January Update

So here we are into February already. January is generally a time for catching up with the usual residents and winter visitors for the purposes of the year list but this month we've had some really nice birds. In fact there were two species which didn't make it onto the record breaking year list total of last year so they must be pretty good! The weather has been mixed with lots of floods at the start of the year, then a severe cold snap which froze everything over and then some mild but rather dry weather to see the month out.

We have to start our report with Waxwings. As I'm sure many readers will already be aware, this winter is a "Waxwing Winter" (see here) where sufficient numbers of these Scandinanvian berry bandits have invaded the country for there to be a fighting chance of Oxon getting some. However it wasn't until January that we finally got some twitchable birds in the county and fortunately they were on the Port Meadow patch! There were between 2 and 8 birds, most easily seen at the end of Plater Drive where they would launch raids on a Sorbus Tree there. They stayed on and off for about a week and were much enjoyed by many people.

Waxwing on the lookout

Courtesy of Ben Sheldon

A compilation video

Sadly, there have been no further reports at all for a couple of weeks now anywhere within the county. One almost has the feeling that they are on their way back north now already.

The second bird of note was Jack Snipe. This species is presumably annual on the patch though it is not recorded every year given how elusive and hard to see they are. However, the unuusually extreme flooding gave the opportunity for some of the local ringers to find some of them using a thermal imager and even managing to trap one or two and ring them. I was lucky to be invited along to see one in the hand before it was released.

A Jack Snipe "in the hand"

We've had lots of Chiffchaff loitering around Burgess Field entrance gate with up to two Siberian Chiffchaff (the ringed and the unringed) in amongst them. It's wonderful that this striking subspecies is becoming annual on the patch. Talking of warblers, as for most years, I've had a pair of over-wintering Blackcap in my garden.

The ringed Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Thomas Miller

..and a photo courtesy of Ben Sheldon

Apart from these star birds it was much more ordinary fare that we might expect at this time of year. Winter is typically about wildfowl and there were plenty of those about with good number of Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler about. There was a noticeable influx of Pintail with an amazing peak count of 84 bird at one point. Shelduck numbers have started to build already with a peak count of 8 and the first few Gadwall (normally seen much later on) have already appeared. The first 4 Egyptian Geese have also been seen along with some Goosander on the river. The overwintering Barnacle Geese have been seen in amongst the other usual geese species though they have not been around as much this month as in previous Januarys. The highlight of the month from the duck perspective was the appearance of 5 Pochard for a couple of days. Diving ducks are normally much rarer on the floods so these were most welcome. Another diving species, Great Crested Grebe, was also seen for a few days when the floods were particularly deep.

On the wader front the main point of interest was a single Grey Plover in amongst the Golden Plover flock. This species, normally seen towards the end of the spring passage on the Meadow, was seen on a couple of occasions in the month. Apart from that there were good numbers of Dunlin present with a peak count of 50 this month. There were also one or two Redshank seen sporadicallly during the course of the month

Dunlin on ice courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

January is traditionally a good gulling month though we have not had any really huge roosts this month, symptomatic of a general decline in gull numbers in the county over recent years. However we have been graced with a few Caspian Gulls: the regular 1st winter being joined occasionally by another 1w and a 3w. There have been the usual Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages but once again we have not managed a white-winger so far.

Finally, onto other species and a Great White Egret has been finding the patch to its liking this month. It's been seen regularly from New Year's Day onwards in various parts of the Meadow, including along the Burgess Field border ditch, up at Wolvercote Lakes as well as on the main floods themselves. We have had Cattle Egret on New Year's Day and Little, thereby completing the Egret set on day one!

The two Stonechat have been seen sporadically throughout the month down in their favoured thistle patch between the Walton Well Rd and Aristotle Lane entrances. There have been some Siskin reports during the month with large numbers reported up at the lake at the north end of the Waterside development. 

So onto February, which is traditionally a very quiet month when most of the winter species have already been seen but it's still too early for migrants. Still, you never know what might turn up and it only takes one left-field bird to make things exciting!

2023 End of Year Review

It's time once again for the fashionably late end of year review for Port Meadow. And what a year it's been! The year list total has been absolutely smashed with a stonking 148 birds. Truly remarkable!

January is traditionally a fairly quiet month of gulling and catching up on winter residents but this year things started with a bang with a drake American Wigeon - a pretty rare county bird with only a handful of county records. Sadly the bird was only seen on the patch one evening by a single observer but it later relocated to Otmoor where it stayed quite a while.

The drake American Wigeon courtesy of Thomas Miller

Apart from this star bird it was the usual Caspian Gulls with an adult Mediterranean Gull as an early season bonus. There were also a couple of White-fronted Geese which appeared to be genuine (though it's always hard to tell).

February, which is usually a quiet month, held a surprise Avocet for one morning on the floods. There were also more Caspian Gulls on the floods and up to two Siberian Chiffchaff hanging out by Burgess Field gate.

The Avocet, courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

More unusually, there was a single brief visit of a Willow Tit passing through the gardens near Kingston Road.

March is when things start to kick off with the first returning waders. In addition to this there was some really good gulling this month with loads of Caspian Gulls and several Mediterranean Gulls as well, mostly adults with one 2w bird one evening.

1w Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

Two adult Med Gulls courtesy of Steve Lavington

Spring migrants seemed to arrive early this year with the first Willow Warblers and White Wagtails quite a bit ahead of schedule. There were also another pair of White-fronted Geese that looked genuine. A fly-over Sandwich Tern was a really good record. There was another left-field record this month in the form of a Merlin (a patch Mega) being chased down Leckford Rd by a pair of Peregrine!

April is usually the most exciting month in terms of migrant arrivals and this year was no exception. Apart from the usual fare we had a Grey Plover (more usually seen in May) and an amazing record of a fly-over Mandarin Duck (a patch Mega) seen by a couple of lucky observers. There was still some good gulling to be had when the Meadow got in on the influx of Kittiwakes to the county when two birds turned up one morning.

The two Kittiwakes, courtesy of Steve Lavington

We also had numerious Garganey records this spring. This species is always a delight to see.

Courtesy of Thomas Miller

We also had a couple of flocks of 6 Arctic Tern fly over. This is another rare Meadow bird but thanks to increased vis mig coverage this year we managed to get it on the list. A delightful flock of 13 Little Gulls dropped in on the Meadow for a short while.

One of the Little Gulls courtesy of Thomas Miller

Other noteworthy records this month was our first Osprey sighting, an usually late Short-eared Owl and the first Cattle Egret of the year. We also managed to get Wood Sandpiper and Whimbrel on the year list through a couple of birds that didn't stay long or just flew through. 

The star bird of the month however was a singing male Wood Warbler in Burgess Field. This species is annual in the county, almost always in spring but usually just a single observer, hard to twitch, sighting. So to get one passing through Port Meadow was quite something!

The Wood Warbler, courtesy of Pete Roby

We also managed to get Redstart on the year list in spring. Normally autumn is when we get this species, so that was rather unusual.

May is usually quieter but when we often get the rarer wader species and a Bar-tailed Godwit duly obliged along with our second Grey Plover of the year.

Bar-tailed Godwit courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

Grey Plover courtesy of Thomas Miller

There were also a couple more Osprey sightings, one of which was twitchable as it lingered for about an hour. Great White Egret made it onto the year list as well. We also had a Nightingale singing along the canal one evening. This is a rare patch and county species though over the years there have been a few records along the canal.

June was quiet on the birding front as you would expect though we did get a fly-over Crossbill record, a real patch Mega! Our Little Owls bred again this year and it was a delight to see the youngster being fed at dusk. On the Odonata front we had a good season once again with Downy Emerald seen again, as well as Small Red-eyed Damselfly and several Hairy Hawkers along with the usual species.

July and August were quiet with a Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher the pick of the birds along with the first returning Common Sandpipers. 

September was also a quiet month with just another Redstart to show for it. Cattle Egrets started to be seen in greater numbers and the Willow Emeralds appeared in the Trap Grounds once again.

Trap Grounds Willow Emerald

October was also quiet though at least we got the floods back and had more gulls to look at.

1w Caspian Gull courtesy of Steve Lavington

There were two stand-out records this month: firstly a Marsh Harrier was spotted over Wytham Hill. This is yet another Patch Mega. Another good records was a Rock/Water Pipit fly-over that was never nailed down to exact species.

After a very quiet autumn, it was left to November to bring in some good birds. This happened in no small measure when an amazing record of a red-head Smew was found on the much extended flood waters. A truly incredible record!

The red-head Smew courtesy of Steve Lavington

The swollen floods also drew in both Pochard and Red-crested Pochard. As diving ducks these are comparatively rare on the patch. There was more good gulling with quite a few Caspian Gulls and another (our third of the year) fly-over Grey Plover. A ringed Siberian Chiffchaff was an excellent record for Burgess Field.

Siberian Chiffchaff courtesy of Thomas Miller

After the excitment of November, things got pretty quiet again for December though there was an amazing record of a Marsh Harrier (our second of the year!!) hunting over the floods briefly. 

The Marsh Harrier courtesy of Matthew Lloyd

The ringed Siberian Chiffchaff stuck around and a second unringed bird was seen in Burgess Field one afternoon.

So that was 2023. As you can see, most of the action happened in the first half of the year though there was just enough of interest in the second half to keep things ticking over. In terms of bird of the year it has to go to the American Wigeon though the Smew, the Wood Warbler, the two Kittiwakes and the Marsh Harriers the certainly deserve honerable mentions.

So it only remains for me to wish readers of this blog a Happy New Year and for me to thank the many dedicated birders who work the Port Meadow patch alongside me. Here's to another amazing patch year for 2024!

December Update

I thought that I'd better do the usual monthly round-up for December before I do the review of the year. It was a reasonable month with some good birds though nothing outstanding and we didn't manage to add any more year ticks to the tally. The floods were reasonably large all month so there were plenty of duck around including up to 30 Pintail and 3 Shelduck. On the wader front we managed up to 16 Dunlin along with a Black-tailed Godwit at the start of month. There were also up to 150 Snipe and about 400 Golden Plover.

December is the month when winter gulling gets going properly and we were rewarded with several Caspian Gulls over the month. There was a another 1w Caspian which joined the usual bird on a couple of evenings, a 3w bird one evening and an adult another evening. There were also a few Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages.

The adult Caspian Gull courtesy of Thomas Miller

The ringed Siberian Chiffchaff was seen a few times near to Burgess Field gate along with quite a few normal Chiffchaff. On one occasion a second un-ringed Siberian Chiffchaff was found (and heard to call) in Burgess Field. Also on the passerine front, there were up to 3 Stonechat in the thistle patch in the south east corner of the Meadow.

The highlight of the month was the brief appearance of a Marsh Harrier hunting over the floods, sending everything up. Whilst this isn't a year tick thanks to the bird seen over Wytham Hill, having one hunting over the actual floods themselves is a great record!

Matthew Lloyd took this cracking photo of the Marsh Harrier as it hunted over the floods

To round things off a couple of Cranes were seen flying over the Meadow one day, presumably commuting to Otmoor.