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.
Happy New Year! The turn of the year is of course traditionally a time to reflect on what has been and to look forward to what we might expect so I thought I'd do the usual review of the year. Both nationally and on a county level, 2018 was a rather poor year, certainly in terms of the number of different species recorded and indeed the county only managed 205 last year compared to a more usual tally of 215 or more. On the Meadow we mustered 124 which is a bit below the usual 130 level that I consider to be a good total though our year lists are very much at the mercy of the vagaries of the flood levels each year so there is a lot of variation in this number and all things considered 124 wasn't too bad. In terms of what we missed that we might have reasonably expected for "winter birds" we never got Lesser Redpoll, Curlew, Jack Snipe or Brambling and for summer birds Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers were both missing, as was Hobby (the first time since I've been birding the Meadow that this hasn't been on the list). We also failed to get many of the rarer county waders that we often get such as Grey Plover, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Stint or Ruff and we never got a Garganey either.
So much for what we didn't get, what birds were actually seen last year? January started off well with a Stonechat spending a few weeks down at the southern end of the Meadow. With the floods in "Lake Mode" a Whooper Swan was a nice bonus bird at the start of the year. A brace of Woodcock in Burgess Field were an unusual find and on the gull front we were blessed with no less than three Caspian Gulls as well as an Iceland Gull.
The Whooper swan
The juvenile Iceland Gull
...and a gorgeous Caspian Gull
Once the excitement of the first month of the year has died down February can often be rather quiet but we did manage a single-observer Great White Egret that flew over the Trap Grounds as well as a second Iceland Gull on the floods. March saw an Avocet, a Mediterranean Gull and a long-staying Barn Owl as highlights.
Unfortunately the Avocet never got very close
April is always an exciting time of year with the welcome return of our summer visitors. On top of this we had a Sandwich Tern on the Meadow for the second year running. This is an annual visitor in modest numbers to the county but only the third record for the Meadow so was a really special bird. A Spotted Flycatcher and aPink Footed Goose of unknown (and probably suspect) origin were also noteworthy.
A superb photo of the Sandwich Tern courtesy of Roger Wyatt (c)
May can often be a quiet month though it's also the top month of the first half of the year for something rarer to turn up. This indeed proved to be the case when in amongst a substantial "fall" of waders one evening a gorgeous female Red-necked Phalarope dropped in. This used to be an extremely rare county bird though a flurry of records over the last three years have somewhat taken the shine off it. Still, it's an absolute corker of a bird for the Meadow and is easily our Bird of the Year.
The gorgeous Red-necked Phalarope
We were quite well served with regards to flood waters for the first half of the year - the fact that they survived all the way until the end of May being critical for the record of the Phalarope but by June and the start of what turned out to be a very hot dry summer they were all gone. So it was to insects that Meadow watchers turned their attention.The summer months provided a Club-tailed Dragonfly by the river, Emerald Damselflies on the Trap Grounds (a new species record), regular Brown Hairstreak sightings (also in the Trap Grounds) and the welcomed return of the Red-tipped Clearwing moth to the Trap Ground meadow area.
Club-tailed Dragonfly courtesy of Felicity Jenkins
Brown Hairstreak courtesy of Nicola Devine
As we moved into Autumn, sadly there was no sign of the floods and the birding was very quiet. In fact a fly-over Ring-necked Parakeet was the only noteworthy record. Finally, come November we started to get back some decent flood waters and the gulling could commence again. We had a long-staying Mediterranean Gull and another Caspian gull as the highlights of the roost and a Short-eared Owl on Burgess Field that I frustratingly personally never managed to get to see. Up in Wolvercote a Great White Egret spent a couple of days by the lake there, which was nice to see.
The Med Gull was seen for five consecutive evenings on the floods
Wolvercote Great White Egret
It was a quiet end to the year but at least we have some flood waters of a reasonable size to start of the New Year. It's time to throw out the old list and start all over again. I wonder what 2019 will bring.