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.