31st December - End of Year Round Up

My apologies for the lack of posting for a while but my life has been rather hectic what with one thing and another and after Christmas I've been in Cornwall. Anyway, there's not been a great deal to report since my last posting with 4 REDSHANK, 2 DUNLIN and 700 golden plover from Mary Gregory the only news that I've heard.

It's been a good year on the Meadow with a record breaking 137 on the year list. It's been a good year for rarities with spoonbill, pectoral sandpiper and white stork all being seen this year. The floods lasted until June and then restarted in the autumn so unfortunately we missed the prime return passage but you can't have everything. Bird of the year has to be the white stork which put in a very brief five minute appearance on the Meadow and was unfortunately seen just by a few lucky observers.

Meadow Bird of the Year - the White Stork

Below is the summary list for the year. Let's hope that next year is as good, or even better.

Birds of Note 2011

Waders: redshank, lapwing, golden plover, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, ruff, curlew, oystercatcher, ringed plover, little ringed plover, greenshank, common sandpiper, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper, grey plover, bar-tailed godwit, whimbrel, sanderling, SPOONBILL, litte stint, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, avocet

Water Fowl: wigeon, teal, shoveler, pintail, tufted duck, pochard, goosander, shelduck, goosander, red-breasted merganser, brent goose, garganey, white-fronted goose

Gulls/Terns: yellow-legged gull, Caspian gull, Glaucous Gull, Mediterranean gull, Little Gull, Iceland Gull, Black Tern, + usual commoner gulls & terns

Misc. Others:
yellowhammer, brambling, nuthatch, waxwing, raven, lesser redpoll, tree sparrow, grey wagtail, kingfisher, redstart, wheatear, whinchat, yellow wagtail, channel wagtail, blue-headed wagtail, WHITE STORK, nightingale, cuckoo, spotted flycatcher, marsh tit

Birds of Prey: peregrine, buzzard, red kite, sparrowhawk, kestrel, tawny owl, osprey, hobby

Warblers: blackcap, garden warbler, chiffchaff, willow warbler, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, sedge warbler, reed warbler, grasshopper warbler

Thursday 22nd December

It's been a few days since I've been able to get down to the Meadow so today I went with my son in tow again for a late afternoon visit. The floods have extended out even more now and it's all looking very healthy. Today all the birds were concentrated at the north end near the Burgess Field gate. In amongst the usual suspects were a couple of DUNLIN and seven PINTAIL (five drakes and two ducks). There was nothing particularly unusual in amongst the modest gull roost tonight. As I was about to leave a microlight when over putting up all the ducks and the golden plover though the gulls just ignored it.

Sunday 18th December

An early afternoon walk down to the Meadow with my five year old son in tow to see how frozen the floods were. The answer was that almost the entire area was frozen apart from a small area near to the Burgess Field gate which was packed out with wigeon and teal. A few more wigeon were sleeping on the ice and there was a small contingent of gulls by a small pool in the middle of the ice. The bird of the day was a single DUNLIN picking it's way over the ice looking for something to eat. The heron was still near the boats, asleep by the edge of the ice. I presume that it spends most of its time hunting in the small stream by the boat moorings.

The dunlin. Waders have been rather scarce on the floods of late

Friday 16th December

A sunnier day though still rather cold. The floods are extending their area nicely and the river was noticeably higher as well: it would be great if it were to burst its banks and flood the whole Meadow area again. For the first time in quite a while we had a wader on the floods in the form of a REDSHANK. There were also 3 drake PINTAIL in amongst the vast hoards of wintering ducks. As is often the case when the weather is good, the gull roost was smaller in size and more unstable: periodically large portions would up sticks and head over the hill towards Farmoor. There were no gulls of particular note tonight. A RED KITE was quartering over the floods for quite a while this evening.

There was a grey heron near the boats tonight. This photo was taken previously in sunnier conditions by (c) Duncan Eames

Thursday 15th December

The last couple of visits to the Meadow have not produced anything of particular note apart from the fact that the floods are being nicely extended by this spell of long-overdue and much welcome rain. Today when I arrived there were some people out on the point who I think were analysing the water table. As a consequence all the ducks were over on the east side and there were no gulls to be sign. I therefore decided to have a quick walk through Burgess Field to see if I could find any SNIPE or woodcock. The best I could turn up was a single one of the former but at least by the time I returned to the floods the men had gone and the gulls were coming back in. Two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS was the best I could do - I'm still keen to find the first Caspian of the season.

I suspect that people are growing tired of constant grainy yellow-legged gull video (can't understand it myself) so here's a shot of some of the roosting duck at dusk. I rather like the lines of cloud drawing your eye to the centre of this picture.

Tuesday 13th December

The heavens opened and dumped a shed load of rain and hail on me just as I arrived on the Meadow this afternoon. After it had passed I was able to scane through quite a reasonably sized gull roost though the only bird of interest was what looked like a first winter YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. There was also a smart male GOOSANDER which headed off as soon as the bad weather started. There are huge numbers of duck about now: the whole of the North Shore was wall to wall wigeon.

Monday 12th December

The usual late afternoon visit to the Meadow for the evening roost which turned out to be relatively modest in size. There was no sign of the Iceland gull today but there were a couple of smart adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and also a couple of COMMON GULLS which have been rather scarce recently. A good sized golden plover flock tonight and the usual vast numbers of winter ducks, especially wigeon.

Sunday 11th December: Iceland Gull

I wasn't able to get out at all yesterday as I was tied up with relatives so today at my usual time of an hour before dusk I was out on the Meadow again. It was suitably gloomy with a southerly breeze and starting to rain, so ideal gulling conditions! Today my efforts were rewarded in the form of the 2nd winter ICELAND GULL that has been hanging out at Appleford for a while now. It has been reporting as roosting at Thrupp Lake previously so it was nice to see it on the Meadow today. Apart from that there were lots of large gulls (several thousand) to look through. The golden plover flock was of a good size this evening with at least 750 birds in a huge swathe across the floods, with more flying in as I left.

The Iceland gull this evening

Friday 9th December

I wasn't able to make it out today to the Meadow. I heard back from our esteemed county recorder who couldn't really see enough from my dodgy video yesterday to make any pronouncement so it will have to remain unidentified - let's hope it turns up again in better conditions. Mary Gregory reports that she recently had possible woodcock in Burgess Field about 10 days ago. We had them at this time of year last year so it's very possible.

Thursday 9th December

Really miserable weather this afternoon when I visited the Meadow for the gull roost with very strong winds and persistent rain making viewing conditions very difficult. There was no sign of the ruff though I may well have missed him. The gull roost, as is typical in poor weather conditions, was very good with lots of large gulls to search through. There were a couple of very smart YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and I also spotted a very dark first winter bird which I suspect is one of the Finnish very dark argentatus herring gulls but I've sent off the photos to Ian Lewington just to check that it wasn't a smithsonianus (American herring gull). Unlikely I know but they are characteristically extremely dark and it wouldn't do to let such a rare slip through the net. I've yet to hear back from him but I'll update the blog with his comments when I receive them. Given the conditions and the light the photos are absolutely appalling so anyone other than hardcore gull enthusiasts should look away now.

This is the orignal digiscoped videograb...

...and this is it with the brightness and contrast tweaked
Here's one of the two yellow-legged gulls, looking
very smart and standing out from the crowd

Finally for those who really can't get enough of dodgy video taken in a howling gale and nearly pitch darkness here's two minutes of unedited hardcore gull footage

I did warn you!

Wednesday 8th December

Very windy and cold for my gull roost visit today. There was a rather promising looking gull roost starting to form when some over-enthusiastic photographer went right up to the edge of the shore and of course they all took off, some going on to Farmoor though some did return to start a break-away roost at the other end of the floods. I find that the Meadow gulls are surprisingly flighty and always keep well away from them to avoid spooking them. Lots of large gulls about tonight including a single adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. The male RUFF was also still about which was nice to see. A couple of recent sightings which I'd forgotten to mention recently: the NUTHATCH is still around by Medley farm and I've heard it calling on several occasions. Also a possible woodcock was reported at Burgess Field recently though it was not seen well enough to be certain.

Tuesday 6th December

Another mid-morning run today around the patch. Most of the ducks were towards the southern end of the floods today and there was quite a large contingent of 200 or so wigeon on the grass near the path. I must make a count of all the birds there but it must be getting on for 1000 wigeon by now. The highlight of the day was a RUFF, the first that we've had for a while, on the Meadow - the patch is quite a well known hot spot for this species so it was nice to see one again here. There was also a sleeping drake PINTAIL in amongst the water fowl. Burgess Field was quiet with just a single SNIPE and a flock of redwings at the north end.

Saturday 3rd December

Today I went for a mid-morning run around the patch for a change: it was nice to see everything in daylight rather than the half life of dusk. There were plenty of gulls around even at this time of day and there was an adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL in amongst them - this species has been noticeably absent from the roost the last week or so. Three PINTAIL (two drakes) were also noteworthy and in Burgess Field, despite the dry conditions, I managed to flush a couple of SNIPE. Apart from that, there are plenty of the usual birds around: lots to look at but starting to get a bit samey at the moment.

Just a point & shoot snap of some of the delightful
wigeon that are very much at home on the Meadow at present.

Thursday 2nd December - Finnish Herring Gull

Another late afternoon visit in the gloom to the Meadow roost. It's all been depressingly samey the last few visits with little of interest. Today's highlight was a drake PINTAIL though there was an interesting gull (aren't all gulls are interesting?) in the roost which I tried to shoe-horn into the atlantis camp though Ian Lewington (our esteemed county recorder) put me straight. He reckons that it is a very dark argentatus, probably from Finland, which start to appear in Oxfordshire in early December. The fact that the streaking bleeds onto the breast rather than being a demarcated hood is diagnostic. Apparently the first winters from there are scarily like a smithsonianus - now that would get me excited! There's always something to learn even on the quiet days!

An extra dark Finnish argentatus herring gull

Wednesday 30th November: Goosander

A very brief visit to the Meadow at dusk today so I only had time for two scans through the gull flock. Once again there were reasonable numbers of large gulls though still nothing of note. The highlight of the trip was three GOOSANDER: a male and two red-heads which came in to roost on the floods.

Tuesday 29th November

The weather was pretty foul this afternoon when I went out to visit the Meadow. I often feel more optimistic in poor weather and indeed the gull roost was better than it had been for some time particularly with regards to large gulls which were present in very large numbers tonight. Despite this plethora of birds to look through I couldn't actually turn up anything unusual and it was just the default gulls tonight. There was one possible yellow-legged gull that flew off before I could even get my scope on it. The golden plover were well represented tonight as well and there were plenty of the usual winter ducks. All in all it was pretty packed out with birds but viewing conditions were so difficult with the rain and the wind that it was hard to do justice to the good bird numbers.

For a few brief minutes there was a spectacular
sunset - worth braving the wind and the rain for!

Monday 28th November

I've been away for about a week (Cornwall again) so today was the first day in a while that I'd visited the patch. It was also the first really cold day that we've had in quite some time, distinctly nippy. Anyway, the Meadow floods were pretty much as I'd left them and so too were their avian occupants: the wigeon, teal and shoveler were all about, the golden plover flock was again about 300 birds and there was a modest gull roost containing a single adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL this evening. The highlight of the day was a RAVEN seen flying over Wolvercote by Jeremy Dexter.

Saturday 19th November

I went for a mid-morning run around the patch today. The floods were looking good and there were plenty of ducks around including three drake PINTAIL today. Down at the Southern End of the floods a rather forlorn photographer had gone to the trouble of covering himself with camouflage netting and was waiting patiently for the birds to come down to where he was. I wondered whether I should tell him that at the moment the birds are sticking resolutely to the top part of Burgess Channel and I've not seen any birds down at the southern end since the floods returned. Port Meadow is a really tough spot for bird photography as there is no cover at all - this is why I usually resort to digiscoping myself.

Burgess Field was still rather quiet though in the north-east corner I managed to flush a total of nine SNIPE today despite there being no pools there at all. A few redwing were feeding in the hedge that borders the north end of Burgess Field.

Friday 18th November

Another reasonably sunny day though with a bit more of a southerly breeze today. This evening there was a much better gull roost with many more larger gulls though comparatively fewer black-headed gulls. In amongst the large ones were a couple of cracking adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. It's noticeable that at present the vast majority of the herring gulls are the large Scandinavian argentatus birds. At last light the red-head GOOSANDER came in to roost again, I wonder where it is going during the day. Apart from that there were the usual ducks and the wonderful murmuring golden plover flock.

Here's a cracking adult yellow-legged gull to drool over...

...and for those who inexplicably can't get excited by a stonking yellow-legged gull, here's a pretty sunset photo instead which you can click to enlarge if you wish. Those black dots at the front are wigeon by the way.

Thursday 17th November

Quite a nice day again today with sunshine and not much wind though not as mild as of late. There was a report from Dai John of a couple of brent geese at Farmoor that flew over the hill towards Port Meadow so I went out this morning to see if I could find them but they were nowhere to be found. Duck and golden plover numbers had increased again with at least 500 of the latter around this morning. There was no sign of the pintail nor the redshank today and this evening's gull roost was disappointingly small though there was an adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL in amongst it for a while at least though it sloped off to Farmoor rather than staying to roost.

This evening's yellow-legged gull

Wednesday 16th November: Avocets

As I had a dentist's appointment later on today during what would be my usual visiting time, I decided on a late morning run around the patch for a change. This turned out to be most fortuitous as I jammed in on five AVOCETS there which had been found by Cherry Robertson this morning. They weren't actually present when I arrived but flew back whilst I was watching. They remained rather flighty and would occasionally take off, fly several circuits around the Meadow before settling again. Apparently at 1 p.m. they were flushed and flew off high to the south (per Jason Coppock)

The five avocets

I only had my point & shoot camera with me as I was on a run but fortunately Phil Chapman let me take a few digiscoped shots through his scope and this one turned out ok (thanks Phil!). I left Duncan Eames trying to take some DSLR photos.

Duncan Eames (c) managed this flight shot of the birds

Cherry had clearly had a good visit as she also had a fly-over RAVEN on Burgess Field as well as the first PINTAIL of the season, a drake, which was asleep opposite the Burgess Field gate in amongst the other ducks. The floods seemed to have widened even since yesterday though there had been no overnight rain so clearly the water is coming up from below. Duck numbers were up nicely with shoveler numbers up to more typical levels now. There was a good flock of several hundred golden plover and a single REDSHANK. To round it off there were several (at least three) SNIPE tucked up in various locations around the fringes of the floods. All in all the Meadow is looking really birdy now - it's great to have it back!

Tuesday 15th November

Quite sunny today though noticeably colder. My late afternoon visit was somewhat spoilt by a man wading with his two dogs across the channel by Burgess Field gate and putting up what was looking like a rather promising gull roost which promptly sped off to Farmoor instead. Apart from that it was the "default birds" today: wigeon, teal, shoveler, golden plover and the usual gull species.

Monday 14th November: Goosander

Today has been dull and gloomy all day and so it was pretty dark by the time I came down to the Meadow for the evening roost. The poor conditions meant that there were hardly any people visiting the Meadow and as a consequence the gull roost was much larger than of late. The golden plover flock numbered about 300 birds and the wigeon, teal and a few shoveler were all present and correct though the two redshank seemed to have moved on. The gulls were much more widely distributed this evening with the largest ones in the North Channel, a large swathe of mostly black-headed along the North Reach and a smaller number of again mostly black-headed in Burgess Channel. There were no gulls of particular note this evening with just one adult common gull spotted and relatively few larger gulls about in general. The bird of the day was the first GOOSANDER, a red-head, of the season which was presumably going to roost on the floods.

The red-head goosander this evening.
It looks like a female to me but I don't know whether
goosander have a first winter plumage or not.

Sunday 13th November

I wasn't able to get down to the Meadow on the previous days so I took the opportunity this afternoon even though Sundays are not usually that great due to the increased number of people and dogs around. The heavy rain that we had recently had increased the flood level nicely and there was a rather nice Turner-esque sunset which was enjoyed by about half a dozen birders who came and went by the Burgess Field gate. The golden plover were still there, numbering about 60 though apparently a large number had flown off earlier on. Duck numbers were down somewhat as well and I guess that a dog had probably gone through there earlier in the day and had chased them off. The two REDSHANK were still about seeming very much at home. The gull roost this evening was rather small and rather distant with a couple of common gulls (one first winter and one adult) the pick of the bunch.

Ducks at sunset

Thursday 10th November

Today continued the trend of the week with progressively nicer weather and regrettably a progressively smaller gull roost. Many of the gulls that were present were frightened off by a couple of rampant dogs and sped off to the safety of the Farmoor roost so there were only a handful of larger gulls about and the juvenile common gull to keep the ubiquitous black-headed gulls company. The two REDSHANK were still around as were the flock of about 150 golden plover. Duck numbers have increased and there were about half a dozen shoveler tonight. Yesterday evening I finally heard my first redwing of the season go over and today whilst scanning the floods a fieldfare was "chakking" away behind me in the Trap Ground border hedge.

Something a bit arty this evening: the two
redshank shot directly into the reflected sunset.

Wednesday 9th November

This evening it was much brighter than the previous two evenings but still mild and calm. The gull roost seems to be getting smaller each evening and it was a comparatively paltry affair tonight. However what it lacked in quantity it certainly made up for with quality in the form of what I thought at the time was cracking adult Caspian gull. The birds were once again quite close and the low numbers meant that one was able to get a great view of the bird: so often when they are standing around on the floods one can only see parts of the bird in the crowd. The bird had what appeared to be long spindly pink legs and a sort of aloof imperial look that Caspians have. Admittedly the bill wasn't as long or as pale as one would ideally like to have but I was convinced. Fortunately Ian Lewington put me straight: the underside of the P10 primary is diagnostic and this bird obligingly kept it on display the whole time. Whilst I knew this feather was important, I'd mis-remembered what exactly it should look like. Take a look at the photos first:

I even had a go at a digiscoped still shot though in the half light
of dusk even at ISO 800 the shutter speed was only about 1/30th sec
so I've had to over-sharpen it to compensate. Click to enlarge if you wish

Video footage - this would have been great apart from the slight tilt.
You can of course correct for this in a still photo but not so easily with video
as you have far fewer pixels to play with

On a yellow-legged gull, the P10 underside is basically a black feather with a white tip (as above). On an adult Caspian it's a white feather with a black band about an inch wide close to the tip. This will more or less apply to a 3rd winter Caspian as well with a long white tongue coming up into the black but not for younger birds. Ian reckons that this bird might come from the south-western part of the yellow-legged gull region e.g. the Iberian peninsula. Apparently they are quite a common occurrence in early December and can fool the unwary (such as myself!).

Apart from this interesting gull there were only about fifty non-black-headed gulls all told including a common gull that was barely out of juvenile plumage with just one or two of its scapulars starting to turn grey. Gulls aside, the usual suspects were about: the two REDSHANK were still present and there were a couple of hundred golden plover around still as noisy as ever. I've noticed that as well as their usual murmuring sound they also occasionally make a call that is remarkably like a green sandpiper. The first time I heard it actually thought that it was one though I've since got used to it. Talking of mimicing calls, as I was cycling down Longworth Road towards the Meadow I heard the distinct distant call of a wigeon coming from the roof tops! Of course it turned out to be a starling doing an excellent imitation.

Tuesday 8th November

Very similar weather to yesterday with overcast and gloomy conditions though mild and with little wind. The birds were once more half way down the South Channel though the gull roost was much smaller than of late with only a few large gulls to look at. The two REDSHANK were still about though their dunlin cousins had moved on. There were about 150 golden plover tonight which murmured away constantly and there are now good numbers of wigeon and teal about with the two shoveler still present as well.

As the chosen congregation point for the birds was quite close to the main path they would occasionally get spooked such as on one occasion when a cyclist went past too quickly or a dog threatens to head out into the floods. When this happens they all erupt upwards in a stunning snowstorm of white gulls whilst the golden plover zip around at high speed in a tight flock just like some high speed aerial display team. The duck aren't so easily spooked and just loaf around in an unconcerned manner. I'd love to take a photo of it all but the light has been so poor over the last couple of nights that it wouldn't be worth it.

Monday 7th November

It was very gloomy though calm and mild when I visited the Meadow this evening. Despite there not having been much more rain since my last visit the flood waters have now extended all the way down to the Southern Tail and it all looks like a really great piece of habitat once again. There were good numbers of birds which were all congregating along the South Channel today. Wigeon and teal numbers have increased since my last visit and there was a pair of shoveler today for the first time in a long while. The golden plover flock numbered about 75 birds and it was fantastic to have them swooping low and fast right over my head at times: they seem to be very noisy fliers with their wing beats making quite a whooshing noise. Waders were represented today by a pair of REDSHANK and a pair of DUNLIN. A reasonably sized gull roost found the first YELLOW-LEGGED GULL of the season, a fine adult which I would guess was a female, as well as a few great BB's and common gulls in amongst the usual suspects. All in all it's great to have the Meadow back on form. All we need now is for something really good to turn up.

The adult yellow-legged gull on the floods this evening

Friday 4th November

Heavy overnight rain has really perked up the Meadow floods which now stretch in a continuous arc all the way from Stint Corner through to half way down the South Channel with only the Southern Tail now still dry. Admittedly they are still rather thin but they are certainly proving attractive to the birds and it was just like old times this evening out there. As I arrived I heard the distinctive call of a GREENSHANK and spotted three of them flying about overhead before they headed off vaguely towards Farmoor.A wonderful murmuring flock of about 500 golden plover (I even did a rough count) were on the west shore of the South Channel along with a single REDSHANK. There were literally hundreds of mallards about on the grass and at last the winter ducks were back with about 60 WIGEON and 20 TEAL looking very much at home in the damp conditions. Not to be out done the linnet flock was numbering about 100 birds and a flock of about 100 pied wagtails flew off to roost with more of them still dotted around the Meadow. About 50 of the ever-present lapwing kept vigil along the shoreline looking as exotic as ever. The only slight disappointment was the gull roost which was rather paltry by recent counts with no more than a handful of larger gulls (compared to about 50 last night) though there were a couple of hulking greater black-backed gulls there for good measure.

I'm afraid most of my photos are going to be pretty poor
for a while as I'm making my visits to the Meadow during the
last hour of daylight at present. Here's a lovely first winter
common gull which has only just started to get it's grey scapular feathers

Some even worse quality video footage of tonight's redshank
feeding in front of the golden plover flock

Wednesday 2nd November

The Meadow seems to be getting back into its stride a bit more the last few days as it's starting to feel like proper winter birding there again. A REDSHANK was reported by Mary Gregory on Sunday and on Tuesday a PEREGRINE was seen hassling the gulls (Phil Chapman). I've started going down there for the last hour of daylight to check out the gull roost which I'm pleased to report is looking pretty healthy especially considering the relatively small size of the flood water still. On both Monday and today there have been a remarkable number (literally several thousand) black-headed gulls and today there were a reasonable number of larger gulls coming in as well with several greater black-backed, several dozen lesser black-backed and a couple of dozen herring gulls. They are starting to get their streaky heads which makes picking out the yellow-legged and Caspians much easier. Tonight as well there were at least six common gulls - I always enjoy picking these out from the gull throng. Golden plover have been around though the last few visits they've been rather small in number and also rather flighty. Still no winter duck to speak of though apparently the wigeon are back at the Wolvercote end.

You know it's winter when I start posting crummy video footage of gulls again

Saturday 29th October

I've been away for a few day (see Pendeen Birding) and my first visit back to the Meadow found the thin sliver of floods pleasantly enlarged. The recent rain has added sufficient water so that at least it has submerged the cattle footprints which were making it so hard to pick out birds along the shoreline. On the bird front the main difference has been the noticeable increase in golden plover with a flock of about 250 present with about 100 lapwing on Thursday though the fact that the floods are still rather small means that the birds are easily flushed so numbers can vary quite a lot. A couple of teal were also hanging about and numbers should increase substantially as the flood waters expand. Plenty of pied wagtails and linnets, with a smattering of meadow pipits and a passage of skylarks still going on overhead. Burgess Field is rather quiet though there were a couple of jays seen near the copse in the middle.

It's wonderful to have these beautiful plovers back on the Meadow

Whilst I was away a WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE was found by Dave Lowe hanging out with the greylag flock though it only stayed for a couple of days. There are no escapee white-fronts around that I know of and I have no reason to doubt the credentials of this bird which will go down as a year tick for the patch. Another patch year tick was provided by Steve Goddard who finally had a MARSH TIT in his garden in Wolvercote. Apparently they're normally fairly common visitors but this was the first one that he'd had all year.

Lapwings in flight

In amongst the black-headed gulls on Thursday were a lesser black-backed and a common gull. With the clocks going back now I might start checking out the Meadow to see if we're getting much of a gull roost yet.

Wednesday 19th October

There's still not very much to report, hence the long delay since my previous entry. There has been a noticeable change in the weather over the last couple of weeks with the Indian summer giving way to more seasonal weather again. There have been the first signs of autumn and winter in amongst the bird life on the Meadow as well: I've seen a few SNIPE around the flood strip and there were some teal hanging out in the vicinity though there's not really enough water to keep them entertained properly. Lapwing and black-headed gulls continue to loiter by the pool and today for the first time there were about 50 GOLDEN PLOVER wheeling around before settling near Stint Corner. It's great to have this lovely species back again on the Meadow and I always associate the autumn period with their wonderful overhead wheeling flocks as well as searching through the grounded birds for rarer American cousins. Plenty of meadow pipits, linnets and pied wagtails about and there has been a steady overhead light passage of skylarks over the last couple of weeks. Along the river and the Castle Mill Stream the kingfisher has been seen regularly again.

A male common darter enjoying the sunshine

I've only visited Burgess Field once in the last few weeks but was rewarded with a couple of SISKIN flying over and it looks like it might be a good season for this delightful finch this time round. Today in the hedge along the Trap Ground allotments my patient searching was rewarded with a treecreeper, actually my first of the year on the patch though they have been seen by others. This small bit of hedge is often surprisingly productive when looking for birds.

When all the other birds have deserted the flood puddle,
black-headed gulls still keep the faith

A bit of decent rain should expand the pool enough to attract back some ducks and perhaps even some waders as well as the wonderful winter gull roost. It's all a matter of waiting patiently.

Friday 7th October

There's not been much to report since the last entry. I've been away for a week but there have been no reports by anyone else from the Meadow. I went out today to check things out and there is still a thin sliver of flood water though it really needs some water to top it up a bit more. There were 20 lapwings along its edge as well as the usual party of black-headed gulls. Linnet numbers continue to grow and the flock must have been at least 80 strong today. Meadow pipits are also increasing in numbers though the marked decrease in livestock numbers means that there is less of interest to keep any passing yellow wagtails and I didn't see any today. There is a large contingent of canada geese (at least 100) keeping the feral greylags company on the Meadow. A few kingfisher sightings have been reported by Adrian Gray along the river recently. All in all it's a pleasant enough autumnal pastoral scene though not much bird action.

Wednesday 28th September

An early afternoon walk on the Meadow today found a single WHEATEAR working its way over the southern dried-up area of the floods. There were also noticeably more meadow pipits around today with about 20 all told. One of the LITTLE EGRETS was still about, standing in the middle of the field and there are still one or two YELLOW WAGTAILS in amongst the cattle. Common buzzard and red kite have also been taking advantage of the good weather for soaring over the last two days. The highlight of the last two days though has been another SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, found by Sydney Penner along the canal tow path.

Today's wheatear

Monday 26th September: Spotted Flycatchers

It's been a depressingly long time since my last posting but there has been precious little to report until today. I've continued to visit the Meadow two or three times a week in the vain hope that this autumn's Nearctic wader bonanza might cast a bird or two (ideally a buff-breasted sandpiper) in the direction of the Meadow. We're still hanging on to a thin sliver of flood water which continues to attracted some loafing black-headed gulls and an increasing number of lapwings (60 today). There have been a handful of YELLOW-WAGTAILS about each time I visit and the LITTLE EGRETS are still kicking around but that's been about it. However today my visit was brightened up by the presence of three passing SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS in the hedge by the Trap Ground allotments along the path to the southern Burgess Field gate. They seemed quite happy there and were still around half an hour later when I returned from scrutinising the floods. Spotted flycatchers are less than annual on the patch and this is a great year tick for the Meadow.

Lot's of my photos came out blurred as the autofocus ended up latching on to a branch rather than the bird itself but these two came out ok.

Friday 16th September: Whinchat

Another reasonable bird on the Meadow today in the form of a WHINCHAT (a patch year tick), found by Dave Lowe, which instead of being in the usual location of Burgess Field was working its way down the Meadow itself close to the main path. The three DUNLIN were still there on the puddle shoreline but there was unfortunately no sign of their diminutive stint cousin. Lapwing numbers had gone up to about 40, there were a few loafing black-headed gulls and a single grey heron by the flood pool. On the Meadow itself there were plenty of linnets, a total of 16 YELLOW WAGTAILS in amongst the cattle, a single skylark and the first few autumn meadow pipits flying over.

The whinchat (click to enlarge)

One of the many yellow wagtails (click to enlarge)

Thursday 15th September: Little Stint

It's been far too long since I last did an update but sadly that's a reflection on the current state of the Meadow floods. We have actually got a small sliver of flood water along the North Channel though mostly it's been attracting little more than a few black-headed gulls. Today I went out for a midday run and was scouring the flood shoreline when I came across a DUNLIN. After a little more searching I found a couple more and then a juvenile LITTLE STINT in amongst them. They were typically approachable and I was able to get close enough for a record shot with my Point & Shoot camera. We had the cracking adult bird a few months ago so this isn't a patch year tick but still a very welcome bird given the current poor state of the patch.

A couple of record shots with my P&S camera (Click to enlarge)

Apart from that there were about 8 YELLOW WAGTAILS in amongst the cattle and a few lapwings (I counted about 50 recently) and black-headed gulls. In amongst the feral geese there has been a BAR-HEADED GOOSE recently. There have been a few of the vanguard of winter TEAL loitering on the floods recently though they've receded again to the point where there's not much left for any self-respecting duck to bother with. If we get a decent spell of rain then the floods should top up again nicely though it may be too late for the autumn passage.

Friday 2nd September

Hey ho - another very quiet week on the patch. We've managed to retain the puddle along the North Channel and I have been more actively checking it out most days though there's not been a single wader on it that I've seen. The highlight of the week was a lovely WHEATEAR in the dried up area of Stint Corner on Tuesday. That same day there were also four GOLDEN PLOVER in amongst a flock of about 40 lapwings. Apart from that there has been a single LITTLE EGRET loitering near the river and a few dozen black-headed gulls loafing on the puddle. Plenty of YELLOW WAGTAILS in amongst the cattle and I counted at least 15 today. One or two common terns still around.

The bird of the week (Click to enlarge)

The little egret has been around for a while now (Click to enlarge)

Burgess Field is still largely birdless and most of the butterflies have now gone with just a few small heaths still about. There were a couple of dragonflies in the "ride" today: a southern hawker and a ruddy darter I believe.

A female Common Darter (Click to enlarge)

The TAWNY OWL was heard at least once this week, as usual only calling once or twice so probably just passing through the patch from its roost to its hunting grounds.

Monday 29th August

It's been another quiet week or so on the Meadow. There have been one or two noteworthy snippets but nothing too exciting. On Saturday 20th I noticed the first GOLDEN PLOVER of the autumn back on the Hinterland in amongst the lapwings though I've not seen it since. There are plenty of YELLOW WAGTAILS passing through which, as usual, tend to hang out near the cattle or horses. There was a single late SWIFT flying over Kingston road also on the 20th. There have also been a couple of HOBBY sightings in the neighbourhood. A few times now I've heard the hooting of a passing TAWNY OWL from my bedroom though it never calls more than a couple of times before moving on. The LITTLE EGRETS are still around with a couple of them being seen fairly regularly hunting along the river. The leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE is still around in amongst the feral greylags and there have been a few COMMON SANDPIPER sightings along the river shorline.

Hobby (c) Pete Styles
One of the two little egrets on the river

On the butterfly and dragonfly front things are very much winding down now. A gatekeeper was visiting the garden a few times last week and I had a southern hawker drop in on one occasion as well. In Burgess Field the only ones on the wing now are a few small heaths.

Garden gatekeeper

Today on my run around the patch there were loads of chiffchaffs, especially around the Trap Grounds including one or two that were "chiffchaff"-ing rather than just "huweet"-ing. One encouraging news is that as a result of the recent rain there is now a thin sliver of flood water along the North channel. Normally I would be fairly dismissive of such as small amount of water but Richard Foster's diligence in turning up some good birds on very paltry flood area makes me more careful about this. Today there were just lapwings, yellow and pied wagtails and the obligatory black-headed gulls there but I'll keep an eye on it over the coming days.

Today I met the Oxford Rare Plants Group on the Meadow doing a survey of the Creeping Marshwort which used to be found in this country only on the Meadow though apparently it has now been introduced to a few other locations in order to avoid the risk of it getting wiped out by a few bad years. Apparently summer flooding is not at all good for this plant though a few new plants have come up from seeds that have lain dormant during the flooding.

A newly emerged Creeping Marshwort

Friday 19th August

The first hints of autumn are now in the air: the swifts are long gone, the blackberries are all out and autumn passage is evident amongst the birds of the Meadow. I've made a few visits to the Meadow this week but with no sign of any re-emergence of the floods it's very much a case of thin pickings on the patch. The main point of interest is the increasing number of YELLOW WAGTAILS on the Meadow itself, particularly in amongst the cattle and horses. Indeed I counted at least 30 this morning and there were probably plenty more. There are still some loafing black-headed gulls staying faithful to Stint Corner despite the lack of water and the lapwing flock is numbering at least 40 now. Occasionally a LITTLE EGRET can be seen on the Meadow or on the river. Despite scouring the river shoreline there have been no sandpipers this week though there are still a good number of common terns about.

It's at this time of year that I usuall inflict some woeful point & shoot photos of yellow wagtails on my long-suffering readers. Well this time they're a bit better than usual thanks to my new Canon SX30 super zoom camera. Still not SLR quality but at least with the new toy I can zoom in much closer to the subject.

Burgess Field and the Trap Grounds held noticeably more warblers, including whitethroats, chiffchaffs and willow warblers, which are now clearly on the move south. On the butterfly front there was little of note with small heaths and the odd common blue being the main species of note.

It's even been rather quiet in the garden with just one red admiral popping in though today I had what I believe is a Migrant Hawker dragonfly popping into the garden a couple of times. If it lingers I'll try to get a photo.

The garden red admiral

The river is looking nice and full after the recent rain though we need a lot more in order to re-flood the Meadow so fingers crossed for a wet week or two!

Friday 12th August

It was predictable of course that as soon as I was away a good bird would turn up. It was so good that I was moved to do a remote blog update from deepest darkest Cornwall. Since that wonderful find it's all been depressingly quiet and I've arrived back to find very few sightings posted on Going Birding. The highlights have been 1 OYSTERCATCHER, a peak count of 11 LITTLE EGRETS, 1 GREENSHANK, 1 BARNACLE GOOSE (presumably the usual escapee), 1 COMMON GULL and 1 COMMON SANDPIPER.

This morning I went on a patch-wide run to check out the current state of the area and it was pretty quiet. The floods have all gone and the grass is fast reclaiming the muddy patches. There were plenty of wood pigeons and lapwings dotted over the grass and at what had been Stint Corner there was a congregation of black-headed gulls and a couple of juvenile common terns with more gulls spread out over the surrounding grass so that there must have been several hundred around in total. A lone LITTLE EGRET was up in the Hinterland opposite the poplars and there were at least 6 juvenile YELLOW WAGTAILS in amongst the numerous cattle with more terns hunting over the river.

In Burgess Field there were few butterflies around with a couple of common blues the only points of interest. Until we get some decent flooding, it's going to be rather quiet for a while now I suspect.

I forgot to mention that Richard Foster had a fly-over WOOD SANDPIPER. Apparently about 40 minutes earlier one had flown off north from 1066 near Drayton so it may very well have been the same bird.

Firday 29th July: Pectoral Sandpiper!!

Typically, just as soon as I leave a cracking bird turns up on the Meadow! Actually Richard Foster has already turned up some great birds on the Meadow this year and has easily "out-found" me this year (he found the white stork and the adult little stint) and once again he turned up trumps when together with Tom Wickens they found a PECTORAL SANDPIPER on the remains of the floods. It was found some time around 4pm and stayed until just before 8pm when it was flushed and flew off high to the west. Interesting there is some recent history for this Neartic wader on the Meadow when a pair of them turned up in the autumn of 2007 and stayed for some time. Unfortunately the floods just aren't in the same attractive state at present as they happened to be then so it will be no surprise if this bird is not seen again.

A brilliant photo of the bird by "the Paranoid Birder"

Cracking Video Taken by Jason Coppock

Great work, guys - but don't find anything else too good until I'm back ;-)

Away for a While

I'm off on my summer hols with the family for a while so updates will be more sporadic though I will have internet access where I'm going. As usual any sightings should be reported through the Going Birding site.

Saturday 23rd to Wednesday 27th July: Yellow-legged Gull

Things are still pretty quiet around the Meadow. The glorified puddle along the North Channel is still present and is attracting a few gulls for the evening roost though these are almost entirely black-headed gulls. The odd wader is dropping in there briefly: there was a DUNLIN on Monday and a GREENSHANK briefly on Tuesday and also one present at Wednesday lunch-time and the OYSTERCATCHERS are still seen on occasion. The post-breeding lapwing flock is getting larger with about 50 birds now loitering on the dried-up mud. The river shoreline continues to attract the occasional COMMON SANDPIPER with one there for the last three days and the odd LITTLE EGRET can also be seen along the river. The common tern families are still about and as noisy as ever. Perhaps the only change of note has been the sudden influx of canada geese with about 100 of these birds having re-appeared suddenly. Talking of geese, the leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE is still in residence amongst the feral greylags.

Common sandpiper along the river shore (taken last year)

In Burgess Field it's still pretty quiet though there are plenty of young birds about to be seen. On the butterfly front once again it's mainly gatekeepers in the grasses and the usual red admirals, peacocks and speckled woods elsewhere. On Wednesday I did my Big Butterfly Count there in the hot spot between the two copses and managed the following totals: 10 gatekeeper, 4 meadow brown, 2 small heath, 2 brown argus, 2 essex skipper, 2 speckled wood, 1 peacock. I was particularly pleased with the brown argus which is a new species for the patch for me at least. I dare say that they've been there in previous years but I've not spotted them before.

One of the brown argus. The dark spots on the forewing are
diagnostic and distinguish it from very brown female common blues

I came across this slow worm struggling along the path at
Aristotle Lane. I popped him back in the undergrowth where
he'll be a lot safer

On Wednesday evening Richard Foster found a cracking adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL on the floods. Given the time of year I'd been looking out for them for a while now but it was great finally to have one visit the much-depleted floods.

Monday 18th to Friday 22nd July

As is to be expected, it's been a quiet week on the Meadow. There has been just enough rain to keep a narrow channel of water intact along the North Channel in amongst the churned up mud. It's hardly ideal but does just about enough at least to pull in some passing migrant waders though not enough to keep them there for any length of time. Still the black-headed gulls seem to like it and there are probably about a hundred birds congregating there in the evening. Unfortunately there haven't been any large gulls to speak of which is a shame because at Farmoor there are at least a dozen adult yellow-legged gulls kicking around. On the wader front I've had a party of four REDSHANK on Tuesday and on Thursday evening there was one SNIPE, one COMMON SANDPIPER, one LITTLE RINGED PLOVER and one OYSTERCATCHER.

This is a bit of a rubbish photo taken first thing this morning
but it shows the current state of the floods

Apart from these passage waders, the common terns are still very much around being as noisy as ever. There has been a LITTLE EGRET or two knocking around and one or two sand martins have been seen over the river. The whole area is currently full of juvenile pied wagtails working their way over the former flood areas: they seem to like roosting in the hawthorn trees by the boats and you can often see at least a dozen of them crammed into the small tree at dusk. In Burgess Field NR the butterflies du jour are gatekeepers which are out in good numbers. There are also some essex skippers about though many of the earlier species have mostly finished by now.

gatekeeper - butterfly du jour

In my garden I've had a HUMMING-BIRD HAWK MOTH moth visit my buddlia on three consecutive mornings though it never seems to hang around much. Today has been a good buttefly day with red admiral, peakcock, small tortoiseshell, large and small whites and holly blue all in my garden. This morning I watched a small white flitting from leaf to leaf laying a single yellow egg at each location which was fascinating to watch.

A peacock in our garden this morning

The young blue and great tits are still visiting the feeders and today I've also had a coal tit around for much of the day. The resident blackbirds seem to have managed to rear a second brood and there was a full-fledged young bird on my roof this morning. Nature is out there doing it's thing which is very life-affirming. Now if only we could get the floods properly topped up again...

young blackbird in my garden

This evening Richard Foster managed to find:
48 lapwing
5 common tern.

Sunday 17th July

I've still been visiting the Meadow most evenings though there has been precious little to report. The recent heavy rained has created at least a damp puddle along the North Channel and a few black-headed gulls were congregating in that area this afternoon. The common terns and their youngsters are still around as is the lone OYSTERCATCHER and a LITTLE EGRET was reported today as well. A couple of days ago there was a single LITTLE RINGED PLOVER though the ground is now so churned up that it's very difficult to pick them out.

This afternoon whilst going en famille to Binsey Fete, we came across a recently fledged blackcap hopping about on Walton Well Road just past the railway bridge on the steep section down to the car park. It was very cute and even hopped onto my wife's shoe for a moment. This was clearly no place for a baby bird as cars come down there quite quickly so I moved it to the scrub area next to the road by the Meadow trusting that it's parents would be able to find it again from it's insistent calling. Sure enough when we came back a few hours later it had managed to find its way into a nearby bush and was being fed regularly by an attentive parent. I'm sure I don't need to tell readers of this blog that if you find a young bird it's almost certainly not abandoned and that the parents will locate it by its "feed me" calls so just move it our of any immediate danger and let the parents get on with the job of feeding it.

The baby blackcap on the road this afternoon (click to enlarge)

Review of the First Half of the Year

I know that this is a bit late but now that the floods are basically gone I thought that I would take some time to review how the first half of the year has gone on Port Meadow. By all standards it's been a pretty good first half of the year - we've basically had all the birds that one might expect during that time and some nice unexpected surprises.

Now in the middle of summer one forgets just how harsh a winter it was but back in January the floods were frozen solid. Waxwings were about at the start of the year and we managed to get yellow-legged and Caspian gull pretty early on in the year.

yellow-legged gull
Caspian' gull, one of my favourite gulls

My policy this year of broadening the boundaries of the patch paid off handsomely in the form of a variety of more unusual birds driven by the harsh weather into gardens around the Meadow area. This included yellowhammer, brambling, lesser redpoll and waxwing - all nice ticks for the Meadow area.

A nice brambling!

Luckily the Meadow area didn't miss out on the national waxwing invasion - this was taken from my garden

There was even "Norbert" the Nordic jackdaw - strictly only "showing the characteristics of this race" and probably some genetic throw-back rather than a genuine vagrant. Incidentally he's still around now and I see him from time to time.

Winter seemed to drag on for ever but at last eventually we got a thaw in the ice and the birds could start congregating again on the floods. A red-breasted merganser was around for a while and it was fun to try and pick it out from the large numbers of goosanders at a distance at dusk. As well as some Mediterranean gulls we were graced by the fearsome presence of "Glauczilla" a huge glaucous gull who found the floods rather to his liking and spent a couple of weeks there on and off.

Glauczilla - the beast!

This subtle Caspian gull was a most interesting find

Finally spring started to arrive and suddenly the first sand martins and little ringed plovers were on the Meadow

One of the first signs of spring!

We had a good garganey spring passage with up to half a dozen or so different birds this year.

We even had good numbers of little gulls around for a while - it's always a joy to see these dainty gulls

This striking male ruff was around for quite a while

April had mostly the usual birds, mostly waders, until the end of the month when there was the most amazing purple patch with a great variety of interesting birds all coming through in the space of a few days.

It all kicked off with this cracking channel wagtail on the Meadow followed by a blue-headed wagtail which was around for the next couple of days

We don't always get whimbrel each year but managed several sightings this time

We had about every wader species that you might expect in the space of a couple of days including our share of the national mass bar-tailed godwit passage. We must have had several hundred godwits go through in the space of a few days. Several grey plovers also went through and we even had a black tern visit the Meadow briefly one evening.

We had quite a few wood sandpipers go through as well

The highlight of the first half of the year had to be the white stork the graced the Meadow for just a few minutes and which only half a dozen or so lucky people got to see.

We can always expect some black-tailed godwits on the Meadow each spring

As we moved into May things started to calm down. There were still wood sandpipers and other waders of various kinds to see but it got progressively quieter. A nightingale in the Wolvercote area was a nice patch tick and we even managed a sanderling at the tail end of their passage. Amazingly, despite the driest spring for many years the floods held out all the way into June.

We've had spoonbill on the Meadow for the last three years though usually in May whereas this year one didn't turn up until the start of June.

To round things off, just when the floods were about all dried up this cracking adult little stint was found on the floods.

With the floods now gone things will no doubt be rather quiet until they're re-created again, either by persistent rainfall or an actual flooding of the river. It's of course very frustrating that the patch has disappeared with the autumn passage just kicking off now but that is the nature of the place. As far as different species that have been seen is concerned, we managed 131 which would be a pretty good total ever for the whole year. The only species that we might have possibly expected but didn't get were turnstone and Temminck's stint though there were no reports of the latter this year in the county at all. With any luck we'll get some more action later on this autumn once the floods reform.