29th April

The change in the weather to a more unsettled regime has transformed the floods from looking very anaemic (we'd already lost half the southern leg) through to being back on top form. What's more the change had brought us a couple of really good birds. The first was on Tuesday which was pretty rainy all day. I ventured out for a lighting visit at lunchtime and was rewarded with a Greenshank, a Little Ringed Plover and a late Yellow Wagtail. Later that afternoon when Dave Lowe paid a visit, along with another Wheatear, he managed to turn up a Black Tern, grounded by the weather and sitting on a small rock at the north end. This species is a real patch Mega with only one other record (in early May 2011) since 2000. Whilst it's a more than annual passage visitor to the county, they are almost always seen at Farmoor rather than in such a shallow pool as the Meadow floods. The bird stayed until about 7:15 pm when it flew northwards along the river.

The Black Tern in the gloom

The next day Dave Lowe was out again at first light and at 6:45 a.m posted news about a Grey Plover on the floods. This species used to be a just about annual visitor to the floods but always turned up quite late in the passage season and since over the last few years we've not had any flood waters left by then, we've not had one for a while now. I ventured down before starting work for the day and it was still there though there were no more subsequent reports after that.  An evening visit turned up a party of small waders with 4 Ringed Plover, 1 Little Ringed Plover and 1 Dunlin as well as 9 Shelduck and the usual two Oystercatchers. There was also a bonus Egyptian Goose on the floods which was nice to see.

The Grey Plover

The forecast had been for this unsettled weather to continue for quite some time but sadly it now seems to have reverted back to predicting more sunny conditions ahead. So this will in all likelyhood be the start of the terminal decline in the floods. I'm just hoping that we're going to have one more really good bird for the season. Fingers crossed!

27th April

We had a reprieve from the largely uneventful last few days when on Saturday evening Joe Wynn discovered a lovely Wood Sandpiper on the floods. This scarce county wader is a bit less than annual but is somewhat of a speciality of Port Meadow where we must be vying for the top county spot for sightings, along with Otmoor of course.

Wood Sandpiper courtesy of Joe Wynn
Quite a few birders (myself included) were on site early the next day but sadly it had moved on already. It's always fascinating to get a glimpse into the journeys of these waders: stopping off overnight for a refuel at somewhere like the Meadow floods before carrying on northwards.

Talking of overnight stop-offs, over the last week or so I've noticed a pattern of Little Ringed Plover sightings. I often head out to check the floods just before dinner at around 5pm where there's usually not much to be found at the moment apart from a few Yellow Wagtails and the usual Shelduck and Oystercatchers. However a couple of hours later when Ollie Padget pays a visit he more often than not turns up an "LRP" or two. So it seems very much to be a case of this species dropping in at last light to rest up before carrying on again as soon as it's light.

I've noticed a definite build-up in Black-headed Gull numbers over the last couple of days. There is a spring passage for this species which can often carry other more interesting species with it. This includes Bonaparte's Gull for which April and May are the months for county records (see my blog post here from last year). Accordingly each visit I've been checking out all the BHG's carefully. You never know!

There's not been much to report in Burgess Field of late. On Sunday morning there was a nice Lesser Whitethroat signing briefly by the gate before moving on and I've had a couple of reports of House Sparrows in there now. This species, whilst common in the surrounding residential area is not normally seen in the nature reserve at all.

Finally I should mention insects. We've got to that time of year: the usual butterfly species are now on the wing and our resident "insect whisperer" Nicola Devine has been turning up all sorts of goodies in the Trap Grounds already including a lovely Broad-bodied Chaser recently. Myself and Steve Goddard have been running our moth traps each night though the clear rather cold overnight conditions of late have made for rather low catches.

Broad-bodied Chaser courtesy of Nicola Devine
This Shoulder Stripe is not especially rare though it was a first for my garden

Brindle Beauty
Expect more on insects over the coming months as the birding dries up. Incidentally there is a new county dragonfly blog where you can see lots of hot Odonata action - see here.

24th April

There's been a distinct sense of things going quiet over the last few days. There's not been the same buzz of news about birds on the patch and whenever I've visited myself it's been the same few species.

The floods are rapidly shrinking. This prolonged dry and sunny spell is doing them no favours at all and in fact I'm surprised that they've lasted as well as they have. In the meantime we've had to be content with the usual Shelduck and a few Yellow Wagtails. Even the Oystercatcher visits have tailed off -  I guess that they're now tending their eggs where ever it is that they are nesting. The passage of White Wagtails seems to be over as well - I've not seen any in the last few days. Swallows and House Martins are "in" now and being seen daily on the Meadow though Swifts have yet properly to arrive.

Yellow Wagtail

Perhaps the highlight since my last post is the record of a Cuckoo up along the Thames path beyond Wolvercote from Steve Goddard's daughter who both saw and heard it call. Whilst the location may perhaps be more part of the environs rather than core patch, as you know, I'm fairly flexible in that respect, especially when there's a tick at stake!

On the Warbler front, our usual species now all seem to be "in" as well. Nicola Devine had the first Reed Warblers in the Trap Grounds reedbed - always an exciting event! Garden Warblers have taken up residence in Burgess Field, as have the Whitethroats and Blackcaps. I'm still hearing Willow Warblers working their way northwards through Burgess Field each visit though I don't think any have established a territory yet. We've had a few sightings of Lesser Whitethroats in various areas though again  they don't usually actually breed on the patch. 

Reed Warbler courtesy of Nicola Devine
Reports of our star Ouzel have stopped. I did take a brief look this evening without any luck and given how we're heading towards the end of April I would indeed have expected it to move on. There have also been a few Raven sightings of late. I suspect that they breed on Wytham Hill so will be fairly regular visitors.

So what is there still to look out for? The key Warblers that we've yet to see are Grasshopper and Cetti's. The former used to be guaranteed with up to four pairs in Burgess Field but they just suddenly stopped turning up. Cetti's on the other hand is less than annual anyway but we may well get one still. There are also some of the later migrants such as Spotted Flycatcher to search for and we still need Whinchat and Hobby for example. However, the main area for potential progress is waders. We do have a period of more unsettled weather coming  up. Rainy weather in May with some floods still present is really as good as it gets for spring Meadow birding and theirs nothing more exciting that a real "fall" of waders. So expect me to be out in the rain this week looking hard!

20th April

The year ticks are continuing to fall thick and fast at the moment though it can't last much longer as we'll soon have seen most things that we're likely to see! After that it will get down to the real grind!

Dave Lowe gave the patch a thorough grilling on Sunday morning and managed to turn up a great albeit brief Redstart sighting in Burgess Field. He then found a couple of Wheatear working their way northwards in the Hinterland. It's always a relief to get this surprisingly difficult latter species on the year list. That evening Ollie Padget had a heard-only fly-over Whimbrel that called four or five times as it flew over northwards though sadly he wasn't able to pin-point it before it was out of sight. I'm happy to count heard-only on the year list so that's another to add to the tally. Apart from that a single Little Ringed Plover was the only wader of note.

As well as the usual Yellow Wagtails (5 this evening) there were good numbers of White Wagtails on the floods with a count of 4. This sub-species is normally quite hard to find on the Meadow but for some reason we're having a really bumper year.

White Wagtail
Monday was generally a quieter day with very little on the floods in the morning. Apart from the usual Oystercatchers and Shelduck there were just 4 Yellow Wagtails. However in the evening, along with a single Little Ringed Plover Ollie Padget managed to turn up another wader year tick, this time in the form of our first Common Sandpiper.

Our star Ring Ouzel seems to be so at home in his little spot that he's very reluctant to leave. I managed to find him today skulking about under a tree despite large numbers of joggers and walkers in the reserve. In fact there was even a family picnicking in the general area that he likes to hang out. By deploying a bit of field craft I actually managed to get a half-decent photo of him though it was a shame that it was so dark where he was skulking.

He seems to like it here!

18th April

Port Meadow is continuing to get some excellent coverage at the moment with a whole posse of birders who would otherwise usually be birding elsewhere, now forced to use the Meadow as an outlet for their birding interest. Because of this much more is being seen than usual and it's a great opportunity to see what species turn up when and how bird numbers ebb and flow throughout the day. I've been visiting rather early for several days before starting my home working at 8 a.m. and have been finding the floods virtually empty. Apart from the more or less resident 4 Shelduck and 2 Oystercatchers and a few Little Egrets there's been almost nothing to report. On the other hand people who have been visiting towards the end of the day have been reporting a good variety of birds, including a smattering of Yellow Wagtails along with some White Wagtails as well as the odd Little Ringed Plover or two.

On Friday we finally had some much-needed rain. It's been getting on for a month now since we've had any decent rain and to be honest I've been surprised at how well the floods have been holding up. I chose to head down there during the rain on the off chance that the weather would lead to a "fall" of migrants. Some of my best days birding on the Meadow have been when bad weather has grounded loads of waders. Sadly it never happened and there was remarkably little on the floods. With rain for much of Saturday as well we did get a bit more action with the first batch of Dunlin and Ringed Plover coming through - as I said recently, these two species often seem to travel together. Thanks to excellent coverage that day on the Meadow it was possible to track the build up of birds throughout the day as they arrived and then decided to linger in what was clearly a favourable site. In fact it's worth mentioning the final tallies by the end of the day in detail:

6 Dunlin
3 Ringed Plover
1 Little Ringed Plover
26 (!) Yellow Wagtail
3 White Wagtail
5 Common Tern
100's of Swallows and House Martins with a couple of Sand Martins as well.

In addition Isaac West had the first Swift of the year go over. This is quite early for this species by a couple of weeks though Farmoor often seems to get one or two records way before they arrive at Port Meadow.

A pair of Common Terns resting on a tiny island in the floods

Amazingly our star Ring Ouzel has stuck around until Saturday at least, remaining faithful to a fairly small area. It's been very hard to see - it took me over an hour today to get a definite view after several brief glimpses. Matters aren't helped by the fact that there are a pair of Song Thrushes and Blackbirds in the same small area.

Video grab courtesy of Ollie Padget

Apart from that the first Garden Warblers have been seen. Mary MacDougall got the first from a canalside garden and since then there have been one or two in Burgess Field but they're not properly "in" yet.

So what can we expect in the next week or so? With many of our summer visitors now arrived, as well as continuing to enjoy them we might hope to catch some waders as they pass through. We might expect Common Sandpiper and perhaps also Green Sandpiper (though this is much harder to get here). It's prime time for Whimbrel and we might get lucky with a Sanderling or even a Knot or Barwit. On the passerine front there are Whinchat, Wheatear, Redstart and Tree Pipit still too look out for and we've yet to see Cuckoo or Hobby this year. Everything to play for in this time of peak spring passage!

14th April

After the excitement of the Osprey sighting on Saturday it's been a quiet couple of days on Sunday and Monday. Dave Lowe had four LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (that's now double figures of this species) and a few YELLOW WAGTAILS but apart from that it's just been the usual SHELDUCK and OYSTERCATCHERS that seem to be about the only noteworthy birds that are always there.

This morning I was up earlier than usual and went to check out the floods. Fresh in were a pair of BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and a single GREENSHANK, the latter being another year tick. Satisfied with this I went back to work for the day. I was just winding up at around 5 pm when Ollie Padget messaged to say that he'd found a RING OUZEL in Burgess Field! Now, you know how excited I got from one being reported in the Cripley Meadow allotments last week but here was one that could actually be viewable! Myself and several other local birders all converged on Burgess Field where the target bird turned out to be very skulking.  Fortunately it was periodically relocated and we all got to get good albeit brief views of it. 

Male Ring Ouzel courtesy of the finder Ollie Padget

Social Distancing Twitching

It turned out that someone had taken a very blurry photo the previous day of a "pale looking Blackbird" that on closer inspection could well have been the same bird. It's even possible that this might be the allotment bird relocating a short distance to some habitat with more cover. April Ring Ouzels in their usual county location of Linkey Down can hang about for quite some time so it's certainly possible. Anyway, it was a wonderful chance to see this species on the patch and one I'll long cherish.

I more or less assumed that it would be gone the next day but the next morning Steve Jennings managed to locate it more or less in the same spot, allowing more local birders to get to see it. Let's hope it sticks around a bit longer!

11th April

This Meadow purple patch just keeps on giving! This morning I arrived on the Meadow at around 8:15 a.m., a bit later than I'd been intending to. It turned out to be perfect timing however because just as I was walking towards the floods I noticed a couple with bins looking intently at something over towards the bridge. It turned out to be an OSPREY being mobbed by a few crows. It circled around over the floods for a few minutes before eventually heading northwards. What was undoubtely the same bird was seen about 15 minutes earlier flying north along the Thames between Sandford and Iffley Lock by Colin Williams. This clearly reinforces my theory that they follow the river north at this point which is why we have been lucky enough to get quite a few sightings over the years on the Meadow.

A fairly useless photo of the back end of the Osprey!
Apart from this great sighting it's actually been remarkably quiet over the last couple of days. There have been hardly any waders of note, just the usual two SHELDUCK and two OYSTERCATCHERS though there has been a sudden influx of immature Mute Swans with 15 yesterday. There's also been a notable increase in Herons and LITTLE EGRETS no doubt drawn by the trapped fish in the flood waters. Indeed there seem to be some rather large ones there judging by the monster that this Egret was trying to Swallow yesterday.

quite a mouthful!
There have been a smattering of HOUSE MARTIN and SWALLOW sightings about but they're not really "in" yet. The first Mallard ducklings are now appearing on the Meadow, always a delight to see. In Burgess Field it's been quiet as well with just a single WHITETHROAT on each of the last two days and a few WILLOW WARBLERS of note there. Still we can't really complain about the quietness as it's been a pretty good week all in all!

9th April

I said it was an exciting time of year but the last couple of days it has really stepped up a gear. On Wednesday someone reported a RING OUZEL on the Cripley Meadow Allotments "green" (the large communal space in the middle). It was reported at 8:30 but word didn't filter out until mid morning. Matters weren't helped by the fact that there's no public access but Steve Goddard managed to find a vantage point by climbing up a tree along the Thames path and unsurprisingly reported that there was no sign of it. To my knowledge this is the first record for the Port Meadow area and a great addition to the year list. It's just such a shame that it wasn't twitchable.

Another "not twitchable" record was a fly-over TREE PIPIT that was seen and heard by Isaac West later the same morning. This species is less than annual on the patch but it's a scarce county bird anyway and something of a speciality of ours with several twitchable birds in Burgess Field over recent years. Thanks to a lot of lockdown vis migging going on in various county gardens there's been a real glut of flyover Oxon records this spring already - it just shows what's being missed normally.

The next day I was out checking the floods first thing in the morning. There was a LITTLE EGRET fishing away near the Aristotle Lane entrance in it's regular spot but over in the north end was a monster egret that turned out to be a fantastic GREAT WHITE EGRET. Just on its size alone it couldn't be anything else and it was in full breeding plumage with reddish upper legs and an all dark bill compared to the usual non-breeding yellow colour. All in all a stunning bird! Not the first for the patch as we had one up at Wolvercote Lakes a couple of years ago but certainly the first that I've seen on the floods themselves. Sadly it didn't linger and was gone shortly after I saw it.

Great White Egret - looking stunning in full breeding colours
I was just heading back towards the southern end of the floods when Hugh Petter messaged to say that there was an AVOCET on the floods. It must have just that minute dropped in because I swear it wasn't there when I walked passed 10 minutes earlier! The Avocet obliged by staying around all day so people could see it.

More of a record shot of the Avocet this morning.
To round up other new year ticks: the first HOUSE MARTINS turned up over my garden on Tuesday evening and have been seen in small numbers over the floods now. Isaac West also had a couple of SWALLOWS over the floods as well on Wednesday. In Burgess Field Steve Jennings had the first WHITETHROAT of the year - they'll soon be here in numbers. This morning Dave Lowe had a couple of COMMON TERNS fly through. Farmoor breeding birds often pop over the hill to visit the Meadow so they will become regular visitors over the next month or two. Ollie Padget has had a couple of WHITE WAGTAILS on the floods this week as well. This is not a year tick as they're the continental subspecies of our Pied Wagtails but they are always a very smart addition to the spring bird life on the Meadow

We're being helped by the fact that both Farmoor and Otmoor are presently closed so Port Meadow (which normally has the number three spot by year list totals) has become the top county site at the moment and lots more people are birding it than usually do. This increased coverage should mean more sightings and more year ticks! Looking ahead we're right in the middle of the passage season now and lots of stuff should be turning up. Look out for the rest of the Warblers, more waders, chats, Cuckoo's etc. Also, just a reminder that late morning is peak Osprey time if anyone happens to be around then. It's everything to play for out there!

6th April

I've forgotten what an exciting time of year this is! Present global events not withstanding, from a point of view of nature, it's just getting on with things and it's always exciting to see what new species for the year turns up each day. I've been visiting the Meadow more or less on a daily basis though I tend to go very early at the weekend to avoid the greater crowds that are drawn to an open space like this. 

I've noticed a very dramatic drop in duck numbers on the floods just in the last week. This is of course only to be expected but it's always such a shock when we go from many hundreds of overwinter duck suddenly to sub 50 in total. This does of course make the whole process of sifting through the birds easier and it's getting much quicker to check out what is about on my daily visits.

As duck numbers decrease so wader numbers increase or at least change on a daily basis. We've been getting more BLACK-TAILED GODWITS coming through and have had two or three on the floods most days. There have still been a few REDSHANK about: the peak count the other day was 8 birds though they soon moved on. The OYSTERCATCHERS have been coming and going with up to 3 birds about most days. Our GOLDEN PLOVER flock has been with us all week with numbers steady at around 150 - they are starting to look very smart in the summer plumage now. Today there was another LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (our sixth I believe) at the southern end of the floods, accompanied by the first spring passage DUNLIN of the season. We should soon start to get both Dunlin and Ringed Plover coming through - they often seem to travel together.

The first spring passage Dunlin...

...and another Little Ringed Plover

I haven't really mentioned the flood passerines much but there have been a notable number of Meadow Pipits about, particularly about a week ago though numbers seem to have dropped dramatically of late. There are still Pied Wagtails about and today we had our first two male YELLOW WAGTAILS of the season: looking very smart in their bright yellow plumage against the dull brown of the drying mud.

The first Yellow Wagtail of the year

A Meadow Pipit - soon to head off to find somewhere to breed

In terms of larger birds as the floods shrink dramatically so the Herons and Egrets are moving in and there have been a couple of regular LITTLE EGRETS about of late.

On Sunday my early morning visit found the floods almost completely deserted so I ventured into Burgess Field to see if I could find a singing WILLOW WARBLER. I managed to turn one up just south of the Snipe Field and later on Paul Jennings managed two more as well a SEDGE WARBLER. Despite being a common summer visitor, this latter species is surprisingly hard to find on the patch so I am please to have it firmly on the year list so early. 

Looking ahead, my main concern is my usual worry about how quickly we are going to lose the floods. This prolonged dry spell combined with the increasingly hot and sunny weather is eating them up at a rapid rate and whilst they look good at the moment, it won't be long before they will start to shrivel up to something less appealing for a passing wader. In terms of new arrivals the first Garden Warblers have now been seen in the county and we should soon be getting the two Whitethroat species appearing as well as the returning Reed Warblers to the Trap Grounds. There are Cuckoo's to listen out for and we have yet to have a Wheatear on the year list. Swallows and House Martins should be back again soon as well. As I said at the beginning - it's an exciting time of the year!

1st April

Despite the blog post date there will be no foolery in these dark days. Still I hope that giving people the opportunity to read about the nature on Port Meadow might offer a welcome respite from the torrent of bad news all around us at present. As I'm fortunate enough to live a few minutes walk from the Meadow my daily exercise routine has involved a walk out to the Meadow with my bins so I've been able to carry on checking out what's about.

A little over a week or so ago things all suddenly kicked off on the Meadow. Thomas and I arrived at about the same time to find a flock of half a dozen or so SAND MARTINS hawking low over the water by Burgess Field Gate. Scanning the floods soon turned up a couple of LITTLE RINGED PLOVER and since then we've had three more birds making 5 in total so far this season. There have been one or two more Sand Martin reports but that's been about it.

A Little Ringed Plover
On the wader front things have stepped up a gear. We've had up to 15 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS on the flood initially thought the numbers dropped to around 5 a day for much of last week before tailing off to just a couple today. In addition there have been two or three REDSHANK most days as well as a few SNIPE skulking around along the muddy west shore. There's usually been one or two pairs of OYSTERCATCHERS about as well, We've also been blessed with a nice flock of GOLDEN PLOVER which has been with us for a while now. A peak count was around 350 though it's presently about half this number.

Some rather distant Black-tailed Godwits
On the duck front we've had varying numbers of SHELDUCK with us for some time now, peaking at around 6 birds though last night it was just a couple. There's also been a lingering pair of PINTAIL in amongst the other ducks and we're getting the usual spring gathering of GADWALL with up to a dozen birds on the floods, looking very smart in their spring plumage. There are still decent numbers of Widgeon and Teal around though these will start to drop over the coming weeks.

A pair of Shelduck
The BARN OWL is still being seen occasionally - let's hope it sticks around a bit longer. In terms of warblers it's still rather early. There have been the usual singing Chiffchaffs and I heard my first singing Blackcap a day or two ago but these may well just be overwintering birds starting to move into spring mode. In the next couple of weeks we should expect the first Willow Warblers to arrive soon followed by the other usual visitors, with the Whitethroats usually the last to reach us. It's well worth listening out for a Cuckoo in April and keep your eyes to the skies for a possible passing Osprey - they often seem to pass the Meadow late morning for some reason. It's an exciting time of year despite the doom and gloom all around us.