Friday 28th March: Iceland Gull Again

It's been a rather "samey" few days on the Meadow with the usual birds in the usual places. Granted the floods are looking great and the recent top-up from the rain has ensured that they're not going stale and there are still plenty of birds to look at but there's not really been anything "different" this week. SHELDUCK numbers have been fluctuating in the mid teens before hitting a new peak of 17 birds today (a new record I believe) with the CAPE SHELDUCK still hanging around to add a touch of the exotic. OYSTERCATCHERS numbers have varied between 3 and 6 birds, clearly enjoying the soft muddy margins of the floods. There have even been been some Golden Plover with an impressive flock of 200 on Thursday though just 2 birds on Friday. The GOOSANDER have been around occasionally with 3 red-heads present on Thursday. There have even been some gulls about though this time of year the remaining stragglers are starting to look very strange. All the prime good looking gulls have paired up by now leaving the dregs of the larid world to loaf about and bemoan their failure to find a mate. There have been a couple of birds with paler, light-fringed primaries though that's been about all they had going for them on the Kumlien's/Thayer's scale. Interestingly the (or a) juvenile ICELAND GULL was reported again today (Friday) at 11:30 am on RBA though unsurprisingly there was no sign of it when I visited later on in the day.

One of many of the Shelduck that are currently in residence on the floods (c) Roger Wyatt

All in all a good selection of birds though you'll notice that they're all "winter birds" and there is still a definite lack of spring migrants. In fact, apart from Roger Wyatt's LRP sighting on Monday there's not been so much as a sniff of one. Now that we're back to the warm proper spring weather I am definitely expecting that to change over the coming days - fingers crossed!

Monday 24th March: Little Ringed Plovers!

Finally we have our first spring migrants! Roger Wyatt found a couple of LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS on the Meadow today though sadly they'd gone by the time I visited later in the afternoon (unless I managed to overlook them). Over the last couple of days the SHELDUCK count has continued to climb, peaking at an amazing 16 birds on Sunday before dropping back to 13 today. OYSTERCATCHER numbers have been steady at 3 or 4 birds and there have been up to five REDSHANK about as well. Whereas the rest of the duck species are declining in numbers, Gadwall are noticeably more numerous with at least 20 birds today.

The Jericho RED KITE has been hanging around a lot recently on the Meadow and has even been on the ground on the Railway Field a couple of times. The only other point of interest was a CAPE SHELDUCK in amongst the other Shelduck. Certainly an escape from somewhere, the Meadow seems to attract more than its fair share of plastic waterfowl.

The (plastic) Cape Shelduck, adding a splash of the exotic to the Meadow

Saturday 22nd March: Two Iceland Gulls!

I made two trips to the Meadow today. Mid afternoon I went looking for spring migrants. Whilst the rest of the county is enjoying lots of spring migrant action such as 100+ Sand Martins at Farmoor, the first Little Ringed Plovers at Otmoors and Wheatears everywhere, there was not so much as a sniff of anything on the Meadow. In fact it was more or less the same birds as yesterday with now just 3 OYSTERCATCHERS and no sign of the Godwit though the SHELDUCK count had increased even more to an amazing 11 birds, surely a Meadow record. The two GOOSANDER were still about as were a pair of PINTAIL and noticeably more Gadwall with at least 10 birds.  

My second trip was when I decided to make a late visit this evening to see if I could catch up with Steve Goddard's Iceland Gull from yesterday. Fortunately I was well rewarded for this effort in the form of not just one but two ICELAND GULLS. The 2nd winter bird that was seen at Farmoor this week and which Steve saw yesterday was there but there was also a first winter bird present as well. It's not often that you get to see two Artic gulls standing right next to each other in the county - very pleasing! Unfortunately I had problems with my camera so only managed to get some shots of the 1st winter bird.

It was practically dark by the time I found the two Iceland Gulls and after my camera problems all I could manage was some rather dodgy video footage from which I've taken this grab.

...and here's the footage from which it was taken

Friday 21st March: Iceland Gull

We've finally made it to the spring equinox and the first official day of spring though so far we've not had any proper spring migrants. Meanwhile our existing species have been growing in numbers: OYSTERCATCHERS are now up to six birds and the SHELDUCK count is up to an amazing ten. Keeping them company is the BLACK-TAILED GODWIT which has been with us for several days now - I imagine that it's not in any hurry given that the arctic tundra is probably still under ice. Apart from that there have been a few PINTAIL still and the last GOOSANDER pair have been hanging around still. 

Whilst we've not yet had any proper spring migrants there have been several singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap around the area over the last few days. However I've had a couple of late season winter birds in the garden of late: I was fortunately enough to have a lovely male LESSER REDPOLL briefly, complete with a lovely rosy pink flush to his breast and there has also been a singing male Siskin in my garden twice this week.

The highlight of the last few days was today when Steve Goddard came across what sounds like the ICELAND GULL that was seen at Farmoor earlier this week. It was present from 5:45 until 6:15 pm at least today. 

An amazing ten Shelduck are gracing the floods at present

Tuesday 18th March

The floods are now more or less back to their usual size though nice and full and looking great. The waders seem to be appreciating them as well as suddenly we've started to get some records again. Over the last few days there have been regular OYSTERCATCHER sightings with four birds (two pairs) about this evening. A single BLACK-TAILED GODWIT also put in an appearance today and there were a pair of REDSHANK about yesterday evening. 

Black-tailed Godwit

Duck numbers have gone right down now with far fewer Wigeon and Teal and just a handful of Shoveler, a few Gadwall, a pair of GOOSANDER and sometimes a few PINTAIL still about. SHELDUCK numbers by contrast have been steadily increasing with an amazing 8 birds (four pairs by the look of it) about this evening, certainly a great count for the Meadow. 

Sadly the gull roost seems to have petered out almost entirely though I'm no longer able to stay until last light to be certain.

Amazingly, we've not had any migrants to report so far - I would have thought that a Sand Martin or Little Ringed Plover would have been with us by now. It should be any day now I reckon.

One other record of note is that Liam Langley had a RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE fly over his head towards the Trap Ground allotments on Thursday. This species is slightly less than annual so it's good to get it on the year list.

Now that spring is here the moth trapping season is starting to get under way. I put out my trap for the first time last night and was rewarded with the princely total of four moths: two Hebrew Characters, one Clouded Drab and a Brindled Pug. Steve Goddard up in Wolvercote by contrast has already been catching some good stuff. You can follow his catches either on the Upper Thames Moth blog or the Garden Moth Challenge blog.

Pug's are a nightmare to ID but I think that I'm right in saying that this is a Brindled

Monday 10th March

What a difference a few days make! Last week we were still firmly stuck in "lake mode" with floods stretching all the way up past the north end of Burgess Field NR; in order to view the birds one had to slog all the way over to the Poplar trees north of the Perch. Then suddenly on Thursday it was as if a switch had been thrown and large areas of grass were revealed, to be picked over eagerly by the hoards of Black-headed Gulls. This receding of the floods has continued each day so that today on my visit, for the first time this year the best viewing point was on the east side again, by the Burgess Field gate.

Hoards of Black-headed Gulls on the freshly exposed grass

Over the last few days there hasn't been anything of particular note. A few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were the highlights on the gull front. Whilst there are still good numbers of gulls about, the vast majority are Black-headed Gulls and it's becoming apparent that the gull season is starting to wind down though we could well score a few more Med. Gulls before it's over.

This adult Yellow-legged Gull only seems to have one leg

On the duck front a single SHELDUCK was around on Thursday and there have been a few GOOSANDER still each evening. The PINTAIL have been about more regularly but that's been about it.

Today we had the first decent bit of wader news for a while in the form of the first BLACK-TAILED GODWIT of the year, accompanied by an OYSTERCATCHER. It's amazing to think that it's March already and we still don't have Dunlin on the year list. Now that the floods are more or less back to normal I would expect to get quite a few more wader sightings over the coming weeks now.

A record shot of the Black-tailed Godwit

As if to emphasise the imminent arrival of spring I heard the first singing Chiffchaff of the year in my garden this morning.

Wednesday 5th March: Caspian Gull & Mediterranean Gull

It's been a fairly productive few days on the Meadow since my last posting. The weather has been improving and we seem to be through the rainy season now though the floods are still rather full. The improving weather has meant that the gull roost hasn't always been very numerous though there's usually been plenty of birds to look through. The MEDITERRANEAN GULL spring passage is well underway now in the county with Farmoor scoring good counts of several birds quite often. Not to be outdone, the Meadow has turned up another one itself in the form of a smart summer plumaged adult that was picked out by Liam Langley from the throng of Black-headed Gulls though it disappeared before I could get any photos. The Common Gull spring passage is also underway and I keep looking out for a Ring-billed Gull in amongst them though so far no luck.

This evening there were very few gulls though what it's lacked in quantity it seems to be making up for in quality in the form of a lovely, heavily marked 1st winter CASPIAN GULL that was reasonably close in (by current Meadow standards at least). Ian Lewington said that he saw the same bird at Appleford on the 10th of last month though it's not been reported since then.

1 winter Caspian Gull

Apart from the gulls the 6 REDSHANK were around at the start of the week though they've not been seen for the last couple of evenings. The two SHELDUCK are usually around and yesterday there were 21 PINTAIL though they'd gone this evening. A few GOOSANDER are still loitering as well.

With spring now knocking on the door we should start getting the first arrivals shortly - Sand Martins are usually the first to arrive followed by the Little Ringed Plovers though given the present extended state of the floods I'm not sure how easy it's going to be actually to spot them: they'll be so far away!

Friday 28th February: Little Gull & Caspian Gull

There's been a definite feel of things picking up finally this week. The floods have started to recede and by mid week were down sharply enough for a thin strip of land to be exposed along the eastern edge of the river - one of my favourite Meadow configurations as regular readers will know. I even managed a visit every evening apart from Wednesday when fortunately Liam Langley provided cover.

There are hoards of Black-headed Gulls about now, pouring over the newly exposed grass for worms etc. In amongst them are noticeably more Common Gulls as their spring passage starts to kick off. Numbers of large gulls by contrast are still relatively low though do seem to be picking up a bit. The five REDSHANK have been around most of the week and on Wednesday Liam managed to find the first OYSTERCATCHER of the year for the Patch. A smattering of GOOSANDER have been around each evening though only in small numbers of late. The PINTAIL are finally back with 8 or so birds about on Thursday and there was a count of 11 Gadwall earlier on in the week. The two SHELDUCK have been around for the latter part of the week.

The highlight of the week was today when first I picked out a very smart adult winter plumaged LITTLE GULL. Unfortunately it didn't stay settled long enough for me to get any photos before it got swept up in the maelstrom of restless gulls. There were quite a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS about, mostly 2nd winter birds - it's good to have some of those back after a lean period of late. Finally at last light I picked out what looked promising for a 3rd winter CASPIAN GULL - not an age that I'm familiar with for this species. I busied myself with taking photos and thanks to Ian Lewington the ID was eventually confirmed.

A video grab of the 3rd winter Caspian Gull ...

...and a crucial wing-flap shot that clinched the ID...

...and some video as well.