Thursday 31st May: Garganey

As we come to the end of what's been a very disappointing May I can't help but think that things are actually perking up a little with some "reportable" birds starting to come through of late. I am therefore wondering whether everything is several weeks late this year. If so then it will mean that we could be about to hit a purple patch for Meadow birding - let's hope so.

Anyway, a very brief (I was supposedly on a shopping trip!) mid-afternoon visit today found 3 RINGED PLOVER, 1 DUNLIN and 1 sleeping REDSHANK to give a reasonable wader list for a change. On the duck front the RED-CRESTED POCHARD and two SHELDUCK were about as usual and were joined by a pair of GARGANEY, perhaps failed breeders who've come to sample the delights of the Meadow floods. There were also 12 LITTLE EGRETS and 5 grey herons representing the herons.

The Red-crested Pochard has been adding a bit of colour 
to the Meadow ducks of late (c) Pete Styles.

Tuesday 29th May: Channel Wagtail

It's been pretty much the same birds as usual once more. Each evening on my visits I've found the two SHELDUCK, the drake RED-CRESTED POCHARD, several LITTLE EGRETS and the usual black-headed gulls sometimes accompanied by the one remaining 1st summer LITTLE GULL. Today as a bonus there were two RINGED PLOVER and a DUNLIN though they flew off to the North whilst I was there. The most interesting bird was a very smart male CHANNEL WAGTAIL (a hybrid between a yellow wagtail and a continental blue-headed wagtail) which was down near the boat moorings with a couple of pied wagtails.

Whilst the floods are still quite extensive, they are now looking very sorry for them selves with large areas covered in some green algae though this is still a clear channel in the middle. They could really do with a nice top-up of rain at present.

  A couple of shots of the smart male "Channel" wagtail...

...and one of the ringed plover

Saturday 26th May

Another evening walk by the floods today and once again I actually found some birds to blog about. Firstly, of the stalwarts, the LITTLE EGRETS and SHELDUCK were still about though the little gulls appeared to have moved on. There were 6 RINGED PLOVER tonight, I don't know whether they are left over from yesterday's flock or if they are a different bunch. Steve Goddard's RED-CRESTED POCHARD was about again near Stint Corner and there was a single YELLOW WAGTAIL in a tree by the boat moorings. Finally to cap it all a PEREGRINE was flying around near the house boat on the river giving good views for a while.

The drake red-crested pochard

Friday 25th May: Sanderling & Red-crested Pochard

Despite the lack of blog updates I've still been faithfully visiting the Meadow each evening. However there are only so many times I can report exactly the same birds before it starts to get a bit boring. The delightful LITTLE GULLS have been there with the numerous black-headed gulls on each occasion, as have the pair of SHELDUCK, a few LITTLE EGRETS and the usual collection of ducks (gadwall, shoveler, mallard) & mute swans. When the weather is nice such as it is at present the hirundines and swifts all disperse away from the floods and so are seen in much smaller numbers

A couple of evenings ago I came across an ominous collection of pipes by the gate at the end of Walton Well Road and I started to panic that they might be about to drain the floods.

Ominous drainage pipes

However it turned out to be used for drainage for the bank just past the railway bridge.

Drainage of the bank by the railway bridge

Finally, on Friday I was rewarded with a nice flock of waders comprising 27 RINGED PLOVER, 3 DUNLIN and one SANDERLING, the latter being a nice Patch Year Tick. Sanderling are less than annual on the Meadow though this time of year seems to be quite good for them and we had one this time last year. Talking of wader Year Ticks, we still need wood sandpiper (certainly annual), turnstone (less than annual), green sandpiper (annual though not easy) and spoonbill which we've had for each of the last three Mays.

The mixed wader flock with the sanderling in the centre

A few more sanderling shots, all taken with my super-zoom
 camera so not very close-up

To round off what was a good day on the Meadow, Steve Goddard reported a RED-CRESTED POCHARD early afternoon on the Meadow along with 8 of the ringed plover. I've had red-crested pochard before on the Meadow at around this time of year but it's a most welcome Year Tick.

Tuesday 22nd May

The highlight today was a drake GARGANEY (per David Lowe), either the same one as last week or another one. The two LITTLE GULLS were still about, as were the two SHELDUCK. This evening there were also 3 little egrets and 3 grey herons on the floods. Despite perfect evening conditions for "reeling", there were still no grasshopper warblers in Burgess Field.

At last a decent photo of one the Little Gulls, taken by (c) Roger Wyatt...

...who also took this shot of the Garganey (c) Roger Wyatt

Monday 21st May

Sydeny Penner reported the following today:
Yellow Wagtail: Male blue-headed (ssp. flava).
6 Grey Heron
2 Little Gull: 1s.
3 Shelduck

Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th May

A quiet weekend bird-wise in Oxfordshire and also particularly on the Meadow. The floods have retreated enough for the long grass now to create a rather difficult shoreline with lots of bird hiding places so one has to scan rather carefully to ensure that nothing is missed. Not that there has been anything to miss really, rather it's been the same birds as usual: the two LITTLE GULLS still together with a band of non-breeding black-headed gulls; two SHELDUCK and a variety of straggler ducks. The highlight of visits to the Meadow at present are the wonderfully large numbers of hirundines. Today I estimated that there were at least 100 of just swallows alone, all hawking very low over the water and surrounding grass because of the remarkably cold weather pushing all the insects right down. Still the forecast is finally for some decent hot weather this week. Perhaps this will finally bring out the reeling grasshopper warblers!

Friday 18th May

There's been a slight pick-up in bird sightings over the last couple of days. Nothing to get too excited about but at least there are now some birds to report on the floods. Yesterday there was a single OYSTERCATCHER and the LITTLE EGRETS and grey heron have been regular visitors. On the duck front we've now got some SHELDUCK back with four birds today and there are still some lingering TUFTED DUCK about as well as at least 8 gadwall and a single shoveler still. Finally, the two LITTLE GULLS are still around, hanging out with the black-headed gulls.

Yesterday I went on a run around the patch in order to check out the warblers. There were at least two singing male reed warblers in the Trap Grounds reedbed. Still plenty of whitethroat and garden warblers singing away in Burgess Field though still no grasshopper warblers or sedge warblers though I did finally find one of the latter singing away behind the Walton Well Road car park.

The two little gulls are lovely to watch. On one day when I was watching them from across the other side of the floods I noticed that they did seem to have an extended part to the centre of the tail which did get me wondering about Ross's Gull though as you can see from the upper photo it's actually because they are part way moulting out their first winter black terminal tail band.

Wednesday 16th May Again!

After writing my entry yesterday I then went out for an evening walk down to the Meadow. It was an absolutely gorgeous evening with not a breath of wind and despite the lateness (it was after 8pm) there were still quite a few birds around. On the floods the two first summer LITTLE GULLS were back, working their way continuously back and forth along the floods picking off flies from the water's surface. There were even a total of 6 TUFTED DUCKS on the floods as well as 3 LITTLE EGRETS and a grey heron, all no doubt taking advantage of the fresh supply of fish that have been trapped by the river flood. There are also a few rather large bream in the floods who seem to be spawning.

I went for a stroll in Burgess Field which is looking very pretty now: if April is the cruelest month then May is certainly the prettiest with all the May flower now out (we can now start "casting clouts" - or does May in the poem refer to the month I wonder). Anyway, enough poetic references, it was looking very nice and there were plenty of the usual warblers warbling away. I even met Richard Foster, back on one of his visits and what's more he'd managed to spot a roosting REDSHANK along the North Shore though with just my bins and in the fading light I couldn't see it myself. Later on my return from Burgess Field I did spot three OYSTERCATCHER over by Stint Corner. So some waders at last! Could this be the start of some more hot wader action, let's hope so.

Wednesday 16th May

Still depressingly little to report. Yesterday I went out and got caught in a hail storm. Apart from the pleasure of seeing literally hundreds of hirundines and swifts all hawking low over the water there was precious little to see. Today, it was at least sunny but this meant that there were fewer swallows etc. to view. Three LITTLE EGRETS and a grey heron were on the floods but once again not a single wader. Burgess Field too is not it's usual self: whilst there are plenty of whitethroat and garden warblers singing away out there I've still to hear a grasshopper warbler and apart from one rather reluctant bird on one occasion, I've not heard any sedge warblers singing at all. I don't know whether they're a) all still on the continent waiting for better weather before crossing; b) they've already come over but are not bothering to sing at all or c) they've decided not to bother with breeding this year and are staying put. I'm hoping that everything is just late this year and that we'll eventually get all our warblers and also a decent wader passage at some point.

The only other point of interest today was I twice saw a pair of swifts mating in mid air over Burgess Field. I've described this in previous years but it's always interesting to see how they fold their wings out of the way and flutter downwards until it's all over.

Sunday 13th &Monday 14th May

Just a few snippets to report. On Sunday I went for a late evening visit where the 2 LITTLE GULLS were still about though I still couldn't find any grasshopper warblers. In addition a PEREGRINE FALCON was reported on the OOS web-site by RCA. Yesterday Sydney Penner reported one of the LITTLE GULLS still and a YELLOW WAGTAIL.

Saturday 12th May: Cuckoo

I only managed a brief evening walk en famille to the Meadow today but it was nice to get some decent sunshine at last, I'd forgotten what nice weather was like! I still couldn't see any waders though I only had my bins with me. This also meant that I wasn't able properly to check out the black-headed gull flock to see if the little gulls were still about. Still lots of swifts about hawking over the floods and there were a nice couple of YELLOW WAGTAILS along the East Shore.

Steve Goddard has managed to come up with another Patch Year Tick. He writes:
"I don't know whether CUCKOO is on the year list for Port Meadow yet? If not, I heard one calling this afternoon from what I think must have been the north end of Burgess Field (I was on the canal towpath at the time), and saw what I think must have been the same individual in a tree on the other side of the canal."

I usually at least hear one calling bird each spring though this species is getting scarcer all the time and last year I didn't hear one at all so it's nice to get one on the Year List this time around.  

It's good to see that there's been some successful breeding this year despite the weather. I photographed this young mistle thrush down by the Castle Mill Stream a week or so ago.

Friday 11th May

It was actually quite sunny for times today including when I visited the Meadow late morning. However quite a strong wind meant that it was far from warm when on the unsheltered shore of the floods. Once again we are Waderless in Oxford with just the two LITTLE GULLS and Ronald to show for our efforts. Still plenty of hirundines and swifts around though the warmer weather meant that they were so low today. In Burgess Field there were actually a few butterflies on the wing including a small heath, a peacock and a small white. Over by the Spinney I spotted my first blue butterfly of the year. However it never settled so I couldn't tell which one it was though it looked too richly coloured for a holly blue to me.

Thursday 10th May

Once again it was overcast, drizzly and rather windy as I paid my afternoon visit to the floods and once again they were completely waderless. Even the Garganey had gone, having nipped over the hill to Farmoor by all accounts. This just shows what I know about it all having predicted that yesterday's bird might well hang around! The hirundines and swifts were still around in good numbers, particularly the latter species of which there were at least 100 birds, often flying very low an fast right over my head - very impressive. The mute swans were still around as was "Ronald". The highlight of the visit was a pair of 1st summer LITTLE GULLS hanging around on the far shore with a flock of black-headed gulls. Under current conditions one must be thankful for anything that one gets!

Some dodgy record shot digiscoped video of the little gulls, once
 again on the opposite side of the floods, in windy and gloomy conditions.

Wednesday 9th May: Garganey

The Meadow has suddenly got very quiet again. Whilst the floods were super-sized suddenly there were waders everywhere and we had the usual good numbers of interesting birds to look through. However as soon as they've gone back down to more normal size there's not a wader to be seen anywhere. I'm wondering if it's something to do with the fact that instead of the usual "hard" border between the water and the shore, at present there's just waterlogged grass around the edge with not much of a well-defined border. When the floods were right up then there were just little well-defined islands that the waders could work their way around. It's just a theory but the contrast between the birds last week and the complete lack of waders this week is very marked.

Yesterday there was virtually nothing to report. Today, however was rather better: for a start there were loads of hirundines and swifts around again hawking very low over the water which is always a pleasure to see. The ROSY-BILLED POCHARD is still hanging around and according to convention I have to give a name to any long-staying plastic duck so I shall christen him "Ronald". There were a couple of LITTLE EGRETS - they've been around for some time now and I saw one catch a fish yesterday so the recent top-up of the floods will no doubt have added a lot of trapped fish fry to the flood water. The herd of non-breeding mute swans has now reach 33 (thanks to Sydney Penner for counting them) and there were even a couple of TUFTED DUCKS this afternoon. There was also a nice GARDEN WARBLER singing away right by the path next to the allotments and showing quite well. However, the highlight of the day was a drake GARGANEY along the West Shore another Patch Year Tick. We usually manage to get this handsome duck on the Meadow and the conditions do look very good for it so I wouldn't be altogether surprised if it is a failed breeder which hangs around for a little while. Let's hope so.

Back to classic record shot quality for this videograb of the drake Garganey though it was on the opposite side of the floods (which is quite a long way away at the moment), it was dark and gloomy and it was windy enough to shake the 'scope and camera almost constantly.

Monday 7th May

I went down to the Meadow late morning with high hopes that the poor weather might have grounded something good. Instead however I found remarkably little about. I'm guessing that the southerly winds and relatively nice weather first thing had encouraged the existing waders to move on as they'd all gone. A couple of DUNLIN did come in whilst I was scanning the empty floods but apart from plenty of low-flying hirundines & swifts, one LITTLE EGRET and a single YELLOW WAGTAIL there was little of note.

A Whitethroat from yesterday evening

Sunday 6th May

After several dry days suddenly the floods are much reduced and it's possible to walk all the way around them again albeit with a bit of wading across a couple of deep channels by the boats. The rejuvenated floods are looking really great and are now once more full of birds though now mostly black-headed gulls. They're still pulling in some good waders as well of course and today there were 5 GREENSHANK, 3 BAR-TAILED GODWITS and the very long-staying WHIMBREL all gracing the shoreline. Sydney Penner also reported one OYSTERCATCHER though it wasn't there on my visit. I've been searching through the hirundines for rares for some while and the arrival yesterday of a red-rumped swallow just over the hill at Farmoor has spurred me on to redouble my efforts as this little gem could easily nip over to the Patch. Unfortunately though, there was no sign of it today.

I also did a tour of the Trap Grounds and Burgess Field to check up on the warblers this afternoon. At the Trap Grounds I managed to find a single REED WARBLER singing away deep within the reedbed. Burgess Field is now full of whitethroats and I did manage to hear a couple of GARDEN WARBLERS singing away so now it's just grasshopper warbler that we're still waiting for. Admittedly I wasn't there at the optimal time so they could already be in and I hope that an earlier visit sometime this week should find them.

The three Bar-tailed Godwits (as always click to enlarge)

Friday 4th May

Noticeably colder today though the floods had gone done a little bit. Still some good waders around though not quite the variety of yesterday. The highlights today were: 1 BAR-TAILED GODWIT, 1 WHIMBREL, 3 COMMON SANDPIPER, 3 DUNLIN, 2 OYSTERCATCHER, 2 LITTLE EGRET, 4 SHELDUCK, 2 WHEATEAR and Donald Degenhardt reported a WHINCHAT which is another Patch Year Tick. There were loads of hirundines hawking low over the floods again though despite a careful scan I wasn't able to pick out anything rare.

Thursday 3rd May

Another good day of wader passage on the Meadow.  The flood levels were about the same as yesterday and at present the floods have created a lovely archipelago of grassy islands on which the waders like to sit with the largest being the one nearest the Perch. Today's birds were: the WHIMBREL and the GREY PLOVER still, 2 BAR-TAILED GODWITS, 5 GREENSHANK, 1 REDSHANK, 14 DUNLIN, 1 COMMON SANDPIPER and 2 OYSTERCATCHER. On the duck front there were now 26 TUFTED DUCK and 4 POCHARDS. Whilst I was scanning the floods a sedge warbler was singing away in a hawthorn bush right next to me. Ben Sandford-Smith also reported a kingfisher on the Castle Mill Stream. The Barwits and the Greenshank are Patch Year Ticks and the Pochard would be except that Sydney Penner saw one a couple of days ago which I'd not yet mentioned. It's an exciting time of year when the passage is in full swing.

One of the two bar-tailed godwits today.

Wednesday 2nd May

My afternoon visit to the Meadow today found the floods even more extended than yesterday, though not by much. Unfortunately yesterday's little gulls had moved on though the WHIMBREL was still about, today accompanied by a nice GREY PLOVER (a Patch Year Tick) moulting into summer plumage. In addition there were a couple of COMMON SANDPIPERS and 9 DUNLIN. The two common terns were still about and were briefly joined by a third though they soon chased it off. I even managed to see the Medley Farm NUTHATCH today which was on a sortie exploring the hawthorn trees along the river just north of the sailing club. With some decent waders now coming through the Meadow is now starting to get back into its more usual form for this time of year.

The grey plover

Tuesday 1st May

I can't quite believe that we're in May already. To have floods, grey skies and rain makes it seem more like the middle of winter rather than the height of spring. The delayed fallout from the weekend's rain meant that the Meadow was even more flooded today than yesterday with the water now going almost all the way to the top of Burgess Field. Flood conditions can often make for quite interesting birding as it usually leaves a narrow strip of grass between the floods and the river where the birds often congregate. Today on a midday visit there were quite a few birds to keep my attention and I managed another couple of Patch year ticks.

Phil Chapman's two LITTLE GULLS were still there hawking away for insects on the east side of the floods and making the black-headed gulls look large and clumsy by comparison. The WHIMBREL was also there, enjoying the boggy conditions. The OYSTERCATCHER was knocking about still and three LITTLE EGRETS and a summer plumage DUNLIN added to the wader variety. The two common terns were also around, sleeping on a piece of drift wood. On the duck front, unusually there were a dozen TUFTED DUCK which we usually only get when the surrounding pits are frozen over. The ROSY-BILLED POCHARD added a touch of the exotic from a distance and the couple of dozen non-breeding mute swans were still mooching about. There was no sign of the wheatears but a couple of YELLOW WAGTAILS were working their way along the grass "island". As I was walking past Medley Farm I heard the distinctive trill of a LESSER WHITETHROAT and shortly afterwards managed to pick him out in one of the tree tops. He was working his way along the river, singing as he went. Finally, as I was walking back the sleek shape of a HOBBY flew low over my head before hurrying onwards to the North. The hobby and the lesser whitethroat are two new Patch year ticks so we're gradually making up the lost ground.

Digiscoped Whimbrel shots...

...And some video footage. You Tube applied a brightening 
function to the footage which remakes a remarkable difference
 if you compare it to the photos though perhaps it is
a little over the top