November Update

It's been a really good month on the Port Meadow patch, especially if you consider that it's November which is not normally known for producing lots of good birds. The clear highlight of the month was a red-head Smew, found by Steve Lavington in the gloom late on the afternoon of the 16th. Those who were able to get out quickly got to see it but it disappeared before sunset and wasn't seen again the next day. Smew is a less than annual county bird and the last bird in the city was 75 years ago at Godstow Lock!

The distant Smew, courtesy of Steve Lavington

While we are talking about ducks, the extended flood waters have been pulling in some other diving duck species as well as the Smew. A Red-creasted Pochard, which is less than annual on the patch, was seen for half a day on the 29th. In addition on the day after the Smew was found there were 4 Pochard and 10 Tufted Duck in the morning. Apart from these, it's been more of the usual fare with up to 20 Pintail and up to 4 Shelduck in amongst the usual Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler. The 7 dodgy White-fronted Geese turned up one evening though the Barnacle Geese seem largely to have moved on to pastures new and were only seen on one or two days.

Onto waders next and we've had a bit more interest this month with a Black-tailed Godwit for the end of the month, up to 15 Dunlin, up to 100 Snipe, up to 500 Golden Plover and a single fly-over Grey Plover. There was also a Cattle Egret sighting though the flock seems to have moved on now.

On the gull front, the roost is gradually building though at the moment there are not very many large gulls about. We have been fortunate enough to host a 1st winter Caspian Gull most evenings in the roost though. 

1w Yellow-legged Gull and 1w Caspian Gull, courtesy of Thomas Miller

In terms of passerines, we had the first Siberian Chiffchaff of the season with a gorgeous bird trapped and ringed in Burgess Field. There is speculation as to whether this might be the returning bird from last year. A pair of Stonechat have been faithful to the thistles at the southern end of the Meadow all month. A Cetti's Warbler has taken up residence in the Trap Grounds. Let's hope it finds it to its liking and sticks around.

Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Thomas Miller

Predators include a Tawny Owl calling up in Wolvercote one evening and a Peregrine seen hunting over the floods. A Great-White Egret was seen flying along the river one day and a pair of Water Rail are in residence in the Trap Grounds reedbed for the winter. Finally, a Woodcock was flushed from Burgess Field one evening.

We are now into the last month of the year. The year list is currently on an astonishing 148, absolutely smashing last year's record total of 141. In fact, I am wondering if we can top 150 this year. With Marsh Tit, Jack Snipe, Brambling, both Partridges and both winter Swans still needed there are plenty of potential ticks that could get us across the line. There's even the chance of a Waxwing, given that it seems to be a good year for them. With the gull season properly kicking off this month as well, there's still plenty to look for out there.


October Update

We've been blessed with a pretty wet October which has restored the floods to their full glory. With the returning waters have come the wild fowl once again and the Meadow is once more back to its birdy best. In terms of what's actually been seen this last month, if truth be told, things have been rather quiet though there has been enough to keep things ticking over as well as one real patch mega. 

Starting with the ducks, the usual species are back with mostly Wigeon and some Teal about in reasonable numbers. A few Shoveler are about as well as some Gadwall and Pintail. All the usual geese are about including our Barnacle Goose flock which are now pretty much resident here for the time being. Four Shelduck have been an unusual sighting for this time of year. There have also been some Goosander sightings on the river.

The usual dodgy White-fronted Geese have paid occasional visits to the Meadow this month (photo courtesy of Steve Lavington)

With the returning waters we've also started to attract some gulls again and a 1st winter Caspian Gull has rather taken a liking to the floods and has been seen fairly regularly. At the moment the gull roost is mostly Black-headed Gulls but in past years, it's not really until December that the gull roost gets going properly.

1w Caspian Gull, courtesy of Steve Lavington

We've not had much on the wader front though we did have up to 4 Dunlin for a couple of days. We are started to get a gathering of Lapwing and Golden Plover now as well, though it's still early days, especially for the latter species which has been rather sporadic.

Onto raptors and it's this category in which we got our patch mega when a Marsh Harrier was spotted soaring over Wytham Hill on the 14th. I've long thought that this would be a reasonable species to get in transit over Wytham but it's thanks to the vigilence of Steve Lavington for putting the hours in that it goes on the patch list.

Steve also managed to get a probable fly-over heard-only Rock Pipit though he couldn't rule out Water Pipit from what he heard. Either species is a great record for the Meadow though Water is certainly the rarer of the two in the county.

There's been plenty of Egret action this last month. When the floods were just starting to return and the newly formed water was flooding out all the worms, this attracated an amazing total of 27 Cattle Egret! We've had more modest counts quite a few times over the month though they now mostly seemed to have moved on. We also had a couple of Great White Egret seen flying along the river one morning this month.

Finally, on to passerines where we've had up to 4 Stonechat hanging out in the uncut Thistles at the southern end of the Meadow. Two of these are still hanging about and might even over-winter as long as the weather doesn't get too severe.

Female Stonechat courtesy of Steve Lavington

There has been an unprecedented number of Money Spiders about this month with their gosamer threads absolutely everywhere. It's been quite a sight!
(photo courtesy of Mary McDougal)

September (& a bit of October) Update

It's a testimony to the lack of much in the way of sightings that what should have been a more active month is reduced to an end of month summary. We did have some embryonic flood waters form during the wetter period at the start of September but now we are back to unseasonably warm, dry conditions and they have gone again. This has left us scratching around for much to report at all. Sad times!

Starting with wild fowl, as you would expect with the lack of flood waters there is precious little to report. The flock of 80 or so Barnacle Geese are back grazing on the Meadow and we did briefly attract the first Teal and Wigeon on the flood waters before they disappeared. The first red-head Goosander of the autumn has been seen on the river. On Wolvercote Lake, the first couple of Tufted Duck have appeared there as well as a handful of Teal, one Wigeon and one Shoveler.

Normally at this time of year you can at least rely on passerine passage in Burgess Field for some points of interest though we've only managed one Redstart record this month and no Spotted Flycatchers. To be honest, I'm not sure how well watched Burgess Field has been this last month - I know that I haven't been that often myself. Sadly, Yellow Wagtails were noticable by there absence this year with very few reported all month on the Meadow.

We did have a brief Whinchat on the Meadow one morning and up to 5 of this species were seen north of King's Lock along the river. There were a couple of Stonechat pairs in the same area along with at least four Cetti's Warbler males on territory along the river.

On a brighter note, Cattle Egrets are back in the Wytham area with up to 15 loitering along the approach road to the field station. Five of them did appear on Wolvercote common one morning in amongst the cattle there.

One of the five Cattle Egrets that were on Wolvercote Common one morning

The first of the winter passerines are now starting to be seen or at least heard with Siskin and Redpoll flying over. A couple of Redpoll were even caught in the ringing nets in Burgess Field.

A Lesser Redpoll in the hand courtesy of Thomas Miller

The unseasonaly warm weather has been great for insects with Willow Emerald at last being recorded in the Trap Grounds and along the Castle Mill Stream. Migrant Hawkers are to be found buzzing around the various nooks and crannies of the patch and there are still plenty of Common Darters around. The last week or so there have been loads of Red Admirals about, encouraged by the bright sunshine and calm conditions.

Trap Grounds Willow Emerald

Looking ahead, unless we get a period of heavy rainfall we are going to continue to be scratching around for things to report this month. Hopefully we might at least get some more Redstart and Spotted Flycatchers in Burgess Field. Dare we hope for another Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch this year? It's not impossible!

August Update

I had meant to do a post at the end of July but somehow I never got around to it. So this will be an update over the last two months. Not that there is much to report: this time of year is always rather quiet thought there is still usually something to see.

Starting with birds and the Little Owl family hung around for a fair while, gradually dispersing further away from their original location. It's good to know that they've had another successful year. 

A rather blurry Little Owl, taken at dusk

Talking of successful breeding, the Egyptian Geese have done well: I recently counted a total of 12 birds, a mix of adults and young so the Port Meadow colony is growing rapidly! We had yet another Crossbill flyover over Jericho though this was only a "possible". There was also a flyover Peregrine on one occasion as well.

One of several Egyptian Goose family groups

Autumn is now very much upon us in the bird world. Without any flood waters we have to rely on the river shoreline for wader sightings which tends only to pull in Common Sandpipers rather than any other species. Still we had up to 7 of these in the King's Lock area as well as one or two others near the Perch area. 

A Common Sandpiper along the river north of the Perch

We also had another Redstart in Burgess Field as well as a Spotted Flycatcher. The first Yellow Wagtails of autumn have started to appear in amongst the livestock on the Meadow. Finally we had three Whinchat up near Hagley Pool past King's Lock a few days ago. This is actually a year tick for us.

The Redstart courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Onto flowers and I have to report that, contrary to what I stated in my previous post, there were in fact some Pyramidal Orchids in Burgess Field which Mary MacDougal managed to find. It's nice to know that they somehow managed to flower despite the very dry conditions. 

One of the Pyramidal Orchids, well past its best

I've been visiting the Trap Grounds regularly over the last couple of months looking out for the Odonata there. We've had Souther Hawker, Brown Hawker and Migrant Hawker as well as Common and Ruddy Darters. The Small Red-eyed Damselflies finally turned up midway through August though we have yet to have any Willow Emeralds. In previous years they have often not turned up until September so it's certainly possible that they will start to appear shortly.

A Trap Grounds Migrant Hawker

The usual butterflies have been around. Whilst there tends not to be much change in what species appear each year it's always nice to see them. 

A Ringlet in the Trap Grounds

Finally, still on the insect front, Andrew Siantonas managed to find up to 7 Glow Worms in Burgess Field in July. It's good to know that they were around again this year.

Looking ahead now that we are heading into September we should get the peak passerine autumn passage. This should hopefully include more Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers. We can also hope for some chats and maybe even a Tree Pipit. The Yellow Wagtail flock should hit peak numbers this month and it is always worth rummaging through them for something rarer. Beyond that we really need to hope for a very wet month so that we can start to get some more flood waters.

June Update

I thought I would do a (slightly late) end of June update on the Port Meadow flora and fauna. We are now firmly in the summer doldrums with not much to be expected on the bird front and it still being too early for any autumn return passage migrants. Still there have been a few things to report.

To start with we have a fantastic record of a Crossbill that flew over Leckford Road on the 1st of June. To my knowledge this is the first record of this species, at least during the time that I have birded here (so since 2007). It's not impossible that we could have more records in the future, after all we've now had a couple of flyover Hawfinch records in the last few years.

There was good news on the Little Owl front where our resident pair once more successfully fledged a family in the usual place. To top this off, we had another summer record of a hunting Barn Owl near the Perch, just as we did last year. Maybe this species breeds somewhere within the patch boundaries as well. Talking of breeding, there are two family groups of Egyptian Goose around on the Meadow this summer with a total of ten birds (3 adults and 7 young) now gracing the Meadow. There are also lots of young birds around in the Trap Grounds with busy Reed Warbler parents to be seen gathering food for their young.

One of the parent Little Owls courtesy of Ben Sheldon

To round off the birding news there was a Cuckoo heard up near King's Lock on the 2nd and we had a pair of Common Sandpipers along the river shorline opposite the poplars for one day - the first clear sign of autumn!

A Little Egret hunting in the river

Onto flowers and sadly there don't seem to be any orchids in Burgess Field this year. My guess is that it was just too dry for them this year during the crucial growing period. However, it's been a good year for Birthwort with plenty of this nationally scarce flower growning in the usual location.

Birthwort, a nationally scarce plant

I've been spending a fair bit of time at the Trap Grounds over the last month looking at the damselflies and dragonflies. It's been the usual stuff to see but it is surprising what a variety of different species can be seen just in the small site. The Downy Emeralds seemed to disappear rather quickly but the Hairy Hawkers have been around for much of the month. A Brown Hawker was seen in recent days and there have been quite a few Four-spotted Chasers and Broad-bodied Chasers. The first Ruddy Darters have now also started to appear. On the damselfly front, we've had Azure, Blue-tailed, Red-eyed and Large Red so far. I've been looking out for Small Red-eyed which should start appearing soon but as yet have not seen any. Along the canal there are plenty of Banded Demoiselles and I did have a very exciting sighting of a possible Southern Migrant Hawker. This species is spreading rapidly across the country and having been seen just at Otmoor over the last couple of years has started to be seen elsewhere this year as well. Sadly I only saw this "possible" in flight briefly over the canal and haven't seen it since so I have been unable to firm it up yet.

Banded Demoiselle along the canal near the Trap Grounds

Ruddy Darter in the Trap Grounds

Looking ahead, July is still a bit too early for any proper autumn passage on the bird front so it will in all likelihood still be slim pickings. As far as Odonata are concerned we should have Southern and Brown Hawker on the wing as well as Common and Ruddy Darter. Small Red-eyed Damselfly should also be getting going as well


31st May

So here we are at the end of the month. In the event, the second week of May (which in the past has been OK) was unusually quiet and the second half of the month rather limped its way to the close.

Starting with waders, the highlight was another Grey Plover on the floods (our second of the year). Arriving on the 15th it stayed for a while, occasionally popping over the hill to Farmoor. 

Grey Plover, courtesy of Thomas Miller

We also had a couple of Greenshank that stayed with us until the end of the month, joined by another two birds on one day. This spring has been noticeable for the low counts of small waders, not only here but also across the county. We did have a smattering of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover but never more than a couple at a time. The only other waders of note were a Common Sandpiper or two.

What we lacked in waders we more than made up for with Egrets. Now that the floods are getting to the end of their life the great fish eating bonanza has begun. This has drawn in good numbers of Little Egrets (up to 19), Grey Herons and even a Great White Egret on a number of occasions. All have been feasting on the trapped fish in the floods. 

The Great White Egret on the floods

In terms of passerines we've had a few late Yellow Wagtail records and we also had our first Spotted Flycatcher of the year thanks to a bird seen up along the river towpath towards Godstow Lock. There is also a record of a Nightingale, heard by the Trap Grounds over a few evenings by Mary MacDougall and her son. This species seems to like commuting up the canal as there have been occasional records in previous years, all at various locations along the canal.

A Little Egret enjoying the feast

As far as ducks are concerned, we've had up to 5 Shelduck sill hanging around and two broods of Egyptian Geese. At this rate this latter species will soon become well established on the Meadow. A drake Garganey (perhaps a failed breeder) has been seen on and off on the floods over the period.

Rounding things off we've had a few Hobby sightings and what was probably the rarest record of the period with a fly-through Arctic Tern that was seen briefly on the 22nd.

The Odonata season has kicked off and there is now good activity in the Trap Grounds. The highlight has been a couple of Downy Emerald once again, cementing this site's position as a premier location for this species. We've also had Hairy Hawker and a Four-spotted Chaser along with large numbers of Azure Damselflies and a few Large Red Damselflies. Along the Castle Mill Stream there are plenty of Red-eyed Damselflies and Banded Demoiselles to be seen as well as a few Hairy Hawkers. I did also see a Broad-bodied Chaser near the allotment hedge on the Meadow itself.

Azure Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

Looking ahead, we are now into the summer doldrums as far as birding is concerned. Whilst the floods have lasted well this year, their days are certainly numbered now. Still, there is plenty of other stuff to look at with summer flowers and insects to enjoy for the next couple of months..

7th May

We've now had the first week of May. Usually there is one more week of good potential birding before things start to tail off. This week has been solid enough without anything really stellar. As a mark of this, there have been no new additions to the year list.

Starting off with waders, the star of the week was a Bar-tailed Godwit that spent the day on the floods midweek. Unlike the large flock that flew over last month, this singleton on the floods in May is the more usual way that this species gets onto the year list. In any event it was a nice opportunity for local birders to catch up with this species on the Meadow.

The Barwit above and below courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

We also had up to 7 Ruff (actually Reeves) on the floods. The two sexes of this species migrate separately which is why the flock was all female. Apart from that we had two Whimbrel fly over, a single Redshank on the floods, and a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. 4 Oystercatcher also dropped in one day. This last species seems to have disappeared from the floods of late after being regular visitors earlier in the spring.

The seven Reeves courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

The only news on the duck front was the continuing presence of up to 9 Shelduck and a few Egyptian Geese. Actually there was a report of some goslings recently so they may well have bred once again on the Meadow. We've also got the usual non-breeding gathering of Mute Swans with over 50 counted at a peak. There are a few Gadwall and Mallards still about but no more Wigeon or Teal.

On the raptor front we were lucky to get two further Osprey sightings. We had the usual brief fly-over on Friday but on Saturday, one lingered for about half an hour in the pouring rain where it was seen to hunt and catch a fish in the river. It even landed on the grass in the Hinterland for a bit. Apart from that there was a Hobby seen hunting House Martins over Southmoor Rd one evening.

The Osprey hunting along the river in the pouring rain

Rounding things off, a Great White Egret was seen flying over the floods mid morning today and was in fact reported first thing on the floods. There have also been a few late Yellow Wagtail  seen though numbers have predicatably dropped right off now. Finally, we had a singing male Redstart and another male Cuckoo in Burgess Field one day. 

While it's always dangerous to make any kind of prediction with birding, as I said at the beginning, we've probably got one more good week before things start to tail off. In terms of waders that we still need for the year list Knot and Sanderling are the two remaining ones. As a sign of how tough these two are, neither has been recorded at all in the last three years on the Meadow. We've yet to have Glossy Ibis and as I mentioned last time, Spoonbill is an outside possibility. Actually some of the Meadow locals have been talking about Black-winged Stilt as a possibility and indeed one did turn up reasonably close at Otmoor so it's not impossible. The reality is that it's going to get a lot tougher from now on to add new year list ticks. Let's see what this coming week brings.

30th April

So we've come to the end of what is probably the most exciting month of the year in terms of year ticks and variety. Fortunately, this year April certainly lived up to expectations with a superb month of all sorts of goodies. What's more, the time since my last post certainly pulled its weight in terms of contributions.

Starting with waders, there has been a bit of slow down this last week or so as we move past the peak passage time. We had up to 7 Dunlin and a few Ringed Plover pass through though I think the lack of shoreline isn't really suiting the smaller species much. In any event they are currently harder to see because of all the vegetation cover. We finally got Ruff on the year list with a female that spent a day on the floods. We had a few Common Sandpipers at last with up to 6 recorded on one day. A Wood Sandpiper put in a brief appearance on the 28th though only stayed about half an hour. A Greenshank dropped in for a few hours one day. Finally today we had a couple of Whimbrel fly over calling so that got onto the year list as well.

On the duck front, we had a few more Garganey turn up and stay for a few days since my last post. Estimates are that we've had up to 9 individuals now this spring! Apart from this there has been little else to report with almost all the winter duck now gone. There are some lingering Gadwall still and we've still had up to 9 Shelduck and up to 3 Egyptian Geese but little else of note.

What we've lacked on the duck front we've more than made up for with Warblers. We have to start with an absolutely stellar find in the form of a singing male Wood Warbler. This was found on the 24th in Burgess Field by a visiting European birder who didn't know the English name for it. Fortunately Thomas Miller was on hand to check it out. Sadly it didn't linger long enough for more than the most quick off the mark locals to twitch it and there was no further sign that day. However the next day, remarkably it was found again still singing in a slightly different place. Once again it soon stopped singing after which it became almost impossible to locate. However the bird may have relocated to Wytham as a singing male has subsequently been found there and has stayed several days already. Our star bird was only the second ever on the patch to my knowledge after a single observer record a couple of years ago. Just to add icing on the cake, another singing male was reported along the canal by the back of Worcester College gardens near the lock one day though there was no subsequent reports or sightings of this bird. 

The Wood Warbler courtesy of Pete Roby

The Wood Warbler courtesy of Ben Sheldon

Apart from this the other warblers that we might expect duly turned up with Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler all being seen. Indeed it's been a rather good spring for the latter species which is normally rather hard to record in the patch. There have been at least 5 records already this month alone. This also applies to Willow Warbler: I don't think I ever remember so many records of this species passing through on the patch. I'm not quite sure why this should be but it's very welcome all the same.

There was some more hot Tern action this week when 6 Arctic Terns flew through. Added to this Thomas Miller had an outrageous garden tick when a Sandwich Tern flew over his house in Abbey Road, just south of the Meadow. Apart from that, there have been regular Common Tern sightings all week. Nothing to report on the gull front apart from a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull in amongst the lingering Black-headed Gulls one evening.

The first summer Med Gull

In terms of other sightings, a male Redstart was spotted in Burgess Field one evening though didn't linger. We had a couple of fly-over Great White Egret sightings as well.  There have been several calling Cuckoo records in Burgess Field.

The Redstart

 The first Hobby of the year was seen over the Meadow. We've had some more Yellow Wagtails (up to 20) hiding away in the long vegetation on the river side of the floods. Finally a Wheatear was seen in the Hinterland this week - I can't help but wonder how many of these we are missing as this area is birded far less often.

Hobby courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Looking ahead, we've already amassed a pretty reasonable year list total and it's only the end of April! However, this does mean that there is not much "low hanging fruit" left in terms of year ticks. Glossy Ibis, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Knot and Sanderling are the main ones which spring to mind. I also can't help but wonder about Spoonbill which used to be a bit of a patch speciality back in the day. Of course May is also the peak month for rarities in the first half of the year so something much juicier could always turn up. Let's hope so!

22nd April

I've been meaning to do more frequent updates during this key month but somehow records keep getting ahead of me and I'm always thinking "I'll just wait so I can include today's sightings" and it never quite happens. So in the end I'm doing it at the end of the day where I know what's what.

As expected, there have been a lot of sightings since my last post. With the flood waters still large there's been plenty of wader action though often they haven't lingered. We had 4 Common Sandpipers drop in for the morning only of the 11th. Up to 8 Black-tailed Godwits have dropped in and then moving on during the period. We had a flock of 16 Redshank that stayed for a while. 3 Greenshank also visited the floods. The highlight on the wader front was a flock of 50 Bar-tailed Godwits that were seen to fly over the floods on the morning of the 19th. This was during a period where a lot of Barwit action was happening across the county so it was good to get in on that. Usually Meadow records just comprise of singleton sightings so a flock this large is really unusual for us.

On the waterfowl front, we had two more pairs of Garganey turn up, now making 6 birds in total so far this spring. There have been up to 8 Shelduck and the usual spring Gadwall flock though there are now only a few lingering Teal and Wigeon left on the floods. The exotic pair of Black Swans returned to the floods after a few days away.

One of the three pairs of Garganey courtesy of Thomas Miller.
The drake has rather distinctive spotty flanks and had been seen over at Day's Lock previously.

As far as gulls and terns are concerned, we were lucky to have 5 Arctic Terns fly over the Meadow. This is a real Meadow rarity but thanks to eager eyes  on the skies this is the second year in succession that we've had this species on the year list. Common Terns have started to be seen again in small numbers in amongst the lingering Black-headed Gulls. One of the highlights of the period was a wonderful flock of 13 Little Gulls that dropped into the floods for a few hours before being lured away by 3 over-flying others.

Little Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

We managed to get Osprey on the year list with a bird that flew over on the 21st. What was altogether more left field was a Short-eared Owl that was seen to fly out of Burgess Field and off to the north this morning. This is a scarce patch species which is more usually seen in the winter than in the spring.

The more usual spring fare has been turning up gradually as well. We finally got Wheatear on the year list with a couple of birds on the 17th. The relative lack of grass has meant that there is less area for this species to be seen on. This also applies to Yellow Wagtails which have only been seen in modest numbers so far as well. We had the first calling Cuckoo heard from Burgess Field today as well. The usual warblers are gradually being ticked off with Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler all being recorded now. More interested was a singing Grasshopper Warbler in the scrub fields along the canal opposite St Edwards playing fields. This species is now sadly less than annual so it's good to get it on the list. We also has the first Swifts over the last couple of days.

Wheatear courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Just to round things off we finally got Cattle Egret on the year list with one being seen briefly on the 14th and two Cranes flew over today (presumably on their way to Otmoor). 

So looking ahead we have perhaps three weeks or so left of prime passage action before things start to tail off. With plenty of flood waters we might hope to get some more waders on the year list as there are quite a few we haven't had yet. Given the state of the floods one might even hope for something like a Spoonbill, which used to be a bit of Meadow speciality back in the day though it's been a few years now since we last had one. There are various other more or less to be expected species still to get and there's always the chance of something left-field at this time of year.

9th April

We are now well into what is probably the most exciting month of the year in terms of year ticks with summer migrants now arriving thick and fast.  It is also the peak time for passage waders though records for them depend very much on the state of the floods. Talking of which, as mentioned in the previous post, the incredibly wet March has meant that they are if anything too full at the moment. They were all the way up to Wolvercote at the start of the month though have been dropping fast as the continuous rain finally eased off. In terms of actual sightings its been an eventful time since my last update with some top draw patch birds.

Starting with the waders: the large flock of Black-tailed Godwits lingered for a few days in the end. Ben Sheldon did spot a smaller, smarter bird with a rather up-turned bill in amongst them and there was some speculation that it might be the Asian subspecies. This would have been a first for Britain had it been confirmed but there just wasn't enough to go on given the distances involved.

The possible Asian Black-tailed Godwit, courtesy of Ben Sheldon

We have had a few Oystercatchers still knocking about as well as a single Redshank but the star wader of the month so far has been a Grey Plover which spent the day on the floods.  This species is pretty much annual on the Meadow though usually only by virtue of a single record so it's by no means certain. It also normally turns up a bit later in the month so it's rather an early record.

Moving on to ducks now and the extended floods have been drawing in some ducks (and Grebes) that we might not normally see on the Meadow that often. Four Tufted Ducks lingered for a bit, feeding on the trapped fish within the flood waters. There have also been a few Great Crested Grebes feeding on the floods. The numbers of Teal and Wigeon have dropped dramatically, with the too-deep flood waters no doubt hastening their departure. We've had the usual Shelduck still lingering as well as a few Egyptian Geese and a pair of late Pintail. Right on cue a pair of Garganey turned up - it's great to have this charismatic duck back on the year list. However the best duck sighting since the last post was a stonking flyover drake Mandarin that two lucky observers had go low over towards Burgess Field one morning. This is a pretty rare record for the Meadow with just one "possible" previous record from last year up at Wolvercote Lakes.

Gulls next, not normally a category that I have much to say on at this time of year. However, there was a huge surge in inland Kittiwake records across the midlands recently and the Meadow was lucky enough to get in on this action when a pair of birds turned up just over a week ago. This is a really rare bird for the Meadow with just a handful of records by one observer over previous years. Apart from that we've had an adult Mediterranean Gull still being seen regularly and several hundred Common Gulls seen during their spring passage.

The two Kittiwakes courtesy of Steve Lavington

In terms of spring migrants we've had a good passage of Willow Warblers moving through, particularly along the allotment hedge which seemed full of them on some days. Talking of warblers, the Siberian Chiffchaff is still with us though looking more scruffy by the day. This subspecies seems to do a spring moult unlike their more common cousins. 


The scruffy Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Steve Lavington

A couple of singing Cetti's Warblers have been heard up in Wolvercote. We've also had small counts of Sand Martins and Swallows passing through and the first House Martins are now starting to be seen as well. The spring Yellow Wagtail passage has been rather curtailed by the lack of grass at the southern end for them to feed on though we've still had some flyovers and the odd lingering bird in various places.

A Yellow Wagtail, courtesy of Ben Sheldon

I can finally report a Water Rail record on the year list. Normally we get this each winter in the Trap Grounds but due to the extensive reed cutting, we've not managed one this year so far. However, there was a singing male in the scrub by the start of the boat moorings along the canal near St Edward's palying fields last week so we can finally relax on that front.

Finally, a couple of more "feral" sightings have included a Crane that flew low over Leckford Road (probably one of the Otmoor release scheme birds) and a pair of Black Swans (not tickable) have been lingering on the floods recently.

Looking ahead, we've got plenty (almost too much) water for the key spring passage so hopefully we should be able to pull down some good waders. With the rest of the returning summer visitors to look out for as well, there's a lot to look forward to.

31st March

It's the end of March but it seems more like mid April: everything is a good couple of weeks early at the moment. In fact we have a fair bit of early spring migrant action to report already. Testamony to this is the fact that we've had the first singing Willow Warbler working its way north already - normally it's towards the end of the second week of April when we might start to expect this species.

Another key development has been how wet March is. In stark contrast to the drought that was Feburary, this month has been extremely wet which has meant that the floods are very full. This bodes very well for the crucial spring passage period but at the moment there is no smooth shoreline for the smaller waders to feed along so it's got a different feel to it. Also birds are a long way away as far as viewing is concerned.

Let's start by giving a round-up of the waders that have graced the floods. We've had up to four Little Ringed Plover before the floods got too large. There were also a couple of Redshank, up to 4 Oystercatchers and one or two Dunlin. The main wader happening was right towards the end of the month when a flock of 29 Black-tailed Godwits turned up along with a single Greenshank. Again March is very early for the latter species which I tend more to associate with mid to late April.

The Black-tailed Godwit flock courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Two Little Ringed Plover

On the Gulls and Terns front the highlight was a fly-through Sandwich Tern. This is a realy patch rarity though in recent years there have been a smattering of records so I think this is the fourth one for the Meadow since my time birding it. There has also been an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost regularly, joined by a 2nd winter bird one evening.

The adult Mediterranean Gull

We've had a few small flocks of Sand Martins starting to come through though none have lingered so far. We also had our first Swallow pass through as well. Another sign of spring is the arrival of the first White Wagtails with a couple having been seen already. Again this is normally an April species so it too is early. The Siberian Chiffchaff has been seen on and off until the end of the month in its usual place along the allotment hedgerow.

There's not been much to report amongst the waterfowl, with some dodgy White-fronted Geese having been seen again. There have been up to 4 Egyptian Geese about - they may well breed in the area again like last year. Sadly there have been no Garganey so far.

Finally a really left-field record of a Merlin (a patch Mega) being chased by a couple of Peregrines along Leckford Rd!

Looking ahead, we are now heading into what is arguable the most exciting month of the year on the Meadow with a lot of passage birds to look out for whilst we still have the flood waters. This month and the first couple of weeks of May are when we would look to bank the majority of our year list ticks including those crucial wader records. It's an exciting time of year!


13th March

You can tell that things are picking up as I'm doing a mid month update. There has been a noticable change in bird activity with things starting to pass through after a relatively static period up until the end of February. With the first migrants now starting to appear it's getting to an exciting time of year!

Starting with gulling, we've had a really purple patch with some great roosts. We've had good numbers of Caspian Gulls of various ages pass through. Below are some photos of some of them.

1st Winter

3rd Winter

...and adult Caspian. All courtesy of Thomas Miller

We have also been blessed with some regular sightings of one or sometimes two Mediterranean Gulls in the roost. One evening there was even some attempted courting going on.

The two Mediterranean Gulls courtesy of Steve Lavington

Apart from that there have been good numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls most evenings. On recent visits, there is a definite sense that the roost is now starting to wind down as we move into the second half of the month.

As the gulling winds down so wader action is picking up. The first migrants have started to appear with a Ringed Plover and a Little Ringed Plover both having been seen. In addition we've had up to 7 Redshank and up to 4 Dunlin as well as regular visits from a pair of Oystercatchers. As we move into spring proper we can expect the wader passage to kick off properly.

There's not been much to report on the duck and geese front. It's been pretty much the same birds as usual. We were visited by a pair of White-fronted Geese on a couple of occasions. As I've said before here, due to the presence of the Blenheim hybrid birds, it's hard to tell the authenticity of bird on the Meadow though these ones appeared to look OK . We already have this species on the year list from the start of the year so it doesn't make much difference either way.

At least one of the Siberian Chiffchaff has been around in the allotment hedge still though sightings are starting to taper off now. The Stonechats were seen once more at the start of the month but have not been seen since.

One cause for concern was the state of the floods. With February having been the driest on record (yet another weather record being set as climate change continues to bite) the floods were looking decidedly thin. Thankfully the recent wetter weather has helped a bit though we do still really need some prolonged decent rain during these next few weeks for the critical spring passage period. 

Looking ahead, we can start expecting more spring wader passage and also the first Sand Martins though so far there has only been a smattering of sightings in the county so it's early days yet. It's also time to look out for Garganey - last year was really good for this charming duck. We're coming up to the most exciting birding time of the year on the Patch so it's time to get out there!

1st March

Here we are in March already and the start of the meteorological Spring (though for me it will still be the spring equinox which marks the start). Back in the day I would of course do far more posts than the one per month that I am presently doing over the winter. However, times have changed and methods of communication have shifted to WhatsApp so there is less need for regular updates on the blog. Also, to be honest, it becomes a bit of a chore to do blog updates too frequently and the heady days of youthful enthusiasm have now given way to the jaded reluctance of middle age. Also, February is usually a fairly quiet month with the same winter birds being seen each day. Still, we've had some good birds this month to keep interest ticking over.

Let's start with waders where it's been a good month. The highlight was an Avocet which dropped into the floods just for the morning where it was a much welcomed year tick addition. This species is a bit less than annual on the Meadow but is always a treat to see.

Avocet courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Some video footage of the Avocet

We had the first Black-tailed Godwit for the year (and the county year) on the Meadow this month. We also had some returning Oystercatchers with up to 3 birds seen and a couple of Redshank. Another good bird was a Curlew which dropped in one evening. February is the typical month where we get this species but it can be suprisingly hard to connect with unless you happen to be there when one drops in.

Curlew on the floods

Next onto gulling, which is serving up the usual mix of good county gulls. We've had a number of Caspian Gulls this month of various ages and an adult Mediterranean Gull which is has been putting in a regular appearance in the roost along with a supporting cast of plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls.

3w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Above and below, a couple of 1w Caspian Gulls, courtesy of Thomas Miller

On the wildfowl front where last month's heady excitment of the American Wigeon was not reprised with that star bird instead relocating to Otmoor. So we've had to be content with the usual species. There have been up to 12 Shelduck, up to 5 Egyptian Geese and up to 31 Pintail in amongst the numerous Wigeon and Teal.

It's been quiet on the raptor front though a regular 1w Peregrine has been hunting over the floods.

Onto passerines where last month's 3 allotment hedge Chiffchaffs have swollen in number considerably and now include no less than two Siberian Chiffchaffs. Could one be last year's Sibe chiffy returning - who knows? There are at least 10 Siberian Chiffchaffs in the county at the moment which is pretty good! Maybe they are going the way of Yellow-browed Warblers in starting to view the UK as an over-wintering location rather than just heading south. 

Siberian Chiffchaff: above Ben Sheldon & below Matthew Lloyd

The two Stonechats have been seen occasionally on the Meadow this month though they can often be surprisingly elusive and I suspect that they spend time in the allotments where they won't be seen.

The female Stonechat

There is one more passerine record to report, a totally left-field record of a Willow Tit seen briefly in Warnborough road. This is such an unlikely location for this species which is now unfortunately no longer resident in this county that, had it not been myself who saw and heard it, I wouldn't have believed it. Truly a "bonkers" record, but part of what makes birding such a fascinating pastime.