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.

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