Monday 30th May

May has more or less now come to an end and we've still got water in the floods which is a good thing. Mind you, it's starting to accumulate the usual summer "algal scum" so it's not looking its best any more. Still it was good enough to attract a couple of late waders still this last week: a few days ago there were a couple of LITTLE RINGED PLOVER lurking by the North Reach and today there was a REDSHANK along the North Shore. Apart from that it's just been OYSTERCATCHERS and SHELDUCK to report with the odd LITTLE EGRET thrown in for good measure.

June is traditionally very poor on the birding front so I wouldn't expect much even if we manage somehow to keep the floods through the month turning out to be unseasonably wet. Mind you, we can't really complain as it's been a very good first half of the year with lots of good county birds being seen that are far from guaranteed each year. In fact our year list total of 128 is just about what I'd expect for the end of the year already. We've even managed a genuine national rarity in the form of the Spoonbill so if the worst comes to the worst and we have no floods at all for the second half of the year then I'll still be reasonably content with how the year has turned out.

Traditionally at this time I turn my thoughts to insects and flowers and this is what I intend to do this year as well. I'm still very much learning, certainly as far as the flowers are concerned, but I hope to find enough of interest to keep the blog posts coming through the summer doldrums.

Common Terns up by Godstow Lock, taken a few weeks ago

Sunday 22nd May Spoonbill!

I've been predicting a SPOONBILL on the Meadow for several weeks now and today we finally got one. They tend not to hang around for very long (I think that there's too much disturbance on the Meadow in general) and it's often just one observer who sees them (usually just me!). Well, today's bird was very much a single observer sighting though this time the lucky person was Tom Evans who saw one flying over the Trap Grounds at 8 a.m. this morning. He kindly gave me a call so I hurried over to the floods to see if it had landed there but sadly there was no sign of it. The floods do look perfect for one at present (and are in fact a little too full for waders just now) so you never know we may get a return visit. Still at least it's good to have a proper rare bird on the year list.

Here's the one from April 2014

The only birds that are on the floods presently are SHELDUCK in various numbers (peaking at 8 a few days ago) and OYSTERCATCHERS (in reduced numbers of late). Today we had a single bonus DUNLIN which dropped in briefly but as I said there's not much of a shoreline at present for small waders.

Thursday 19th May

I just thought that I'd share a photo of this little chap, a lovely Water Vole, that I spotted on the canal near the Trap Grounds this week. The canal is a stronghold for this sadly all too rare species these days but it's not often that you see one out in the open for long enough to get a photo of it.

Tuesday 17th May

It seems that we may well have passed the peak in passage waders now. On Saturday there were still 11 GREENSHANK and 7 DUNLIN about, along with a splendid male RUFF which was great to see. However, since then there's been nothing to report apart from 5 SHELDUCK and the usual OYSTERCATCHERS. The floods I have to say are looking lovely, very nicely topped up with lots of water but all the birds should be in their breeding grounds by now so apart from one or two stragglers (like a RINGED PLOVER that was lurking in the long grass today) that's basically it. I shall keep visiting of course and you never know what might turn up but it's starting to have a bit of a feel of the summer doldrums to it. So expect more posts on flowers and insects in the coming weeks now.

The male Ruff - I shall refrain from making my usual "nice bit of Ruff" joke this time!

Friday 13th May

We seem to have reverted to the cold northerly winds that we were suffering from earlier in the spring - it's been freezing the last couple of days! However, at least the floods are looking very full from their recent top-up. This is of course a good thing but actually they are just at present too full in order to be really attractive to waders which seem to like a bit of a shoreline to wander along. Our wader counts seem to reflect this with decreasing numbers of the same birds still about. There were 13 GREENSHANK about in the morning when Barry Batchelor visited though by the evening the count had halved to about 7. 8 DUNLIN are still hanging about and Barry also had a single REDSHANK though that had moved on by the evening as well. Apart from that there were four SHELDUCK and the usual smattering of OYSTERCATCHERS and good numbers of Hirundines hawking low over the water.

I forgot to mention that I went to visit the Trap Grounds earlier in the week and that the reed bed was full of singing REED WARBLERS - there must have been at least four or more singing males in what is after all a pretty small area. Talking of the Trap Grounds, we're lucky that Nicola Devine is checking them out on a regular basis as today she found a splendid SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (a year tick) which stopped off briefly (and sang as well!) before heading on northwards. She also managed to find a SEDGE WARBLER in the area last weekend, sadly not that common a bird these days on the patch.

The Spotted Flycatcher courtesy of Nicola Devine
The Sedge Warbler courtesy of Nicola Devine

Thursday 12th May

We're still dealing with the left-overs from Tuesday's mega-fall with a dozen or so GREENSHANK and a few REDSHANK still around as well as 30 or so RINGED PLOVER and 7 DUNLIN. The Wickster reported a BAR-TAILED GODWIT first thing in the morning so that's at least the fourth one of this species we've now had this spring - amazing! The delayed reaction to all the recent rain has meant that the floods have increased even more and the river has overspilled the banks a bit by the boat moorings. So no shortage of ideal habitat to lure in a rare wader or two.

Walking back from my evening visit to the Meadow today I spotted a HOBBY flying around near the railway bridge and Steve Goddard had another (or the same one) being mobbed by Swifts near Leckford Road. That's another year tick and one step closer to my psychological target figure of 130 on the year.

I've still not had a chance to go through all the video footage yet of our wader fall so here's a stocking filler in the form of a Common Field Speedwell, taken in Burgess Field

Wednesday 11th May

Yesterday's massive wader-fest (I've still not had a proper chance to go through all the photos) lead to quite a few visiting birders today which was most useful as there was quite a turn-over in birds throughout the day. Top billing today goes to a new BAR-TAILED GODWIT, a different winter-plumage bird from yesterday's one, though it didn't linger and was gone by late morning. Also noteworthy were a total of two WHIMBREL - a fly-over seen by Ewan Urquhart and another which landed (albeit distantly) was reported by Tom Wickens. This is a much-anticipated year tick - I'm very pleased to get it on the list even if I didn't see it myself.

Peak counts for the rest of the waders were (thanks to Ewan, Tom, James Evry & Keith Clack)

16 Greenshank
3 Redshank

47 Ringed Plover
1 Little Ringed Plover

22 Dunlin
6 Common Sandpiper
4 Oystercatcher
2 Shelduck
1 Common Tern
1 Little Egret

Some of the Greenshank, taken a couple of days ago by Pete Roby

Data: HBLA & vv.
Data: HBLA & vv.

Tuesday 10th May

Today turned out to be one of the best days that there's been on the Meadow for a long time. It was a "perfect storm" of good prevailing southerly winds for the last few days, early May being the peak for spring migrant passage, the floods looking absolutely perfect and drizzly overcast weather all day to bring in a keep down any passing waders. 

I went out early evening as usual relishing the prospect of looking over the floods in such wonderfully overcast conditions. I always dream of turning up a good bird or two in such conditions but I didn't think that there would be quite so many as this evening. Here's the full list of what I found:

1 Bar-tailed Godwit
2 Knot in summer plumage
16 Greenshank
3 Redshank
27 Ringed Plover
11 Dunlin
4 Sanderling
1 Common Sandpiper
1 Common Tern
1 Yellow Wagtail
3 Shelduck
5 Oystercatcher

It was really a massive fall and it took quite a long time to double-check all the counts, there were just so many birds everywhere. Normally, the Godwit, or the Knot or the Sanderling on their own would be enough to make for a good day but to have all of them was just great. The only slight downer was that there wasn't the "killer bird" the one really rare one to trump it all. Still, I won't forget such as day in a hurry.

Photos & Video
I'm still working my way through all the photos and video which I'll post here as I go along so expect more updates throughout the day.

Video grab of the two summer plumage Knot
..and one of theBar-tailed Godwit

Sunday 8th May

On Friday evening as I was lounging in my sick bed with some non-specific malaise I got a text from Steve Goddard saying that he had what he thought was either a Green or a Wood Sandpiper by Burgess Field Gate. At first I didn't really feel up to going out to check but in the end curiosity got the better of me. The first bird that I actually saw when I started scanning was a lovely GREY PLOVER working its way along the shore but once Steve had directed me to the right spot I soon found what was indeed a WOOD SANDPIPER - the first one we've had on the Meadow for a few years now. Also present was a GREENSHANK though it was hobbling quite badly in stark contrast to the agile and quick-moving bird from earlier in the week - sadly it probably won't be able to survive unless it finds a really good feeding spot and stays there rather than trying to breed. Also present were 3 RINGED PLOVER, 1 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, 5 OYSTERCATCHER, 5 COMMON SANDPIPER and 2 SHELDUCK.

A very brief bit of video of the Wood Sandpiper. In my illness-befuddled state I kept cocking things up like not panning with the bird or shooting a Common Sandpiper instead!

The Grey Plover and Wood Sandpiper were both present first thing on Saturday morning though soon departed, probably due to the weekend disturbance on the Meadow - it gets very busy this time of year when the weather is good. I did check it out on Saturday evening and there were just 2 Common Sandpiper, 1 YELLOW WAGTAIL and a smattering of the usual other stuff.

On Sunday evening after a scorchingly hot day Mary MacDougall reported that there was a bit of a feeding frenzy going on with the trapped fish fry and that 3 LITTLE EGRETS, the two COMMON TERNS and loads of Black-headed Gulls were all joining in the bonanza. A good top-up of rain wouldn't go amiss about now.

A Wood Sandpiper grab from the video

Thursday 5th May

The warm spring weather at last has meant that my evening visits out to check on the floods have been a real pleasure over the last few days though I must admit that the sunny conditions are eating away the flood levels which are now receding alarmingly quickly. You can tell this because suddenly there are loads of Herons and even a LITTLE EGRET all fishing away in the waters for the trapped fish.

We continue to get a good mix of birds on the floods though it's been the same species (albeit in differing numbers) each day. Today we had 5 COMMON SANDPIPERS, 9 OYSTERCATCHERS, 4 RINGED PLOVER, 1 DUNLIN and 3 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER. The Greenshank was still with us yesterday though has now moved on. There's been a noticeable increase in YELLOW WAGTAILS with four of them today and for the first time there were some female birds there as well. I think I'm right in saying that the two sexes migrate at different times so you get the males going through first and then the females follow. 2 COMMON TERN and 1 SHELDUCK completed the flood tally for today.

Earlier on in the day I nipped into Burgess Field to see if I could find any GARDEN WARBLERS and sure enough there were a couple of singing males, including one very showy individual which gave great views near the entrance gate. The male LESSER WHITETHROAT was still still about and singing in his hedge so it looks like he's decided to stay.

Hunting Little Egret

Tuesday 3rd May

So here we are in May and I'm pleased to say that for the first time in three years the floods are still looking good for the start of this month. We're still very much in the optimal window for spring wader passage and we can now hope for things like Wood Sandpiper, Spoonbill and Temminck's Stint at the top of our wish list. 

As far as what we're actually seeing, at present we're continuing to get a nice mix of waders though the length of the grass along the currently-favoured west shore is making it increasingly hard to pick out the smaller waders. Top of the list is our GREENSHANK which has been with us for several days now. COMMON SANDPIPER numbers have swelled from our two that we've had for a few days all the way up to 6 today. Today was more a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER rather than a RINGED PLOVER day with 9 of the former and just 3 of the latter, accompanied today by 5 DUNLIN. Finally on the wader front, we're now down to just 3 OYSTERCATCHERS.

Other birds of note included: a YELLOW WAGTAIL, 2 WHITE WAGTAILS (it's been a good spring for this sub-species here on the Meadow), 3 SHELDUCK and a singing LESSER WHITETHROAT that was working its way along the river. I'll save the best till last but I heard a very distant calling CUCKOO this evening as well, coming from way over towards the Wytham area (but still very much countable on the patch year list).

Talking of the patch year list, I heard the first REED WARBLER chugging away from deep within the Trap Grounds reed bed this morning, so that's another tick as well. We still need to get Garden Warbler on the list and they should more or less be back now.

The Greenshank

Saturday 30th April

The end of April and the start of May is traditionally the best time of year on the Meadow in terms of the variety and number of passage birds and fortunately, after a lean couple of years recently, we've returned to this pattern. We've been getting great counts of RINGED PLOVER and DUNLIN in particular with an amazing 18 and 10 respectively on Saturday along with a few LITTLE RINGED PLOVER to boot. We've still got two or three COMMON SANDPIPERS and the OYSTERCATCHERS are still around though there seems to be fewer of them about now that previously. Other bits and bobs to report include a YELLOW WAGTAIL and a couple of SHELDUCK but sadly the Garganey seem to have moved on.

One of the nice things about this time of year in particular is that we get a chance to see some of the less common county waders as they pass through and the highlight of the last two days was a splendid KNOT on Friday. This species is somewhat less than annual on the Meadow and not much better throughout the entire county in fact so it was great to have it grace the floods. On Saturday we had the first GREENSHANK in a few years - they used to be relatively common on the floods but I think that recently the floods haven't been full enough to attract them during this late April passage time.

A couple of really rough record shots of the Knot. Viewing conditions have been really terrible over the last couple of days with really bright sunshine, strong winds and lots of heat haze making it very tricky indeed
I was thinking about what of the scarcer county waders we still actually need this year and came up with just Whimbrel, Turnstone, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank - after that we're getting on to genuine rarities such as Temminck's Stint etc. Early May is the traditional time for Wood Sandpipers and it's worth looking through the Plover flocks for Stints of either species. Spoonbill is also a distinct possibility for the start of May so with some good flood water still with us there's everything to play for now.