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!