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:
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.
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)
Goosander 2 Mallard 156
Greylag Goose 430
Canada Goose 17
Black-headed Gull 41
Lesser Black-backed Gull 14
Mute Swan 7
Great Crested Grebe 2
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.
It's been another good week on the Meadow. Whilst bird numbers have decline from the stellar heights of recent weeks there's still plenty to look at and we're still getting a reasonable gull roost in the evening. Indeed it was the gulls which provided the highlight of the week when the long-staying Farmoor juvenile ICELAND GULL popped over the hill to pay us a visit one evening. I got a text from Nic Hallam, the resident Farmoor gull watcher saying that he'd been watching this bird but that it had flown off at around 3:30 towards the Meadow and about half an hour later we found it in the roost. The 1w CASPIAN GULL was reported on a couple of evenings at the start of the week but hasn't been seen since. Apart from that there's been a smattering of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS to keep the roost watchers happy.
The Iceland Gull
On the duck front there's not much to report. With the disappearance of the Green-winged Teal from Standlake mid-week I've been looking carefully through our Teal to see if it had turned up but to no avail. We're still getting a dozen or so GOOSANDER coming in to roost each evening though goose numbers are well down as they're back to grazing the Hinterland now. We did have a couple of dozen BARNACLE GEESE this week on one evening but not the huge flock of 170 birds.
I managed to catch up with a patch REED BUNTING along the stream just north of the Trap Grounds this week. They always seem to hang out here in the winter - I think that they are frequenting a garden bird feeder near by. SISKIN has also been added to the patch year list thanks to one visiting Martin Gebauer's garden feeder. Martin also spotted a RAVEN in Burgess Field this week and Nicola Devine added TREECREEPER with a Trap Grounds sighting. We've also now got GOLDEN PLOVER finally, thanks to a flock of about 500 birds that came in on the same day as the Iceland Gull.
The Meadow is still on top form at the moment with large numbers of birds to look through. Geese numbers have been as high as one thousand birds during peak times though they seem to be easing off now. It's been the usual suspects with Greylags, Canada's, the 150+ BARNACLE GEESE, the leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE again and up to 15 WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (with their BAR-HEADED GEESE cousins in tow too). I didn't know that there were this many in the feral White-front flock though it's a tough call to say that there are some wild birds in there as well (I'll need to think about that).
Duck numbers are still good though not spectacular with reasonable Wigeon and Teal numbers as well as some Shoveller. The evening GOOSANDER roost count has been as high as the mid teens this week. On the wader front we've had a couple of REDSHANK knocking around and we even had a visit from Farmoor's escaped AVOCET this evening as well. Lapwing numbers peaked at over 200 this week though as the floods have returned to normality so they have dispersed and we back to standard numbers now. There are still no Golden Plover - Otmoor seems to have them all at present with over 5000 birds there at the moment!
The gull roost has been good with good numbers of large gulls. The 2w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL has been seen on several occasions and this evening there was also a smart adult bird in the throng. The highlight however was a less than classic (but still good enough) 1w CASPIAN GULL which graced us with its presence this evening. It's always nice to find the first one of the season!
The 1w Caspian Gull
In other news the STONECHAT is still hanging around in amongst the dead Nettle patches down near the bridge by Weir Cottage.
A lunch time tour of the Patch today in the company of Martin Gebauer proved productive with plenty to see. There were a couple of over-wintering Chiffchaff down near the boat moorings, a rather unusual place to see this species at any time of year. By the river just north of the boats were a couple of REDSHANK and a smart pair of drake GOOSANDER. The floods themselves were absolutely heaving with Geese, there must have been getting on for a thousand of them, both Greylags and Canadas as well as three of the feral WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. There were good numbers of Wigeon and Teal, with modest counts of SHOVELER and a handful of PINTAIL. There was also the first GADWALL of the year, a bird I more usually associate with spring on the Meadow. Lapwing numbers were vast as well with at least 200 birds there - far more than we usual get at winter time on the Meadow. Add in hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, mostly on the flooded grass in the Hinterland and it all made for a remarkably birdy scene.
We did have a tramp around Burgess Field which as almost completely deserted. However at the north end we happened to flush a couple of WOODCOCK from the long grass, a great find as this species is very hard to come by on the Patch and is only ever seen on accidental flushings such as this. So all in all some nice year ticks, especially the Woodcock which was a personal Patch tick.
The boat moorings Chiffchaff courtesy of George Best, taken a couple of days ago
It's been quite a good start to the new year on the Meadow. The floods have been increasing each day until now we're in full blown "lake mode" with the waters stretching a fair way up towards Wolvercote now. I've paid a few visits to the Meadow and was rewarded for my efforts with a splendid WHOOPER SWAN a few evenings back. Whoopers and Bewicks are pretty rare on the Meadow, certainly less than annual and it's been several years since our last one so I was very pleased to see this adult bird on the 3rd.
It was an amazingly "birdy" visit actually, with the floods then being just right for the geese and in fact we had all the species that we might reasonably expect. There were 150 or so of the usual Home Counties BARANACLE GEESE, 9 WHITE-FRONTS (the usual feral birds), 3 BAR-HEADED GEESE as well as countless Greylags and Canada Geese. There was even a feral BLACK SWAN as well. Duck numbers were large with quite a few PINTAIL and a red-head GOOSANDER. Ian Curtis also reported a pair of drakes of this species on Wolvercote Lakes this week. On the Meadow floods the next day there were also a couple of drake POCHARD, a rare bird on the Meadow which we only ever get when it's really flooded and lake-like.
Apart from this it's mostly been about getting the usual stuff on the year list. I did actually see (rather than just hear) the Medley Farm NUTHATCH near the boat moorings. The best of the rest was a sighting by Roly Pitts of the over-wintering STONECHAT down at the southern end of the Meadow. My guess is that it's mostly spending time in the allotments but that it occasionally comes out onto the Meadow itself for a bit of variety. There have also been a couple of over-wintering Chiffchaff sightings as well.
Stonechat courtesy of Roly Pitts
So a nice start to the new year. This coming week I'm going to try to concentrate on the gull roost as the Farmoor Iceland Gull was seen to fly over the hill towards the Meadow and with the huge water expanse it's a great chance to see some of the rarer county gulls on the patch.
Do please keep reports coming in to me and I'd be particularly interested in things like Brambling, Marsh Tit, Redpoll, Tree Sparrow and even Greenfinch (which has suddenly become a bit of a rarity thanks to the dreaded disease that's been wiping them out).
It's time for the review of the past year on the Meadow. By all measures it's been a lean one on the birding front, thanks to the unusually dry conditions for both spring and autumn. The floods had to all intents and purposes dried up by early April and didn't reform at all until November and indeed weren't back to a reasonable size until right at the end of December. This paucity of flood water took its toll on the year list which came in at a measly 114, well below the 120 figure that we can expect on an average year and 130 on a good one. A telling statistic was just how few blog posts I made in the year with a mere 36 compared to between 60 and 80 over the previous three years. Indeed during the autumn months I was only managing one post per month so little was there to blog about. That is the nature of birding on the Meadow unfortunately - it is ultra-sensitive to the amount of water that is about.
So down to the actual review. January started off OK with good flood waters and some reasonable gull action. Indeed we managed both Caspian and Iceland Gulls this month along with a Red-crested Pochard, quite a Patch rarity.
The 3rd winter Caspian Gull
There was little of note in February apart from the usual over-wintering birds. Come March and the early migrants start to make things interesting again and we had our first Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers as well as a few spring waders and a smart adult Mediterranean Gull
The first Ringed and Little Ringed Plvoers (c) Nicola Devine
April is when we get the warblers back and they did indeed arrive this month though the fact that the floods dried up at the start of the month meant that we missed out on what is normally the best birding month of the year as the spring waders pass through in their greatest numbers.
It was nice to have the Swallws back again
In May, with no flood water at all it was left to an exciting dragonfly sighting to provide the interest when a rare Club-tailed Dragonfly spent a couple of days in the Trap Grounds.
The summer months were very quiet and I passed my time re-acquainting myself with some of the rarer plants in the locality. A returning Redstart was the only noteworthy record on the birding front.
Birthwort up by Godstow nunnery
There was still no water in September but in the flock of Yellow Wagtail that are often to be found in amongst the cattle on the Meadow in this month I winkled out female Blue-headed Wagtail (the continental sub-species of Yellow Wagtail).
Come November and we started to get some embryonic flood waters back, and with them came the first few waders and gulls. However, the highlight of the month was a brief sighting of a Great White Egret up at Wolvercote for a few minutes. Whilst this is not the national rarity it once was and indeed they are in the process of colonising this country in the same way that Little Egrets did, nevertheless it's still a great sighting for the Meadow which doesn't have the right sort of habitat to attract this species.
This is not the actual bird but one I photographed in Dorset
Finally in December the snow tipped the balance with the flood waters and some long-overdue rain pushed them back to full size. With the waters came the geese, ducks and gulls again and the birding desert was once more transformed into an oasis of bird activity.
So, the Port Meadow Bird of the Year title has to go to the Great White Egret really as there was nothing else at all close to it in terms of rarity. I'm always a bit reluctant to give this award to a bird that was seen by a single observer (especially since it wasn't me!) but apart from the Blue-headed Wagtail there was little else of note this year.
Looking forward, we're at least starting the year with decent sized flood waters but it will all be down to what happens in the spring and autumn once again. Sadly, with global warming it's possible that years like this will become more of the norm. Let's hope note!