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.
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
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!
|...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
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 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.
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