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