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.