Thursday 21st January

I had quite a productive outing to the Meadow today. As the floods were still frozen I thought that I'd have a wander down by the river to look for displaced diving ducks - we sometimes get things like Tufted Duck on the river when all the local lakes are frozen. Sure enough, I'd just got past the sailing club when I spotted a TUFTED DUCK flying down the river. It turned around and headed back towards the Perch where I soon managed to catch up with it on the river. This is a comparatively rare bird for the Meadow though we usually do manage to get it on the year list each year.

Talking of ducks there was a single SHELDUCK opposite the Poplar Trees. Also of note was a (heard-only) calling PHEASANT in the fields over towards Medley Farm. This is another species that surprisingly difficult to get on the list though we do usually manage it. We also had the first wader of the year when I spotted four DUNLIN in amongst the Lapwing on the strip of grass between the frozen floods and the river. There were loads of winter thrushes along the Castle Mill Stream with at least 50 Redwing, lots of Blackbirds and a couple of Fieldfare. Several displaced Teal were lurking along the stream though they are always very wary compared to the more complacent Mallards there. Finally, to round off what was a four year list tick day, Steve Goddard reported a RAVEN flying over the canal at Wolvercote.

Tuesday 19th January

What a difference a few days make! I meant to do a write-up on Friday but in the end didn't have time and then I was away for a couple of days and when I came back what had been a veritable lake of water has suddenly shrunk significantly and is now frozen over during this sudden reversion to more seasonal weather.

In terms of birds I'm enjoying chipping away at the year list and have steadily been winkling out the usual suspects. It's all common stuff but it's nice to re-acquaint oneself with the likes of Treecreeper, Stock Dove, Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Meadow Pipit. I did spot a splendid PEREGRINE harrassing the ducks on the floods last week and Friday produced some good birds with 8 SHELDUCK, 5 REDSHANK, 8 GOOSANDER and 11 PINTAIL all frequenting what was then the huge flood. Perhaps the best bird though was what was almost certainly a 2nd or 2rd winter CASPIAN GULL that I had last week. It was quite close on a narrow strip of grass on the far bank and immediately stood out when I scanned through with my bins but before I could get my scope on it it had flown off so I wasn't able to get any photos.

There are quite a few Common Gulls about at present

9th January

So that's the new year well and truly under way now. As is so often the case in January the river has burst it's banks and we're in "semi-lake mode" with just a thin strip of land between the river and the main floods - regular readers will know that that this is my favourite flood configuration. It's always nice to be starting the Patch Year List again, the one time in the year when the common species are actively sought and and appreciated when they're found. So far there have been a few good things to report: the RUFF made it until at least dawn on New Year's Day when Tom Wickens (on an early morning yomp along the river) managed to spot them though they've not been seen since. The BARNACLE GEESE have been around as well though they've not been seen for the last few days. Tom Evans managed to find a real patch rarity in the form of a WOODCOCK that he flushed from the Trap Grounds; he also added WATER RAIL to the list from the same location. Meanwhile Steve Goddard up in Wolvercote has managed to get us MARSH TIT already - another hard to come by species for the Patch.

With the floods so large we've got lots of duck around at present including at least 10 PINTAIL, one SHELDUCK and also reasonable counts of GOOSANDER coming in to roost. We've also got five REDSHANK along the river once again. It's amazing how each winter we always have exactly five of this species along the river. I don't know if it's the same birds each year or if there's some self-imposed Redshank quota the prohibits any more than this but it's quite uncanny! We're attracting reasonable numbers of gulls to the floods each evening but so far just a single YELLOW-LEGGED GULL has been the only bird of interest. It's a good time of year for Caspians and there are also White-wingers to look out for now.

There are quite a few Lapwings on the floods at present

Port Meadow End of Year Review

It's time once again to look back on this year's birding on Port Meadow. There are two useful yardsticks that can be used to compare years: the year list total and the rarities that we've managed to host and by both counts sadly it's been a somewhat disappointing year. Our year list total of just 123 is well below the usual 130+ total that I hope for. Reflecting on this, the Meadow's success on this front is largely down to the vagaries of the flood waters and how much water (if any) we have during the key spring and autumn passage seasons. Sadly, this year the floods dried up before the key spring passage and didn't return until well after the autumn passage period was over. This rather left us scratching around and missing a variety of common waders that we'd normally expect to see in an average year.

On the rarity front there was just one bird to report, a Wryneck that was seen by one birder for five minutes this autumn. It was a great autumn for this species in the county and our bird was one of four that were seen in the county. I do like to have at least one rarity each year on the patch so we've managed to keep this tradition up though it was a shame that the bird didn't linger for more to enjoy it.

Looking back over the year in more detail, January started out flooded and with some proper frozen weather. Highlights of this month were a few Caspian Gulls and a visit by the Home Counties Barnacle Geese.

The Barnacle Geese

Caspian Gull (the rear bird)

There wasn't much to report in February with cold weather and frozen floods keeping many of the birds away. In March things started to kick off with the first migrants starting to appear and the star bird of the month was a splendid Avocet that stopped in briefly. Also noteworthy was a pair of Red-crested Pochard - a good bird for the Meadow.

Meadow Avocet

April was arguable the best month of the year on the Meadow with all the excitement of spring migrants appearing and some floods waters still about to tempt them in though I seem to recall that by this stage they were starting to get rather stale and unattractive. We managed to get a smart drake Garganey on the floods which is always nice to see. A Redstart was found in Burgess Field and we had a Sanderling on the floods for one afternoon. Amazingly we had three more Red-crested Pochards and a Cetti's Warbler spent a few days trying out the ditch that runs alongside Burgess Field before deciding that it wasn't to it's liking. A splendid flock of 18 Whimbrel dropped in for a rest and we managed to get Cuckoo on the year list - sadly this species is becoming all too rare.



Three of the Whimbrel (c) Roger Wyatt

Sadly by May the floods had dwindled away and what can be the best month in terms of rarer waders with the possibility of Wood Sandpipers for example, turned instead to a rather poor one. The pick of the birds was a Spotted Flycatcher that was found in Burgess Field.

June and July were their usual quiet selves with butterflies, moths and flowers taking up my time and sadly this theme continued through into August with (in the absence of any floods) a single Redstart sighting being the pick of the birds. September still had no floods so it was left to Burgess Field to provide the action with our star Wryneck sighting and a Spotted Flycatcher the highlights.

Spotted Flycatcher

October offered up a possible Honey Buzzard sighting and a Brent Goose - the latter species is less than annual on the Meadow so I was pleased to find it.

Lone Brent Goose
In November we at least started to get the floods back, courtesy of some prolonged rainfall. By now it was too late for any wader passage though we did start to attract some gulls and the winter ducks came back. The unseasonably mild weather in December meant that there was no bad weather movement at all and whilst we now had some birds back on the floods there wasn't much change in what they were. Goosander started to come in to roost though the gull roost was rather patchy and held nothing of note apart from a single 2w Caspian Gull one evening. We did manage a few additional year ticks in the last few days of the year with a flock of Ruff that lingered, a Barn Owl, a belated Stonechat report and a 1w drake Goldeneye, (probably an all-time Patch first).

The 2w Caspian Gull
1w drake Goldeneye
So that's the Port Meadow year. I do wonder if I have been somewhat spoilt by a great few years on the Patch to start with and that perhaps we are now reverting to more typically birding fare on the Meadow. Only time will tell though of course I will continue to visit this great location - it's still wonderful to have such a fantastic site on one's doorstep.