24th December

The flood waters are now a good size with regular rain ensuring that they have been increasing steadily. The ducks are very pleased with this and are now back in good number. Indeed, I did the monthly WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) counts at the end of the first week and the total were very encouraging:

Pintail: m.
750 Wigeon
113 Teal
82 Lapwing
Golden Plover
34 Mallard
4 Moorhen
Canada Goose
220 Greylag Goose
Little Grebe

Since then I'd say that Wigeon numbers have gone up even more. There's also been a drake Shoveller hanging around feeding in the ditch by the allotments and one day he popped over to the Trap Grounds to give that site its first record of this species.

The Shoveller was showing rather well in the allotment ditch
Apart from that there have been good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare feeding in the Hawthorn along the Aristotle Lane footpath and along the allotment border.

One of the many Redwings in the footpath Hawthorns

It only remains for me to wish readers a very Merry Christmas. I will be doing a review of the year at some point over the next week or so.

2nd December

Thanks to some decent rain at last the floods have finally started to expand towards a more decent size. It feels rather like this rain has come about a month later in the year than usual, no doubt down to the dry autumn that we've had. Still at least the waters never actually dried up again as I feared they would before the wet spell arrived.

On the bird front for me it's mostly been about checking out the gulls. In fact there's been precious little else to look at with the small size of the waters meaning that there weren't even any winter duck about until the last few days when the rain really arrived. There's not been anything as good at the Caspian Gull that was reported in the last post though a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS have been worthy of note. 

One evening about 160 of the usual Home Counties BARNACLE GEESE paid us a visit. They are pretty much an annual event these days but it was still nice to see them again. As I mentioned above, it's only in the last few days that the WIGEON and TEAL have been back in numbers. On my last visit there were about 260 of the former though only a few dozen of the latter. There have also been a few dozen Lapwing about and the occasional Golden Plover though a large flock of several hundred were reported up at the Wolvercote end one evening.

So as we head into December, what can we look out for? Well, it's mainly going to be more gulls though we should get more variety on the duck front as well (Pintail and Shoveller perhaps) and perhaps a few over-wintering Redshank.

By way of a photographic offering here's a Meadow Pipit

26th November

A few bits and bobs to report since my last post. There's still been no real rain to speak of though the floods are making a reasonable hash of staying put in the circumstances. There are still no duck to speak of on the floods - there's too little water for them I think. The evening gull roost has been pretty well covered most nights, usually by Thomas Miller when I'm not there. There have been a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS in the modest roost sizes but the highlight was a cracking 1st winter CASPIAN GULL that Thomas found on Saturday. It's great to get this lovely species on the list for the season so quickly

A gorgeous 1w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
With that now under our belt already it's just the two white-wingers to get and we'll have seen all the regular noteworthy gulls this season already. Mind you these are by far the hardest species to get and we're lucky if we get one at all each winter.

In other news, the SHORT-EARED OWL was reported in Burgess Field again by an unidentified gentleman on both days over the weekend. I did have a look myself this evening but yet again drew a blank - I've still yet to see this bird. In my garden I've had a pair of male BLACKCAP and a Coal Tit on my feeders. This latter species isn't that common on the Patch so I'm always pleased to see one. I have finally started to see some Redwing about though numbers seem unusually low compared to normal. Maybe conditions aren't that bad on the continent so they're not moving so far at the moment.

18th November

The floods have managed to hold up reasonably well so far given that there's hardly been any rain all week. We've been getting modest gull roosts most days and indeed the 1w MEDITERRANEAN GULL was present again yesterday (for the 5th day in a row) but not this evening. However Thomas Miller found the first YELLOW-LEGGED GULL of the season in the roost tonight.

Yesterday Mary MacDougall saw a SHORT-EARED OWL in Burgess Field at around 4:10 pm and she saw it again this evening at roughly the same time. It doesn't appear to be lingering so I'm wondering whether it's just roosting somewhere in the area and then flying off to hunt elsewhere perhaps over the river by the fields at Medley Farm or something. Still it's a nice addition to the year list.

16th November

I've been checking out the gull roost most evenings when I can manage it, usually in the company of Thomas Miller. Our lovely MEDITERRANEAN GULL has been there three days in a row now which is rather unusual - it clearly likes it here! Apart from that we had our first DUNLIN of the season with a single bird that didn't linger this evening. Also present today were 5 Golden Plover, 30+ Lapwings, only a modest Wigeon flock and a reasonably sized gull roost. Yesterday three of the usual feral WHITE-FRONTED GEESE dropped in, calling noisly, for about five minutes before heading off again, .

I mentioned last time looking out for the errant drake American Wigeon in amongst our Wigeon flock. Well, another bird to look out for is a splendid adult Rose-coloured Starling which has been seen in Botley recently. The only reason why I mention it is that each evening large flocks of Starlings fly over the Meadow heading towards the huge roost in the Otmoor reedbed. Well, a straight line between Botley and Otmoor goes straight over the southern half of the Meadow so there's a chance that it might fly over our air space. Worth keeping an eye out for perhaps though we'd need brighter conditions than the intense gloom that we've had over the last couple of days in order to be able to see anything at all.

Some video footage of our Med. Gull in amongst the throng

14th November

In my excitement at the news that the floods were back in my last post I forgot to mention a couple of snippets of other news. Firstly the GREAT WHITE EGRET was seen again up at Wolvercote Lakes by Steve Goddard a day or two later. It wouldn't surprise me if it become a regular visitor there. Secondly Mary MacDougall reported a BARN OWL sighting in Burgess Field last week so it might be worth keeping an eye out there in the days and weeks ahead.  I did go and have a look for it the next day but all I saw was a small flock of FIELDFARES - my first of the season (and I've still personally yet to see any Redwings).

As a point of interest a couple of days ago a Glossy Ibis was seen at 3pm at Farmoor and then some fifteen minutes later was spotted flying over Otmoor. Now a straight line between the two locations does pass over Port Meadow so it looks like we missed a nice sighting there. As a matter of interest, this distance is some 9 miles so at 36 mph this bird was going at quite a pace! One other item: a drake American Wigeon was spotted in the west of the county at a private location a day or two ago though apparently had gone the next day so it's worth checking out the Meadow Wigeon flock carefully in case it's come our way.

This evening I went to check out the floods for the gull roost to find the whole area almost completely empty of birds. Having been out earlier in the day on a run and seen plenty of Wigeon and Teal I can only assume that some dogs must have run amuck just before my arrival. Just about the only birds present were some gulls though in the pleasant weather conditions the roost was typically small and the birds were typically skittish, with great chunks of the flock periodically being scared off by something and heading off to Farmoor. As a general rule, the better the weather the worse the gulling. Anyway, unusually there were hardly any small gulls around at all but just at last light Thomas Miller managed to spot a first winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL in amongst the few dozen Black-headed Gulls - a great find! This species is pretty much annual on the Meadow though with just one or two records a year it's always something to get excited about and it marks the first noteable gull of the season. Let's hope for plenty of others to follow!

A dodgy video grab taken at last light of the Med Gull

12th November

The floods are back! The recent rain has produced the usual two pools though they're not properly joined up yet. However, the larger northern pool is now big enough to attract a reasonable gull roost so over the last few days I've been taking a look. In amongst the hoards of Black-headed Gulls there have been plenty of larger gulls to look through there's not been anything of particular note so far. On the duck front this evening there were about 230 Wigeon and 30+ Teal and waders have been represented by 30+ Lapwing and 3 Golden Plover. With the feral Greylags also enjoying the damper conditions and plenty of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails it's suddenly looking really "birdy" again! So all good stuff! The only fly in the ointment is that there is no rain forecast for the next week and even we don't get some decent follow-up rain fairly soon we're going to lose these floods again.

It's nice to see Golden Plover back on the Meadow. Over the last couple of years there haven't been the numbers that we used to get.

Whilst Wytham Woods isn't strictly part of the patch, I'm going to give it a bit of a mention as it's not too far away from the Meadow. This weekend I was up there on Sunday afternoon en famille in order to enjoy the autumn colours. Whilst up on the ridge in the Hornbeam section I'm pretty sure I heard and briefly saw a Hawfinch. They have a distinctive "tic" call which first alerted me to it though it seemed to be moving through quite rapidly so it have been just passing through.

1st November

As predicted, our embryonic flood waters didn't last. We really need a good prolonged period of rain to re-instate them again. In their absence there is precious little to report. It's still the usual Linnets, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and a few Lapwings out on the Meadow. I'm still seeing my Jay commuting back and forth past my back garden on a regular basis. Overhead as far as seasonal migration is concerned it's mainly been Skylarks and Wood Pigeons that I've seen or heard. There have been reports of quite a few Brambling in the county already and it looks like it might be a good winter for them so it's worth keeping an ear out for their wheezing call.

The highlight since my last posting was yesterday when I got a text from Jonathon Parsons saying that he was watching a GREAT WHITE EGRET on the roadside one of the two Wolvercote Lakes. I hurried up there and managed to watch it for a while in very gloomy light until it took exception to my presence and flew off low towards the rear lake. This species is currently transitioning from a rare bird to something much more common place, in a similar way that Little Egrets did as they colonised the country. However, I still get excited seeing them and this is indeed the first one that I've ever seen on the Patch though it has already been seen this year by others.

The Great White Egret in the gloom

17th October

The weather has at last turned from the settle calm of our Indian Summer to something more autumnal. With it at last we're starting to get some changes on the bird front as well with some definite autumnal movement and changes in behaviour Indeed the first Redwings are starting to be reported in the county though personally I've yet to see any. I have though noticed some movement in Blackbirds with quite a few more suddenly appearing in and around my garden as well as several flocks flying overhead. Over the last few days I've been hearing Skylarks calling as they pass over and a local Jay has been commuting backwards and forwards over my garden which I've not been seeing recently. The feeding tit flocks have become more noticeable and numerous and it's always exciting to stand and watch as these extended groups pass by. With with luck, alongside the Long-tailed, Greats and Blue Tits quite a few hangers-on can be seen such as Treecreepers, Goldcrests and the occasional Chiffchaff.

Up at the Gullet, Adrian Gray recently reported the following:

"Popped in this afternoon. The water is very low - as low as I've ever seen it - but I think that means that stuff that normaly skulks in the trees at the edge of the back half can't do so, and are in the open water. There's more Teal than I've ever seen there - at least a dozen in each half of the lake - mostly males, I think, but hard to tell in gloomy light and with them still looking quite scruffy. There's also at least eight male Shoveller though I could only see one female  - unusual as they seem quite uxorious. Plenty of the usual Black-headed Gulls, Coot, Mallard and Moorhen, plus a Heron in either half, and two cygnets still with their parents."

On the insect front of course there's not so much to report now though I did spot a single large Dragonfly flying along the treeline on the Meadow side of the Castle Mill Stream. I couldn't ID it properly as I didn't see it for very long but it didn't look like a Migrant Hawker and may have been an Emperor.

A few weeks back I found this Hornet, downed by some very cold winds and looking rather sorry for itself

The recent rain has transformed the Meadow with a large flock of Linnets (getting on for 200), plenty of Pied Wagtails as well as quite a few Meadow Pipits now. We've also got a couple of small pools in the usual locations and indeed had some loafing Black-headed Gulls, 8 Lapwings and a single Teal. It's great to have some water back though unless we get some prolonged rain I expect that we'll lose these patches again. Still at least it's a promise of better things to come in the weeks ahead should we get some more rain.

Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls and a Teal

22nd September

There have been a couple of new year ticks to report since my last post. Given the on-going lack of water, things like this are going to be thin on the ground and so should be much celebrated. The first was a WHINCHAT which was first found by Nick Boyd up in the Wolvercote allotments but was also reported a couple of days later at the same place by Derek Evans. I went up the next day to try and see it but in very windy conditions (during storm Ali) I couldn't see it. Still it's very nice to get this delightful Chat on the Meadow year list/ Although it's a no uncommon species which is seen annually at places like Otmoor, it's been a few years since the last one here on the Meadow. Incidentally, both Nick and Derek reported good numbers (30+) of YELLOW WAGTAILS in amongst the cattle up at the Wolvercote end. This is good news as this year I'd not seen more than ten down at the southern end - a worryingly low count compared to previous years.

Yellow Wagtail

The second new tick was a RING-NECKED PARAKEET which flew south calling along Kingston Road early one morning this week. This charismatic species breeds in good numbers in and around the London parks and gardens and has a toe-hold in the county over in Henley. In past years single birds have been seen in and around the Meadow but it's been a few years since the last one. Over time the population might spread further along the river from Henley but they seem to be taking their time over it. Incidentally, this is probably the same bird that was seen a couple of days earlier flying over Headington Hill.

Apart from that there's not been a great deal to report. A few Migrant Hawkers are still down by the Castle Mill Stream though this spell of more autumnal weather might soon put paid to them. On the Meadow itself there have been a few loitering Lapwings, as yet just modest Linnet numbers and the occasional Meadow Pipit

Common Darter, it's coming to the end of their season now

Not something you see everyday on the Meadow! A very hardy (as it was rather cold that day) naked rambler striding out towards the river. I don't think that he's The Naked Rambler, who famously rambles the country getting arrested periodically so there must be at least two of them.

10th September

So we're well and truly into autumn now and with the change of weather to stronger more westerly winds, the Indian Summer part seems to be over as well. Not much has changed on the bird front with YELLOW WAGTAILS the main point of interest in amongst the cattle though there have been a couple of Lapwing which have been offering close views in the livestock as well. The Tit flocks have formed now: it's always great to watch one of these mixed flocks of small birds pass along the hedgerows and you never know if there might be something of more interest tagging along with them.

Young Lapwing in amongst the cattle

One of the highlights since my last posting has been the finding of a WHEATEAR (a year tick) on the patch. This species certainly passes through the area on both the spring and autumn passage but it's just a question as to whether anyone happens to spot it. Nicola Devine, who's photos have often been gracing this blog of late, spotted the photo below by fellow photographer Tony Steele. I'd not come across Tony before but his amazing shots (especially his macro work) from Burgess Field speak for themselves and his flickr album (see here) is well worth a visit

Wheatear in Burgess Field, courtesy of Tony Steele (c)
Apart from that it's been mainly insects that have been the point of interest. There are quite a few Migrant Hawkers along the Castle Mill Stream along with a few Common and Ruddy Darters and over in the Trap Grounds, Nicola Devine reports more of the same. Thanks to Nicola, recently I finally managed to see one of the BROWN HAIRSTREAKS that have been around in this gem of a reserve. As the trees are rather low it offers a great opportunity to get good views of what is often a rather elusive species that is only seen high up in trees. As a point of interest, Nicola also spotted the RED-TIPPED CLEARWING again on the Wild Marjoram in the Trap Grounds Meadow.

Trap Grounds Brown Hairstreak

So, going forward, what can we look forward to? Until the flood waters return it's going to be slim pickings I'm afraid though we may get something like a Redstart, Wheatear, Stonechat or Whinchat passing through in somewhere like Burgess Field or along the river if we're lucky. I'm also still hoping for a Hobby on the way south as well. With the huge influx of Wrynecks across the country dare we dream of one on the Patch again? One can but hope!

22nd August

Gosh! It's been a while since my last update here. That in itself is rather telling: in the absence of any flood waters it's hard work finding much to blog about. Now that we're firmly into Autumn (in the bird world at least) YELLOW WAGTAILS have started appearing on the Meadow again, often in amongst the livestock with so far up to 8 birds to be seen. There are also plenty of Pied Wagtails, both adults and juveniles about as well. 

Yellow Wagtail
The young Greylag goslings are all growing nicely and forming their own feeding flocks dotted around the Meadow. There's also been the start of a post-breeding flock of Lapwings with up to 8 birds hanging out on the grass. The Swifts are already noticeable by their absence: they're no longer to be found screaming around the Jericho area and are already on their way south though there will still be one or two around to be seen I expect. Swallows and House Martins (with the odd Sand Martin as well) are starting to gather in large numbers now as well, another sign of their departure over the coming weeks.

Mixed Hirundine Flock

On the insect front, down along the Castle Mill Stream there are one or two Migrant Hawkers to be seen and I've had a Southern Hawker visiting my garden on several occasions. Nicola Devine has been keeping her eagle eyes on the Trap Grounds as usual and has come up both BROWN HAIRSTREAK and RED-TIPPED CLEARWING sightings once again this year. These are both pretty great records for what is such a tiny reserve that is so near the city centre.

Really great views of a Brown Hairstreak - very often they are just seen
fluttering high up in the tree tops so these photos are unusually good
Both photos courtesy of Nicola Devine

Red-tipped Clearwing - a comparatively rare day flying moth
photo courtesy of Nicola Devine

14th July

As you would have guessed, shortly after my last post the floods completely dried out, with their long run finally ended by this heatwave. Since then their has been precious little in the way of news on the bird front apart from a record of a CUCKOO in Burgess Field at last - I was beginning to think that we weren't going to get this iconic species on the list this year.

A great photo of a Reed Warbler, courtesy of Nicola Devine

The hot conditions have of course been ideal for insects. Burgess Field has been hosting good numbers of the usual Ringlets and Marbled Whites and a whole variety of odonata have been seen on the Trap Grounds, especially by Nicola Devine who managed to record yet another new species for this site in the last month in the form of an Emerald Damselfly. This is a rather localised species in the county and so it's a good record to have here.

Male Emerald Damselfly, courtesy of Nicola Devine

Female Emerald Damselfly, courtesy of Nicola Devine
In the heat I haven't been venturing out nearly as much as I would normally but I've been finding that the insects at least have been coming to me with all sorts of unusual garden visitors. I've had Ringlets, Meadow Browns and even a Brown Hawker on a couple of occasions.

I've not been out botanising much but I did note that the Tubular Water Dropwort came out as usual in it's usual ditch - it's always nice to see this rather understated flower. Talking of which, it should be possible to find Creeping Marshwort out on the Meadow now - I'll go and take a look some time soon

Tubular Water Dropwort

23rd June

I can't believe that we've reached the summer solstice already, where has the time gone? It's been great that we've had flood water all the way up until this time but of course with the very dry month that we're having the flood waters are finally on the way out. There are still plenty of birds around though. We've had a party of eight SHELDUCK (adults and juveniles) with us all month so far as well as several OYSTERCATCHERS. The main story though has been the gulls: there have been hundreds of Black-headed Gulls about, including increasing numbers of juveniles, all picking their way over the flood waters and making a constant racket. As the month has progressed we've started to see some large gulls loafing by the floods as well and have even managed our first YELLOW-LEGGED GULL of the summer season. This species traditionally disperses far and wide during the summer and usually starts turning up at Farmoor in June and July so it's been nice that we've had enough water to attract one to the Meadow as well.

One of numerous juvenile Black-headed Gulls

There have been plenty of dragonflies and damselflies about and indeed over in the Trap Grounds Nicola Devine has managed to spot a Red-eyed Damselfly on the pools, a first for this site. They normally hang out along the Castle Mill Stream but they've been seen on the flood waters by Nicola and have obviously now made their way over to the Trap Grounds as well. Let's hope that they manage to start a new colony there. She's also managed to see the first Southern Hawker of the year already.

Southern Hawler courtesy of Nicola Devine
Talking of insects the Marbled Whites and Ringlets should be out in Burgess Field now as they are elsewhere in the county. In the same location Will Langdon has managed to find a nice colony of BEE ORCHIDS and indeed has counted dozens of them, so it's been a good year for them.

Bee Orchid

Club-tailed Dragonfly on Port Meadow

I got forwarded this e-mail message today about a male Club-tailed Dragonfly on Port Meadow. It's good to know that they are being reported more regularly here after the one that made it to the Trap Grounds last year. It may well be worth keeping an eye out along the river for further ones emerging at this time of year.

Dear Stephen  I attach a pic I took this morning I think it's a male clubtail? at port meadow (sp495079) opposite side of river to Thames path near binsey. Lastyr I took part in the clubtail survey at Abingdon but didn't see any. i' m not surveying this year but thought the record may be useful if it is a clubtail. I think it may have just emerged I saw it fly in from the river bank which is flat and sandy there. it settled next to vegetation where I photographed it.sadly a dog came and jumped at me and onto the insect and may have damaged one of its wings.i hope it recovered. yours sincerely Felicity Jenkins

Wednesday 30th May: Red-necked Phalarope!

Even though we're now right at the end of May as we've still got water on the floods I've been dutifully visiting the Meadow every day to see what's about. There's been precious little to show for my efforts up until now though over the last few days there had been a pick-up in RINGED PLOVER numbers with 7 seen yesterday as well as 6 OYSTERCATCHERS.

Today I wasn't able to visit until the early evening but it was soon apparent that there'd been a mini fall of waders with several dozen dotted about the floods, all disinclined to continue their migration due to the relatively poor weather conditions. However, the highlight and what will almost certainly end up being the bird of the year was a wonderful adult summer plumaged RED-NECKED PHALAROPE that was swimming about and feeding energetically in the middle of the water at the north end. This species is nationally scarce with just a handful of records across the entire country each year though they do breed in small numbers in the outer Hebrides. What's more it's just the 5th or 6th record for the county and certainly the first ever record for the Meadow, so it's quite a bird! I put the word out and over a dozen people came to see it before it grew too dark. 

As conditions were decidedly gloomy and the bird was rather distant, 
this video footage was the best that I could manage

Unusually, for this species it's the male which incubates the eggs and is consequently more drab and this smart bird is therefore probably a female.

Alongside the Phalarope were numerous other waders. The full list was as follows:

2 Greenshank (a year tick)
2 Redshank
4 Sanderling
3 Dunlin
23 Ringed Plover
3 Oystercatcher
4 Shelduck

So by far the best day of wader passage in its own right, and with a wonderful rarity to boot. It's days like this that keep a patch worker going, slogging away day after day for normally scant rewards.

Monday 28th May

The recent heavy rain has given the floods a reprieve though the hot temperatures that we're now getting means that it's only going to be temporary. Still, the waters have been enough to attract a few more waders down to the patch and recently there was a single COMMON SANDPIPER on the floods. On Friday there were 10 RINGED PLOVER and a single DUNLIN skulking along the north shore but when something flushed them all I noticed a different bird which buzzed back and forth for some time before seemingly heading off. However a short while later it was back and I was able to confirm my suspicion that it was a SANDERLING. We usually get this species quite late in the spring season so it was nice to have one on the year list.

The Sanderling with a Dunlin companion

Apart from that it's mainly been Black-headed Gulls with a few OYSTERCATCHERS that have been gracing the floods. From a peak count of 15 LITTLE EGRET numbers have gone down so I'm guessing that most of the fry have now been caught. 

In the Trap Grounds a couple  more Black-tailed Skimmers have been seen along with the Hairy Hawkers still.

Black-tailed Skimmer courtesy of Nicola Devine

Saturday 19th May

It's been a quiet couple of weeks or so on the Meadow. We're still blessed with plenty of water (though the floods are now starting to shrink quite quickly) and it all looks great but the much prophesised wader passage just hasn't materialised. Indeed it's been a very poor spring in this respect so far right across the county. Apart from the usual OYSTERCATCHER or two there has been just the odd COMMON SANDPIPER or RINGED PLOVER that has been seen. On Friday we had four of the latter species though they didn't linger and were gone within ten minutes of my finding them. 

There has at least been a pick-up in general bird numbers. Whilst a couple of weeks ago the floods were almost deserted, now as they are on the wane the birds are descending to pick off the trapped invertebrates and fish fry. There are hoardes of Black-headed Gulls and up to four LITTLE EGRETS as well as a couple of Grey Herons. As everything is a couple of weeks late this year there's still time for a Wood Sandpiper, or at least a Greenshank or Sanderling, neither of which we've had so far this year.

A Little Egret wading through the Spring Rush

On the Odonata front things have at last kicked off with the first Damselflies now on the wing and Nicola Devine has spotted several species of dragonfly in the Trap Grounds with Black-Tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser and Hairy Hawker all having been seen.

Broad-bodied Chaser courtesy of Nicola Devine

Monday 8th May

Our fledging wader passage isn't exactly firing on all cylinders so far. We've had a few more RINGED PLOVER and a couple of COMMON SANDPIPERS but so far that's been it. Whilst there's plenty of water on the floods still, they are largely empty with just the usual SHELDUCK, a few GADWALL and the odd OYSTERCATCHER dotted about the place.

Several pairs of Shelduck have been around for quite a while now.

In Burgess Field the GARDEN WARBLERS are now "in" and one has taken up territory in the usual hot spot where one is always to be found each year. With that now ticked off we're down to the harder to get warbler species for the patch: Sedge Warbler (surprisingly difficult for what is a common species), Grasshopper Warbler (we really need someone younger who still can hear them to search Burgess Field properly) and Cetti's Warbler (these can turn up in odd places at any time really).

At last the SWIFTS are back over Jericho. They're about a week later than usual but they were back screaming over my house today at last.

Sunday 29th April

The wader passage is stepping up a gear now: today we had 4 RINGED PLOVER, 2 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (remarkably our first of the year), 3 DUNLIN, 2 COMMON SANDPIPERS (again our first of the year) and a couple of OYSTERCATCHERS. Whilst looking at the waders this morning I heard the distinctive call of our first YELLOW WAGTAIL of the year though it didn't linger at all. In addition on the floods were the usual SHELDUCK, a handful of GADWALL and a couple of COMMON TERNS.

The highlight of the weekend though was found by Martin Gebauer in the evening when he spotted a PINK-FOOTED GOOSE in amongst the Greylags and Canada Geese a fair distance to the north of the floods. Whilst being a very common winter visitor to the east coast of this country, this species is pretty rare in the county. Now it's always hard to tell the provenance of a single water fowl and had it been a flock of a dozen or more then there would be no doubt about it. As it is, it's open to debate though the bird was unringed which is in its favour. I think that in this instance the best policy might be to turn a blind eye and quietly to tick it.

 The Pink-footed Goose

Friday 27th April

At last we seem to be getting some wader action! It's been a remarkably slow start on that front, despite having nice healthy looking floods there's been a real dearth of waders of any kind. In this rather late spring that we're having they seem to be running late this year by at least a couple of weeks. Finally this week things started to change when the first RINGED PLOVER of the year appeared on Wednesday. Then, whilst watching the plover I heard the distinctive bubbling call of a WHIMBREL which had touched down on the shore opposite me. Unfortunately, as is so often with this species on the Meadow, it didn't linger and within a few minutes it flew off again. A couple of days later we had a nice flock of 5 RINGED PLOVER and a single DUNLIN - these two species often travel together for some reason. Apart from that, there have been up to 7 OYSTERCATCHERS dotted around the shoreline this week and a peak count of 5 SHELDUCK. We've also had a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT with us for most of the week but that finally left today.

The long-staying Black-tailed Godwit finally left today

On the warbler front things are kicking off in Burgess Field. I went there mid week to take stock and found at least 6 WHITETHROATS in there all singing away from various corners of the reserve. What's more there was also a singing male LESSER WHITETHROAT as well - it's always nice to get this as a year tick. There are plenty of Blackcaps in residence in the reserve though no Willow Warblers as yet. As global warming is increasing, this species is tending to move further north so doesn't seem to linger in the county quite so much. Garden Warblers are starting to appear in the county now so they should arrive in Burgess Field any day now though there were none when I looked today.

Today there was a lovely flock of forty plus Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins all hawking away low over the water in the dull conditions. I always love it when they're zipping around your head like this. Whilst SWIFTS aren't properly "in" yet, Mary MacDougall did spot some flying overhead mid week and they usually arrive at the start of May though they may be a week or two late this year.

Finally, Nicola Devine, who ensures that the Trap Grounds is always well watched, paid off when she found a lovely SPOTTED FLYCATCHER seeking shelter in the trees during a rather rainy period. This species is just about annual on the patch but it's always good to get it and there's rarely more than one record a year.

The Spotted Flycatcher, courtesy of Nicola Devine
There are still plenty of waders and a few warblers that we might expect as well as things like Cuckoo, Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit and Redstart. In fact I've got a hit list of 22 species that we could well still get. This next few weeks should be the peak of the spring wader passage so it's a very exciting time for the patch.

Thursday 19th April

What a difference a couple of days makes! Suddenly we are in temperatures hot enough to be worthy of high summer and more is yet to come. It's transformed the Meadow which has gone from still having modest numbers of winter duck to being almost completely birdless: today there were just a couple of COMMON TERN, a handful of Black-headed Gulls, 6 SHELDUCK and just tiny numbers of Wigeon and Teal. The SANDWICH TERN from two days ago turned out to be a bit more than just a fly-through. Martin Gebauer spotted it later that evening still on the floods and yesterday it was around for the whole day, loafing on the shoreline with the two Common Terns and looking very much at home. 

A couple of wonderful photos of our star Sandwich Tern, courtesy of master lensman Roger Wyatt

At this time of year there is a fast turnover in birds, which often just drop in for a few hours before continuing on their way. In the evening yesterday Martin Gebauer found a pair of BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, 2 OYSTERCATCHERS and a REDSHANK which had all gone by today. The House Martins are now back in their usual breeding spot on the eaves of the houses that back onto the Aristotle Lane footpath and can be seen hawking over the Meadow already.

Common Tern, courtesy of Roger Wyatt

In the Trap Grounds I heard the first REED WARBLER of the year singing away rather quietly from deep within the reedbed. With the floods now so empty it's time to turn one's attention to Burgess Field to start looking for the rest of the returning warbler species. It's an exciting time of year!

Tuesday 17th April - Sandwich Tern

In this rather chilly and breezy spring weather that we're having, it's a rather stuttering start to spring so far. The floods have gradually receded to a nice healthy size though they've so far been so full that there's not been much of a shoreline to attract any waders, There has certainly been some passage movement but it's been rather low key to date. A few COMMON TERNS have been going through and the first WILLOW WARBLERS have been seen and heard at the Trap Grounds and along the Castle Mill Stream. I also heard (though didn't see) my first Meadow SWALLOW but there have been no further Sand Martins so far.

Here's a Swallow from last year
The highlight so far was today when I was surveying the rather typical fare of late: 8 SHELDUCK, 3 OYSTERCATCHERS, 5 GADWALL, 1 REDSHANK and 1 COMMON TERN. I heard a Tern calling that wasn't a Common or Arctic and sure enough a SANDWICH TERN flew through, with a small fish in its bill, being hotly pursued by half a dozen Black-headed Gulls. This party flew off strongly out of sight to the North though a little while later the various gulls drifted back again. Sandwich Tern is a real patch Mega, this being only the third record to date though we were lucky enough to have one a couple of years ago at this time of year.

So with some hot weather now on the way, things should finally pick up. Indeed as I write this on the morning of the 18th I've already seen 3 HOUSE MARTINS, and had a Holly Blue and Brimstone pass through my garden. Spring proper is finally here!

2nd April

At last the first spring migrants have been spotted on the Meadow! A couple of days ago Steve Goddard had the first SWALLOW of the year hawking over the river and today I saw four SAND MARTINS over the river opposite the sailing club. A Chiffchaff has been singing in the Trap Grounds for a while now and I heard my first Blackcap singing in my garden yesterday. The first Brimstone butterflies are on the wing and I saw my first Small Tortoiseshell the other day as well. Now that we're into April we can start looking out for all the other spring migrants - it's a very exciting time of year!

Talking of the river, the recent prolonged rain has pushed it firmly into Lake Mode. In fact it's so full that there is hardly any strip of land between the river itself and the swollen floods. This does actually make viewing rather difficult as all the birds are presently half way up to Wolvercote along the north shoreline. All this does mean that at least we're likely to have some decent flood waters remaining for the key second half of the month which is the peak spring wader passage in the county.

In other news the BARN OWL is still being seen and indeed Mary MacDougall saw a pair of them in Burgess Field this evening! The best time seems to be from 7:30 pm onwards if you want to go to see it/them. 

A Grey Heron along the Castle Mill Stream

27th March

After the reprise of cold weather we're back to more seasonal fare now and indeed spring is springing all around us. The birds are all marking out their territories with their song and in general the world is a better place. I heard my first singing Chiffchaff of the year down in the Trap Grounds though I've yet to see any Sand Martins or Little Ringed Plovers sadly.

On the floods (which are looking nice and full thanks to the recent rain) duck numbers are diminishing though we're starting to get an increase in wader activity. Recently we've had up to four REDSHANK and four OYSTERCATCHERS, a couple of DUNLIN and double digit counts of Golden Plover gracing us with their presence. On the wildfowl front, whilst general numbers continue to decrease we've had a peak count of seven SHELDUCK, a single female PINTAIL and the first couple of GADWALL of the spring.

The BARN OWL was seen regularly in Burgess Field for a while by Mary MacDougall from about 6:30pm ("old money") in the evening and indeed one evening (though earlier than this) Martin Gebauer and myself saw it fly across the floods from Medley Farm over towards Burgess Field so maybe it roosts there. However, it's not been reported in the last few days so I don't know if it's still around. The Jericho RED KITES have been rather vocal of late: I've seen three together at one time and there seems to be a pair which circle the skies together.

Trap Grounds Teal

I did the final WeBS count survey of the winter on Monday. For those interested in statistical details these were the counts.
Canada Goose 3    
Cormorant 4    
Great Crested Grebe 2    
Grey Heron 1    
Greylag Goose 86    
Mallard 14    
Moorhen 3    
Mute Swan 2    
Oystercatcher 4    
Pintail 1    
Redshank 4    
Shelduck 2    
Shoveler 7    
Teal 125    
Wigeon 526    
Black-headed Gull 71    
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1

On the botany front in the Trap Grounds, the Green Hellebore is still in full flower though the Winter Heliotrope has now gone over to be replaced by emerging Butterbur flowers.

Looking ahead, we've got Sand Martins and Little Ringed Plover which should arrive any time now. There's always the possibility of a Garganey on the floods as well as more passage waders. As we move into April we should start to get the bulk of the summer visitors passing through. It's an exciting time of the year just ahead!

Tuesday 13th March

The birding on the Meadow has been rather "samey" of late. Winter duck numbers are decreasing and the gull roost is offering very meagre pickings. Still there has been a noticeable pick-up in wader activity with a recent BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, several REDSHANK and a few DUNLIN all having been seen. The highlight though was today when an AVOCET was found, initially swimming out in the middle of the floods before exploring the shore as the light started to fade. You may recall that we had an Avocet earlier in the year but that bird had been ringed and was presumed to be an escape from some collection, partly because of the strange time of year that it had been found. On the other hand an Avocet in March is much more likely to be a wild bird and indeed we've had them on the Meadow in this month in the past. This bird was also fortunately not ringed so I have no problems with adding it to the year list.

The Avocet swimming on the floods

In other news, after my mentioning the BARN OWL in my last post, Martin Gebauer had great views of it this evening hunting in Burgess Field. It appears to have been around for several weeks now so a trip there at dusk may well pay off. Talking of Owls, Steve Goddard reports that he's had a TAWNY OWL up in Wolvercote so that's now two Owls on the year list!

With the first Sand Martin and the first Wheatear of the year now both reported at Farmoor it's time to start looking out for the first migrants on the Meadow.

Thursday 8th March

So it's been a couple of weeks since the last post and we've had the "Beast from the East" come and go. I didn't bother going out that much during it but Martin Gebauer (a hardy Canadian who laughs in the face of cold!) did and reported lots of Fieldfares around as well as another sighting of the over-wintering STONECHAT in the allotment hedge. 

After the thaw I was out again and it's pretty much the usual birds that one might expect. Duck numbers are noticeably starting to dwindle now and we're starting to get out spring accumulation of SHELDUCK with a peak count of 8 birds this week. We also have the first couple of DUNLIN for the year and we still have excellent numbers of Lapwing though just modest Golden Plover counts. The highlight of the week though was our first MEDITERRANEAN GULL of the year, found in the roost this evening by Thomas Miller. March is the classic month for the Oxon spring passage for this species which is pretty much annually recorded here. However, we rarely get more than one record a year so I'm very pleased to have it on the list.

The Med Gull asleep in the roost, courtesy of Thomas Miller

One interesting thing that I need to mention is that a couple of people have mentioned a possible Barn Own sighting in Burgess Field over the last few weeks. Nothing definite as yet but do keep a look out if you're there around dusk as we've not had one on the list for a few years now.

So what can we expect over the next few weeks? Well, depending on the weather we might start to get some early spring migrants coming through with Sand Martins the first thing to expect along with singing Chiffchaffs and possibly Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers. It's still very early and it doesn't really all kick off until next month but you never know.

Sunday 25th February

There's been a bit of an improvement with the birding on the Meadow this week. At the start of the week I did the monthly winter WeBS count survey. I soon found the first OYSTERCATCHER of the year and since then there have been at least two (and one day three) each day. There have also been a REDSHANK or two about most days as well as a few Golden Plover. The highlight of the survey itself was a fly-over heard-only GREEN SANDPIPER. This is normally quite a hard bird to get on the Meadow but fortunately they have quite a distinctive flight call and I heard it clearly enough even if I never saw it. There were three SHELDUCK on the floods yesterday - the first for a couple of weeks now.

At the end of the week Thomas Miller managed to find another ICELAND GULL in the roost which looked like a different bird from last time. Talking of the gull roost, numbers of large gulls have improved noticeably this week: I think that the floods in the fields have subsided so we're back to more traditional roosting locations now.

A phone-scoped picture of the Iceland Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

For those who are interested in lots of numbers, the full WeBS count totals were:

Green Sandpiper: heard-only fly-over.
3 Redshank
16 Golden Plover
96 Lapwing
5 Snipe

371 Teal
556 Wigeon
25 Mallard
10 Moorhen
2 Canada Geese
Greylag Geese (not counted as partially obscured)
Grey Heron

368 Black-headed Gull
29 Lesser Black-backed Gull
4 Herring Gull
Common Gull

With the bitterly cold snap for most of the coming week the floods may well be frozen so there might not be much going on. However, it is presently forecast to improve again towards the end of the week.

Sunday 18th February - Great White Egret

Apologies for the lack of posts but I've been away for a week on holiday. To be honest there's not been a great deal of interest to blog about anyway. Over the last few weeks the gull roost has rather fizzled out with only the occasional YELLOW-LEGGED GULL as reward for the effort of checking it out. Over at Farmoor, apparently they're getting the same reduction in numbers though they are starting to get the first Mediterranean Gulls coming through now so that's probably going to be the new target gull for the coming weeks ahead.

On the wader front I've not heard any news but on Saturday I did find four REDSHANK and about 25 Golden Plover in with the 30 or so Lapwing. As far as ducks are concerned, there are a few lingering PINTAIL and a handful of GOOSANDER are still coming in to roost in the evening.

The highlight since my last posting was a brief sighting of a GREAT WHITE EGRET that Nicola Devine saw fly over the Trap Grounds last Monday early afternoon. We had a brief sighting of this species last year up in Wolvercote and that proved to be the Port Meadow Bird of the Year so it's nice to get a good bird on the list so early in the year.

Here's a randon photo of a Great White Egret in flight that I found on the internet (c) original photographer

On the year listing front Steve Goddard reported a SKYLARK up at the Wolvercote end of the Meadow so that now leaves the following birds that we might expect:

Lesser Redpoll
Jack Snipe

Saturday 3rd February

So we're into February already, often quite a slow month on the birding calendar with all the excitement of new year ticks more or less died down and yet no migrants to look forward to for another month at least. For this last week there hasn't been much to report: the gull roost has been a rather modest affair with just one or two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS each evening worthy of note. There hasn't been much change on the wildfowl and wader front either though on Friday I did manage to find the first BLACK-TAILED GODWIT of the year tucked up asleep in amongst the Lapwing flock. The pair of SHELDUCK did visit the floods one day this week, we've a handful of PINTAIL with us still and we're still getting modest counts of GOOSANDER roosting with us each evening.

The over-wintering Stonechat is still around down by the bridge neat the boat moorings

After my posting of the wanted list for the year list last week I have had a few sightings reported to me with Coot and TUFTED DUCK both found by Ian Curtis as predicted at Wolvercote. A flock of 8 SNIPE were seen by Thomas Miller on the floods one day recently and BUZZARD was reported by both Mary MacDougall in Burgess Field and Nicola Devine over the Trap Grounds. So below is a list of the remaining birds that I might expect at this time of year.

Lesser Redpoll

The Winter Heliotrope has been in flower in the Trap Grounds for some time now

Sunday 28th January

Another week has gone by on the patch and the floods have been up and down once more due to recent rain. Indeed it was during an "up" phase that the star bird of the week turning up, a gorgeous 2nd winter CASPIAN GULL. Whereas the previous two birds had been less than classic birds this was about as classic as you can get - it really was stunning (if you're into that sort of thing, which of course I am!).

Apart from that there's not been anything of special note. As I often do at this time of year, I've been down at the Trap Grounds a lot, trying to catch up with some of the usual species for my personal year list. This week I've seen a nice pair of STOCK DOVES, Coal Tit, SISKIN, Treecreeper, and I finally caught up with Bullfinch in my own back garden.

Now that we're more or less at the end of the month I can start publishing a "wanted list" of things which I'm expecting to see on the Patch but haven't yet come across. So here we go:

Tufted Duck
Lesser Redpoll

The Coot and  Tufted Duck can probably be found on the Wolvercote lakes somewhere but do let me know if you see any of them. Also, as we move into February it's time to start looking out for Curlew as this seems to be the best month for us to get one.

Monday 22nd January

I did the monthly Port Meadow WeBS survey (Wetland Bird Survey) today. The recent rain had meant that the river had breached its banks and indeed it was still rising as I found to my cost when I had to wade back over my boots where it had been OK on the way out! There were plenty of birds to count including an amazing number of Teal. Below are the full tallies

Redshank 3  (on their usual log by the Poplar trees)
Shelduck 2
Pintail 47
Goosander 2
Mallard 156
Moorhen 3
Greylag Goose 430
Canada Goose 17
Cormorant 3
Black-headed Gull 41
Lesser Black-backed Gull 14
Lapwing 231
Mute Swan 7
Great Crested Grebe 2
Teal 979
Wigeon 460

In passing I spotted the STONECHAT, still down near the Weir Cottage bridge - it's nice to know that it's still with us. Having spent two hours doing the survey I didn't venture down there again but Thomas Miller did the evening gull roost and found a nice 2nd winter CASPIAN GULL for his troubles.

2nd winter Caspian Gull