28th January: Caspian Gull

It's turning out to be a good month for CASPIAN GULLS on the Meadow as this evening in strong winds and freezing temperatures I found a 1w bird in the roost. Photographing it was rather tricky but I managed to get at least some record shots of it. Also present was at least 1 adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL and a pair of SHELDUCKS. In addition Liam Langley and James Evry saw a pair of PEREGRINE fly low over the floods as well as a flock of about 100 Golden Plover - a species which has been notable by its absence over the last month.

1w Caspian Gull record shot (it's the hindmost of the two birds)

Over the last few days it's been pretty much the usual species with usually one or two Yellow-legged gulls in the roost and perhaps up to a ten GOOSANDER coming in to roost in the evening. PINTAIL numbers have been relatively modest with perhaps about ten or so birds (not that I've counted of late).

I'm pleased to report that we now can tick off Sparrowhawk from the year list with reports from Steve Goddard, Liam Langley and Mary McDougal so that's to everyone for that. This leaves on our wish list Kestrel, Nuthatch, Pheasant, Redpoll, Ruff, Siskin, Little Egret and Jack Snipe. Talking of Siskin I read that due to a bumper crop of Sitka Spruce seeds on which they like to feed they've not needed to venture into people's gardens for food so they're rather scarce this winter.

I leave you with some rather dodgy video of the Caspian Gull (you may wish to turn down your volume because of the wind noise!).

Sunday 25th January

So another week is over and the end of January is now in sight. There's not been much to report this week: mid week the icy conditions meant that there wasn't much around on the floods though thankfully we're back in a warmer and wetter weather phase now and it's impressive how quickly the birds return. There have been a few year ticks to report: Steve Goddard added MARSH TIT (a hard bird to find on the Patch) and Chiffchaff both from his garden and Tom Evans also saw a Chiffie in the Trap Grounds as well as hearing a couple of WATER RAILS in the reedbed there.

The gull roost has been a bit hit and miss of late though Liam Langley found a nice adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL a few nights ago. Perhaps we'll finally get some white-winged action some time soon.

Norman and Mary Gregory are getting some nice birds in their garden including several Stock Doves and Reed Buntings
For those who are interested, the current wish list of birds that we might reasonably expect before the spring migrants arrive is now down to the following:  Kestrel, Nuthatch, Pheasant, Lesser Redpoll, Ruff, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Little Egret and Jack Snipe.

Tuesday 20th Caspian Gull

Our star birds, namely the  BARNACLE GEESE, hung around over the weekend until the ice today pushed them over to Farmoor Reservoir. Let's hope that they return once the floods thaw. Also seen over the weekend were four SHELDUCK, 3 GOOSANDER and 6 PINTAIL.

Some of the Barnies (c) Alec Nightingale

Since my last posting it's been a real team effort on the year list front. Steve Goddard managed to add quite a few species from the north end of the Meadow at up at Wolvercote, namely Reed Bunting, Stock Dove, Little Grebe, Snipe, Treecreeper and Coal Tit. In addition he found the first Green Woodpecker of the year in Burgess Field. 

Not to be outdone, James Evry visited the Meadow today (Tuesday) to find much of it frozen over. Nevertheless he managed to find a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and best of all a first-winter CASPIAN GULL, both most welcome year ticks.

1w Caspian Gull (c) James Evry

That now puts the year list on 73 out of our revised winter target of 85 (with +1 added for the Barnacle Goose). For those who like to have target birds to look for we still need: Chiffchaff, Kestrel, Skylark, Nuthatch, Pheasant, Water Rail, Redpoll, Ruff, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Little Egret and Jack Snipe. At least it gives one something to look out for during the lean months of winter.

Friday 16th January: Barnacle Geese

It's been another good few days on the Meadow. The river level has been steadily rising so that we're now in Transition Mode (my favourite) whereby the river has risen enough just to leave a narrow strip of grass between the floods and the river itself. A bit more rain and we'll be back in full-on Lake Mode but for now viewing from the western tow path of the river often yields nice close views of the birds.

The floods in "Transition Mode" - taken from the end of the boat moorings looking north

In terms of species on the floods it's been the usual suspects: there are about a dozen PINTAIL hanging about and today I had my first Gadwall of the year with a few birds in amongst the Wigeon and Teal. The Shelduck seem to have departed (I think they prefer it when it's less flooded) but we're still getting quite a few GOOSANDER coming in to roost in the evenings.

In terms of year ticks I've been adding species gradually - I managed PEREGRINE this week when one buzzed over low on Wednesday putting up all the birds on the floods. Rook was also a year tick (though they've no doubt been around since the 1st of January but I've just not seen one so far). The highlight of the week though must be the flock of 58 BARNACLE GEESE that were about today. These are in all probability the feral flock that inhabit the Home Counties which we had pay us a visit a couple of years ago. As official BOU Category C birds they are very much tickable so on the year list they go. 

Tickable Barnacle Geese!

Talking of the year list, I've refined my list of what I expect to find before the spring migrants arrive and I've got a total target of 84 birds. Some of these will be quite hard like Jack Snipe, Caspian Gull and Water Rail so the total represents what I can expect in the best case. These Barnacle Geese, however, weren't on the "to be expected" list so constitute the first bonus vagrant of the year. Let's hope that there are plenty more to follow.

Tuesday 13th January

There's not much to report since my last posting. I'm continuing to chip away at the year list though with a very laid back approach: I've only today added Coot, Song Thrush and Goldcrest to the list for example. The floods are looking good and attracting great numbers of duck: the usual Wigeon, Teal & Mallards and quite a few smart PINTAILS as well.  We're starting to get a nice build-up of SHELDUCK numbers again: our record from last year was in the high teens I seem to remember and we're already up to 8 birds this year. The feral WHITE-FRONTED GEESE were back in with the Greylags yesterday, adding a touch of the exotic to the vast goose flock. Waders are rather patchy still with only Lapwing being consistently present, supplemented occasionally with REDSHANK and DUNLIN. The gull roost is proving rather hit and miss of late with only modest numbers on days when I'd expect far more. Perhaps there are too many flooded fields elsewhere to tempt them but the best of the roost has been the occasional YELLOW-LEGGED GULL.

One of the White-fronted Geese (taken a couple of years ago)

Monday 5th January

After what has seemed like a very long holiday period it's back to normality at last. With the changing of the year of course comes the re-starting of the year list: it's the one time of the year when one really pays close attention to those common birds that normally tend to get ignored. I've not been in a great hurry to see everything trusting that things will be found in their own time. So far I've ticked off about 50 or so birds and by the end of February I'd expect this figure to get up to around the 75 mark.

The Meadow floods are looking very good at present i.e. nice and full without being too large and there are plenty of birds to look through. Over the last few days as well as the usual winter ducks and commoner gulls there have been peak counts of 4 REDSHANK, 2 DUNLIN, a few dozen Lapwing and Golden Plover, 6+ PINTAIL, 4 GOOSANDER and 3 SHELDUCK all gracing the floods. I've seen a Kingfisher along the Castle Mill Stream and also along the canal and Roly Pitts reported a TUFTED DUCK on the Thames a few days ago.

At last there seem to be some decent white-winged gull numbers in the country so it's time to start looking through the Meadow gull roost for Icelands and Glaucs. So far the best that I've come up with has been a 1w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL.