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!