15th April

The spring passage has really kicked off now and the Meadow is getting lots of coverage. In general spring does feel a little bit late this year though not by so much. As usual I've also left it longer between blog updates than I was intending so this post will cover quite a lot of ground.

Starting with waders, to be honest it's been a bit underwhelming. We've had plenty of Little Ringed Plovers come through with a peak count of 7 at a time and one or two Redshank and up to 7 Oystercatchers but most days it's just these three species in varying numbers. The two highlights have been a single Ringed Plover one day and a Common Sandpiper that was seen by Pam Parsons along the river. This latter species does tend to like the river shoreline but in the springtime most efforts are concentrated on the flood waters so we were lucky that this bird was seen. We did also have another Curlew fly-through in what has been a very good spring for the Meadow for this normally hard to get species. Apart from that there have been up to a few dozen Golden Plover around, looking very smart in their summer plumage though they have now moved on.

On the duck front, again it's been more or less the same species set amidst the backdrop of a continuing decline in overall numbers. Shelduck have been regular with up to 11 seen though that has now dropped off sharply. We've had a few Pintail still around most days with a peak count of 4 birds. The star on the duck front was yet another pair of Garganey - our third record of this spring! This pair stuck around for some time and at times have showed very well indeed. There have also been up to 7 Egyptian Geese - my hope is that after last year's successful breeding we establish a regular colony of this species on the Meadow. Our usual spring Gadwall gathering is continuing with quite a few of them now gracing the floods. Unusually there don't seem to be many Mute Swans about - there is normally a spring gathering of non breeding birds on the floods but there are none this year.

The drake Garganey courtesy of Joe Tobias

Garganey pair, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Spring migrants are starting to appear. We've had Swallows and Sand Martins going over in small numbers and the first House Martins are back in their usual places around the Walton Manor and Waterside houses. Willow Warblers have been seen or at least heard in modest numbers for the last week or so and we had the first Whitethroat back in Burgess Field this week. Common Terns are back on the floods with up to three birds having been seen at a time. We've had a slow start to the Wagtail season with only a few White Wagtails about and so far just a few singleton records of Yellow Wagtails. Let's hope things pick up on this front shortly. We have had our first Cuckoo record when Mary MacDougall heard one up by the King's Lock area. Michael Jezierski heard a Tree Pipit flying along Leckford Road towards the Meadow this evening. Finally, one of the top sightings of this period was an Osprey that was sadly only seen by a single observer. Damion Young wrote:

"Osprey: Went for a fish (unsuccessfully) in front of my sailing dinghy just north of the Perch then flew off north, being mobbed by crows and shaking its wings to dry them off. Amazing sight! 19:02"

It must indeed have been an amazing sight! It's great that this species is once more on the year list.

To round things off with some miscellaneous records: the Cetti’s Warbler was again heard singing at Wolvercote Lake so it seems well established there. There was also a 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull a while back to mention. Also, the Siberian Chiffchaff stuck around for a while before departing though there is some debate as to whether there might in fact have been two Siberian Chiffchaff around as two different looking ones were seen by the gate just a few days apart.

The original Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Joe Tobias

There have also been a couple of tantalising potential records that never came to anything. Firstly, an interesting Bunting was heard to sing and call in the hedge by Burgess Field gate. It was heard to sing by a couple of observers (including myself) - the closest match was a male Cirl Bunting song! A "tic" call has also been heard a few times which might point more towards Little Bunting though this type of call is always very hard to pin down and lots of other birds can make a similar call. Nothing was ever firmed up so it will forever remain a mystery. The second item was a female Wigeon with a bit of any eye mask and a more greyish head that might have been a female American Wigeon. Unfortunately it only seemed to have a few of the necessary diagnostic features that point towards this rarer species and the general consensus was that it was just a strongly marked Eurasian Wigeon.

Looking ahead, the second half of April is traditionally one of the most exciting times of the year on the Meadow. This is when we would hope to get the bulk of our wader year ticks as various passage species drop in. In addition the rest of the summer breeders should arrive back. As usual I am fretting about the size of the floods and this nice hot weather that we're currently experiencing is doing them no favours. Still, we have to make do with what we get and you never know what might turn up!

A Grey Heron picking off Newts from the floods, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

3rd April

Things have continued to be quite exciting on the Meadow since my last post with more spring migrants passing through. Starting off with waders the highlight has been the first Little Ringed Plovers of the year. The first bird wasn't seen until the 28th March but since then we've had them pretty much every day with a peak count of 7 birds. In addition there has been a strong supporting cast of more winter waders with a couple of Ruff (including a striking white-headed bird), Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and up to 4 Redshank. A single Curlew flew through low over the floods one evening and we had a flock of 5 drop in as well for a few minutes. That now makes three records of this species this spring which is pretty good for the Meadow. There have also been up to 7 Oystercatchers about though I view those less as a winter wader as I think they breed nearby

It's always heart-warming to see the first Little Ringed Plover of the year back on the Meadow

As far as other spring migrants are concerned, there has been a single sighting of 4 Sand Martins going through and we've had a couple of Swallow sightings as well. So far none of these has lingered on the floods at all and were just passing through. In the coming days this should change as more arrive. We've also had the first White Wagtails and an unconfirmed single record for a Yellow Wagtail.

White Wagtails (from last year) courtesy of Thomas Miller

On the duck front sadly our Garganey pair had gone by the next day but we did have another drake that dropped in mid morning on Saturday though that too was gone the next day. We've had up to 8 Shelduck about, and up to 5 Pintail and we are getting the usual spring Gadwall gathering. 3 Egyptian Geese were seen by the river so perhaps they will breed again on the Meadow after their success last year. Apart from these highlights, in general duck numbers are declining across the Meadow as birds start to move on from their winter stay.

On the passerine front the main news is the continued presence of the Siberian Chiffchaff. It has stayed faithful to the location by Burgess Field gate for quite some time now and is now singing (as opposed to calling). There have continued to be some Brambling by the feeders with up to 5 seen. A single flyover Redpoll was also seen recently. The Cetti's Warbler up at Wolvercote Lake was heard again over the weekend as well.

We managed to get Cattle Egret on the year list thanks to some Herculean efforts by Ben Sheldon who managed to scope the Wytham birds by standing on a canal bridge near Wolvercote Lock. This does of course spark the age old question of whether the bird or observer should be within the patch boundaries for it to count on the list. This issue has whiled away many a night of pub debate amongst birders but as regular readers will know, I tend to be quite flexible in this respect so have no qualms about including it on the list. In any event I am hoping that they will return to the Meadow in the summer like they did last year.

Extreme Scoping! Those white blobs are Cattle Egrets!

On the bird of prey front a Peregrine has been seen occasionally and there are lots of Buzzards and Red Kites to be seen now. With the firs Osprey record of the year in the county it's time to start looking out for them flying over the Meadow. Talking of expectations, going forward we should see the first Warblers start to arrive as well as more spring waders passing through. Fortunately the cooler more showery weather should keep the floods with us for a bit longer over this key period in the year listing calendar.