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.