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.

21st December

There was a decent sized roost this evening with perhaps 2000 large gulls though surprisingly few Black-headed Gulls. The pick of the bunch were about 5 adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS though there were no Caspians tonight. The two REDSHANK were still about as was a single DUNLIN and about 8 or so GOOSANDER had assembled by the time that I left.

John Mittermeier managed to spot the 2w CASPIAN GULL in the roost on the 19th. It's good to know that it's still visiting regularly

20th December

Peter Law was at the Meadow at first light where he was able to confirm that the BARNACLE GEESE were still present first thing though they flew off before 8 a.m.

Today I did the WeBS survey for Port Meadow. It was actually quite interesting to make accurate counts for all the different species that were present. Here are the totals.

840 Wigeon
93 Teal
11 Shoveler
20 Mallard
7 Moorhen
1 Coot
3 Mute Swan
261 Greylag Goose (including some hybrids)
2 Cormorant
1 Grey Heron
47 Lapwing
1 Golden Plover
1 Snipe
2 Redshank
45 Black-headed Gull
2 Lesser Black-backed Gull
1 Herring Gull

There were no real surprises on the survey. Wigeon numbers were a bit down on some of the peak counts this month: numbers seem to vary with the conditions and when it's very wet it attracts a lot more of the grazing ducks.

19th December

This evening's visit to the Meadow found very still conditions though the continuing murk was all pervading. The embryonic gull roost was put up by some people walking right along the flood shoreline and given the relatively nice conditions it never really re-formed. A single red-head GOOSANDER came in but, not finding any roosting companions, soon left again. On the wader front there was a single REDSHANK and a single Golden Plover but that was it.

The highlight was when I heard a flock of calling geese and spotted 24 BARNACLE GEESE flying in and landing about 200 yards to the north of the floods in the Hinterland. A little while later a much larger flock of about 100 came in to join them. These are almost certainly the feral Home Counties birds which often pop over to visit us in the winter (and as official Category C birds they are tickable).

The Barnacle Geese, filmed at great distance in very murky conditions at last light

16th December

Firstly I need to report that I found out who reported the 2w Caspian Gull a couple of days ago - it's a new local birder who, what's more, has a keen interest in gulls - hoorah! This is good news as we used to have lots of other birders who would come and help keep a watchful eye on the Meadow though sadly most of them have now moved on and it's been a rather lonely task keeping on top of the patch.

Anyway, there was some top gulling action tonight on the Meadow. It was very atmospheric with not a breath of wind, a wonderfully flat light and a layer of thick mist hovering above the grass to the north of the floods. The two REDSHANK were still about and we had 15 GOOSANDER in the roost by the end. The gull roost was large with loads and loads of large gulls. I found 5 (!!) adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and a very striking 3w CASPIAN GULL which unfortunately took off before I could get any photos. With lots of Caspians also being reported by our esteemed county recorder at the Didcot tip it's shaping up to be a really good winter for them. All we need now is a few white wingers to top things off.

There are lots of Redwing about in the hederows at present, all gorging themselves on the abundant berry crop

14th December

We're still in the grips of unseasonably mild weather, not that I'm complaining as it's much more pleasant when grilling the gull roost in the evening. Over the last few days there have been a regular pair of REDSHANK about on and off, and today there was a single DUNLIN but we're still not getting any regular Golden Plover. 

A rather grainy shot of one of the Redshank
On the duck front the first few Shoveller have arrived, we're getting one or two GOOSANDER coming into the roost each evening and today we had a SHELDUCK. There are vast numbers of Wigeon about at the moment, they're everywhere you look!

The increased size of the floods has been good for the gull roost and there have been several  YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (mostly adults) about but no more Caspians. Mysteriously, the 2nd winter Caspian Gull was reported on RBA this evening at 3:30 but I arrived there 10 minutes after that and the only person I saw was someone with a small camera taking photos. Anyway, I didn't see any sign of it during my time there so who knows?

9th December

Thankfully we've gone from the cold frozen weather back to mild weather again. In fact it is incredibly mild for the time of year. The birds have all returned again now that the ice has gone. Firstly I need to report that Phil Barnett found an adult CASPIAN GULL last Saturday, the third of the season already. This week as well as the usual suspects there were a couple of REDSHANK on one day and a flock of about 200 Golden Plover - the first large flock we've had this season. After lamenting last week about the lack of Fieldfares, there have been quite a few about. There were about half a dozen along the Castle Mill Stream one day and several flocks have been flying over the area this week calling loudly.

The highlight of the week was this evening when there was a good sized gull roost which assembled nice and close to the shore making for excellent viewing conditions. As well as a couple of adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS I also managed to find a splendid 2nd winter CASPIAN GULL. Amazingly, this is now the fourth Caspian Gull in a little over three weeks. Amazing!

A rather grainy video grab...

...and the video from which it came

2nd December

Just as I was really starting to get back into the gull roost properly, the weather changed to a sudden cold snap. The sub-zero temperature meant that the floods were frozen and any gull gathering was tiny with the birds not lingering at all.

During the day there were usually some loafing gulls but the roost never seemed to linger
To find something of interest to view during this time I've been walking along the Castle Mill Stream. Some of the ducks (mostly Teal but with one or two Wigeon as well) have been hanging out there and I managed to come across a LITTLE GREBE there as well. Whilst this latter species is not technically a year tick after one was seen by someone in the Trap Grounds at the start of the year, for me it is a personal Patch year tick. There are lots of thrushes everywhere in the trees and bushes on either side of this side river at present. They are mostly Redwings but with Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush all seen as well. Interestingly, there aren't any Fieldfare about at all - this species seem relatively hard to come by on the Meadow though we often get fly-over flocks at the start and end of the season.

I did also pay a visit to Burgess Field this week for the first time in quite a while. In contrast to the Castle Mill stream there were hardly any thrushes about when I visited though three soaring Buzzards and a Red Kite all enjoying the sunshine were nice to see.

One of the three Buzzards

27th November - Caspian Gull

It's so nice to have things to blog about once more. After our lean summer and early autumn there are now loads of birds to sift through on a daily basis and usually something of interest. Today's star bird was a classic 1w CASPIAN GULL that gave nice close views (well, as good as you can expect in the half light of dusk). There were lots of large gulls in the roost this evening, it's really starting to come into its own now as we head towards December.

On the wader front there were also 16 DUNLIN looking for all the world like little clockwork toys as they worked their way along the shore line.

A pretty classic 1w Caspian: note the clean white head surrounded by a neck shawl, the plain coverts and thumb-nail edged tertials, long wings and the "majestic" expression

...and some video as well

25h November

Firstly, I should point out that my Yellow-legged Gull from two nights ago turns out actually to be a CASPIAN GULL - thanks to Ian Lewington for spotting that and just goes to show how little I still know about gulls!

There were a few interesting birds this evening. Firstly the county's first GOOSANDER of the season turned up with two males and a female coming in to roost. Secondly there was a lovely PEREGRINE which caught and ate a Black-headed Gull just a couple of hundred yards north of the floods. With such huge numbers of birds about at present its bound to attract more raptors over the winter period. There was nothing of particular note in the gull roost this evening but numbers were reasonable given the regular disturbance by dogs and runners.

The Peregrine eating its catch

24th November

My usual last light visit to the Meadow turned what I thought was up the first Yellow-legged Gull of the season with a nice adult bird in amongst a reasonably sized flock. However, when Ian Lewington saw it he re-identified it as a CASPIAN GULL - a most welcome upgrade!

There were quite a few Lapwing today though still no Golden Plover and no other waders this evening.

This evening's Caspian Gull. Expect plenty more grainy gull grabs over the next couple of months
I'm gradually making counts of the numbers of wintering duck present on the Meadow, partly as I've taken over the WeBS counts for the site and partly out of curiosity. Today it was the turn of the Wigeon where there were an amazing 1250 birds.With several thousand Starlings and Black-headed Gulls we must have at least 5000 birds on the Meadow at present.

22nd November

The recent heavy rainfall has done it's job and pushed the floods from being embryonic through to full-grown. What's more the damp conditions have been bringing in birds far and wide and the Meadow is now absolutely heaving with birds. We've even had our first waders of the season back with a lone REDSHANK, a single DUNLIN and a couple of SNIPE. There was also an impressive count of 100 Lapwings today though no Golden Plover.

On the wildfowl front there are lots of Wigeon, Teal and Mallard and loads of geese. These are mostly the feral Greylags but there were at least 50 Canada Geese this evening. The star birds of my visit though were four WHITE-FRONTED GEESE which flew in as the light was fading. I presumed at the time that they were the four Otmoor birds which hung around there for several weeks. If they linger then I'll need to check their ages as the Otmoor ones consisted of two adults and two juveniles. Anyway, there were a most welcome year tick for the Patch.

I'm pleased to report that we're also getting a modest gull roost in the evenings again. As usual, the numbers seem to vary but on good nights we're getting several thousand Black-headed Gulls and hundreds of larger gulls (mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls). It's time to start looking for Caspians and Yellow-legged Gulls again - hoorah!

A Lesser Black-backed Gull

11th November

I'm very pleased to announce that after a rather prolonged dry spell the recent rain has at last re-instated the floods. As yet they are rather modestly proportioned and whether they stay or not very much depends on how much rain we get in near future but for now at least they're back. What's more it didn't take long for the winter duck to return and a few days ago I was pleased to see about 350 WIGEON and about 100 TEAL once more gracing the floods with their presence along with good numbers of Mallards as well.

It's good to have the Wigeon back again!
Apart from the ducks there are still Linnet, Starlings, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails to be seen on the Meadow area and we've even had some loafing gulls as well. Let's hope the floods get extensive enough for them to start roosting there again.

Apart from that there's been a few things of note: the GREY WAGTAIL has been seen regularly about the place, I saw the KINGFISHER along the Castle Mill Stream again recently and I've had a fly-over LESSER REDPOLL and a few SISKINS. I also thought I heard the NUTHATCH over by Medley Farm copse again this week.

On the raptor front it's mostly been the RED KITE and a Kestrel though Adrian Grey reported a possible MERLIN a few weeks back on the Meadow. This is a species which has been reported as "possible" quite a few times over the years though we've yet to have a definite sighting whilst I've been birding the area.

18th October

I realised that it's been several weeks since my last update so I thought that I'd better post something. It's been depressingly quiet on the Meadow since our exciting Yellow-browed Warbler and as it's been a rather dry period so far there is no sign of any emerging flood waters at all. Of late there have been surprisingly few Lapwings about and no Golden Plover at all. At least Linnet numbers are increasing and the flock now numbers about 150 birds. Meadow Pipit numbers are still relatively modest but there are plenty of Pied Wagtails about. A few Siskins have been seen, mostly just flying over and I've been seeing several Kestrels of late as well as the usual Kite. I've been keeping an eye out for Stonechats and Whinchats which we've yet to get on the year list but so far I've had no luck.

This Grey Wagtail was being seen regularly a couple of weeks ago

Adrian Gray is still keeping an eye on things up in Wolvercote and recently he reported the following:

"Another trip to the Gullet today - still very, very low water, but the winter ducks are starting to come in. There's at least eight Shoveller, two clear drakes, two drakes just starting to come out of eclipse, and the rest... who knows at the mo? A couple of Teal - one perhaps starting to moult out of eclipse, and a Grey Wagtail busying itself. To my amusement, a passing couple asked if you got Kingfisher there - just as one flew across in front of us! A nice surprise.

Somewhat more bizarrely for the second time I saw a whacking great Terrapin sunning itself - must be at least dinner plate size."

So, it's all rather quiet at present. Once the floods re-emerge then we can look forward to the return of the winter duck and of course all those lovely gulls but until then we're rather scratching around.

Sunday 25th September: Yellow-browed Warbler!

At last a real Rare to report! This morning Steve Goddard (our man in Wolvercote) was cycling past the common ground near the Wolvercote village hall when he heard the unmistakable call of a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER. Screeching to a stop he had good views of it as it worked its way amongst the trees that surround College Pond (see here). Unfortunately at the time he was in a hurry and so couldn't linger and despite extensive searching later on in the day by both Steve and other people, it wasn't seen or heard again. Still a great record to get on the Patch year list, coming hot on the heels of the first one in October 2013 at the other end of the Meadow. These Siberian sprites have been getting increasingly common in the country over the last few years though they're still rarely seen inland so this is a fantastic find.

Onto more mundane matters, there's not been much to report over the last couple of weeks. It's amazing how we've slipped into winter birding mode now: the Meadow is being steadily populated by Linnets, Lapwings and Meadow Pipit with numbers increasing on a daily basis. In addition, Cherry Robinson reported a couple of Golden Plover and a Greenland WHEATEAR over the last couple of weeks. I've not seen any Yellow Wagtails recently though the livestock are now hanging out at the north end of the Meadow so I've not been able to search in amongst them. A Grey Wagtail has been hanging out down at the southern end of the Meadow the last week or so and indeed regularly flies over my house calling loudly. Adrian Gray reports a few Teal back in the Gullet now.

On the insect front there are still lots of Migrant Hawkers around, both along the Castle Mill Stream and also up at College Pond today. What we really need now is some decent rain to get the floods back in business.

Here's a reminder of the Yellow-browed Warbler from three years ago (c) Roger Wyatt

Friday 16th September

There is a distinctive autumnal feel to the Meadow though only in terms of the wild life. The weather certainly this week has been most unseasonally hot and humid though it now seems that we're back to more usual fare.

There has actually been some bird news to report. At this time of the year and without any floods the main points of interest are going to be migrant passerines working their way southwards. It's always worth therefore scouring the many hedgerows in the area though it can often be hard work for little reward. On the 11th Luca and Tom Pizzari reported a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER and a REDSTART in the fields past the Perch, a great double-find in an area that I don't normally check out though I know that migrants often follow the river south so it makes sense. As a bonus they also reported a couple of HOBBIES as well. On the 8th of the month Dave Gandy had a TREE PIPIT in flight heading south and calling over the main flood area. It's great to get this species on the year list as this is the one harder-to-get passage migrant passerine that we still need. To round things off Mary MacDougall found a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER in Burgess Field last weekend. 

Apart from these goodies, the main birds at present are the large numbers of YELLOW WAGTAILS (up to 25 or more) in amongst the cattle. There have also been large numbers of House Martins gathering in big pre-migration flocks and hawking for flies over the dried up flood area.

On the insect front, things are naturally winding down now there there are good numbers of Migrant Hawkers (I counted 6) along the Castle Mill Stream along with a Brown Hawker and the odd Ruddy and Common Darter.

Migrant Hawker
I've not been doing much mothing of late though I did manage my first Sallow of the autumn. These species are coloured to mimic autumn leaves and are traditionally a harbinger of the changing season in the mothing world.

Centre-barred Sallow