Sorry this is so late. I'll explain more why in my next post.
Since my last post in mid November there has not been a great deal to report though the rather wet end of year ensured that the floods were a good size. The highlights since the last post were of the duck variety with a drake GOLDENEYE (only the second ever on the Meadow) the star of the show, followed by a drake POCHARD. This latter species is less than annual so still a nice bird though nowhere near the rarity of the Goldeneye. Apart from that there were a few odd gulls - a possible Caspian Gull found by Thomas Miller was decided to be a hybrid in the end. We did have up to half a dozen PINTAIL on the floodsand a few GOOSANDER visiting the Meadow to roost. The BARNACLE GOOSE flock was also a regular visitor in December. There were one or two REDSHANK seen along the river as well - usually for some reason we seem to have exactly five birds each winter so this is down on that count.
Drake Goldeneye Courtesy of Thomas Miller
Thomas Miller has now taken over WeBS Count duties from me. Below are his tallies for December.
It's been a few weeks since my last post. Part of the reason for this is that I've had a change of work circumstances so am now confined to weekend visits. However, also there frankly hasn't been a great deal to report and the annual autumn peak when the best rare birds are supposed to be found seems to have passed by the Meadow and indeed the whole of Oxfordshire.
Still there have been one or two noteworthy sightings. The highlight was an AVOCET on the last day of October, found by Nick Boyd, that sadly only stayed a couple of hours despite the great condition the floods are presently in.
The Avocet courtesy of Nick Boyd
Talking of waders we had the first BLACK-TAILED GODWIT of the winter season last weekend. Apart from that Lapwing numbers have been increasing steadily and we've started to get a few (up to a dozen or so) Golden Plover either flying over or loitering along the flood shoreline.
Nick also managed to find a BLACK REDSTART on top of the Radcliffe Observatory in Jericho though this too didn't linger. It's a bit of a grey area as to whether this counts toward the Patch year list total or not but given that there's not much else that we're likely to get this year I'm going to include it.
The floods have been gradually getting larger and the numbers of Wigeon and Teal have been increasing steadily and there are presently reasonable numbers of Shoveler about as well. There are plenty of Greylag and Canada Geese and today we were graced with the presence of about 150 BARNACLE GEESE.
Thomas Miller has been checking out the gull roost which is starting to get to a reasonable size now with quite a lot of large gulls though he's not yet found anything of particular note.
Winter Thrushes have been on the move and both Redwing and Fieldfare have been seen flying over the Meadow though I've not seen any in the hedgerows so far.
Looking ahead, the flooded Thistles are still making viewing rather difficult though this should improve over time and the numbers of winter duck should carry on increasing over the coming weeks. We might also hope for our first Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls of the winter.
Since my last post the continuing rainy conditions have meant that the floods have steadily got larger to the point that when I visited this weekend they are looking quite extensive. They are starting to eat into the rank vegetation surrounding the core flood area though at present there are lots of annoying Meadow Thistles still standing and obstructing the view - once they've died off then things will be a lot easier.
Port Meadow was looking particularly photogenic yesterday
In the last week or so we've had some Widgeon and Teal back in residence as well as quite a few (a couple of dozen or so) Shoveller. There's not been much of a gull roost to speak of so far though it's still quite early in the season: it's mostly been Black-headed Gulls working their way over the newly flooded areas. In amongst the geese there's been a single BARNACLE GOOSE
occasionally. I don't know what the origin of this bird is but there
are some feral birds that have now taken up residence at Farmoor so it
could be one of those.
The recent highlights have been a pair of EGYPTIAN GEESE (a year tick) that dropped in briefly on Saturday, four Gadwall today (more usually a spring visitor) and three (a drake and two females) PINTAIL this morning. To round things off Phil Barnett found a SHORT-EARED OWL
(another year tick) a few days back in Burgess Field - it's nice to get
this species back on the year list as it's a less than annual visitor.
Now that the floods are back again we should start to get a decent
amount of birds back on the Meadow again. Under good flooded conditions
over the winter Port Meadow can be one of the most birdy places in the
county - it's when it really comes into its own.
Nicola Devine took this lovely photo of a Chiffchaff in the Trap Grounds. See the new Trap Grouds Wildlife blog for more photos
The very rainy conditions over the last few days have meant that there are some embryonic floods in place and with more rain forecast for the coming week I am hoping that they'll grow in size. So far there's not been much bird life attracted to them though a few Black-headed Gulls are starting to congregate by them. There are plenty of Pied Wagtails but just one YELLOW WAGTAIL hanging on, though now the cattle have been rounded up it may be the last of the season. There are about 9 or so Lapwing to be found each day on the Meadow now and Meadow Pipit numbers have grown noticeably with at least 60 hanging out in a rather large flock at the southern end of the Meadow. Thomas Miller reported 15 or so Golden Plover recently one evening, the first of the autumn. I've been tramping around across the Meadow area most days to see if I can kick up something of interest but apart from a couple of Skylarks and loads of Meadow Pipits that's been about it.
I had rather assumed that the rainy conditions might have finished off any remaining Odonata but when the sun has been out I've still been seeing a few Migrant Hawkers buzzing about both in the Trap Grounds and along the Castle Mill Stream. With more rain forecast sadly they'll probably not be around much longer.
Without much in the way of flood waters yet, the main excitement on the birding front is looking out for the mixed roving tit flocks that are often to be found working their way along the many hedgerows in Burgess Field and in the Trap Grounds. These areas can seem completely devoid of bird life until you come across one of these flocks and suddenly there are birds everywhere! There are nearly always Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits in these flocks but you can often find a Treecreeper, Chiffchaff or Goldcrest tagging along with them and there's always the chance of something even more interesting turning up, you never know.
Without much in the way of photographic offerings at the moment I'm giving you a Kingfisher that I came across in the Trap Grounds. The new Trap Grounds blog is going strong so do go and check it out for more updates from this lovely gem of a nature haven
It's actually been a pretty good couple of weeks since my last update. Granted there's still no water on the Meadow and in fact it's been unusually dry of late but at least we've been getting some good passage passerines to talk about.
To start with we've got one more year tick to mention: Steve Goddard has had a NUTHATCH visiting his garden in Wolvercote recently.
It's been a very good year for SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS in the county with unusually large counts passing through. Here at Port Meadow we've been in on this action as well: we'd already had two of them that I mentioned in my last post but we've now had at least three more to report. Thomas Miller turned up a couple on one day recently: one in Burgess Field near the railway line and one over in Binsey churchyard. Nicola Devine then had one (or possibly two) in the Trap Grounds a few days later. For a species which we're normally lucky to get one of it's been quite a year!
Spotted Flycatcher courtesy of Nicola Devine
WHINCHAT are normally even rarer that Spotted Flycatchers but we've managed a second bird this autumn, again found by Thomas Miller in the Snipe Field in Burgess Field. What's more a few days later he found a juvenile STONECHAT there as well. Sadly these days this species is about as rare as Whinchat are on the patch. There was also a WHEATEAR at the southern end of the Meadow briefly earlier on this week.
What might have been the bird of the year had it been firmed up was a record of a possible Twite. Seen briefly and heard calling by Thomas Miller over by the Perch it was sadly never promoted beyond a "possible" and wasn't seen again. By way of compensation HOBBY was spotted later that day whilst he and I were out looking for it.
Finally, one of my favourite pastimes in the autumn is hunting for BLUE-HEADED WAGTAILS in amongst the YELLOW WAGTAILS. For those of you who aren't familiar with this sub-species it's the continental version of our Yellow's and we often manage one each autumn. Today I managed to find one in amongst the half a dozen or so Yellow Wagtails down at the southern end in amongst the cattle. Incidentally the peak tally of Yellow's so far this autumn is a paltry dozen or so, well down on counts of at least double that that I've got in previous years. This is sadly all too indicative of the decline in this farmland species.
Fairly rubbish photos of the female Blue-headed Wagtail. The key factors for females are the pure white throat, upper breast and supercilium compared to the yellowish tinge that our adult female Yellow Wagtails have
So here we are in September already, I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. Still there's actually been a bit of bird action to report and a whole flurry of year ticks. After his Spotted Flycatcher in Burgess Field, Thomas Miller managed to turn up a few more good passage passerines. The star of the show was a WHINCHAT which he found late one afternoon at the end of the very hot period of weather that we recently had. This species is certainly less than annual on the Meadow so its finding prompted a bit of a mini twitch by some of the Port Meadow local birders. As well as the Whinchat, Thomas also turned up a COMMON REDSTART (another less than annual passage migrant) and a few LESSER WHITETHROATS. To add to this list whilst I was there I kicked up a GRASSHOPPER WARBLER from in the undergrowth though sadly it didn't linger. Still with Whinchat, Redstart and Grasshopper Warbler that was three ticks on one day!
Whinchat courtesy of Thomas Miller
The tick bonanza continued a day or two later when Thomas (who's been the stand-out bird finder of the year on the Meadow by a long chalk) spotted a HOBBY over the Meadow. What was probably the same bird was see later in the day by Mary MacDougall over Hayfield Road. This species is usually annual on the Meadow though we did miss it last year so it's good to have it on the list again.
To add to the action Matthew Lloyd recently found a WHEATEAR up at the northern end of the Meadow by the boundary with Wolvercote Common.
In terms of passage passerines, the only bird that we might hope for still that we haven't yet seen would be Tree Pipit which is quite a county rarity though we do have a history of having them turn up in Burgess Field. Beyond that it will have to be something altogether rarer that we've not had before. I did once see what looked suspiciously like a Melodius/Icterine Warbler in Burgess Field. It was huge compared to the neighbouring Chiffies though the views were all too brief and it flew off never to be seen again so you never know what might turn up there. Apart from that, there are a number of waders that we still need though without the flood waters we are going to be lucky to get those on the year list.
The Burgess Field SPOTTED FLYCATCHER is being very cooperative: this is now it's third day in the same location. It is more or less faithful to a Willow tree just past the spoil heap on the cinder path that runs along the west side of the reserve just as it starts to bend around to the right and where the first turn-off is to the left. However when myself and Thomas Miller were there this morning it was seen to do quite a large circuit all the way along the hedgerow to the railway line side and then back along the next hedgerow south to get back to the tree. It generally sits at the top of the tress and bushes which makes it comparatively easy to keep track of. Well worth a visit!
I'm sorry about the lack of posts - I can't quite believe that it's getting on for two months since my last one! Predictably, with the lack of any floods it's been fairly quiet but I'll do a round-up of what's been happening.
On the bird front we're now through the summer doldrums of June and July and we can now expect to see some returning birds passing through. To that end a couple of YELLOW WAGTAILS have been down in amongst the cattle recently. Rummaging through the autumn wagtails looking for Blue-headed Wagtails is a favourite autumn pastime of mine though we're very lucky if we actually find one. There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking over the southern end as well yesterday. These species will increasingly congregate in large post breeding flocks before heading off south at some point.
We actually managed a new year tick yesterday when Thomas Miller turned up a pair of SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS in Burgess Field yesterday evening. I paid a visit late morning today to find one still present and Mary MacDougall reported that it was still there mid afternoon. Somehow we manage to get this species on our list pretty much every year though it's a comparative county rarity and I always get excited to add it to the list. Over the coming weeks expect more
migrants to start passing through the area and the Swifts to depart for
warmer climes. What we really need though is a good period of rain to
recreate the floods.
There's been some good action on the insect front as you'd expect over the summer. All the usual Dragonflies are out and about. Yesterday a stroll along the Castle Mill Stream found a Brown, two Migrant and Southern Hawker all on the wing as well as several red Darters of both species.
This obliging Souther Hawker in my garden allowed me to get within one foot of it, enough for me to get this photo with my iPhone
The Trap Grounds though came up trumps once again when expert insect rarity finder Nicola Devine found and photographed a SMALL RED-EYED DAMSELFLY on one of the ponds there. This species is very local here in Oxon with just one or two other sites where it can be found so this is quite a turn up for the books. I have made a couple of visits to look for it subsequently but so far haven't been able to relocate it.
Small Red-eyed Damselfly courtesy of Nicola Devine
On the butterfly front, once again Nicola has managed to turn up both SILVER WASHED FRITILLARY and BROWN HAIRSTREAK in the Trap Grounds. It's good to know that these species are "regular" at this site though it must be a small colony there at best.
Brown Hairstreak, courtesy of Nicola Devine
Finally I need to mention that the Trap Grounds, which has featured so strongly in recent blog postings has now got its own blog. It's only just been launched so there are only a few posts on it but expect more activity over the coming weeks as it gets properly established. Do go and check it out though as the Trap Grounds is a real gem of a site that deserves to have its own blog.
At last the unseasonal wet weather that dominated much of June has given way to proper summer weather. Such was the amount of rainfall for much of the month that the flood waters even had a reprieve for a few weeks, attracting a few Black-headed Gulls to loaf around the reformed pools, including the first juvenile birds of the year.
Juvenile Black-headed Gull on the reformed flood waters
Apart from that there has been little of note on the bird front. House Martins were busy gathering mud at the start of the month and could be seen congregating in good numbers on the banks of the river.
House Martins gathering mud
Wood Pigeons are present in large numbers on the fresh grassy area that used to be the flood zone. They are everywhere you look.
The humble Wood Pigeon is often overlooked but they can be quite smart looking birds
It's a lovely time of year to be wandering through Burgess Field. The Marbled Whites and Ringlets are on the wing and with the sunny weather they are easy to spot.
I found this freshly emerged Marbled White composing itself under a bush before taking its first flight
The combination of lots of rain and now bright sunshine now has meant that Burgess Field is a riot of plant life - there are flowers everywhere you look. It's well worth a visit just to admire it all.
One of my favourite Meadow plants, the rather strange Tubular Water-dropwort
Each year this Wild Clary comes up in the same spot at the southern end of the flood area
The Bee Orchids in Burgess Field are just coming into flower now
The Trap Grounds are looking really good presently with some of the newly planted wildflower meadow areas now in full bloom. The dragonfly and damselflies are now on the wing and can be seen hawking over the ponds and grassy areas.
So here we are in June at the start of the summer birding doldrums. Actually with the floods having dried up so early this year it's felt like that for at least the last month. Still there have been a few additions to the year list to mention. Interestingly enough three of them have all been "heard-only" and it just goes to emphasise how important listening is as part of bird "watching".
The first was a CUCKOO which Mary MacDougall heard calling away in Burgess Evening one evening. Somehow each year we manage to get at least one record of this increasingly scarce summer visitor. In fact last week I did think I heard another calling very distantly from out of my open bedroom window but it was just too far away to be sure.
The second record was also heard from out of my bedroom window. This time it was the distinctive call of a RING-NECKED PARAKEET. Now that these colourful Parrots are breeding in the University Parks I expect that we shall have more occasional fly-overs in our air space.
The third record is of an elusive male SEDGE WARBLER which has taken up residence in the Trap Grounds behind the pool in front of the screen. The song is subtly different from that of a Reed Warbler being more animated and less "conversational" and as it's more in deep scrub rather than reeds that it's singing from I'm happy enough to say that it's this species though should I eventually get to see it (not luck with that so far) it's possible that I'll have to retract this tick.
Finally, we had an exciting record from Nick Boyd of a fly-over COMMON CRANE up at the Wolvercote end a few days ago. This is probably one of the Slimbridge release scheme birds but Nick says that it was too dark at the time to see if it had leg rings and given the paucity of ticks about I'm happy to take it!
With little rain to speak of there's been no last minute reprieve as far as the floods are concerned and this has left rather slim pickings on the bird front with little to report. The first SWIFTS arrived shortly after my last post and I was lucky enough to hear a male LESSER WHITETHROAT singing away along the Thames about 150 yards south of Weir Cottage. In addition a couple of COMMON SANDPIPERS were reported by Matthew Lloyd along the river shoreline north of the Perch. They can often be found along there at the right time of year when there are no flood waters left. Apart from that it's very much the usual suspects in the usual places. Burgess Field is bursting with Whitethroats, there are lots of Blackcaps about everywhere and the Trap Grounds reed bed is full of Reed Warblers but it's amazing how quickly one gets a bit blazé about these summer visitors.
There have been no reports of any Grasshopper or Sedge Warblers on the patch area so far. It's very sad that just within the last ten years or so we've lost two species which used to be guaranteed sighting each year. We've also yet to have any records of Cuckoo or Hobby though there's still time, especially for the latter which can occasionally be spotted flying over our air space at any time during the summer.
Now that we are moving towards summer it's time to turn our attention to insects and flowers. The first HAIRY HAWKERS have been seen in the Trap Grounds and we've also had the first LARGE RED DAMSELFLIES there as well. The Cow Parsley and May Flower are both out now and the hedgerows are full of their heady scent. It's a beautiful time of year!
In my last post I was enthusing about what birds we might expect over the coming weeks. In the event the weather rather spoilt our plans with the spell of unusually hot weather effectively drying up the floods completely. It's a shame as things were shaping up nicely with waders of various species dropping in on the ever decreasing pools and there were plenty of RINGED PLOVERS, LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS, REDSHANK and the omnipresent OYSTERCATCHERS to be seen. A few SHELDUCK stayed on as the waters dried up, picking their way over the mud for things to eat.
With the waters having disappeared right at the peak time for the spring passage of late April/early May I was thinking that that was that and gave up on the flood area, instead turning my attention to Warblers in Burgess Field. However, Thomas Miller persevered and was rewarded for his efforts when on May Day afternoon he turned up a smart male GREY-HEADED WAGTAIL picking its way over the dried up flood area in the company of a few YELLOW WAGTAILS.
Video and grab courtesy of Jason Coppock
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Yellow Wagtail complex, Yellow Wagtails have a number of subspecies across the continent with Grey-headed being the variation that is found in Scandinavia. Just a few records turn up each year in this country so it's quite a rarity on our shores. If you're interested I wrote up on this subject in more detail here. Sadly the bird wasn't seen the next day though it may still turn up again.
There were a couple of other snippets of news to report. Firstly an OSPREY was seen flying up the river at 2 pm the next day by Nick Boyd. He described it as "briefly hovering over the
river then circling over the drying floodplain before drifting off
eastwards" - that must have been a great sight to have seen.
Secondly and much rarer, Dave from Kennington saw and heard a male WOOD WARBLER for several minutes in the copse at the far north east end of Burgess Field (so to the north of the Snipe Field). There are usually one or two Wood Warblers records each year in the spring in Oxon, usually seen very briefly and by a single observer as in this case and usually therefore not twitchable. To my knowledge this is the first record for Port Meadow though I'm sure they must have passed through unnoticed on a number of occasions over the years - we were just lucky that this time someone happened to see it.
So a most welcome year tick thanks to the Wood Warbler. In terms of what we might still expect now that the flood waters have gone, we still have Swift to get and on the Warbler front there is Lesser Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler and Sedge Warbler still that we might expect (and perhaps another Cetti's Warbler). Cuckoo is still a possibility as is Hobby and Spotted Flycatcher. So still plenty to look out for despite the lack of flood waters. I'll leave you with a collage of Grey-headed Wagtail photos from the original finder.
I've been meaning to do a post since I came back from a week away in Cornwall at the weekend. However, each day is bringing new things to report and if I don't write something down right now it's going to run away from me again! Indeed, at the outset I should point out that now is probably going to be the best birding of the year on the Meadow, certainly in terms of new year ticks and in the variety and speed of change of sightings. The spring passage is in full flow and we've still got some flood waters to tempt birds in. The floods were looking rather sickly until the spot of rain topped them up. But with some rather hot weather forecast over the next few days they could soon disappear again. So, unless we are lucky enough to have some flood waters in the autumn passage, this is basically going to be peak Meadow birding action.
Anyway, down to actual sightings. Last week we added quite a few new species to the year list. The star bird was a SANDERLING seen by Pete Roby. This species is just about annual though we rarely get more than one record a year. There was also a report of a PEREGRINE flying low over the rooftops of Walton Street. Usually this species is seen over the winter period harrying the wintering birds on the floods but this is actually the first record of the year in the catchment area. More standard fare was seen in the form of the first YELLOW WAGTAILS of the year, the first COMMON TERNS, the first WILLOW WARBLERS and the first HOUSE MARTINS. Also just today Pete Roby reported the first COMMON SANDPIPER of the year.
Birds are dropping in and moving on regularly throughout the day and so I typically try to visit twice a day. Just yesterday for example a couple of CURLEW (an uncommon bird for the Meadow) were seen by Ian Lewington to drop in for a quick wash and brush-up before heading on again. When I visited yesterday evening a couple of new Redshank had joined the three that were there this morning so it can change by the hour.
In terms of more regular sightings, Oystercatchers are seen every day with up to six birds on show at any given time. Little Ringed Plover are dropping in and moving on and are usually seen most days. There are just a few dozen winter duck left now and numbers are dropping each day. Swallows are now being seen on a more daily basis and are probably "in" now. Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs are all singing in the hedgerows - it really warms the cockles to hear them once again.
Golden Plover, looking very smart in full summer pluage, courtesy of Ian Lewington
So what can we look forward to over the next few weeks? The warblers should start arriving very soon now so it will be time to start scouring the hedgerows of Burgess Field for the usual suspects. There is also the increasingly elusive Cuckoo to listen out for and in May we should start to get the first Swifts. On the wader front, provided the waters hold up we might expect Whimbrel, Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. As far as rarer waders are concerned there could be Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover to look out for. What we should really hope for though is a sudden spell of bad weather to ground the migrating birds. This is when Port Meadow birding is really at it's best: there's nothing quite like seeing fifty or more waders of all sorts of different species all paddling around in the flood waters - it really makes my birding year!
After the heady excitement of last weekend it's been back to more modest fare. On Monday we had a nice record of 4 RUFF (the first of the year) which sadly only hung around
for the morning. During that time a SWALLOW also went through north as
well but that's been the only hirundine sighting this week.
Four Ruff and a Redshank
...and some video footage of the same birds
The same morning which was remarkably warm and calm, I did a spot of raptor watching from the Meadow, looking out over Wytham Hill. As well as several Kites and Buzzards there were a pair of Sparrowhark and a RAVEN (a year tick).
Apart from that it's been a fairly steady week with more or less the same birds around each day. OYSTERCATCHERS have been present every day with up to four birds around at the moment. It's a similar situation with SHELDUCK as well with a peak count of 6 birds this week. REDSHANK numbers have also been a fairly constant 3 or 4. There have also been between 1 and 3 LITTLE RINGEDPLOVER about all week.
On Friday we have a couple of WHITE WAGTAILS in amongst the Pieds, part of a light passage through the county of this striking continental cousin to our familiar Wagtails.
Spring passage really kicked into gear today with a whole host of exciting discoveries. However, before I tell you about that let me fill you in on the sightings since the last post. To be honest, prior to today it's been rather quiet. There's been a massive clear-out of wintering ducks during the last week to the extent that the floods are now looking remarkably bare on the bird front. There have been various REDSHANK passing through. Usually there have been between two and four birds though not always the same ones as one one occasion we had three in summer plumage which looked very smart compared to their more usual winter appearance. The two or three OYSTERCATCHERS have been a regular daily sighting whereas SHELDUCK numbers have been much more variable: some days there have been up to four whereas on other days there have been none at all. On the warmer days Chiffchaff and Blackcap have been singing away in a variety of places and everywhere the trees and hedgerows have a wonderful fresh green wash of newly sprouting leaves and flowers.
So, on to today. It all started bright and early when Ian Elkins discovered a splendid drake GARGANEY on the floods. I put the word out and with not much else about in the county a whole heap of the county's finest birders came to pay homage. This meant that the Meadow had much more coverage than usual which resulted in many more birds being found on what turned out to be a key passage day.
Drake Garganey courtesy of Ewan Urquhart
Garganey video footage courtesy of Badger
The highlight of these bonus finds has to be an OSPREY which Steve Goddard spotted flying north shortly after midday. This species is less than annual on the Meadow and is usually seen in early spring heading over the floods with my theory being that migrating birds follow the river as they head north which is why we see them. Interestingly, they are often reported late morning or early afternoon. I wonder if as a larger bird of prey they need to wait until things warm up a little before taking to the wing which is why they are often seen during this time window.
The next year tick was a female WHEATEAR which Ewan Urquhart spotted passing through. Whilst this species is pretty much annual, they are by no means a certainty. There are usually only one or two records each year and as they never linger it very much depends on whether someone manages to spot one as they pass quickly through the Meadow. So it's nice to get one safely in the bag.
SAND MARTINS finally put in an appearance this weekend. They were first found yesterday evening by Mary MacDougall and today were around in the morning before departing. Steve Goddard also spotted a flock of 30+ which moved through quite rapidly at around midday. As an added bonus Adrian Grey spotted the first pair of SWALLOWS of the year passing north over Wolvercote.
Up to five LITTLE RINGED PLOVER were seen in the morning as well - it was good to get a decent count again of this delightful wader as numbers were rather low last year. At last light we had a report of another year tick in the form of their larger cousin RINGED PLOVER when Mary MacDougall and Steve Jennings spotted six of this species.
Little Ringed Plover courtesy of Ewan Urquhart
I personally managed to miss all the action as I had house guests visiting today. However I did persuade some of them to come on a late afternoon walk where the floods were devoid of all these exciting birds. By way of some consolation I did manage to turn up the first GADWALL of the year with a pair sleeping on the floods in amongst the Teal. This species tends to be a spring visitor to the Meadow and I've been looking out for them for the last few weeks.
So lots of exciting stuff with no less than seven year ticks over the weekend, almost all of them today! Now that we're into April it's the peak month for spring passage though just how good it is rather depends on the weather and how long the flood waters stay. We should get the first warblers passing through fairly soon now as well as a variety of passage waders. It's time to get out there and start looking!
It's now officially spring and we've had the first spring migrant to prove it! Today I went for a run on the Meadow and managed to flush a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER along the East Shore. It didn't fly very far but as I didn't have my bins with me I couldn't relocate it. Later on in the day I came back for a more detailed look but it was nowhere to be seen.
There have been a couple of other year ticks to report as well. The first was the surprisingly late addition of Great Crested Grebe to the list. Normally these are about on the river pretty much all year but yesterday on the river just by the sailing club was the first that I've seen this year. The second tick was two separate sightings of BLACK-TAILED GODWIT. The first was a singleton seen by Ben Sandford-Smith a couple of days ago and the second record was a party of five birds that Andrew Siantonas found yesterday. Usually I'd expect to get this species on the list over the winter period so they're a bit late this year.
One of the joys of patch birding is getting excited by common stuff such as this Great Crested Grebe here
Apart from that there have been two or three Oystercatchers about, as well as three Redshank, 1 Dunlin and up to 12 Shelduck. For the first time today in a while we had a decent 100+ flock of Golden Plover. They're all moulting into their summer finery and are looking a bit tatty at the moment as they transition.
There's a definite "end of season" feel to the gulling on the Meadow now. For one thing it's got really hard with a lot of the birds all looking frustratingly similar now and a lot of mongrel birds starting to put in an appearance. What's more, with the longer days it means that I'm no longer able to visit right at the peak pre-dusk time so it's no longer so productive. We've still managed to have one more good new gull in the form of a different adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL that eagled-eyed Thomas Miller picked out from the roost and one of the "usual" Caspian Gulls did pop in on one occasion.
The new Med Gull courtesy of Thomass Miller
Some video of the same bird
We've had good numbers of SHELDUCK hanging around still, with 12 there yesterday. We've also had a couple of OYSTERCATCHERS about most days as well as up to four REDSHANK. On occasions we've had some reasonable Golden Plover and one evening I counted several hundred along the shoreline, reminiscent of the good old days for this species.
The recent spell of ridiculously hot weather had been looking very
promising for early spring migrants though the change to this very windy
and indeed stormy period has rather put the kibosh on all that.
Nevertheless with the first spring migrants starting to be seen in the
county now (one flock of Sand Martins and a Little Ringed Plover) it's
getting time to turn our thoughts in that direction. Who knows, we might well snaffle an early spring migrant (probably one of those two species) ourselves sometime soon.
What amazing weather - it's more like summer than late winter! I keep expecting to see Swallows and Sand Martins about as I look through the gull roost each evening.Despite the hot weather the gulling hasn't been too bad though rather tellingly numbers have started to decline dramatically over the last couple of days. What's more, the floods are starting to shrink rather alarmingly in this hot
weather so we really need some good prolonged rain to top them up
Still we've had another couple of good gulls to add to the tally of what has been a remarkably good couple of months on that front. Firstly there was a huge adult CASPIAN GULL and secondly a lovely adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL. The latter species traditionally has a spring passage through the county in March so it looks like that has come early this year. In fact we've now had 7 different Caspian Gulls and two Mediterranean Gulls as well as countless Yellow-legged Gulls just since the start of the year - it's been a remarkable gulling season.
Adult Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
Adult Mediterranean Gull
We've finally started to get some wader action now with up to 8 REDSHANK around the floods, and this evening the OYSTERCATCHER tally had gone up to 3. A single DUNLIN (a year tick) has been around the last couple of days and to top all that we had a brief visit by a CURLEW (a less than annual visitor to the Meadow) though it didn't linger.
Curlew courtesy of Thomas Miller
In other news Mary MacDougall reported a couple of GREY PARTRIDGE on the Patch as well. As this species actually bred here last year I'm deliberately being vague about the exact location but it's great to have them back again.
The much milder weather has brought on the first signs of spring in the bird world. Whilst it's still too early for any actual summer migrants we've had a couple of species on the floods which I typically associated with very early spring, namely OYSTERCATCHERS and SHELDUCK. There was one of the former on Friday with the number going up to two over the weekend along with three of the latter species. Whilst we already have Shelduck on the year list, it's around this time of year that they start to be seen on the floods.
The first Oystercatcher of the year
There was also a report of a STONECHAT on the scrub north of the Perch this week from Sam Watson. Since the two extremely cold winters that we had a while back this species has gone from a guaranteed record each year to something much harder to get so it's nice to have one seen on the Patch so early on in the year.
On the gulling front, it's been much quieter this week. I visited each evening from Monday through to Thursday with precious little reward for my efforts apart from a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. Then Thomas Miller took over for the weekend and his keen eyes managed to pick out a couple of CASPIAN GULLS, both birds that we've seen earlier on in the month here.
The warmer weather has brought out the first BRIMSTONE butterflies to various local gardens (including my own) and the first bees are now buzzing about as well. With all the talk being of a record breakingly hot year this year, we might well have a very mild and early spring this year.
I forgot to mention that Dave Doherty found a male POCHARD on the floods this week. As is usually the case with diving ducks they tend not to linger too long once they discover how shallow and fishless the waters are and it was soon gone. Still as a less than anuual visitor it is a good record for the Meadow.
A heavy pair of binoculars -- in good condition apparently, except for a broken
strap -- has been found on the Meadow and left on the corner house of Longworth and Southmoor Roads. If you'd like to claim them then please telephone 511474.
The windy weather, with Storm Eric, brought in a brief purple patch on the Meadow with some huge roosts towards and during the weekend with vast numbers of large gulls. The only trouble was that the wind often made for difficult viewing conditions. On Thursday in very blowy conditions there were at least 4 YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS in the throng and a flock of 200 of the BARNACLE GEESE came in to roost, one of the higher counts for this flock for quite a while. To add to this there were 100 GOLDEN PLOVER, again one of the largest counts that we've had for quite a while. On Saturday Thomas Miller struck gold with no less than 3 CASPIAN GULLS, a 1st winter, a 2nd winter and the 3rd winter from a few weeks back. On Sunday the roost again huge but he reported that it was too windy to do it much justice. This week, in much calmer conditions, the large numbers have now melted away and it's back to more modest numbers.
The three Caspian Gulls, courtesy of Thomas Miller
There are a couple more ticks to report: Kingfishers have been reported to me on a couple of occasions now along the river (it was only a matter of time) and Thomas Miller also had the first PINTAIL of the year a few evenings back.
Now that we've got through the cold snowy patch and back to milder windier weather, the gulling is back on track. Our first winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL is still being seen most evenings as well as a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (1w, 3w and adult this evening) and we've had a REDSHANK pop in on a few occasions as well. However, after last month's amazing tally of four different Caspian Gulls, so far this month we've not had any.
We also had our first LITTLE EGRET of the year this evening: working its way along the ditch down by the boat moorings.Also a drake TUFTED DUCK on the floods this evening was a most unusual sight. Whilst this common diving duck can usually be found up at the Wolvercote Lakes, we only normally see it down at the south end of the Meadow when it's frozen or the floods are in Lake Mode so this was a notable record.
The most stand-out record since my last post was an amazing sighting of a KNOT up
at Wolvercote Common just south of the allotments by Colm O Caomhanaigh
on a very snowy 2nd February. I can only guess that it was grounded by
the weather and with everything frozen had just decided to tough it out
where it was until it thawed - I hope that it got through it all OK.
Knot is less than annual on the Meadow so is a good record to get on the
I forgot to post this picture of a pair of Goosander on the Castle Mill Stream from a week or two ago
With the Snowdrops and Crocuses now coming out and the milder weather one can't help but start to turn one's thoughts towards Spring though we've still got a fair way to go yet before we can start to think about the first spring arrivals. In the meantime it will have to be gulls to keep us going through the month!
So that's the first month out of the way. Looking back it's not been too bad really. It's always fun to chase around after the usual winter birds to get them on the year list and the gulling has been excellent this month. Since my last post we've managed to notch up yet another CASPIAN GULL, this time a fine 3rd winter that Thomas Miller found last Saturday. In addition the usual (presumably) 1st winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL popped in again last Friday. However, since the recent spell of cold weather the floods have been completely frozen and I've not bothered with the roost.
3rd Winter Caspian Gull (courtesy of Thomas Miller)
For those who struggle with Caspian Gulls, it's the bird who's head is right in the centre of the picture
The 1st winter Med Gull
Apart from that there's not been anything of particular note.
Now that we've got to the end of the first month I'm going to start posting a "Wanted List" of things that haven't been seen yet that I would expect to be about somewhere. So please let me know if you see any of the following:
Great Crested Grebe
I did the January WeBS Count (Wetland Bird Survey) for the Meadow today. Numbers were rather low for some reason, I'm not sure quite why. Still we had our first REDSHANK of the year and I put up 3 SNIPE from the rough grass between the floods and the river. Apart from that there were no surprises. Exact count tallies are below:
Canada Geese 138
Greylag Geese 6
Grey Heron 1
Black-headed Gull 60
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Apart from that, it's mostly been about the gulling which has continued to be excellent. The injured first winter CASPIAN GULL has been around most evenings and we've had a first winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL turn up two or three times as well. Thomas Miller has been finding many of these birds - it's great to have a fellow laridophile to keep an eye on the roost.
The 1st winter Med. Gull, courtesy of Thomas Miller
As far as other species are concerned, there have been up to three SHELDUCK on the floods this week. I also spotted my first Fieldfare of the year in the hedgerow bordering the allotments. Away from the Meadow itself, I have been wandering around the Trap Grounds seeking out the usual suspects for the year list. I managed to hear a squealing WATER RAIL in the reedbed and spotted a fine pair of Bullfinches along the side stream. I also found an over-wintering CHIFFCHAFF by the canal next to the Frenchay Road bridge. To round things off, Steve Goddard had a Grey Wagtail up at the Wolvercote end as well.
The floods could do with a bit of a top-up, this settled high pressure system is making for a rather dry spell of weather.
So the first couple of weeks of the New Year have gone by and the year list is steadily accumulating. What have we had so far then? On New Year's Day the flock of 100+ BARNACLE GEESE flew in at last light (I'd already left by then but heard them come in and Steve Goddard was on site to confirm this). They subsequently have visited on a second evening as well - it's good that they are becoming so regular now. Apart from that on the water fowl front it's just been the usual Wigeon and Teal. Adrian Gray has confirmed Coot and Tufted Duck up at the Gullet and we've had Shoveller but not yet any Pintail though that should be just a matter of time.
The main action (for me at least) has been on the gull front with the reasonably sized flood hosting quite good roost sizes. We've been blessed with three different CASPIAN GULLS already so far: two first winters and a second winter, the latter being found by Thomas Miller this evening. One of them came for four or five consecutive evenings in a row but although originally fine, now appears to have a badly damaged leg so is hopping around.
2w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
Some video of the regular 1w Caspian Gull, which unfortunately now has only one usable leg
The highlight on the raptor front has to be a great sighting of a MERLIN zipping through up at the Wolvercote end of the Meadow. Seen well by Steve Goddard and another birder this is a great record for the Patch. There have been a few "probable's" during my time birding the area but this is the first confirmed sighting.
Apart from that I've just been going around winkling out the usual suspects for the year list from their usual haunts. A trip along the wildlife corridor stream near the Trap Grounds produced the hoped-for Reed Bunting at the start of the year and I've managed to find things like Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Siskin and Mistle Thrush and Steve Goddard up at Wolvercote has supplied Stock Dove and Tawny Owl. Nothing earth shattering but it's nice to get them on the list. In a week or two I'll posted a "wanted list" of stuff that's still yet to be seen but it seems a bit early for that as yet.