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.