Sunday 27th January

We've finally managed to get rid of all the snow. Whilst it's been novel for a while, personally I've now glad to see the back of it. Cold weather like that does of course offer up the possibility of some bird displacement and this week we've managed to add BRAMBLING to the Patch Year List courtesy of a bird visiting Steve Goddard's garden in Wolvercote. In my garden this week I've had a lovely Fieldfare as well as the aggressive Blackcap still chasing off all the smaller birds.

Mid-week I went for a walk up the canal to Wolvercote where the highlight was a flock of 10 LESSER REDPOLLS in the Alders opposite the St. Edwards playing fields. I also managed finally to find a LITTLE GREBE with one back on the stream by the Spinney once the ice melted there. On the Meadow itself the two pools at either end of the floods stayed ice free and played host to a smattering of birds: mostly Teal with a few Wigeon and up to four PINTAIL, a few REDSHANK, a DUNLIN, a few SNIPE, quite a few Lapwings and a couple of dozen Golden Plover being the peak counts.

This weekend I wasn't able to get out myself but birds reported included: 7 PINTAIL, 10 or so Shoveler, 1 RUFF, 1 PEREGRINE on the Meadow itself as well as 2 LESSER REDPOLL and 15 SISKIN by the canal and a STOCK DOVE, Tree Creeper & Reed Bunting in the Trap Grounds (thanks to Tom Evans and Alex Martin).

Some of my garden visitors this week

Monday 21st January

I didn't get out to the Meadow today, instead I was sidetracked by some local feral Snow Geese which looked lovely in the snow. My Blackcap is still lording it over my food reserves in my garden but today there have been several Redwings and Blackbirds hunting in the snow-free ground under the children's tree house.

Talking of garden birds, Mary Gregory writes:

"We have had masses of birds in the garden in the last few days - 19 species for last week's BTO count, including jay, reed bunting and redwing, but not the blackcap which had been visiting regularly - it must now prefer your cafeteria. Today we have had a fieldfare twice, going for the rosehips round the patio; also two stock doves, the first for some time."


Sunday 20th January: Waxwings

Despite the wintery conditions there have still been a few birds to see on the Meadow. The reason for this is that whilst it's been snowy and icy it's never been really cold, certainly no more than a couple of degrees below zero and this has meant that the two open pools of water (one by the boats and one by the Burgess Field gate) have remained open. The boat pool has been the best with at least 100 Teal still there along with the odd Wigeon and PINTAIL as well as a few loafing gulls. Especially encouraging has been the waders there as well with four REDSHANK, one DUNLIN and several SNIPE along with quite a few Lapwing and Golden Plover all managing to find enough clear ground to eke out a living.

In my garden I've been dutifully putting out plenty of food but interestingly enough there's been hardly any birds around. The reason for this is a very aggressive male Blackcap has taken a liking to it and he chases off anything up to and including a Chaffinch in size though he does give way to the Starlings and Blackbirds. This means that the usual Goldfinches and Tits are absent at the moment. I presume that they've found another feeder to keep them well fed - I imagine that there are quite a few people in this area who feed the birds.

The highlight of the last few days has been seeing the lovely WAXWING flock again. Seven of these beauties were hanging around by the Aristotle Lane gate onto the Meadow and gorging themselves on the rose hips right next to the gate. They're hungry enough not to fly off as people come through the gate which means that one can stand literally right next to the gate and watch them as they feed. Definitely the best Waxwing views that I've ever had though a shame that the light was so awful. An added bonus was a single Fieldfare also in the bush, the first that I've seen this year. In addition, Jodie & Joe reported one in their garden in Wolvercote a few days ago as well as what was probably a MARSH TIT by the bird feeders by Godstow Lock on Friday morning.

You couldn't ask for better views!

Thursday 17th January

The cold weather has taken its toll on Meadow birding over the last few days with the majority of the birds now having moved on. Yesterday there were two pools of free water still: one by Burgess Field gate, being fed by the stream along the edge of the NR, and one down by the boats being fed by the stream by the moorings. At the former pool yesterday there were the two SHELDUCK still as well as about 10 or so PINTAIL as well as a good concentration of ducks trying to sit out the cold weather. A few Golden Plover were flying around and a single DUNLIN was reportedly still with them. A few SNIPE were flying around and landing on the Hinterland.

 The two Shelduck yesterday

By today the Shelduck and Pintail had moved on as had most of the birds. The moorings pool still had a few ducks on it today, mostly Teal with a few Wigeon, a couple of Lapwings and a SNIPE. Along the Castle Mill Stream a few sheltering Teal can still be found and there was a large mixed flock of thrushes in the trees there though I've still yet to see a Fieldfare this year. 
A calling Green Woodpecker, the Snipe and a reported CHIFFCHAFF by the canal yesterday gave three more year ticks for the Patch over the last two days.

Monday 14th January

My sightings from  today:

8 Barnacle Goose
6 Bar-headed Goose
2 Ruff
2 Shelduck
Goosander: m.
10 Pintail: At least.
3 Yellow-legged Gull: ad 2w 3w.

Sunday 13th January

I wasn't able to get out today but here's a summary from David Lowe and Adrian Gray

Barnacle goose - 38
Waxwing - 8 - along the hedge between the railway footbridge and the Meadow again
Ruff  - 2
Redshank - 2+
Dunlin - 2
Yellow legged gull - 3
Pintail - 6

Shelduck 2+

 One of four Nuthatches coming to the feeders by the Sea Scouts hut (c) Pete Styles

Saturday 12th January: Waxwings Again

There's not been a great deal of change in the birds on Port Meadow over the last few days. The "new" geese are all nicely settled in and looking very much at home: the BARNACLE GEESE, the two WHITE-FRONTS, the three hybrids and the four BAR-HEADED GEESE are all around on the narrow grass strip near the Sailing Club. Dai John did phone this morning to say that he saw what he thought was a large flock of White-fronted Geese flying over the hill from Farmoor towards the Meadow but there was no sign of them.
 Barnacle Geese (c) Badger

 The SHELDUCK count has gone up to four today and there are still 13 or so PINTAIL about in amongst the usual winter ducks. On the wader front there were four DUNLIN and 6 REDSHANK yesterday and 11 RUFF today as well as continuing good numbers of lapwing

 Some of today's Ruff (c) Badger

Yesterday the gull roost was severely curtailed by the combination of two low-flying helicopters and a rampaging dog which between them almost completely cleared the floods. A 3w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL was the pick of the few gulls that remained.

Today's highlight was the return of some WAXWINGS with at least a dozen this morning in the hawthorns that line the footpath that descends from the Aristotle Lane railway footbridge down to the Meadow. There seem to be a few favoured spots for these birds so anyone looking for them should try one of the following spots:
a) the berries by the bike racks at the entrance to the Trap Grounds
b) along Aristotle Lane anywhere from the canal bridge through to the hawthorns where they were today
c) Burgess Field NR on the main path towards the north east corner.

Let's hope that the forthcoming cold snap brings a few weather-vagrants our way in the next few days.

10th January

A very gloomy and colder day today in marked contrast with the glorious sunshine of yesterday. Down on the Meadow, the floods had receded some more and the grass strip between the river and floods now almost reaches all the way down to the boats. All birds were present and correct today: the 48 (I finally had a chance for an accurate count) BARNACLE GEESE, the four BAR-HEADED GEESE, the two WHITE-FRONTED GEESE and the four alien hybrids were all still about. On the duck front there were still the two SHELDUCK and 13 PINTAILS as well as the usual other suspects. On the wader front about 100 golden plover were back on show together with an accompanying DUNLIN (the first of the year). Near Weir Cottage I finally managed to catch up with my Mistle Thrush Year Tick.

9th January

I went out for a run around the Patch mid afternoon today. The floods were looking fantastic in the sunshine and were absolutely covered in birds with ducks, geese and a large contingent of gulls everywhere you looked. The waters have gone down enough for there to be a nice island of grass along the east bank of the river and along this strip the BARNACLE GEESE were still about. A count today produced 47 or so, so I must have mis-counted previously (unless a few more have come in). The four BAR-HEADED GEESE were still about but many of the other geese were tucked up asleep so I didn't bother looking for the White-fronts. There were two SHELDUCK about as well as quite a few PINTAIL.

At Medley Farm the piping NUTHATCH  was a welcome Year Tick, it's good to know that it's still around. Finally I ran over to the Trap Grounds to check things out as Tom Wickens had reported 3 WAXWINGS there this morning. I also wanted to have a look for the Firecrest but in the event all that I found were a couple of Bullfinches and a few Tits.

Some of the Barnacle Goose flock. You can just see part 
of the huge gull contingent in the background.

8th January: Barnacle Geese & White-front Geese

Back down to the Meadow at my usual time today and the floods had gone down a smidgeon further. The BARNACLE GEESE were still about, looking very much at home along the stretch between the Sailing Club and the Perch Inn still. I was just admiring the flock when I met up with Ben Sandford-Smith who'd managed to find some WHITE-FRONTED GEESE further up in the flooded field behind the Poplar trees. I went to check them out and it turned out to be a couple of adults together with three or four other mongrel birds that were some kind of hideous hybrid. There were also four BAR-HEADED GEESE there as well so it was quite a motley collection. I did wonder whether these might be birds from Blenheim as I remembered seeing a similarly composed flock back in 2009 when I went for the putative American White-fronts there that Phil Barnett found. However, Tom Wickens informs me that he's seen this family of the two White-fronts and a few hybrids on the Thames at Eynsham so they're obviously just displaced from further up the Thames. I don't know if the hybrids are the offspring, if so then either Mrs. Goose has been seeing someone else behind her partner's back or there is some hideous hidden gene in their ancestry somewhere along the line.

The gull roost was large but still rather distant and I couldn't find much apart from a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS in amongst the throng. Now that we're into January many of the gulls have lost their streaky heads so it's becoming harder to pick out the Yellow-legs and Caspians from the flock. A Buzzard seen at dusk was the only Year Tick today as even I'm not counting the White-fronts.

A nice White-fronted Goose...

...and a monstrous hybrid - I think that there is some Bar-headed Goose in there somewhere

...and some video of them all

7th January: Barnacle Geese Again

I went for my usual end of the day visit to the floods and today chose to view from the west river bank. There I discovered a flock of 45 BARNACLE GEESE just on the other side of the river where a bit of a grass island is emerging as the waters recede. This morning Dai John had seen a flock of this size fly off over the hill from Farmoor towards the Meadow so they were clearly the same birds. Interestingly, whilst watching them I met a chap who lives in Binsey and who says that he saw a flock of about 75 Barnacle Geese flying around on Saturday before it split into two. 30 birds were then seen on Saturday on the floods up until early afternoon so this is probably the other half of that flock. Anyway, after some discussion with Ian Lewington (the county recorder) he agrees that they are in all probability from one of the feral Home Counties flocks and therefore would qualify as Category C birds. Great news for county listers!

Apart from that there were about 10 PINTAIL, a couple of GOOSANDER, a SHELDUCK and a very large but rather distant gull roost from which a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were the best I could manage.

Other news, Tom Evans also reported a WATER RAIL in the Trap Grounds on Sunday along with his splendid Firecrest so that's another year tick.

A couple of digiscoped snaps of the Barnies...

And some video footage for good measure

6th January: Firecrest

I wasn't able to get out myself today but some interesting news from around the Patch.

Firstly, Tom Evans reported a FIRECREST in the Trap Grounds along the ditch by the entrance. This is a cracking find and is to my knowledge the first record for Port Meadow of what is still a very rare bird for the county.

Secondly, Steve Goddard has added a few more birds to the Patch Year List from the comfort of his garden in the form of LESSER REDPOLL, Reed Bunting, Coal Tit and Stock Dove.

5th January: Waxwings, Jack Snipe & Barnacle Geese

Today was a good day's birding around the Patch. Mid morning I decided on a run around the area in order to flesh out the skeleton new year list. The Trap Grounds were quiet but Burgess Field held plenty of bird activity with lots of finches along the southern hedge as well as the first Goldcrest and Jay of the year. The flock of 30 or so WAXWINGS were still about, towards the north east corner where the two hedges converge with the main central path. They were looking very relaxed and indulging in a spot of fly catching. I even managed to flush a JACK SNIPE from one of the pools which was excellent news as this species is always hard to get on the Meadow Year List.

A rather crummy point and shoot photo of one of the 
Waxwings between fly catching sorties.

I got back to find that Jarrod Hadfield had reported the BAR-TAILED GODWIT, a GOOSANDER, a YELLOW-LEGGED GULL and a flock of 30 BARNACLE GEESE. The latter was interesting enough for me to go out again to see them for myself. To save time I drove in the car to the Wolvercote car park in the north west corner of the Meadow where I could just spy them in the distance. It was just as well that I did this because about an hour later Badger reported that they'd gone.

Strictly record shot video from about half a mile away

Now, as I've discussed before it's hard to know the provenance of geese like this but a flock of 30 is certainly more Kosher than a singleton. There is a flock of 10 or so birds which knock around the general area, often at Farmoor but 30 is a really good number and opens up all sorts of possibilities. The chances are that they're one of the feral flocks from the Home Counties rather than a genuine flock of wild geese but Category C beckons its fingers enticingly for a flock of this size, certainly enough for the Patch Year List.

4th January: Waxwings Still

Geoff Adams reported at least 50 WAXWINGS in Burgess Field NR this afternoon at around 3pm. It's great to have these birds around still.

I visited a little later in order to check out the roost. The ducks, mostly wigeon with some teal were all bobbing about on the east side of the "lake" along the side of Burgess Field. The North Shore was full of gulls, mostly the common stuff but with quite a few common gulls in amongst them and a single 3w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL the best I could manage.

Aristotle Lane Waxwing from yesterday (c) Terry Sherlock

3rd January: Waxwings

Here we go for another year! It's been quite a good start with a flock of up to 60 WAXWINGS being the highlight. Yesterday afternoon 6 were reported by Peter Law in Aristotle Lane and then Jarrod Hadfield and Tom Wickens had a flock of between 20 and 30 in Burgess Field. Today Gareth Blockley reported up to 60 of them again on Aristotle Lane, feeding in various locations between the canal bridge and the start of the footpath to the railway bridge and the Meadow. When I came down a short while later I found about 30 of them hanging around in the trees in the south east corner of the playing field before they all flew off west towards the Meadow.

Other news: the Meadow is in full-on lake mode at present with the floods extending all the way up to the north end of Burgess Field. Access via Aristotle Lane necessitates wading through quite deep water so it's probably easier to enter from the Walton Well road end. Viewing the north shoreline is best done either from the north west corner of Burgess Field or from the Thames tow path up past the Poplar trees. Yesterday Jarrod and Tom reported a PEREGRINE and a BAR-TAILED GODWIT as well as 6 REDSHANK. The Barwit was still present today (per Gareth).

This afternoon I went owl hunting at dusk to see if I could get Little Owl on this year's Year List but I was unsuccessful. I did notice a reasonable Starling roost over toward Burgess Field - they were even making the pretty flock patterns. I'm guessing they're roosting in the reedbed in the Gullet or somewhere nearby.

Aristotle Lane Waxwing (c) Peter Law

Review of 2012

Well another year has come and gone on the Meadow. It's been a rather unusual one, largely due to the weather. It has of course been unfeasibly wet this year which has meant that we've been blessed with floods all year. This is a good thing in birding terms but somehow much of the year has seemed rather low key. We've managed to see the usual birds on the patch but for most of the year it was nothing more than that with nothing particularly outstanding to celebrate. 

In the first half of the year we'd usually expect something good like a Temminck's Stint or a Spoonbill in May but despite the usual flurry of nice waders moving through there was nothing special. In fact spring was noteworthy for failing to produce any Grasshopper Warblers at all. Burgess Field is a really good spot for them and one can usually rely on three or four reeling males in a typical season. I've been told by Matthew Foster who's been making records of his sightings on the Meadow for several decades, that the last time there were no Groppers at all was in 1995. Apart for the usual waders, highlights for the first half of the year were a Red-breasted Merganser, a fly-over Shag, a Channel Wagtail and a Raven that hung around for quite some time in the spring.


Red-breasted Merganser

Channel Wagtail

Grey Plover


Having floods around for the start of the autumn passage is always a good thing as it attracts loads of return passage waders. This year we had a fantastic period of several weeks when there were at least 20 waders dotted around the floods, including a couple of Wood Sandpipers, plenty of Common and Green Sandpipers and Godwits and Plovers galore. Still that extra special bird eluded us. It wasn't until well past the autumn passage that finally we got our Bird of the Year in the form of a splendid American Golden Plover that at least stayed longer than the two hours of the last one but still not long enough for everyone's liking. After that things seemed to pick up and we had quite a good couple of months with four different Caspian gulls (2 adults, a 4th winter and a 1st winter) and a first winter Iceland Gull. I was also delighted to add Little Owl to the patch year list, a bird that I've only once previously come across on the patch a number of years ago.

Wood Sandpiper (c) Roger Wyatt

Caspian Gull

Port Meadow Bird of the Year - American Golden Plover (c) Jason Coppock

So all in all it's been an OK year. The Patch Year list total was a creditable 134 which once again puts us third in the county behind the two county giants of Farmoor and Otmoor. We managed one rare and a good smattering of patch scarcities - what more could you ask for for your patch birding.

Finally of course, I'd like to wish a Happy New Year to all my readers. I should add that I always enjoy it when people come up to me on the Meadow saying how much they enjoy this blog, it's much appreciated.