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