As usual, the first blog post on the new year is not until towards the end of the month. Normally, January consists of little more than catching up with the usual species that are around at this time of year for the purposes of the year list. However, this time we've had a proper top draw rarity on the Meadow, almost certainly a shoe-in for the Port Meadow Bird of the Year no less. I am of course referring to the drake American Wigeon that was found by Thomas Miller on the evening of the 12th.
A couple of record shots of the American Wigeon courtesy of Thomas Miller
This species has been a long anticipated find on the Meadow in amongst the large number of Eurasion Wigeon that we have each winter but it's to Thomas' credit that he found it at all given that we were in proper "lake mode" at the time and the birds were about half a mile away from where he was viewing. Sadly it was only found untwitchably late at dusk and was not seen again the next day (much to the chagrin of the other patch birders - myself included!).
Apart from this star bird, there has been a good supporting cast, mostly of water fowl, as you would expect at this time of year. The best of the rest was a pair of White-fronted Geese that was found whilst the Meadow was in "lake mode". WF Geese are always a headache on the Meadow due to the regular visits of the mongrel Blenheim birds but they normally travel together in a flock of 6 or more birds. This pair seemingly relocated to Standlake at Pit 60 where they appeared to be genuine and so are going to go on the year list.
Other worthy mentions on the waterfowl front are: a Little Grebe at Wolvercote Lake; a Great-crested Grebe that enjoyed fishing on the "lake" for quite a period of time; four Egyptian Geese; up to 10 Pintail; up to 5 Shelduck and up to 8 Goosander
As you would expect at this time of year, there has been some good gulling with a couple of Caspian Gulls (3w & 2w), several Yellow-legged Gulls and an adult Mediterranean Gull all already on the year list.
3w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller
We've not had any waders so far apart from two resident Redshank on the river, one flock of 15 Dunlin and a singleton Dunlin. We might well still get a Black-tailed Godwit before spring arrives.
Other birds of note include the return of the pair of Stonechat that graced the thistle scrub between the Aristotle Lane and Walton Well Road entrances for some time in December. It's nice to have them back again. This does beg the question as to where they have been in the meantime - I wonder if they've been spending time in the Trap Ground allotments which is not generally accessible.
The female Stonechat
There have also been some Cetti's Warbler reports up at
Wolvercote Lake. Talking of Warblers, we've had up to 3 delightful
Chiffchaff, showing very nicely in the allotment hedgerow and coming
down to the ice to pick off insects. They've been a pleasure to watch! I've had a male Blackcap in my garden over the winter which has jealously been guarding the feeders from all comers - he has been most agressive! It's a shame as it means that I am no longer seeing the large flocks of Goldfinch and Greenfinch that I normally get in my garden.
One of the three Chiffchaff
Looking ahead, February is generally a pretty quiet month before the spring passage begins. There will still be the Wigeon and Teal flock to look through in case our star bird happens to return and you never know what else might turn up.
Here is the traditional Port Meadow review of the year post. As I mentioned in my last post, despite the severe drought at the time of the crucial spring passage, we still ended up amassing a reasonable end of year total of 137 + 1 extra in the form of a Red-breasted Goose. Whilst there wasn't a stand-out national rare there were enough good county and patch birds to make it an exciting year with plenty to keep us interested.
Winter is usually the best time of year in terms of sheer bird numbers with lots of water fowl as well as plenty of gulls to look at. In terms of gulls we had a good season with lots of Caspian and Mediterranean Gulls found though sadly once again we failed to turn up any white-wingers. It's been far too many years since we've had one of those beauties on the Meadow (or indeed in the county).
Above two photos, Caspian Gulls, Below: Mediterranean Gull, all courtesy of Thomas Miller
We had at least one of the Red-breasted Geese stay with us for a while in January, adding a splash of colour to the large numbers of geese. Thanks to the feeding station in Burgess Field it turned out to be a great year for Bramling with well into double figures seen for this charismatic finch.
One of many Brambling
We managed to get Glossy Ibis on the year list for the third year running when one dropped in briefly at dusk. It then decamped to Otmoor where it stayed for a while.
The brief visit of the Glossy Ibis courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
Spring started off with a bang with the discovery of a Siberian Chiffchaff loitering by Burgess Field gate. This is the first record of what is currently a subspecies of Chiffchaff for Port Meadow. Fortunately it ended up lingering for quite a while and was much enjoyed.
Siberian Chiffchaff, courtesy of Joe Tobias
It was an unusually good spring for Garganey on the Meadow with quite a few records whilst the floods were still with us.
Garganey pair, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd
As mentioned above, due to the unusually dry spring, the floods were
gone by the start of May which is usually the best time to get some
quality species. Still we managed to get Bar-tailed Godwit and Wood Sandpiper, two of the rarer waders that we might hope to add to the year list. However we ended up missing out on quite a few waders (Sanderling, Whimbrel, Knot and Avocet) that we might reasonably hope to get in a good year.
Bar-tailed Godwit, courtesy of Thomas Miller
We also scored some stonking spring fly-over ticks with Little Gull and Arctic Tern both seen on the same day.
Summer is traditionally a quiet season for birding on the Meadow so the sighting of a Little Tern briefly on the the patch was a stand-out record. This was almost certainly the Farmoor bird popping over the hill for a visit but at only the second record ever on the patch it is a really great record. It's just a shame that only one observer saw it.
We were also entertained by a family of Little Owls in the summer which showed well at dusk for quite a number of days before dispersing.
Little Owl, courtesy of Joe Tobias
Of course, as the birding slows down, summer is traditionally the time for insects and we had a very good season in that respect. We started off with a Club-tailed Dragonfly photographed along the Thames. This is a rare dragonfly in this part of the river with not many records at all.
Club-tailed Dragonfly courtesy of Michael Enticott
Our new Downy Emerlad colony seems well established now with several seen in the Trap Grounds on the main pond. The same can also be said of our Willow Emerald population with plenty of sightings around the various Trap Ground ponds.
We also had a new colonist this year with a population of Small Red-eyed
Damselflies seen in good numbers. Let's hope they become regulars as
Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Once again we managed one or two sightings of Brown Hairstreak thanks to the eagle eyes of Nicola Devine. Sadly Nicola is no longer with us, having died this year. We will all miss her wonderful photos and great enthusiasm for the Trap Grounds.
Brown Hairstreak, courtesy of Nicola Devine
Once again we had some Glow Worm sightings in Burgess Field in the summer.
Burgess Field Glow Worm, courtesy of Zichen Zhou
Whereas spring was somewhat disappointing, we ended up having a very good autumn. There were unusually good numbers of Spotted Flycatchers and Redstart within Burgess Field this autumn which made for great birding.
Burgess Field Spotted Flycatcher (one of nine seen this autumn)
One of the Four Redstarts seen this autumn
This flyover Osprey in Wolvercote made for a great photo, courtesy of Joe Taylor
Despite the complete lack of flood waters the grassy plains of Port Meadow attracted some good birds this autumn. We had a Grey Plover grace the area for several days.
The Grey Plover (courtesy of Ben Sheldon) hung around for a while,
On the Pipit front it was a stand-out autumn. A Rock Pipit was found in the Hinterland area north of the dried up floods. This only the fourth record for the Meadow with the last two being back in 2010.
The Rock Pipit, courtesy of Joe Tobias
Following that we had an even rarer Pipit with a Water Pipit loitering near the returning flood waters. This was probably the Farmoor bird which seemed to navigate between that location, the Meadow and Wytham for a little while. This was only the second record, with the last being in 2007.
The Water Pipit, courtesy of Steve Lavington
We also had a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Trap Grounds for one day. This was the first of what proved to be a specacular autumn across the county for the once rare Siberian warbler. Another outstanding record was a flyover Hawfinch seen over the Meadow. The post breeding Cattle Egret colony relocated to a field north of Wytham for several weeks.
Cattle Egrets near Wytham
We also had a dark-bellied Brent Goose drop in on the floods for one day.
Brent Goose, courtesy of Ben Sheldon
Bird of the Year
Finally it's time to award the Port Meadow Bird of the Year award. This year it was rather difficult as there was no obvious stand-out bird. Below is the short list along with the number of previous records for the Meadow:
Siberian Chiffchaff (first record) Little Tern (second record) Arctic Tern (first record for several years) Water Pipit (second record) Rock Pipit (fourth record) Yellow-browed Warbler (fourth record) Hawfinch (second record)
Some of these contenders (e.g. Little Tern and Hawfinch) were single observer records which rather counts against them. The Sibe Chiffy is only a sub-species though still an excellent record. After due consideration I am going to give it to the Water Pipit (which was also a personal patch tick for me). I've long felt that this species should occur more often than it does on the Meadow so it's great finally to have another record.
Let's hope 2023 proves to be at least as good as this last year.