25th October

I had rather been casting around for something to write about over the last few weeks. Fortunately it's all kicked off and I now have more than enough to report! It all started on Sunday 17th when Thomas Miller found a Jack Snipe around the verges of what were then little more than muddy puddles where the floods normally are. This species is now less than annual on the patch. They used to be fairly regular up in the pools in the Snipe Field in Burgess Field. However, as that field has got more overgrown the pools have disappeared and the Snipe and occasional Jack Snipe have gone with them. So this was a most welcome year tick for the Patch.

Last week we finally had enough rain to restart the floods and with it birds started coming back. The now regular Barnacle Goose flock has been joining the Canada and Greylags on the Meadow. With up to 100 Golden Plover, a handful of Lapwing and a few early Wigeon and Teal and even a red-head Goosander on the river, it was starting to feel like winter already!

However, the best was yet to come when on Saturday morning Thomas Miller, who was leading a group of student birders on a tour around Port Meadow, managed to find a Pectoral Sandpiper feeding away on the southern flood pool (the two halves are still split at the moment). This is a nationally scarce American vagrant which somehow had managed to survive the Atlantic crossing and found it's way to Oxfordshire. Whilst it is the commonest of the American vagrant waders it is still quite a rare vagrant to the county and it's only the third record on the Meadow. The first was a pair that lingered for some while in 2007 whilst the second was a one day singleton in 2011 so it has been 10 years since our last one. This discovery prompted a proper Meadow twitch as all the Meadow regulars as well as lots of county birders descended to pay their respects. 

A fantastic photo courtesy of Steve Burch

Video courtesy of Badger

The early twitchers - mostly the Port Meadow birding gang

There was also a Green Sandpiper on the northern floods. This is quite a scarce bird for the Meadow and would normally warrant a bit of attention but of course it was totally eclipsed by it's Nearctic cousin. In any event it didn't linger and was soon gone.

The Pectoral Sandpiper is clearly liking the Meadow and has stuck around a few days now with a steady stream of out of county birders coming to pay homage. The extra coverage that this has generated means that more birds are being seen on the Meadow and a Great White Egret was found on Monday. It was standing in the Hinterland north of the floods for about fifteen minutes before being flushed by someone and heading off. Whilst we've already had this species on the Meadow this year it is not that common a bird here (the habitat isn't really right for it) so it's something that I still get excited about and at least one hard core Meadow birder still needs it for his patch list.

Courtesy of Ewan Urquhart

From past experience the Pectoral Sandpiper could linger for a while and now that we have some floods again we should start getting some more interesting birding back on the Patch. Personally I am waiting for the gull roost to restart though I think that we need a bit more water yet and it's still rather early in the season. Still, it's something to look forward to!

4th October

There's a definite autumnal feel about the Meadow now. The recent prolonged rain has recreated the two flood areas now which are starting to attract some birds again. A bit more rain and we could have the two areas joined up. Having some proper floods around for October would be really great: we might manage to pull in some decent if that happens.

The big news since my last post has been the large flock of Cattle Egrets that have discovered the Meadow livestock. Even to be writing that last sentence last year would have been unthinkable but thanks to the sudden commencement of breeding by this species on Blenheim Palace lake this year they have gone from a county scarcity to a (presumed) resident breeder within the space of a year! For the most part since leaving Blenheim, the flock had been hanging out at Otmoor but suddenly in the last couple of weeks some of them started to appear in amongst the livestock on the Meadow. We had a peak count of 20 birds with one or two Little Egrets thrown in for good measure though numbers seemed to vary each day. After a while the flock seemed to split in two with some of them following the livestock in the fields on the road to Wytham instead.

Fighting over a frog that one of them has caught! Courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Just some of the Cattle Egrets in amongst the cattle, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Gradually the livestock numbers have been decreasing and with it our star birds so by Sunday there was just a single bird sitting in one of the three big Poplar trees along the river.

The last Cattle Egret, posing in a tree

Apart from that, the embryonic flood waters have been attracting some "winter" birds. In amongst the Greylags and Canada Geese, the usual 150 odd Barnacle Geese have arrived back. Talking of geese, four of the young Egyptian Geese from this summer's brood were around in amongst the Greylag flock by the river. There are lots of Linnets, Pied WagtailsMeadow Pipits and Skylarks about on the Meadow itself and in the rank vegetation it's possible to put up the odd Snipe or two. 

On the insect front, Nicola Devine has been spotting more Willow Emeralds in the main Swan pond at the Trap Grounds. There have also been some Migrant Hawkers hunting along the Castle Mill stream at the southern end of the Meadow.

Willow Emerald, courtesy of Nicola Devine

Some Siskins were seen by Nick Boyd this morning - a definite harbinger to autumn and winter. With the first Teal back on the floods this morning along with some loafing Black-headed Gulls and a smattering of Lapwing, we're starting to head towards the re-emergence of the floods and some proper Meadow birding again!