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.

14h February

With the floods only just starting to retreat from full-on Lake Mode, it's been quite difficult viewing conditions on the Meadow since my last post. Indeed, the only real place to view from has been north of the Perch along the river towpath which meant that there have been fewer reports recently than usual. Still, larid enthusiast Thomas Miller has kept things going with daily visits to the gull roost and has been coming up with good counts of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls. There have been several birds of various ages of each species seen most evening. One regular 2nd winter bird, christened "Eric", has been seen most evenings and clearly likes the location.

"Eric" on the Meadow

With the floods receding, narrow strips of exposed grass between the floods and the river are making for great viewing with the gulls much closer than usual. One evening Thomas manage to find a nice 1w Mediterranean Gull (perhaps the same one from a few weeks ago), which turned out to be ringed though despite his best efforts it wasn't possible to read it.

The first winter Med Gull

Apart from gulls there has been a bit of an increase in wader action with a Ruff, 6 Dunlin, 3 Redshank and an Oystercatcher all seen in the last week. This is perhaps a sign that things are starting to be on the move though whether it was just avoidance of the recent bout of cold weather or a prelude to spring I am not sure.

The Ruff

Things have been rather samey on the wildfowl front though there has been a bit of an increase in Shelduck numbers with up to 6 seen recently. There are still up to 10 Pintail about and Gadwall have suddenly appeared in amongst the usual Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler for the first time this week.

February is traditionally a quiet time of year as we wait for spring so I would predict more of the same for the second half of the month.

 

 

31st January: The Year So Far

As is usual for January, I've ended up not posting anything right up until the end of the month so I thought I'd do a full month update. January is of course when the year list resets and it's always pleasant to go around ticking things off again. Unlike many people who rush out on the first day of the year I tend to have a more leisurely approach to things and am still ticking easy things off even now. Things like a flock of 10 Skylarks flying over during a wintery walk during the weekend of the snowfall, a Fieldfare in the hedgerow and a Kingfisher right next to the bank peering into the murky flood waters are all welcome sightings during what is a quiet birding time of year.

Apart from year listing, in terms of sightings  it's been pretty much the usual stuff. For myself and fellow Larid enthusiast Thomas Miller that means gulls. Thomas has found lots of different Caspian Gulls over the month on Port Meadow which you can read about in his excellent blog here

 

"Eric" the 2w Caspian has been a regular visitor to the floods over the last week or so,
courtesy of Thomas Miller

The floods have expanded throughout the month and are presently in full-on Lake Mode which makes them very hard to bird. At the start of the month Thomas found what is certainly the Port Meadow bird of the month with a first winter Little Gull. This species was relatively common during the spring passage a few years back but we've not had them the last few years. There have been as far as I recall only two previous winter sightings since I've been birding here. 

1w Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Bookmarking the month at the other end was a nice 1st winter Mediterranean Gull that was seen (at great distance) last week - it's great to get this species on the list so early on in the year.

As far as wildfowl are concerned, the usual birds have been about in their usual numbers. Wigeon and Teal are plentiful with a couple of dozen Shoveler and a handful of Pintail. We've had a few Shelduck gracing the floods and even some Egyptian Geese that were seen at the start of the month. Talking of geese, the Barnacle Goose flock has been present for most of the month in good numbers (about 180) and we even had a visit from the "mongrel" Blenheim White-fronted Geese. This winter has been an excellent one for wild versions of this species with very good numbers overwintering at Otmoor and I've been hoping that some would stray over to the Meadow but no luck so far.

We have had precious little on the wader front so far apart from a Black-tailed Godwit that graced the floods one evening. The truth is that the floods have been a bit too extended for much of the month for waders to get much out of them.

Away from the floods there have been a couple of overwintering Chiffchaff that have been seen in Burgess Field and in the Trap Grounds and a pair of Blackcap have been regular visitors to my garden. A good Meadow record was from Steve Goddard who was pretty certain that he had a Common Crane (presumably one of the Otmoor birds) in a field south east of King's Lock near to Oxey Mead.

So in general the usual stuff in the usual places but with a few interesting sightings to keep us going. February can often be a quiet month with not many additions to the year list so we will have to work hard to winkle something like a white winger out from the gull roost.


End of Year Review

It's end of year review time once again (in fact we're already into the new year but somehow I'm always lagging behind at this time of year). And what a strange year it's been! Actually from a Meadow birding perspective it's been a record breaking year: the year list total was 135 which is the highest total since I've been birding the Meadow. There were also a whole plethora of great birds by Meadow standards so despite the fact that we didn't have any national Mega's it can certainly be considered to be a vintage year. Part of the reason for all this was because of lockdown 1.0 that happened at just the right time in spring. With nothing else to do, lots of birders who would otherwise be going elsewhere, suddenly adopted the Meadow as their patch. These extra eyes meant that much more was found than usual. Anyway, let me remind you of what happend for each of the four seasons.

 

Winter

It was pretty much the usual fare over winter. The main focus was the gull roost which, after a slow start in November and December, really kicked off. Thanks to the efforts of Thomas Miller we had lots of Caspian Gulls though sadly once again no white wingers. It's been a few years now since we last had one.

Just one of the many Caspian Gulls at the start of the year

The other main bird of interest was a loverly Barn Owl which was initially found at the north end of Burgess Field before relocating to a field just north of the nature reserve where it could often be seen at dusk.

The Barn Owl, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Spring

Always my favourite time of year when we get the first returning migrants. It was great to see Little Ringed Plover and Yellow Wagtails on the floods again. As I mentioned earlier, thanks to Lockdown 1.0, there were lots of birders around which meant that lots more was found. There were brief views of an Osprey, a Common Crane, a fly-over Tree Pipit, a calling Whimbrel and a Common Redstart that were all nice additions to the year list but not twitchable. A Grey Plover, found early one morning was a nice record - these used to be quite common but we've not had one for a few years. One of the highlights was a Black Tern that was found by Dave Lowe sitting on a small rock in the floods in really gloomy conditions. This prompted a mini twitch as a lot of the patch regulars came to view it.


Other good records included an Avocet and a Great White Egret, the latter in full breeding plumage, in the same morning visit!

The Avocet...


...and the Great White Egret in full breeding plumage

One of the star birds of the year has to be a lovely Ring Ouzel that took up residence in Burgess Field. Initially this (or another) was seen briefly by a single observer in the allotments just to the south of the Meadow but wasn't seen again. However a couple of days later Ollie Padget found one in a rather underwatched corner of Burgess Field. This prompted a frantic late afternoon twitch by all the patch birders. Remarkably, the bird then went on to stay a couple of weeks though it was extremely skulking and could only be seen with great patience.

The often elusive Ring Ouzel

In terms of numbers we were rather unlucky on the wader front this spring as the flood waters evaporated faster than I would have liked. Still we did manage a nice Wood Sandpiper, found by Joe Wynn one evening though sadly it didn't linger.

Wood Sandpiper, courtesy of Joe Wynn

Summer

This is traditionally a time for flowers and insects and indeed there was precious little to report on the bird front. There was one stand-out record from this time though which was a fly-over Quail that was heard by Nick Boyd one evening at midnight in Burgess Field. And just what he was doing there at that time of night? Actually it was looking for Glow Worms, which he did manage successfully to find - a great record!

Thanks to the lockdown I made a concerted effort with the mothing this year and managed to beat my garden year list record with 257. Just for context, this is actually a pretty poor figure and I know that top county moth'ers garner lists over 600. Still, given my urban location I was very please with this. I even managed a county first in the form of an unremarkable micro which was almost certainly imported inside the leaves of a continental Olive Tree.

Zelleria oleastrella - a real national Mega & county first!

On the Odonata front we had the usual stuff occurring. However two top finds this year were a Downy Emerald that Nicola Devine found in the Trap Grounds and some Willow Emeralds, in the same location that again were first found by Nicola. This latter species was suddenly turning up in various parts of the county but we got by far the largest numbers with at least 6 dotted around the main pond as autumn progressed and some definite mating and ovipositing was seen. So it's with high hopes that we anticipate a thriving colony there next year.

Downy Emerald - a great record for the Trap Grounds
Ovipositing Willow Emeralds, both photos courtesy of Nicola Devine

 

Autumn

Autumn birding on the Meadow can be very hit or miss depending on how much water there is in the floods. Sadly, these days they often don't reappear until November which is far too late for passage waders and whilst the floods were earlier than usual once again we missed most of the passage wader action. Still we managed some good birds and a couple of larger wading birds more than made up for it.

On the passerine front we had a nice lingering Redstart that was faithful to one tree for a couple of weeks. We also had a brief Spotted Flycatcher in the Trap Grounds.

The Common Redstart

One of the star Autumn birds, and indeed a patch first, was a Cattle Egret that was found one rainy afternoon in September by Andrew Siantonas. A frantic twitch by those that were able to get out eventually managed to locate it right up at the Wolvercote end before it flew the length of the Meadow and disappeared from view. Given the increasingly colonisation of the country by this species, this species was always going to turn up eventually on the Meadow but it was nice to see it happen.

The Cattle Egret, courtesy of Andrew Siantonas

Another exciting twitch was a Glossy Ibis that Ollie Padget turned up. It was a very flightly bird that stayed for no more than 30 minutes before moving off to Otmoor. However, a couple of weeks later it turned up again one evening prompted a heroic last gasp twitch from Thomas Miller who managed to get there from Farmoor and to see it in near darkness.



A female-type Garganey was found by Ollie Padget one evening and indeed it was seen sporadically for a couple of weeks though would often go unnoticed in amongst the Teal flock. A Whooper Swan dropped in one day and, unusually for this species hung around a day or two before departing.


Winter

Back to winter and it was back to winkling out Caspian Gulls from the roost. As in the previous year, the roost was rather slow to take off with many weeks of hardly any large gulls but patience was rewarded with occasional good roosts, though still no white wingers. There was a rather extraordinary record of some fly-over Hawfinches that were seen in Burgess Field by a couple of observers.


Port Meadow Birds of the Year Award
 

This much coveted award is actually quite a difficult one. There were lots of really good records such as Black Tern (only one previous record this century), Ring Ouzel (first record this century), Quail (first record), Cattle Egret (first record), Glossy Ibis (one previous record this century) and Hawfinch (first record). The fact that the short list is so rich just shows what a good year it's been. Indeed I personally had five patch ticks this year which is quite a feat. In terms of the final choice, some of the candidates weren't twitchable (e.g.Quail and Hawfinch) or were always going to be inevitable sometime soon (Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis). Therefore, after much deliberation I have decided that it ought to go to the Ring Ouzel as it was such an unlikely record, it hung around long enough to be seen by everyone who wanted to see it but was hard enough to see that you really had to work for it. 

The award winning Ring Ouzel, courtesy of the finder, Ollie Padget