4th October

There's a definite autumnal feel about the Meadow now. The recent prolonged rain has recreated the two flood areas now which are starting to attract some birds again. A bit more rain and we could have the two areas joined up. Having some proper floods around for October would be really great: we might manage to pull in some decent if that happens.

The big news since my last post has been the large flock of Cattle Egrets that have discovered the Meadow livestock. Even to be writing that last sentence last year would have been unthinkable but thanks to the sudden commencement of breeding by this species on Blenheim Palace lake this year they have gone from a county scarcity to a (presumed) resident breeder within the space of a year! For the most part since leaving Blenheim, the flock had been hanging out at Otmoor but suddenly in the last couple of weeks some of them started to appear in amongst the livestock on the Meadow. We had a peak count of 20 birds with one or two Little Egrets thrown in for good measure though numbers seemed to vary each day. After a while the flock seemed to split in two with some of them following the livestock in the fields on the road to Wytham instead.

Fighting over a frog that one of them has caught! Courtesy of Matthew Lloyd


Just some of the Cattle Egrets in amongst the cattle, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Gradually the livestock numbers have been decreasing and with it our star birds so by Sunday there was just a single bird sitting in one of the three big Poplar trees along the river.

The last Cattle Egret, posing in a tree

Apart from that, the embryonic flood waters have been attracting some "winter" birds. In amongst the Greylags and Canada Geese, the usual 150 odd Barnacle Geese have arrived back. Talking of geese, four of the young Egyptian Geese from this summer's brood were around in amongst the Greylag flock by the river. There are lots of Linnets, Pied WagtailsMeadow Pipits and Skylarks about on the Meadow itself and in the rank vegetation it's possible to put up the odd Snipe or two. 

On the insect front, Nicola Devine has been spotting more Willow Emeralds in the main Swan pond at the Trap Grounds. There have also been some Migrant Hawkers hunting along the Castle Mill stream at the southern end of the Meadow.

Willow Emerald, courtesy of Nicola Devine

Some Siskins were seen by Nick Boyd this morning - a definite harbinger to autumn and winter. With the first Teal back on the floods this morning along with some loafing Black-headed Gulls and a smattering of Lapwing, we're starting to head towards the re-emergence of the floods and some proper Meadow birding again!



September So Far

Despite it being a rather dry autumn so far with hardly any rain and certainly no floods, there has been a definite uptick in sightings in and around the Meadow over the last couple of weeks.

At the start of the month there was a decent sized flock of Yellow Wagtails, perhaps up to 20, in amongst the cattle. I did search for Blue-headed in amongst them but couldn't find any. 

One of the many Yellow Wagtails
 

There was a Hobby on the 2nd September seen by Ollie Padget. Osprey were seen along the river and King's Lock area on two separate occasions on the 8th (seen by Claire Robinson) and 20th (Mary MacDougall). In both cases the bird was actively hunting in the river and gave the observers some great close up views. Whether it's the same bird or two different ones which are both following the river south is hard to tell.

Our only new year tick came on the 10th when Nick Boyd spotted a Great White Egret flying along the river in the company of a Grey Heron. That same day he also spotted three Tufted Duck circling the Meadow. On the 12th a Ring-necked Parakeet visited my garden briefly before being chased off by some Jackdaws. Finally on the 16th Ollie Padget found a Stonechat in Burgess Field.

On the insect front, the main news is that there have been regular sightings of Willow Emerald in the main Swan Pond in the Trap Grounds. With at least two ovipositing pairs and two others seen by Nicola Devine it seems that a new colony is establishing itself here.

Willow Emerald
 

Other good insects seen include some Brown Hairstreak sightings, both in the Trap Grounds in the School Yard Meadow (by Nicola Devine) and also on Burgess Field (Ollie Padget) as well as some Vapourer moths also in the Trap Grounds. There are good numbers of Migrant Hawkers and "red" Darters about still and Steve Goddard caught a rare Clifton Nonpareil moth in his Wolvercote garden in the last few days.

Looking forward, we are coming up to the prime time for rare autumn vagrants though whether any will find their way inland to somewhere that is presently rather featureless without any flood waters remains to be seen. Still we should get some more interesting passage migrants in Burgess Field, perhaps a Tree Pipit or Whinchat. Finally, with an invasion of Wryneck in the country at the moment it's not impossible that one might turn up somewhere on the patch.

August

Once again it's been a fair while since my last post. The combination of holidays, a busy work schedule and the lack of any flood waters is making for rather quiet times on the patch of late. However, there have been a few snippets of news to report. As I mentioned last time, in the absence of any flood waters, winkling out autumn migrants from Burgess Field is going to be the main source of interesting birds. Ollie Padget and Thomas Miller have been dutifully checking out this area and have been rewarded with quite a few Spotted Flycatchers - according to my tally there have been a total of 8 birds since the middle of August! No sign of any chats so far but we have had a few Lesser Whitethroats, a Reed Warbler and several sightings of a Hobby.

Here's a Spotted Flycatcher from the archives

The pre migration flock of Hirundines is building up around the general Meadow area with several Sand Martins in amongst the House Martins and Swallows. As is usual, come September the bulk of the Swifts have departed though there will be one or two stragglers to be seen still. There have been one or two Yellow Wagtails to be seen and now that we are into September, cheking out the livestock herd should produce a lot more of these lovely birds. As usual the name of the game is trying to find some rarer wagtail species or sub species in amongst them.

On the Odonata front, apart from the usual Migrant Hawkers and just when I was starting to give up on any Willow Emeralds this year, our odonata whisperer Nicola Devine went and found an ovipositing pair on the Swan Pond in the Trap Grounds. Given that there were at least three pairs last summer I'm somewhat disappointed if this is all that have managed to emerge from their reproductive efforts but maybe I should give it a bit more time before judging.

Ovipositing Willow Emeralds courtesy of Nicola Devine



 

June & July

I can't believe that it's been two months since my last blog post! I've been meaning to do one for sometime now but if truth be told there has not been a great deal to blog about. So here is a very general catch up of the last couple of months.

Despite the best efforts of our rather indifferent weather to keep things damp, the heatwave week that we had managed to finish off the floods.We never got anything of particular interested on the flood waters while they were still there apart from various geese that were hanging around. The personal highlight for me was when the flock of 55 feral Snow Geese were spotted by Zhenuan Zang on the remains of the floods one evening. I hurried down and managed to see them - a personal Patch Tick no less! This flock has been lingering around Oxfordshire for a number of years now and certainly looks self sustaining to me (hence the tick) though I think that officially they are not yet recognised as proper Category C birds. 

Some of the 50 odd Snow Goose flock

There have been a few other geese species on the Meadow including some of the Barnacle Geese flock which normally only visit us in the winter. Our family of Egyptian Geese, two parents and seven young, are all doing well and are quite grown up now. There has also been a pair of  very pale headed adults on the flood area occasionally.

We did manage to get a few return passage waders: there were one or two Black-tailed Godwits on the fast declining floods and up to 6 Common Sandpipers along the river shore one day. This species seems to like the river shoreline and can be found there from time to time even when there are no flood waters at all.

A Black-tailed Godwit by Medley Sailing Club courtesy of Chris Dale
 

Two or three Redstarts were found by Mary MacDougall one afternoon in Burgess Field though sadly they didn't linger. We finally got Hobby on the year list when one was seen over the sailing club by Matthew Lloyd.

On the Odonata front the Downy Emerald hung around at the Trap Grounds for a few days but then sadly disappeared - maybe it couldn't find a mate. Apart from that there have been the usual dragonflies and damselflies about at the Trap Grounds but nothing of particular note. 

A Mullein moth caterpillar - feeding on a Mullein plant no less!

After a very slow start the mothing in my garden has actually been pretty good and for a while it was keeping pace with my record breaking year list tally of last year. Sadly in the rather windy and showery weather of the last couple of weeks this has rather stalled. Still I've been continuing to add new species to the garden list fairly steadily and I am now at over 400 on my list. This is fairly modest by mothing standards but I'm pleased to have reached this milestone for what is a fairly urban garden.

One of the highlights of the summer so far for me has been the wonderful amount of flowers in Burgess Field. The number of flowers very much depends on rainfall and with our wet spring it's bee prolific for them they are everywhere in great profusion! There were several patches of orchids with both Pyramidal and Bee Orchids to be found in Burgess Field.


Bee and Pyramidal Orchids,
both sadly rather out of focus

So what can we look forward to for the coming month? Whilst this is normally the start of autumn, without any water we are reduced to looking for things like Redstarts, Flycatchers and Chats in Burgess Field. On the odonata front if the efforts of our colonising Willow Emeralds last year have been successful then we should be starting to see them now at the Trap Grounds - fingers crossed!

7th June

So here we are in June already. The second half of May was very quiet on the floods. Thanks to all the rain we've been having, if anything the flood waters were too full to pull in any late waders and they were eerily quiet. However, now that we've moved into June suddenly they have become very birdy again as the Geese and Gulls have returned in good numbers. We have quiet a few Canada Geese and increasing numbers of Barnacle Geese, the latter being rather suprising as usually they are only winter visitors. Talking of Geese, we've had some breeding success with an Egyptian Goose pair having hatched seven youngsters. With 6 Shelduck on the floods, plenty of Mallards and at least a dozen juvenile Black-headed Gulls in amongst hundreds of adults there is lots to look through again.

 

Egyptian Goose plus seven Goslings, courtesy of Manoj Nair

Away from the floods, there was a calling Cuckoo near Godstow Bridge on the 18th. Cetti's Warblers seem to be established at King's Lock and also at Wolvercote Lakes. Manoj Nair saw a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets by the Walton Well Road car park in the last few days. 

There have also been a couple of records of a pair of Cranes flying over Burgess Field. These will certainly be the Otmoor birds which apparently commute to the Chimney Meadows area and so cross over the north end of Port Meadow airspace on their daily journey.


Flyover Cranes courtesy of Thomas Miller

As we move into summer naturally our thoughts turn to insects and flowers etc. On the Odonata front after a very delayed start due to the miserable weather at last things have kicked off. At the Trap Grounds Hairy Hawkers are to be seen along with Azure Blue Damselflies around the various ponds. However, by far the top sighting is another record of a Downy Emerald from our top insect spotter Nicola Devine. Coming on the back of a sighting last year, we are really hoping that they might become established at the Trap Grounds

Downy Emerald courtesy of Nicola Devine

So what might we expect over the coming month? With the floods still so full I would suggest that Spoonbill is a possibility. June has been a good month for this species in the past and the Meadow has quite a few past records. Indeed with several sightings in the county over the last few days, it's well worth keeping an eye out for them. Apart from that it's going to be insects and flowers for a while. For me, my garden mothing has finally kicked off with the better weather so I will be keenly unpacking the trap each morning.

Sallow Kitten



16th May

We've now got to the middle of May - a time when historically the spring wader passage is winding down and this year is no exception.  Indeed the floods are basically virtually empty despite looking great thanks to all the rain we've been having. Still, since my last post we have managed one more decent wader in the form of a Grey Plover, found last Sunday morning by Thomas Miller. This is the second of the scarcer waders (along with Wood Sandpiper) that was on the wish list that we've now ticked off with only Sanderling eluding us so far.

Grey Plover courtesy of Thomas Miller

In the poor weather last weekend we also had a good surge of Dunlin and Ringed Plover going through with a mixed flock of a couple of dozen on the floods. Sadly since then it's been much more modest numbers before fizzling out to nothing by this weekend though we did have a sighting of a Common Sandpiper along the river courtesy of Manoj Nair.

Apart from waders there have been some interesting things to report. Firstly Manoj Nair had a cracking male Whinchat briefly at the southern end of the floods last weekend though sadly it moved through quickly. Also we had a record (with recording) of a Nightingale singing in the scrub near the boat moorings by St Edwards playing fields on a couple of evening this week. Sadly by mid week there was no further sound of it despite several of the Patch birders going to listen for it. This is only the second record on the Patch area since 2008 when I first started birding the area so is one of the rarest birds of the year so far.

Apart from that we have a record of a Greenland Wheatear passing through courtesy of Matthew Lloyd and a Sedge Warbler singing in bushes along the river near the sailing club as well as another Cuckoo record. The Swifts are now back in the area and can be heard screaming overhead. House Martins are now gather mud from the river bank for their nests. 

House Martins collecting mud courtesy of Andrew Siantonas
 

Whilst things seem completely dead on the floods at present, looking back to past years interesting bird have still been seen in the second half of the month. Indeed in 2018 we had a Red-necked Phalarope on the 30th of the month and in past years we have had Spoonbill on the floods at this time of year though they seem to have become rarer again in the county over the last few years. There is still that Sanderling to get on the list as well!

 

 

7th May

We've had the first week of May and so far the longed-for Mega has failed to materialise. However, the floods are hanging on and with the forecast rainy weekend they should get a nice top-up. As far as the flood area is concerned, there has been a noticeable change in the type of birds that we are getting - we are now firmly into the Ringed Plover and Dunlin passage with those making the bulk of any sightings, occasionally accompanied by a Little Ringed Plover. With the shoreline now much more chopped up by the hooves of lilvetstock, they can often be quite difficult to pick out as the skulk around in the mud.

Apart from that it's just been the odd Oystercatcher, one or two late Yellow Wagtails and today a couple of Golden Plover. On the duck front there are a couple of Shelduck still visiting from time to time but otherwise it's just a handful of Black-headed Gulls picking over the floods.

Ringed Plover and Dunlin

Away from the floods Nick Boyd managed to get a Burgess Field Spotted Flycatcher on the year list this week on a day when this species was recorded at a number of sites throughout the county. There has also been a male Cuckoo hanging out in Burgess Field for the last few days. One evening it was joined by a second male with lots of calling and chasing each other around before the interloper was seen off. I'm not quite sure what breeding opportunities Cuckoo might find around here: they traditionally use Reed Warblers or Meadow Pipits as hosts so perhaps the former, which breed in the Trap Grounds, might be their target.

Dunlin

Looking forward, we have perhaps another week or two of passage waders before things really start to fizzle out. With the various summer breeders all now in place, we will soon be hitting the birding summer doldrums though with such strange cold weather it doesn't really feel like we are heading into summer anytime soon.

3rd May: Wood Sandpiper

On the last day of April we got one of the three outstanding waders that we might reasonably hope for still in the form of a cracking Wood Sandpiper. First found late afternoon on Friday, it hung around for the weekend before departing overnight on Sunday. This species is just about annual and is indeed something of a speciality of the Meadow though this spring the entire county has excelled itself with quite a few turning up in different locations so it was good that we were part of that general movement.




Apart from that we had our first summer plumaged Dunlin. Late April and early May there is often a noticable passage of this species, often accompanied by Ringed Plover. There have still been one or two Little Ringed Plover about as well. Nick Boyd had a Common Sandpiper along the river on Saturday. One other noteworthy sighting was of 13 Snow Geese that were briefly on the floods this morning. These will be part of the feral flock of about 100 birds that often frequent Farmoor. Whilst not being officially BOU sanctioned Category C birds, to my mind they certainly seem like a sustainable feral flock and so are going on the Port Meadow year list.

We also had yet another female Blue-headed Wagtail in amongst the Yellow Wagtail flock. Now that we are into May numbers of Wagtails should tail off sharply but we can't really complain given the stellar counts we have had for April.

Female Blue-headed Wagtail, courtesy of Thomas Miller

The change to more inclement weather and some decent heavy rain has perked the floods up no end and they should now see us through to the end of the spring passage. Now that we are into May and with some floods still intact there's always a chance of us getting something genuinely rare. Fingers crossed!

28th April

Things have slowed down noticeably over the last few days. The truth is that spring passage action often peaks towards the end of April and we are probably now over the hump. Not that there isn't lots to play for still: what we lose in numbers tends to be made up for in quality with rarer birds starting to turn up as we enter May. We finally got some rain in the nick of time and with some more showers forecast over the next few days we should at least have some sort of floods still around into May.

In terms of things to report, as I said, it's been a quiet few days. On the wader front, first thing on Saturday morning there were 4 Whimbrel and the Bar-tailed Godwit. Gradually these all left with just one lingering Whimbrel which stuch around until mid week. There have been a couple of Oystercatchers and a few Little Ringed Plover. The smart male Ruff turned up again and spent some more time on the floods. With the rain today Thomas Miller and I were both down at the floods hoping for a fall of some kind though the only birds there were five Little Ringed Plover and a summer plumage Dunlin.


The smart male Ruff, courtesy of Thomas Miller

The lingering Whimbrel, courtesy of Thomas Miller

Ducks are almost all gone though there have been a pair of Shelduck and the pair of Egyptian Geese are still knocking around. Apart from that there is just one lingering drake Wigeon

There has been a nice passage of Wheatear over the last few days on the Meadow, probably the Greenland subspecies judging by the later arrival date. Nick Boyd also heard our first Cuckoo up near the King's Lock area and Steve Goddard got our first Swift of the year over Wolvercote.

I've not discussed Warblers much of late: the usual species have arrived back in the usual order and Burgess Field is currently filled with their wonderful song. It's always worth a visit at this time of year as birds race to establish territories and sing their hearts out. Soon they will be knuckling down to the business off raising their young and it goes much quieter. We've had the Whitethroat and Garden Warblers arrive and a Lesser Whitethroat was heard by Nick Boyd up by Hook Meadow. There seem to be a couple of Cetti's Warblers along the canal - it's nice to have this species back again on the patch as they seem to come and go. The first Reed Warbler is back in the Trap Grounds reedbed and Phil Barnett had a Sedge Warbler in Burgess Field. So, apart from Grashopper Warbler, which has sadly become very rare on the Patch just in the last few years, we now have the complete Warbler set. Also in Burgess Field though not a Warbler, there was yet another Redstart with a female that was seen on Tuesday morning.

Wagtail numbers are still good though past their peak now with about a dozen Yellow Wagtails on the floods today. There are still some birds which look good for female Blue-headed Wagtail and female Channel Wagtail though both Thomas and I are starting to find that the more you look at them the less sure you are! We have noticed that late afternoon is the best time for the wagtails with peak counts usually to be had then.

Female Channel Wagtail (?) courtesy of Thomas Miller

So, as we knock on the door of May what might we still reasonably expect? On the wader front I have three on my wish list: Wood Sandpiper, Sanderling and Grey Plover. Apart from waders, Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat and Tree Pipit are all still needed for the year list. Moreover, the exciting thing about May is that we could get something much rarer - you never know!


25th April

 After the excitment of last week it was a lower key weekend. 

Saturday found 4 Whimbrel and the Bar-tailed Godwit still on the floods first thing though 3 of the former soon left. Apart from that there were 2 Oystercatchers and a Little Ringed Plover and 2 Shelduck. Another Wheatear was seen around the floods and we had yet another female Blue-headed Wagtail seen. The highlight was a Cuckoo heard towards the King's Lock area by Nick Boyd. Nick has single-handedly added the King's Lock area to the patch through his on-going efforts to check it out. A couple of Cetti's Warblers were heard by Nick along the canal.

Sunday was quiet with just the one Whimbrel remaining, 3 Little Ringed Plover and a handful of Yellow Wagtails. However, Steve Goddard did score our first Swift of the year up at the Wolvercote end.

We have done well with Whimbrel sightings this year




23rd April: Bar-tailed Godwit

It was another good day of wader passage today. Whilst numbers weren't that great there was some good quality birds in amongst them. It all started this morning with a Bar-tailed Godwit found first thing by Phil Barnett along with a single Whimbrel

The Bar-tailed Godwit

Both these birds stayed all day and were joined late in the afternoon first by a handsome male Ruff and then by a Greenshank. With an Oystercatcher and a Golden Plover stocking fillers it made for a nice variety of waders today.

The male Ruff

There were still at least a dozen Yellow Wagtail dotted about the place with an interesting very pale female bird in amongst them. There is so much to learn about Wagtails - I feel that I am just starting to scratch the surface with them.

Barwit and Greenshank were both year ticks and can now be crossed off our wader wish list. Let's see what the weekend brings!


22nd April

I am still trying to catch up with everything but here are least is the latest news from the 22nd.

The White Stork was around first thing on the Meadow and by all accounts was showing rather well. However the Meadow is too crowded a place for a White Stork to linger long and it was soon gone.

The White Stork first thing this morning courtesy of Mario Garcia

The Glossy Ibis pair were about on the Meadow in the morning but they too soon departed. More cooperative were a pair of Whimbrel which stuck around for the whole day. It's always nice to get this less than annual patch vistor on the year list.

The two Whimbrel

A Green Sandpiper, found by Manor Nair, was another welcome year tick and it too stuck around for the whole day. This species is surprisingly hard to get on the Meadow and is less than annual. An Oystercatcher and a single Little Ringed Plover rounded off the wader news for today.

On the duck front there are precious few about at the moment though five Shelduck are still lingering along with a smattering of Teal and the odd Wigeon or two.

As usual there were lots of Wagtails about, mostly Yellow Wagtail and Ollie Padget found a lovely adult male Channel Wagtail in amongst them in the evening. I am hoping to do a separate write-up on the Wagtails when I have a moment.

The second half of April and early May is the peak time for spring wader passage and indeed is generally the most exciting birding time of the whole year on the Meadow. However, as usual the state of the floods plays a cruical part in how things play out and this year they are rapidly receding just at the critical time so we should make the most of them whilst they last. There are still quite a few waders that we need for the year list: Knot, Greenshank, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Wood Sandpiper would all be reasonably possible about now. Fortunately the Meadow is being well watched at the moment from more or less dawn to dusk. You never know - we might just land a real monster. I've been dreaming of Broad-billed Sandpipers for some reason!


21st April: Glossy Ibis!

This post continues my theme of focused blog posts in order to try and catch up with all the news.

On the evening of the Tuesday 20th whilst people were looking at the White Stork, Steve Jennings spotted three Glossy Ibises flying east at the north end of the Meadow up at Wolvercote. Now there has been a long-staying single Glossy Ibis at Otmoor for several weeks now and a day ago three were seen in flight in the county so presumably this was those same birds. So a great day of Meadow birding was rounded off with Glossy Ibis as icing on the White Stork cake. 

The three Ibises in flight, courtesy of Manoj Nair

The next morning Thomas Miller found the Ibises back on the Meadow which seemed very much to suit them. Indeed they spent most of the day there and offered some great views, in contrast to previous Meadow Ibis views which has been fleeting or distant.



Glossy Ibis shots courtesy of Thomas Miller
 

By the end of the day they seemed to have split up with a pair staying on the floods whereas the singleton had gone (perhaps back to Otmoor). Dare we dream of this pair nesting somewhere in the county at some point? Either way it was great to have such charismatic birds grace our fast dwindling floods.

The pair were also seen on the morning of the 22nd April so may be around for a while yet.


20th April: White Stork!

I realise that I have fallen seriously behind with my Port Meadow blogging once again and now there are so many exciting things to blog that it's going to be far too much to do it all in one hit. Therefore, in order to rectify this I am going to do a series of posts concentrating on some specific aspects of what has been seen recently though it won't necessarily all be in chronological order. This first post is about a very exciting White Stork sighting on Tuesday 20th April. 

Elizabeth Stroud picked out a White Stork circling low over the Meadow at around 5pm. A few of us were on the Meadow at the time and thanks to prompt posting from Elizabeth we managed to get on the bird as it circled and then flew low up the river.

 

White Stork courtesy of Elizabeth Stroud

It was lost to sight heading north over Wolvercote but seemed to be coming into land. It was eventually located by Thomas Miller near King's Lock in the surrounding fields and the rest of the Meadow Team managed to get to see it. 

Courtesy of Manoj Nair

Courtesy of Thomas Miller

This bird is ringed (GB9A) and is part of the Knepp Project reintroduction in which a number of White Storks have been released into the wild in this country. They have been spotted in a number of counties in the southern half of England so it's possible that this (and other birds) may become regular features of the county landscape in months to come. The bird was seen to go to roost near Yarnton Mead and was still around first thing the next morning but after that news dried up on it. It was also reported first thing on 22nd April circling  over the Meadow so it may well hang around for a while and might be feeding in some of the quieter fields surrounding the Meadow.

13th April

It's been an interesting few days since the last post. Frustratingly the sharp northerly wind has kept wader passage to a minimum but now that things are warming up again we are seeing the first signs of renewed passage. Yesterday we had 4 Redshank and 5 Little Ringed Plover on the floods and the day before that we had a Common Sandpiper.

The floods are retreating at a fair pace, as you might expect at this time of year, but nevertheless are looking rather good. Indeed the freshly exposed muddy grass is proving a magnet for Pipits and Wagtail, something of a specialty for the Meadow. Indeed the main interest since my last post has been in this category with a lovely male Blue-headed Wagtail that was found by Thomas Miller being one of the highlights.

Blue-headed Wagtail courtesy of Thomas Miller

Another noteworthy occurrence has been the huge counts of White Wagtails. Up until a couple of years ago we were lucky if we got one or two in a spring but last year that all changed with good counts and this year it's gone off the chart. Indeed the last couple of days we've had about 20 or mote of these very smart birds dotted everywhere about the floods.


White Wagtails, courtesy of Thomas Miller

By contrast, Yellow Wagtail numbers have been rather modest so far this spring (as they often are). The autumn is really the time when the Meadow accumulates good counts of this colourful species.

Yellow Wagtail, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

On the pipit front, in amongst the Meadow Pipits, Nick Boyd found a very striking and colourful bird. Indeed it was interesting enough for our esteemed county recorder to come and take a look though sadly it had disappeared by the time he got there.  Whilst there was some talk of it being one of the two Buff-bellied subspecies, in the end the streakiness on the back and crown, combined with the leg colour (typical Meadow pipit pale) has lead to the conclusion that it is probably just a very colourful and somewhat aberrant whistleri Meadow Pipit. Whilst there are a few subspecies of Meadow Pipit, it's generally thought that they are more on a cline with the more colourful ones to the west ("Iceland" whistleri Meadow Pipits) and the plainer ones to the east. In any event it was a very interesting bird.


Some video of the mystery pipit

There's not been much to report on the duck front with just a few Wigeon and Teal left. There have been up to four Shelduck regularly and the two Egyptian Geese have still been popping in occasionally. Likewise it's all been rather quiet on the gull front though Gull guru Thomas Miller did find an unseasonably late 1w Mediterranean Gull one morning on the floods. Of course April is prime Bonaparte's Gull season so I've been checking the handful of Black-headed Gulls carefully though without success. Common Terns are now being seen regularly on the floods with their distinctive calls echoing across the floods.

The Med Gull, on a snowy morning on the Meadow, courtesy of Thomas Miller

On the warbler front, things have been rather quiet. Whilst we've had our first Willow Warblers singing in Burgess Field, that's been about it so far. The first few Sedge and Reed Warblers have been appearing in the county but the northerly wind has been holding them back as well and we've yet to have any sightings on the patch. We have been graced by the presence of a male Redstart which has been hanging about in Burgess Field for quite a while now. Indeed a second female was also present one day though didn't linger. We did also have a Cetti's Warbler record, much closer to the core patch up in Wolvercote near the lake. It's good to have these skulking warblers around on the patch somewhere at least.

So a good little selection for the last week or so. For the second half of April it's everything to play for - we could really benefit from getting more waders on the year list. We also need to pray for some rain to keep the floods topped up.






8th April

Once again personal circumstances have got in the way of my intention to do more updates and there is plenty to report on since my last update. Until the start of the northerly winds that presently plague us we had a nice little wader passage going with plenty more Black-tailed Godwits, lots of Little Ringed Plover, a few Dunlin and Redshank and one or two Ringed Plover. However, with the onset of the winds that effectively ground to a halt.

The winter duck have all but gone though we still have a couple of pairs of Shelduck and a lone female Pintail recently as well as the usual pair of Egyptian Geese that keep putting in an occasional appearance. One other relic of winter was the report of a Peregrine seen overhead one day.

In terms of stand-out sightings it all started on the 28th when Thomas Miller was lucky enough to be present and looking in the right direction as an Osprey went over. I'm sure that lots of such records are missed each spring but we managed to get this iconic species on the year list last year and it's great to have repeated this feat this year.


The Osprey courtesy of Thomas Miller

The next bird of particular note was a wonderful Little Gull which Manoj Nair found on the 30th. This bird had been lingering at Blenheim previously but graced our patch with it's presence for the morning.

Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Not one but two Redstarts were found in Burgess Field on the 5th. A male and a female were seen separately and not too far apart. Manoj Nair found a Wheatear in the Hinterland near the Poplars one morning and a Marsh Tit was reported along the river near the boatyard by someone one day. This species is less than annual though we sometimes get them dispersing from Wytham Wood.

Apart from these standout sightings there have been a number of the usual species that one might see arriving in April. We have had numerous Yellow Wagtails, White Wagtails and Common Terns. The usual Hirundines are starting to be seen as well with House Martins and Swallows starting to appear. The first male Willow Warblers have been singing in Burgess Field.

So looking ahead, it's all going to happen over the next few weeks. The rest of the Warblers will be passing through soon and we might start to listen out for Cuckoo and look out for Hobbies. Whinchat and Tree Pipit would be great to get on the list and if we can get some more wader passage then there are lots of species we still need there. It's everything to play for now: very exciting!


28th March

The spring passage seems to be early this year. Certainly the first Sand Martin records were very early and since then things have been building up nicely to the point where it really has all kicked off already. Indeed, if it wasn't for being personally very busy on many fronts at the moment I would be doing far more updates on this blog as the birding action certainly warrants it. In fact there is so much to report since last time that I am going to have to do a brief summary, which is not really going to do justice to what has been a very exciting few weeks on the patch.

Talking of early spring passage, a quite extraordinary record was a House Martin on the 8th March. This must be vying for the earliest county record ever and is certainly about a month earlier than we might usually expect them.

On the wader front things have been building nicely. Most days there have been a couple of Redshank and quite often a pair of Oystercatchers as well. Small numbers of Dunlin have come and gone over the last few weeks. One of the highlights however has been Black-tailed Godwits with some lovely very deeply coloured birds that are the islandica subspecies. Numbers have been fluctuating but a peak count of 6 was seen. 

Islandica sub species of Black-tailed Godwit, courtesy of Thomas Miller
 
The Little Ringed Plover passage started rather early this year with the first seen on the 16th March. After that they have been seen regularly and indeed we have already built up to a peak of 7 birds in one go along with an early Ringed Plover - normally the latter species isn't seen until mid April on the Meadow.

Ringer and Little Ringed Plovers, courtesy of Thomas Miller
 

Duck numbers are dwindling rapidly as spring gets underway. We've not had much to report apart from up to four Shelduck that have often been gracing the floods. There have also been a pair of Egyptian Geese that have been seen on a few occasions but that's been about it. The gull season is also pretty much over now though we did get a couple more Mediterranean Gulls on the floods as part of what has been a stellar spring passage for this usually rather scarce gull.

The latest in a succession of Med Gulls, courtesy of Thomas Miller

One of the highlights of the period though very much a winter rather than spring bird has been a couple of Brambling that were seen sporadically in Burgess Field. We just about scrape this species onto the year list most years, mostly thanks to sightings in a garden in Wolvercote but to have one in Burgess Field itself is a real rarity. It's just a shame that it was so elusive so not many people got to see it.

Rounding things off with various miscellaneous sightings: there have been a few Peregrine sightings over the last few weeks and one day Thomas Miller was lucky enough to see a Merlin in the fields near Wytham Field station. Ravens have also been seen fairly regularly flying back and forth to Wytham Hill. A Cetti's Warbler has been heard over towards King's Lock - it's nice to know that they survived the winter.

So looking ahead we are now about to start the peak spring passage month and arguably the most exciting birding month of the year on the Meadow. Whilst it may not supply the greatest number of rarities, the fact that we often don't have any flood waters for the autumn passage means that April and May get a heavier weighting on the patch than other places. May generally gets more interesting birds but the floods have often gone by then so we'd better make the most of April. Indeed as I have been writing this up we've already been getting some good sightings being seen which I will post on in due course. Things to look out for in the coming weeks are: lots more waders to come; the first warblers arriving back - look out for Willow Warblers from now on; more hirundines to come and perhaps even a Cuckoo though it's getting increasingly hard to come by each year. It's a very exciting time of year!

7th March

You can tell that things are getting better by the fact that I am ready to do a new post after just one week! I mentioned last week about how wader movement was picking up and this week this trend has accelerated. There were more Redshank seen passing through with 14 (a huge count!) seen on Tuesday afternoon.  A pair of Oystercatcers have been around for much of the week along with a Black-tailed Godwit that spent a few days on the floods and a single Curlew (a surprisingly uncommon bird on the Meadow) that spent one day with us. Golden Plover numbers were sporadic though reasonable this week but there were no Lapwing to be seen - they presumably have already moved on to breeding grounds elsehwere. The highlight of the week however was on Sunday when Paul Jepson found a flock of five Avocets on the floods. They hung around for much of the day though were flushed several times including by some overenthusiastic photographers with zero fieldcraft. At one point they flew over the hill to Farmoor before heading off, not to be seen again. Early spring records for this charismatic wader are not that uncommon but nevertheless a most welcome patch year tick.

 


The Five Avocets

Apart from the Avocet, the highlight of the week was the appearance of the first Sand Martins. Four were seen on Thursday and between two and five have been seen in subsequent days. This is pretty early for the Meadow with usually Farmoor getting the first county records of the year. It was a most heartwarming sight to see these little brown bullets zipping low over the water again.

On the duck front, the undoubted highlight was a huge count of 32 Pintail in the second half of the week. Clearly, some end of winter movement is underway and these birds are dispersing to their breeding grounds but I don't recall such a big count previously on the Meadow. Apart from that, Shelduck numbers varied between two and seven birds. There are a few spring Gadwall about but Teal and Wigeon numbers are already dwindling.

The gull roost seems to have fizzled out but this didn't stop us having yet another Mediterranean Gull record with another adult seen on Sunday along with the Avocets. This is now the fifth record of the year (though some of the three first winter birds may be the same returning bird). Apart from that there have been very few large gulls about at all.

Looking ahead, with two of my March predicitions having already happened (Med Gull and Sand Martin) that only leaves Garganey as a likely candidate though we could also get an early Little Ringed Plover as well. The only damper on what has been a good start to the year is that the floods, whilst looking great at the moment, won't last very long unless they get a good topping up. We do have some more showery weather forecast for later on in the week but a good deluge now wouldn't go amiss.

How not to do it!
These two photographers managed to flush the Avocets at least twice



1st March

So it's the end of the month already and we are now into March and the prelude to spring. All things considered it's been a pretty good start to the year with plenty of reasonable birds and good sized floods to keep the interest ticking over. This all culminated a couple of weekends ago in real Meadow Mega and what may well be the first for the Patch itself. The bird in question was a Black Redstart which was reported up in Wolvercote on Sunday 21st. The location, in a garden next to a horse paddock, was rather unlikely as these birds normally like tall buildings on which to loiter. Still the report turned out to be accurate and after a bit of searching (and thankfully bumping into the people who originally found it) it was refound feeding at the back of a house, hopping on and off the fence posts.

Black Redstart courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

We did put this species on the patch list a couple of years ago thanks to a bird that was seen on the Green College observatory building. The truth is that this is a bit of a stretch of the patch boundaries and it should really be in the Oxford city patch list (where there have been quite a few over the years). So this is the first genuine record that could reasonably be said to be within the Port Meadow area.

Apart from the Black Redstart, most of the interest has been coming from the gulls. There have been a number of further Caspian Gull sightings over the last couple of weeks and also some more Mediterranean Gulls.

This gorgeous Mediterranean Gull was seen on the floods the same day as the
Black Restart was found, making for a great day's birding on the Meadow

In the last week or so there has been a bit of movement on the wader front with some Redshank, Oystercatchers and Dunlin being seen on the floods. There has also been a bit of a pick-up in Golden Plover numbers with a flock of 150 seen this week. There are still good numbers of duck around with Shelduck counts varying between 2 and 6 each day. We still have a few Pintail about though Wigeon and Teal numbers are starting to reduce slightly. Also of note was a male Pochard (a year tick) flying back and forth over the floods a couple of weeks ago.

In the warmer weather that we've been having I have been hearing the first warblings of Blackcaps and singing Chiffchaff. In the Trap Grounds on Sunday there were singing Reed Bunting and squealing Water Rail. The natural world is gearing up for the breeding season.

So looking ahead, in March we might reasonably hope to get the first Sand Martin sightings and Garganey is another bird that it worth looking out for this month. March is of course the prime spring passage month for Med Gulls so we might reasonably hope for some more of these in what already has been an unusually good year for this species. Talking of gulls, a nice end-of-season white winger would be much appreciated as it's been a few years since we've had either Iceland or Glaucous Gull on the Meadow.