23rd September: Cattle Egret!

There was a bit of excitment this afternoon when news broke of a Cattle Egret on Port Meadow! Unfortunately the news was about an hour old by the time I got to hear it but I wasted no time in hurrying down there along with Thomas Miller, Ollie Padget and Hugh Petter though we could find no obvious sign of it. It had originally been found by Andrew Siantonas at 3:15 pm on the river shoreline opposite the sailing club before it flew into a tree where he was able to get this nice photo of it.

Cattle Egret courtesy of Andrew Siantonas

It then proceeded to feed in amongst the cattle which were then at the southern end. Andrew left soon after at 3:30 pm because of the pouring rain.

By the time the rest of us turned up at around 4:30 pm, the cattle had all moved half way up the Meadow towards Wolvercote and there was, as I said, no obvious sign of it. We stood around scanning everywhere we could and found a Little Egret in a tree by the river but little else. As is usual in such situations with no sign of our target we soon started chatting about various birding matters instead. Finally at around 5:10 pm I had one final scan of a more distant herd of cattle which was right up in Wolvercote next to the car park there. I'd already scanned this herd several times but low and behold this time there was a white egret-sized blob in amongst them! By cranking the scope zoom up to 70x I was able to see glimpses of yellow on the bill though some of my companions only had bins and so couldn't see this detail. However almost as soon as it had been found it was flushed and started flying, fortunately towards us south along the river where we were all able to get reasonable flight views. It circled briefly at the southern end of the Meadow and we did hope that it might land again but instead it drifted off southwards once more and was lost to sight.

Flight shot courtesy of Thomas Miller

Cattle Egret is another egret species which is becoming increasingly common in the country though it lags far behind Great White in terms of colonisation. The first record was November 2008 at Day's Lock with the next twitchable one being January 2017 near Middleton Stoney. Since then there have been a few non-lingering records (such as this one was) and I'm sure that records will only continue to increase. This is the first record for Port Meadow and one which was very much anticipated though the degree of disturbance on the Meadow means that despite the tempting cattle herds, they are not likely to linger.

In other news, Nicola Devine reckons that there have been at least 6 Willow Emeralds on the Swan Pond and probably more like 10! Several mating pairs have been seen in various trees surrounding the pond which bodes well for next year. However, given the sudden change in the weather to far more autumnal fare it remains to be seen how much longer they'll last this year.

17th September

More good news to report from Port  Meadow! Firstly, after my post last week Nicola Devine pretty much immediately came up with a lovely Spotted Flycatcher in the Trap Grounds. It didn't hang around so only she saw it but she managed some photos. It's great to have this  bird on the year list.

Spotted Flycatcher courtesy of Nicola Devine

Nicola's eagle eyes have been keeping track on the Willow Emeralds within the Trap Grounds. There seem to be four in total, three males and a female who have now settled on the Swan Pond. Fortunately Nicola managed to spot one pair in tandem, presumably laying eggs. For this species eggs are laid in the bar of trees overhanging water. In the spring the eggs hatch and the larvae drop into the water where they hatch in the autumn ready to restart the cycle. The Trap Grounds is an ideal location for them with lots of overhanging Willows around the main Swan Pond. In addition there are also some ideal Willows on the canal nearby so there's plenty of room for expansion. Let's hope that this year's pioneers are able to establish a colony going forward.

Egg laying Willow Emeralds courtesy of Nicola Devine

Also on the bird front I've been noticing a lot more overhead movement early morning when I've been unpacking the moth trap. I regularly hear Siskins going over as well as Meadow Pipits and finches. Generally things seem a lot more active as the cold weather starts to creep in. On the Meadow itself the winter Linnet flock is starting to accumulate as are the Meadow Pipits. In addition Kim Polgreen reported a Wheatear on the Meadow recently.

Opportunistic Sparrowhawk

On a walk around the block this evenign my wife and I came across this opportunistic Sparrowhawk. It was along Southmoor Road where there is a large colony of House Martins nesting. I think that it had noticed all the tasty snacks that were hidden in the nests under the eaves and was hoping to  surprise one as it came out. I don't know if it was successful or not but it was great to see this handsome bird so close up.

I'm continuing to do my mothing on a daily basis. The first two weeks of September are usually pretty rubbish with just the same species being found every day but now that we're into the second half of the month things have started to pick up. There are some lovely orange and yellow moths called Sallows which mimic autumn leaf colours that can be found at this time of year but so far I've yet to catch any.

Lunar Underwing - one of the commoner species at this time of year

8th September

Now that we're back into Autumn, posting frequency should pick up somewhat. There is certainly quite a bit to report since last time. 

To start with Nick Boyd has been making more trips up to King's Lock where he disovered both a Cetti's Warbler and also a Whinchat (both year ticks). There is a certain amount of fudging that goes on in terms of where exactly the patch boundaries lie but as Nick visits King's Lock regularly and it doesn't obviously fall within any other patch boundaries I'm more than happy to include such sightings under the Port Meadow banner.

There have also been a number of Siskin sightings over the last few days and I've been noticing several groups flying about. Apparently it was a very good breeding year for this species and they are now starting to move south in good numbers. This is good news, not least because until now it was still missing from our year list.

Our long-staying Redstart has sadly now departed though there are still plenty of warblers passing through there, mostly Whitethroats and Chiffchaff.


There are good numbers of Yellow Wagtails in amongst the cattle on the Meadow: it's always worth rummaging through then for something more interesting. When I last checked I estimated that there were 16 present I've had much larger peak counts in previous years and over in Otmoor they are getting 100+ figures going to roost in the reedbed there.

One of the Yellow Wagtails

However, the highlight since my last post was the discovery by Nicola Devine of the first ever record of Willow Emerald damselfly on the patch. I've been flagging this up as a possibility for a while now and with an influx in the county this summer it was certainly on the cards - the habitat at the Trap Grounds looks perfect for them. Nicola found one high up in the trees on Monday over the Heron pond though it didn't linger for long. The next day I found it (or another) in a much more convenient location resting on some overhanging Willow (appropriately enough!) by the main viewing area of the main (Swan) pond. If we can get an egg laying female on the site then I would hope that a new colony would spring up here.

Willow Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine...

...and a photo of my own of it

With the autumn passage well underway but still with no water it's going to be more Stonechats and Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts and Tree Pipit to look out for. The Flycatcher we still need for the year in fact though we've already recorded all the others this year. Of course we could also get something rarer: who knows, we might even luck in on a Wryneck!

1st September

With the present "Indian Summer" weather you really feel that nature is holding its breath ready for the tubble down into unsettled weather and colder days ahead. Of course in the birding world we are already well into autumn.

After the quiet summer doldrums (at least on the bird front) August saw a noticeable increase in bird activity with warblers starting to work their way south through Burgess Field. The highlight of the month was a lovely female type Redstart which I found in the middle of the month just before I went away on holiday for a couple of weeks. Imagine my surprise when on my return at the end of the month it was still there in exactly the same place. Of course birds on the return passage can often linger somewhere that they find to their liking: they're not being driven by an urge to find territory and mate.

The long staying Redstart

Yellow Wagtails are once again back on the Meadow. Indeed this time of year is the best for seeing this colourful wagtail as they work their way around the cattle herd picking off flies that are disturbed by the cattle's feet. It's always worth scrutinising the birds carefully for the continental Blue-headed subspecies.

We're getting towards the end of  the Odonata season but Nicola Devine has be busy with her camera checking out the Trap Grounds on a regular basis. With Willow Emerald now starting to establish itself in the county I'm hoping that we'll soon have one of these rapid colonists in the Trap Grounds where there are plenty of overhanging Willows for them to use for their egg laying.

Common Darter courtesy of Nicola Devine

Despite the lack of flood waters we did have a single wader report recently when Matthew Lloyd found a Common Sandpiper working its way along the river shoreline. Having said that, the recent storms have left a couple of boggy patches on the Meadow: too small to be called "floods" but if we can get more rain then they might start to grow and attract some birds to them.Until then it's going to be passage passerines that will hold the main interest. I'm personally on the hunt for Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchat though more Redstarts and perhaps even a Tree Pipit are certainly on the cards. Roll on autumn!