Review of 2016

By all measures 2016 was a good year for Port Meadow birding. For starters the year list came it at 133 which is a good solid total and we managed a couple of nationally scarce species in the form of a Spoonbill and a Yellow-browed Warbler. So what were the highlights of the year?

The first couple of months consisted mostly of the usual fare with perhaps a Raven being the most noteworthy addition to the year list. But in March we really struck patch gold with a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the Trap Grounds. This is a real patch Mega and is certainly rarer than Spoonbill or Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch. Sadly the bird didn't hand around and was chased off by a territorial Greater Spotted cousin but it did offer some great views in the Trap Grounds for a few minutes.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

In March the first migrants started arriving back and we were treated to a couple of Avocets that dropped in for the evening on their way north.

Avocets on the floods

We had a Brent Goose drop in to stay for quite a while in spring. This is quite a rare Goose in the county (though it usually manages to make its way onto the county year list) so I was pleased to have it grace the patch for a while. Also good birds for March were a Sanderling and some Red-crested Pochards

The long-staying Brent Goose

April produced another patch Mega in the form of a Sandwich Tern. This is only the second record ever on Port Meadow of this species which is an annual passage migrant in the county but really hard to catch up with as they so often are just seen flying through places like Farmoor. This one roosted on the Meadow so lingered for a few hours at least.

The only other Meadow record of Sandwich Tern was back in 1995

Little Gull is just about annual on the Meadow though only usually through one or two sightings a year so I was pleased to find one in mid April on the floods - it turned out to be the only one of the year. Also in this vein is Garganey which turned up mid month as well - again usually annual though only thanks to one or two records. The Meadow is one of the top spots in the county for passage waders and we managed this year to get just about all the rarer ones. Towards the end of April we managed to add Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot to the year list.

Whether May is any good on the Meadow each year depends very much on the state of the floods. We were lucky this year with reasonable floods still present in this crucial spring month and this water pulled in a Wood Sandpiper - the first we've had in a few years recently. However, the 10th of May 2016 will go down as one of the best days of patch birding on the Meadow in a long time. I wrote at the 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.

We managed 66 waders of 9 different species including Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and Sanderling. It was really amazing! Nothing really extraordinary on paper but normally you have to work pretty hard just to get one bird of these species in a given month let alone multiples of all of them on the same day!

Two of the Knot, part of a huge wader fall

A day later we managed an impressive 47 Ringed Plover - an amazing count for an inland location. Sadly after that sightings started to dwindle as we headed towards the summer doldrums though we did manage to sneak a Spotted Flycatcher onto the list - always a hard bird to get on the Meadow. We finally managed our first national scarcity of the year when a Spoonbill was seen flying over the Trap Grounds in the last week of May. They often seem to turn up at around this time of year on the Meadow.

In the summer months I generally turn to insects and flowers to keep me occupied. Whilst this year was pretty poor for moths I did manage to turn up a couple of county-wide interest with a Yellow Belle and Psychoides filicivora (a fern-loving micro) as well as a Toadflax Brocade (though they're pretty much annual now in the county). Thanks to some good coverage in the Trap Grounds a couple of Silver Washed Fritillary butterflies and a Red-tipped Clearwing moth were found in August both great finds for this location.

Red-tipped Clearwing courtesy of Nicola Devine

August did manage to provide some bird action with already-returning migrants passing through. The bird highlight of the month was a female Blue-headed Wagtail which was in amongst the cattle with our own Yellow Wagtails.

It took quite an effort to pin down this highly mobile bird long enough to get a photo

September turned up some good migrants with Tree Pipit, another Spotted Flycatcher and a Redstart but the highlight of the month was a great Yellow-browed Warbler find up in Wolvercote though sadly it was just passing through and only the original finder ever saw it.

October and November were very quiet months as we had no flood waters at all and all the passage action has long since finished. Finally towards the end of November we got the waters back and we were soon rewarded with our first Caspian Gull of the season. It turned out to be a pretty good period for this tricky gull and we had quite a few more of them up until the end of the year. The feral Home Counties Barnacle Geese also put in an appearance in December to round things off but apart from gulls there was little else of note.

A cracking first winter Caspian Gull
So that was the year. As is so often the case on the Meadow the action rather comes in fits and starts and is very dependent on the presence of the floods. Looking back on it though I'd definitely classify 2016 as a good solid year for the Meadow.

It now only remains for me to award the much-coveted Port Meadow Bird of the Year award. Whilst this often goes to just the scarcest bird that's been found this year there were a number of contenders including Yellow-browed Warbler, Spoonbill, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and collectively all 66 waders on the 10th May (because it was such a special day). And the award this year goes to.... the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, for not only being a Patch Mega but also for providing unusually good views of what is normally quite a secretive species.

Sadly it couldn't be here to accept the award....
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who helped to contribute to the birding effort on Port Meadow. I'm lucky to have a number of people send in information regularly and whilst I don't always have time to respond to e-mails, all the information is always very much appreciated. Let's hope that 2017 is another great year for birding on Port Meadow.

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