Sunday 14th January

The Meadow is still on top form at the moment with large numbers of birds to look through. Geese numbers have been as high as one thousand birds during peak times though they seem to be easing off now. It's been the usual suspects with Greylags, Canada's, the 150+ BARNACLE GEESE, the leucistic EGYPTIAN GOOSE again and up to 15 WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (with their BAR-HEADED GEESE cousins in tow too). I didn't know that there were this many in the feral White-front flock though it's a tough call to say that there are some wild birds in there as well (I'll need to think about that).

Duck numbers are still good though not spectacular with reasonable Wigeon and Teal numbers as well as some Shoveller. The evening GOOSANDER roost count has been as high as the mid teens this week. On the wader front we've had a couple of REDSHANK knocking around and we even had a visit from Farmoor's escaped AVOCET this evening as well. Lapwing numbers peaked at over 200 this week though as the floods have returned to normality so they have dispersed and we back to standard numbers now. There are still no Golden Plover - Otmoor seems to have them all at present with over 5000 birds there at the moment!

The gull roost has been good with good numbers of large gulls. The 2w YELLOW-LEGGED GULL has been seen on several occasions and this evening there was also a smart adult bird in the throng. The highlight however was a less than classic (but still good enough) 1w CASPIAN GULL which graced us with its presence this evening. It's always nice to find the first one of the season!

The 1w Caspian Gull

In other news the STONECHAT is still hanging around in amongst the dead Nettle patches down near the bridge by Weir Cottage.

Tuesday 9th January: Woodcock

A lunch time tour of the Patch today in the company of Martin Gebauer proved productive with plenty to see. There were a couple of over-wintering Chiffchaff down near the boat moorings, a rather unusual place to see this species at any time of year. By the river just north of the boats were a couple of REDSHANK and a smart pair of drake GOOSANDER. The floods themselves were absolutely heaving with Geese, there must have been getting on for a thousand of them, both Greylags and Canadas as well as three of the feral WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. There were good numbers of Wigeon and Teal, with modest counts of SHOVELER and a handful of PINTAIL. There was also the first GADWALL of the year, a bird I more usually associate with spring on the Meadow. Lapwing numbers were vast as well with at least 200 birds there - far more than we usual get at winter time on the Meadow. Add in hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, mostly on the flooded grass in the Hinterland and it all made for a remarkably birdy scene.

We did have a tramp around Burgess Field which as almost completely deserted. However at the north end we happened to flush a couple of WOODCOCK from the long grass, a great find as this species is very hard to come by on the Patch and is only ever seen on accidental flushings such as this. So all in all some nice year ticks, especially the Woodcock which was a personal Patch tick.

The boat moorings Chiffchaff courtesy of George Best, taken a couple of days ago

Sunday 7th January

It's been quite a good start to the new year on the Meadow. The floods have been increasing each day until now we're in full blown "lake mode" with the waters stretching a fair way up towards Wolvercote now. I've paid a few visits to the Meadow and was rewarded for my efforts with a splendid WHOOPER SWAN a few evenings back. Whoopers and Bewicks are pretty rare on the Meadow, certainly less than annual and it's been several years since our last one so I was very pleased to see this adult bird on the 3rd.

Whooper Swan
It was an amazingly "birdy" visit actually, with the floods then being just right for the geese and in fact we had all the species that we might reasonably expect. There were 150 or so of the usual Home Counties BARANACLE GEESE, 9 WHITE-FRONTS (the usual feral birds), 3 BAR-HEADED GEESE as well as countless Greylags and Canada Geese. There was even a feral BLACK SWAN as well. Duck numbers were large with quite a few PINTAIL and a red-head GOOSANDER. Ian Curtis also reported a pair of drakes of this species on Wolvercote Lakes this week. On the Meadow floods the next day there were also a couple of drake POCHARD, a rare bird on the Meadow which we only ever get when it's really flooded and lake-like.

Apart from this it's mostly been about getting the usual stuff on the year list. I did actually see (rather than just hear) the Medley Farm NUTHATCH near the boat moorings. The best of the rest was a sighting by Roly Pitts of the over-wintering STONECHAT down at the southern end of the Meadow. My guess is that it's mostly spending time in the allotments but that it occasionally comes out onto the Meadow itself for a bit of variety. There have also been a couple of over-wintering Chiffchaff sightings as well.

Stonechat courtesy of Roly Pitts
So a nice start to the new year. This coming week I'm going to try to concentrate on the gull roost as the Farmoor Iceland Gull was seen to fly over the hill towards the Meadow and with the huge water expanse it's a great chance to see some of the rarer county gulls on the patch. 

Do please keep reports coming in to me and I'd be particularly interested in things like Brambling, Marsh Tit, Redpoll, Tree Sparrow and even Greenfinch (which has suddenly become a bit of a rarity thanks to the dreaded disease that's been wiping them out).

Review of 2017

It's time for the review of the past year on the Meadow. By all measures it's been a lean one on the birding front, thanks to the unusually dry conditions for both spring and autumn. The floods had to all intents and purposes dried up by early April and didn't reform at all until November and indeed weren't back to a reasonable size until right at the end of December. This paucity of flood water took its toll on the year list which came in at a measly 114, well below the 120 figure that we can expect on an average year and 130 on a good one. A telling statistic was just how few blog posts I made in the year with a mere 36 compared to between 60 and 80 over the previous three years. Indeed during the autumn months I was only managing one post per month so little was there to blog about. That is the nature of birding on the Meadow unfortunately - it is ultra-sensitive to the amount of water that is about.


So down to the actual review. January started off OK with good flood waters and some reasonable gull action. Indeed we managed both Caspian and Iceland Gulls this month along with a Red-crested Pochard, quite a Patch rarity.

The 3rd winter Caspian Gull

There was little of note in February apart from the usual over-wintering birds. Come March and the early migrants start to make things interesting again and we had our first Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers as well as a few spring waders and a smart adult Mediterranean Gull

The first Ringed and Little Ringed Plvoers (c) Nicola Devine
April is when we get the warblers back and they did indeed arrive this month though the fact that the floods dried up at the start of the month meant that we missed out on what is normally the best birding month of the year as the spring waders pass through in their greatest numbers.

It was nice to have the Swallws back again




In May, with no flood water at all it was left to an exciting dragonfly sighting to provide the interest when a rare Club-tailed Dragonfly spent a couple of days in the Trap Grounds.

Club-tailed Dragonfly



The summer months were very quiet and I passed my time re-acquainting myself with some of the rarer plants in the locality. A returning Redstart was the only noteworthy record on the birding front.

Birthwort up by Godstow nunnery



Creeping Marshwort
There was still no water in September but in the flock of Yellow Wagtail that are often to be found in amongst the cattle on the Meadow in this month I winkled out female Blue-headed Wagtail (the continental sub-species of Yellow Wagtail).


Blue-headed Wagtail
Come November and we started to get some embryonic flood waters back, and with them came the first few waders and gulls. However, the highlight of the month was a brief sighting of a Great White Egret up at Wolvercote for a few minutes. Whilst this is not the national rarity it once was and indeed they are in the process of colonising this country in the same way that Little Egrets did, nevertheless it's still a great sighting for the Meadow which doesn't have the right sort of habitat to attract this species.

This is not the actual bird but one I photographed in Dorset




Finally in December the snow tipped the balance with the flood waters and some long-overdue rain pushed them back to full size. With the waters came the geese, ducks and gulls again and the birding desert was once more transformed into an oasis of bird activity.

So, the Port Meadow Bird of the Year title has to go to the Great White Egret really as there was nothing else at all close to it in terms of rarity. I'm always a bit reluctant to give this award to a bird that was seen by a single observer (especially since it wasn't me!) but apart from the Blue-headed Wagtail there was little else of note this year.

Looking forward, we're at least starting the year with decent sized flood waters but it will all be down to what happens in the spring and autumn once again. Sadly, with global warming it's possible that years like this will become more of the norm. Let's hope note!