Friday 26th May - Common Clubtail

There's been precious little to report on the bird front on the Meadow this week and in fact to be honest I've not actually spent much time there. I did have a PEREGRINE fly low and fast over my house one evening this week but that's been about it. On the odd occasions when I've visited the floods it's only loafing gulls that I've seen.

Today I went down to have a wander around the Trap Grounds and with this nice sunny weather it was a perfect opportunity to start looking at dragonflies and damselflies once again. In fact even as I left my house and started walking down the street a male Banded Demoiselle zoomed by, looking most incongruous in this urban setting. On the main Trap Ground's pond a male Emperor was hawking about imperiously and there were a few Azure Damselflies along the shoreline. Over at the end of the boardwalk I met Trap Grounds regular Nicola Devine who was photographing a pair of mating Large Red Damselflies. She showed me a photo on the back of her camera of a dragonfly which she wasn't able to identify. It turned out to be a Common Clubtail - quite an amazing find for the Trap Grounds! 

One of Nicola's photos of the Common Clubtail
This species is very localised throughout the country though there is a population on the Thames at Goring and each year at around this time local odonata fans make a pilgrimage there in order to try and see this elusive creature. The trouble is that whilst they emerge from the river where they spend their life as a nymph they then fly off some distance away where they pass their time hunting, often in woodland areas. It's therefore very hard to come across them after they've initially moved away from the river so to find one like this was amazing, especially as this was a long way from their traditional stronghold. In fact I only know of one other record of this species in this area, when one was found on one of the side streams near Wytham a few years back.

Nicola told me that in fact she'd seen the Clubtail in the same place yesterday as well so it seemed to have taken a liking to this spot. She took me over to where she'd seen it and sure enough, within about twenty minutes we initially got a brief view of it flying by before it settled quite close to the screen where I was able to get some reasonable photos of it myself. While we waited there was loads of bird activity in the tree in front of us with Reed Buntings, Reed Warblers, a Blackcap and a mixed Tit flock, all to be seen.

It's a shame that the angle wasn't quite right but it was a nice close view.
Whilst we were watching, a Hawker species flew by which at this time of year could only really be a Hairy Dragonfly. What's more a short while later we saw an ovipositing dragonfly on the far side of the pond which turned out to be a female Hairy. I'd not personally seen this species on the Trap Grounds before with Otmoor normally being the top site in the county to see this spring dragonfly. If you add in loads of mating Azure Damselflies and a few Blue-tailed it was a real feast of odonata action today.

Record shot of the ovipositing Hairy Hawker

For those wanting to look for the Clubtail you need to park in Aristotle Lane and then walk north along the canal a couple of hundred yards to just before the next canal bridge where you turn left (away from the canal) to enter the Trap Grounds. Head past the main pond and then turn left onto the boardwalk. Go to the end of this and then bear right a few yards to the wooden screen in front of what's known as Tim's Pond. With a bit of patience then you should get good views if it's still around.

Sunday 21st May

Thanks to the recent spell of heavy rain we've actually got some flood waters back. They are reasonably extensive though if truth be told they don't look that great, with great big lumps of mud sticking out everywhere and no proper shoreline to speak of. Still I've been checking them out this week once per day more or less and today I was rewarded with a GREENSHANK which settled on them briefly. It didn't really find them to its liking and soon left but at least that's another year tick for the patch. Sadly, with the forecast for prolonged hot weather the flood waters should soon disappear again.

Apart from that there's not been much of note. Mary MacDougall reported a male PHEASANT in Burgess Field and three singing REED WARBLERS along the ditch to the east of Burgess Field but that's about it.

Here's some video of a rather enthusiastic Reed Warbler in the Trap Grounds reed bed

Saturday 13th May

Well at least we've finally been having some rain though it is of course far too late for the completely dried-up floods. There have been a few birds of interest to keep things ticking over this last week though to be honest they are pretty slim pickings.

Top of the list is a report of a couple of CUCKOOS in the Trap Grounds last Saturday that two independent observers saw (or at least heard). It's great to have this declining species on the year list - I thought that we'd missed our chance this year to be honest. 

Another point of interest was a male YELLOW WAGTAIL that spent several days singing in amongst the patch of Docks down near the boats. It clearly had taken a liking to the spot and was trying to establish a territory but I'm sure that no self-respecting female was going to try to set up a home in such a public area and so he must have given up and moved on.

The singing male Yellow Wagtail, trying to establish a territory
I've taken to wandering along the river this week. As the river level gradually falls from the lack of rain it is leaving quite a nice shoreline and I did find a nice COMMON SANDPIPER there for my troubles. It's funny but this is usually the only species that one gets along the river shoreline - it just doesn't seem to appeal to other waders. There was also a COMMON TERN fishing on my first trip but to be honest I haven't seen many of those recently either. It is of course Mayfly season now and there are a few Black-headed Gulls and Hirundines working their way up and down the river though I've not seen many emerging flies so far. Perhaps the weather has been a bit too unsettled.

This week's Common Sandpiper

5th March

Despite the lack of floods it's been quite an interesting week. It started off quietly enough: I did a tour on Monday around Burgess Field with only a singing male Lesser Whitethroat worthy of reporting. Then on Tuesday we had a report of an OSPREY flying south from the Wytham University Field Centre. Now, just how strictly this is within the Patch catchment area is a matter of debate but in the current floodless circumstances I'm going to stretch the rules a little - we need all the ticks we can get!

Thursday was very interesting when a possible Red-footed Falcon was reported as seen sitting on the wires along the A34 as someone drove by. Unfortunately the view wasn't good enough to confirm the identification but this would be a very rare county bird indeed if it were to be firmed up.

Today (Friday) I did in fact go down to the Wytham and spent half an hour in a lay-by on the Wytham approach road scanning the hillside for raptors. I turned up a few Red Kites, Buzzards, a Kestrel and best of all a RAVEN (a Patch year tick) but nothing rarer. The Red-foot may still be around of course (if it was one) so it's worth keep a look out. From the north end of Wolvercote I did also spot a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT flying rapidly up the river.

We did get a report by Martin Frend of a Falcon this afternoon in the area though it was a HOBBY (another year tick) that flew over Godstow Abbey. He also found a COMMON SANDPIPER working its way northwards along the river shoreline.

A Common Sandpiper from the archives
Forgot to mention that I had my first SWIFTS of the year over my house today as well.