18th April

Well I'm back from my hols and sadly I didn't receive any Meadow bird reports whilst I was away. Today I went to take a look at the Patch and the very sorry state of the floods goes a long way to explaining the lack of any news. The waters are on their last legs now with the floods split into two small sorry-looking pools. The only birds that were around today were 7 OYSTERCATCHERS, a smattering of Black-headed Gulls and a few Mallards. It's all very sad and this means that we're going to have to expect a much more modest year list total this year.

Talking of year lists, I did manage to add a few things to the tally today. Firstly I found a singing male COMMON WHITETHROAT in Burgess Field. This is quite early for this species and they've not yet really arrived en masse in the county yet. Along the river there was a COMMON TERN patrolling the area - these have arrived back at Farmoor now so I was pretty much expecting one to turn up here. Finally I had a pair of HOUSE MARTINS flying over the Meadow so that's all three Hirundine species now seen.

Swallows are back on the Meadow now albeit still in modest numbers

There are still plenty of birds to look out for though we can probably more or less write off many more wader ticks. Yellow Wagtail should be any day now as well as the rest of the warblers. Let's see how the rest of the month unfolds.

8th April 2017

It's been a quiet week here on the Meadow. I usually find that when the weather is really good in spring then we tend not to get much wader migrant action here on the Patch as the birds take advantage of the good conditions just to keep on going northwards. What's more the very dry conditions have meant that the floods have been dwindling fast and there are large areas of unattractive dried mud surrounding some very "stale" water in the middle. In fact the only waders that we've had all week apart from the usual OYSTERCATCHERS have been a single LITTLE RINGED PLOVER and a couple of REDSHANK.

I wasn't able to get a decent photo of our one interesting wader this week so here's one from the archives

There's not been much about on the migrant front either if truth be told. Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Chiffchaff have been singing away at the Trap Grounds but we've yet to have any Reed or Sedge Warblers. I did manage to hear a LESSER WHITETHROAT singing briefly as it worked its way along the Thames by Weir Cottage today. They often seem to use the river to navigate their way northwards around here and listening out in the general area of the river is a good way to find this species in spring. In fact there was a general movement through the county today for Lesser Whitethroats with ones seen at both Farmoor and Otmoor as well.

On the duck front apart from a couple of SHELDUCK there is just a very modest sprinkling of ducks still about on the floods, all dabbling away in the middle of the water now, perhaps eating the algae which is starting to build up now. The water is now getting shallow enough for the Grey Herons and LITTLE EGRETS to start assembling to pick of the fish - I've seen both species this week.

The settled calm conditions have been ideal for raptors and a pair of RED KITES have been souring regularly over the area. I wonder if they might breed this year.

Things should really be kicking off now in the county: the first Cuckoo was heard on Otmoor and the warblers will be coming back en masse now. I'm actually going to be away for a week so I'm going to rely on keen local eyes to see if they can spot the new arrivals. Good luck!

Sunday 2nd April

It's all starting to kick off already! On the last day of March I found a WILLOW WARBLER singing away in the trees by the junction between the Castle Mill Stream and the Thames. In addition, over the weekend a couple of SWALLOWS have been seen, one by Sam Jones (who also reported a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER) and one by myself. Apart from that, duck numbers are sharply down now but there were still six OYSTERCATCHERS about over the weekend and six SHELDUCK today.

Wigeon numbers are really down now

It does seem that spring is rather early this year: certainly the Willow Warbler and Swallow sightings are a week or so earlier than I would normally expect them and this theory is also born out in the mothing world where species are being seen earlier than they would normally be. Talking of mothing, I've become very much a fair weather moth'er these days but this last week there was one very good day which prompted me to dig out the old trap and I was suitably rewarded with a nice haul for March. I will post something on that separately.

One thing that I have to flag up is the state of the Meadow floods. The recent dry spell is really taking its toll on the flood levels which have halved in just a week or two. With the forecast for more settled dry weather for at least the next week I'm starting to worry that they might dry up too early to get much in the way of the spring wader passage this year. Fingers crossed for some rain soon!

Thursday 30th March

So here we are virtually at the end of the month and I've not posted for more than ten days and that really tells you all you need to know. March is a bit of a tease of a month: you get all excited by the first few migrants and then you realise that you're not likely to see anything new until April. After the excitement of the the two Plover species last time there haven't actually been any further sightings of either species this month. Instead it's been the usual mix of REDSHANK (with our core five occasionally joined by a couple of extra birds) and the odd DUNLIN or two with a peak count of six birds. Other waders have included the usual OYSTERCATCHERS with a maximum of six birds seen.

On the duck front the usual SHELDUCK have been around all month with a peak count of nine birds. A few spring GADWALL have started arriving though not yet in the numbers that we usually expect. Meanwhile Wigeon and Teal numbers have been dwindling rapidly though there are still around in reasonable numbers. 

Apart from that there hasn't been that much to report on. After our initial SAND MARTIN record I've only had one other sighting so far this month which is a bit disappointing. There have been plenty of singing Chiffchaff coming through now and my resident garden Blackcap has decided to set up territory and is singing away regularly. Next month it all really kicks off and we get the proper excitement of the arrival of summer migrants en masse. I can't wait!

One of the Oystercatchers

Sunday 19th March

At last the first migrants have started to arrive. A couple of days ago the first Little Ringed Plovers started to be reported about the county and sure enough on Friday two RINGED PLOVER and two LITTLE RINGED PLOVER were loitering along the shoreline near the Burgess Field gate. It's great to have these lovely birds back on the Patch! There were also a total of eight BLACK-TAILED GODWITS on the floods. Apart from that it was the usual SHELDUCK and OYSTERCATCHER that were about. 

Two Plovers - Ringed on the left and Little Ringed on the right courtesy of Nicola Devine (c)
On Sunday we had the first SAND MARTINS of the year on the Meadow with a couple reported by Ian Elkins. He also reported that the Black-'wits were still there as well as a REDSHANK

Rounding things off with a few bits and bobs, Duncan Taylor reported a probable PEREGRINE over the north end of the Meadow a few days ago and I've been meaning to report that over the last week or so Chiffchaff have been singing away around the fringes of the Meadow - it's all kicking off now!

Tuesday 14th March

I did the Port Meadow WeBS survey on Monday. In amongst the dwindling number of winter duck I managed to find a resting drake Graganey tucked up fast asleep, presumably resting during his migrations northwards. 

The full list of birds was:
Black-tailed Godwit
4 Oystercatcher
5 Shelduck
5 Redshank
Wigeon 783
Teal 304
Shoveler 30
Mallard 16
Coot 1
Moorhen 5
Swan 2
Greylag Goose 12
Black-headed Gull 117
Lesser Black-backed Gull 3

Today (Tuesday), there was no sign of the Garganey though SHELDUCK numbers had climbed to an impressive 10 birds, the BLACK-TAILED GODWIT was still there and a second DUNLIN had joined the first. There were also 5 OYSTERCATCHERS today. 

The floods are looking pretty good at present and we should be seeing our first Little Ringed Plovers and Sand Martins fairly soon.

Very much just a record shot of the sleeping drake Garganey

Friday 10th March

It's been a productive few days on the Patch as far as the year list goes with a few ticks to add to the collection. Firstly, a RUFF and four DUNLIN dropped in on Tuesday though while the Ruff only stayed a couple of days the Dunlin were still about today. With a couple of small groups of BLACK-TAILED GODWITS also about (three on Wednesday and two today) as well as the currently resident OYSTERCATCHERS it's getting quite "wadery" these days.

The first Ruff of the year
On the duck front, winter duck numbers are dwindling noticeably. There are still four SHELDUCK about and today we had a pair of PINTAIL as well as three GADWALL, the latter being a species that drops in here just in the spring. GOOSANDER are still coming into roost but we're down to just a handful these days.

The other two ticks that we had this week were a LITTLE EGRET working its way along the ditch that runs along the west side of Burgess Field and at last a GREAT CRESTED GREBE. This latter species is normally a nailed-down certainty on the Castle Mill Stream or the Thames itself but has been most conspicuous by its absence this year. However one flew in and settled on the floods briefly this evening. Let's hope that it finds the local area to its liking and stays put.

6th March - Mediterranean Gull

As I mentioned in my previous post, early March is MEDITERRANEAN GULL passage time in the county and sure enough just two days later one was found on the Meadow. Pete Roby visited the Meadow this morning and found a splendid adult bird though it soon flew off. Later in the day Peter Law visited and managed to re-find it (or another one) though that too flew off before I could pay a visit. I was left searching through the hoards of Black-headed Gulls in the evening roost in the biting westerly wind though to no avail. 

Med Gull courtesy of Pete Roby
Other birds of note were the usual four OYSTERCATCHERS and four SHELDUCK.

4th March

Well, that's February out the way at last. It's a tricky old month: the heady excitement of the new patch year list has long faded and there are no migrants yet so there's not much to keep the interest going during this month. I've found over the last couple of weeks that most days the biggest excitement is merely the exact counts of OYSTERCATCHERS, SHELDUCK and GOOSANDER (in case you're interested it's generally 4 to 6 for the first two and anything up to 10 for the last one). 

There have actually been a couple of new year ticks since my last posting: Mary MacDougall heard a CURLEW flyover (on a day when one was also seen at Farmoor) and Tom Wickens spotted a single DUNLIN a couple of weeks ago. Apart from this a couple of BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, a flock of 160 Golden Plover and the occasional appearance of the usual REDSHANK have been the only other wader sightings of note.

The gulling has been predictably hard of late. I had one false alarm on the Caspian Gull front though Ian Lewington soon put me straight. Now that we're into March it's the Med. Gull passage season so it's time to start scanning through those Black-headed Gulls. With the first Sand Martins seen in the county today, it's also time to starting looking out for their arrival on the Meadow. It's all about to kick off!

The two recent Black-tailed Godwits

20th February

Today I did the WeBS survey for Port Meadow. For those who aren't familiar with this, it's a monthly survey which is carried out across wetland areas throughout the country in order to get an idea of how wetland birds are faring. Today's totals were as follows

660 Wigeon
454 Teal
Gadwall: m. 
57 Shoveler
9 Pintail
4 Shelduck
9 Lapwing
4 Oystercatcher
Grey Heron
5 Moorhen
51 Greylag Goose
3 Hybrid Goose
5 Redshank
740 Black-headed Gull
50 Lesser Black-backed Gull
2 Herring Gull
Common Gull
Mute Swan 

There were a few snippets of interest in amongst the list: the OYSTERCATCHER count has now gone up to 4; I had a SKYLARK fly over (not listed) and we had the first GADWALL of the year - this duck doesn't overwinter on the Meadow but put's in an appearance each spring. It also confirms my suspicion that I voiced in the previous post that I felt that the numbers were now starting to go down as birds move away for their spring breeding. Most noticeable in this is the Greylag Geese: over the winter we have getting on for 300 of these but now there were only 50 odd. I don't know where exactly they breed but they disappear off in the spring-time only to return with goslings in tow at a later date.

Two of the four Oystercatchers this morning

18th February

I don't quite understand how it's been so long since my last post but somehow it's happened that half the month has slipped by. I was actually away for this last week (down in Cornwall - see my Cornish blog) which partially accounts for it. Anyway, there have been a few year ticks to record though these have only been in the last few days. February is actually often a rather quiet month on the birding front with the heady start of the year tick rush now long faded and no sign of any migrants yet, it's a lot of slogging about for not much reward.

The new birds to report are an OYSTERCATCHER that was seen by Martin Gebauer and Steve Goddard, a singing SKYLARK that Mary MacDougall reported up at Wolvercote Common and a TAWNY OWL that Steve Goddard heard calling, again up at Wolvercote.

I visited the floods for the first time in a while today to find them looking nice and healthy though there was already a sense that some birds had started to depart. There were only 3 SHELDUCK, 6 GOOSANDER and 5 PINTAIL, noticeably down on peak counts from the previous week. The gull roost was about average in size though with nothing of particular interest at all apart from a handful of Common Gulls. May MacDougall reported a flock of about 50 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS earlier in the day though there were only three when I was there. She also found 5 REDSHANK in their usual location along the river.

Bathing Linnets

2nd February

It was a really good visit to the Meadow today. I went along towards dusk as usual for the gull roost to find the flood water engorged by all the recent rain and the west shore of the floods now a relatively narrow strip of grass next to the river. The birds were certainly loving these conditions with vast numbers in all directions. The BARNACLE GEESE were back again, about 70 in number today. Apparently, this flock has been hanging out by King's Lock a lot recent where it's a relatively short hop over the road to the Meadow. There were also good numbers of Canada Geese, at least 300 or so though I didn't count them. In amongst the plethora of ducks were three SHELDUCK and four GOOSANDER. There were literally thousands of Black-headed Gulls - they were everywhere you looked and reasonable numbers of larger gulls to though the best that I could do in the gloom, strong wind and greater distance was to pick out a single adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. Naturally so many birds in one place was going to attract some predators and a PEREGRINE whizzed through, causing mayhem and confusion as everything scattered.

The highlight of the visit though was when I spotted a flock of 80 or so BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, which had been put up by the falcon and which eventually settled again on the Spit. Unfortunately, it was so dark by this time that I wasn't able to take a photo at all but this is certainly the largest count of this species that we've had on the Meadow in my time birding it. I can recall flocks in their fifties but never this many, it may be a county record!

Flood levels are very much in the balance at the moment as to whether we tip over into full-blown Lake Mode or if we stay as we are. It's rather hard to bird once the floods get too big but just as they are now it's putting the Meadow on top form.

In the absence of any photos from today, here's a recent photo of a Kingfisher, taken at the Trap Grounds

31st January

There was no sign of the Iceland Gull this evening in very murky conditions but by way of compensation the BARNACLE GOOSE flock flew in to the Hinterland area once again. These birds are now becoming fairly regular visitors to the Meadow and it's already the second time this year that they've been seen. Apart from that there were three SHELDUCK, 3 PINTAIL and 7 GOOSANDER.


30th January - Iceland Gull

Today was a good day's birding. To start with I went out mid morning to the Trap Grounds where it was really striking just how much bird song there was - birds were singing everywhere I went. I particularly wanted to see if I could catch up with some Reed Buntings that had been reported along the wildlife corridor there. I'd tried and failed yesterday but today I manage brief views of a male bird. This species is rather localised on the patch and although it is seen every year I'm always pleased to catch up with it myself. Whilst I was waiting for the Buntings to put in an appearance I saw my first Chiffchaff of the year, certainly an over-wintering bird rather than a migrant of any sorts.

Later in the afternoon I went to the Meadow to have a look at the gull roost for the first time in quite a while as it's been frozen for much of last week. I was duly rewarded with a great juvenile ICELAND GULL in a moderately sized roost. This is the first white-winger that we've had in quite a while so it was nice to see one again on the Meadow. Also present was a 2w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL, a SHELDUCK, four GOOSANDER and a couple of REDSHANK.

A video grab of the bird. Unfortunately the light was rather poor by this stage...

...and the original video

29th January

I'm still chipping away at the year list, an activity which always livens up an otherwise rather dull month. To that end I managed to find a NUTHATCH at Medley farm last week and a Fieldfare that I heard fly over the Castle Mill stream which Mary MacDougall later saw over by Burgess Field. Sparrowhawk has now been seen on a few occasions and Steve Goddard has reported Stock Dove in his garden up in Wolvercote. Finally this morning I managed to find a Coal Tit singing away in a neighbour's garden - this is a surprisingly difficult species to catch up with on the Patch.

One of the regular Redshank roosting on its usual perch

So what do we still need that I would expect to get at this time of year? Here's the list of things to keep an eye out for. Many are only a matter of time before they turn up. Do let me know if you seen any of them.

Great Crested Grebe (surprisingly haven't seen one on the river so far)
Lesser Redpoll
Sky Lark
Little Egret
Curlew (usually in February)
Tufted Duck (Wolvercote Lakes?)
Black-tailed Godwit

19th January

I haven't done much checking of the gull roost of late and on the odd occasion when I have the roost size has been derisory. Still I thought that I'd give it a go though once again numbers were abysmal. However what they lacked in quantity they made up for in quality when a splendid 3rd winter CASPIAN GULL was pick out of the flock by Will Langdon.

Apart from this smart gull, there were 3 REDSHANK, half a dozen or so SNIPE, a couple of COMMON GULLS and a dozen or so GOLDEN PLOVER. In addition a SHELDUCK was reported earlier on in the day.

17th January WeBS Survey

It was time for the monthly WeBS survey today. In rather cold conditions I counted the following totals

Mallard 77
Moorhen 11
Kingfisher 1
Goosander 1
Mute Swan 2
Redshank 3
Grey Heron 1
Cormorant 4
Canada Goose 3
Wigeon 1068
Shelduck 3
Pintail 5
Shoveler 2
Teal 510
Golden Plover 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull 8
Black-headed Gull 66
Greylag Geese & hybrids 207

I also encountered a nice flock of Siskins in the spinney on my way back home.

The year list is coming along though there are still a few things which I'm sure must be around but I've not yet come across them. At the end of the month if there's anything still outstanding I'll let people know.

10th January

I'm chipping away at the year list, ticking off the relatively common birds that I'd expect to see at this time of year and have now got the year list up to 57 though there are still lots of easy ticks around that I just haven't personally come across yet.

When it was frozen a few days ago I headed over to the Trap Grounds to see if I could winkle out a WATER RAIL and I'm pleased to report that not only did I hear one but I actually saw one scuttling between the reeds in front of the screen pool. 

A couple of people reported the presence of a PINTAIL on the floods at the start of the year and today there were a pair of drakes asleep on the floods along with a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS.

The highlight of the last few day though was a flock of 30 BARNACLE GEESE, spotted by Steve Goodard late on yesterday though as before they were gone by first light.

A Grey Heron along the Castle Mill stream

Review of 2016

By all measures 2016 was a good year for Port Meadow birding. For starters the year list came it at 133 which is a good solid total and we managed a couple of nationally scarce species in the form of a Spoonbill and a Yellow-browed Warbler. So what were the highlights of the year?

The first couple of months consisted mostly of the usual fare with perhaps a Raven being the most noteworthy addition to the year list. But in March we really struck patch gold with a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the Trap Grounds. This is a real patch Mega and is certainly rarer than Spoonbill or Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch. Sadly the bird didn't hand around and was chased off by a territorial Greater Spotted cousin but it did offer some great views in the Trap Grounds for a few minutes.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

In March the first migrants started arriving back and we were treated to a couple of Avocets that dropped in for the evening on their way north.

Avocets on the floods

We had a Brent Goose drop in to stay for quite a while in spring. This is quite a rare Goose in the county (though it usually manages to make its way onto the county year list) so I was pleased to have it grace the patch for a while. Also good birds for March were a Sanderling and some Red-crested Pochards

The long-staying Brent Goose

April produced another patch Mega in the form of a Sandwich Tern. This is only the second record ever on Port Meadow of this species which is an annual passage migrant in the county but really hard to catch up with as they so often are just seen flying through places like Farmoor. This one roosted on the Meadow so lingered for a few hours at least.

The only other Meadow record of Sandwich Tern was back in 1995

Little Gull is just about annual on the Meadow though only usually through one or two sightings a year so I was pleased to find one in mid April on the floods - it turned out to be the only one of the year. Also in this vein is Garganey which turned up mid month as well - again usually annual though only thanks to one or two records. The Meadow is one of the top spots in the county for passage waders and we managed this year to get just about all the rarer ones. Towards the end of April we managed to add Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot to the year list.

Whether May is any good on the Meadow each year depends very much on the state of the floods. We were lucky this year with reasonable floods still present in this crucial spring month and this water pulled in a Wood Sandpiper - the first we've had in a few years recently. However, the 10th of May 2016 will go down as one of the best days of patch birding on the Meadow in a long time. I wrote at the time:

It was a "perfect storm" of good prevailing southerly winds for the last few days, early May being the peak for spring migrant passage, the floods looking absolutely perfect and drizzly overcast weather all day to bring in a keep down any passing waders.

We managed 66 waders of 9 different species including Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and Sanderling. It was really amazing! Nothing really extraordinary on paper but normally you have to work pretty hard just to get one bird of these species in a given month let alone multiples of all of them on the same day!

Two of the Knot, part of a huge wader fall

A day later we managed an impressive 47 Ringed Plover - an amazing count for an inland location. Sadly after that sightings started to dwindle as we headed towards the summer doldrums though we did manage to sneak a Spotted Flycatcher onto the list - always a hard bird to get on the Meadow. We finally managed our first national scarcity of the year when a Spoonbill was seen flying over the Trap Grounds in the last week of May. They often seem to turn up at around this time of year on the Meadow.

In the summer months I generally turn to insects and flowers to keep me occupied. Whilst this year was pretty poor for moths I did manage to turn up a couple of county-wide interest with a Yellow Belle and Psychoides filicivora (a fern-loving micro) as well as a Toadflax Brocade (though they're pretty much annual now in the county). Thanks to some good coverage in the Trap Grounds a couple of Silver Washed Fritillary butterflies and a Red-tipped Clearwing moth were found in August both great finds for this location.

Red-tipped Clearwing courtesy of Nicola Devine

August did manage to provide some bird action with already-returning migrants passing through. The bird highlight of the month was a female Blue-headed Wagtail which was in amongst the cattle with our own Yellow Wagtails.

It took quite an effort to pin down this highly mobile bird long enough to get a photo

September turned up some good migrants with Tree Pipit, another Spotted Flycatcher and a Redstart but the highlight of the month was a great Yellow-browed Warbler find up in Wolvercote though sadly it was just passing through and only the original finder ever saw it.

October and November were very quiet months as we had no flood waters at all and all the passage action has long since finished. Finally towards the end of November we got the waters back and we were soon rewarded with our first Caspian Gull of the season. It turned out to be a pretty good period for this tricky gull and we had quite a few more of them up until the end of the year. The feral Home Counties Barnacle Geese also put in an appearance in December to round things off but apart from gulls there was little else of note.

A cracking first winter Caspian Gull
So that was the year. As is so often the case on the Meadow the action rather comes in fits and starts and is very dependent on the presence of the floods. Looking back on it though I'd definitely classify 2016 as a good solid year for the Meadow.

It now only remains for me to award the much-coveted Port Meadow Bird of the Year award. Whilst this often goes to just the scarcest bird that's been found this year there were a number of contenders including Yellow-browed Warbler, Spoonbill, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and collectively all 66 waders on the 10th May (because it was such a special day). And the award this year goes to.... the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, for not only being a Patch Mega but also for providing unusually good views of what is normally quite a secretive species.

Sadly it couldn't be here to accept the award....
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who helped to contribute to the birding effort on Port Meadow. I'm lucky to have a number of people send in information regularly and whilst I don't always have time to respond to e-mails, all the information is always very much appreciated. Let's hope that 2017 is another great year for birding on Port Meadow.

4th January

Firstly a Happy New Year to all my readers! I'm intending to do a review of last year at some point but haven't had the time so far.

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks but the festivities rather got in the way and then I was away for a few days over the New Year. I'm still working my way through getting the new year list up and running so can't provide a total yet but the highlight of the year so far was a splendid female RED-CRESTED POCHARD that was found by Nicola Devine yesterday. This species is less than annual on the Meadow so it's great to have it on the list already.

Female Red-crested Pochard courtesy of Nicola Devine (c)
I went for the first gull roost scan of the year today and was rewarded with no less than five YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (3 adults and 2 second winters). Seven Golden Plover flew in to keep the Lapwings company and there were seven GOOSANDER which came in to roost.