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.

Tuesday 11th to Thursday 15th July

These last few days have effectively seen the end of the floods. When I went down on Tuesday there were still two small pools left but by Thursday there was just one small puddle near the Trap Group allotment gate. On Tuesday's visit there were the 7 common terns again, a mixture of adults and juveniles - it's great to see signs of their breeding success. There was also a LITTLE EGRET around. On Wednesday Richard Foster found 3 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER still skulking around the remains of the shoreline, 2 juvenile YELLOW WAGTAILS and a COMMON SANDPIPER by the river near the Perch. On Thursday, despite the lack of water, one of the OYSTERCATCHERS was back, there was one juvenile LITTLE RINGED PLOVER still about, just a couple of adult common terns and a single juvenile YELLOW WAGTAIL.

Despite the lack of water, the "flood area" seems to be very rich in insect life with loads of flies flying up as you walk over it. For this reason the area is full of pied wagtails now. I found at least 15 of them going to roost in one of the small hawthorns by the boats.

Despite the fact that the young terns are fully fledged and flying around the adult birds took it upon themselves to dive bomb me as if I were threatening their nest.

Monday 10th July

A morning run around the patch, the first visit since my visit down to Cornwall last week. The floods are in their death throws with just two small flooded areas though there was still enough to attract 5 REDSHANK and 7 common terns (2 adults and 5 juveniles) though the little ringed plovers seemed to have moved on. Unfortunately I found a black-headed gull that was very sick, sick enough for me to be able to pick it up without protest. I took it home hoping to take it to St. Tiggywinkles should it survive any time but it died within the hour. Burgess Field held plenty of gatekeeper butterflies as well as some essex skippers. The marbled whites seem nearly to be finished now though I did spot a couple still out on the wing.

The hapless black-headed gull

3rd to 8th July: Little Stint

I've been away for the week, hence the lack of posts. Fortunately Richard Foster has been keeping an eye on the patch in my absence and in fact on Sunday he turned up a cracking bird in the form of an adult summer plumaged LITTLE STINT. At this time of year this is quite a rare bird and I am suitably gripped off to have missed it. Fortunately Jason Coppock took some video footage so I could at least see what I was missing.

Little stint, filmed (c) by Jason Coppock

Also present on Sunday were 11 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (mostly juveniles), 1 OYSTERCATCHER, 9 common terns and 1 YELLOW WAGTAIL.

On Monday there was unfortunately no sign of the Stint though there were 4 plovers still though by Friday this number had grown to an impressive 21 birds which must surely be approaching some kind of county record.

Saturday 2nd July

The highlight of this week has been LITTLE RINGED PLOVER numbers which have been building up to reach an amazing count of 19 birds on Thursday before falling back a little to 15+ today (Saturday). Apart from that there has been a REDSHANK, a COMMON SANDPIPER, a RINGED PLOVER, an OYSTERCATCHER and a SHELDUCK to add a bit of interest this week. The three lapwing chicks are all doing well and there were a couple of juvenile common terns being fed by an adult this week as well. Today there were quite a few STOCK DOVES around with a couple by the floods and a couple in Burgess Field NR. The butterflies are now flying in good numbers in Burgess Field with marbled white, ringlet, meadow brown, small heath, a gatekeeper and small skippers all on the wing at present. The floods themselves are now fast retreating and we are very much into the end game as far as they are concerned. Still we managed to keep them all through the spring passage and so can't complain too much and if we get a decent bit of rain they could re-flood fairly quickly.