17th April

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!

5th April

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 RINGED PLOVER 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.

31st March

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!