Tuesday, 21 January 2014
Water Water Everywhere!
After a fairly slow birding start to the year I was keen to get back to my university patch of Port Meadow to get my patch yearlist off to a good start and hopefully find a few good gulls. I was particularly keen this year as I had decided to take part in the patchwork challenge competition for the first time and also had a more personal competition going with Dave "Devil Birder" Campbell and his university patch of Newhaven in Sussex. I had set my self a substantial target of 115 for the year which I thought was just about possible in term time with a lot of effort and some crafty twitching of Adam Hartley's finds. However my spirits were dampened (both literally and metaphorically) early in the New Year when I learned of the extensive flooding around Oxfordshire. Port Meadow acts as the main flood defence for Oxford city essentially becoming a lake when the river breaches its banks. In this state gulling becomes almost an impossibility and even checking the ducks becomes more difficult as everything becomes so spread out.
Still in an effort to get away from exam revision I decided to head up to the patch on the 12th of January to give it a good going over. I started by walking along the Castle Mill Stream, an area of the patch which I usually neglect, in the vain hope of finding a Marsh tit or Firecrest or some other such goodie. Predictably, none of these hoped for birds came forth however I was almost immediately rewarded with good views of a TREECREEPER, only my second patch record and a valuable addition to the yearlist at such an early stage. Better was to follow however as further along the stream I flushed a LITTLE GREBE from the near bank which proceeded to give good views in the middle of the channel. BOOM! My first patch tick of 2014 and on my very first visit! After the initial excitement things predictably slowed down and the floods produced only Wigeon and Teal with no sign of even the regular Shoveler or Pintail. I had a good kick around the Burgess Field but found none of the hoped for Snipe although an unseasonal Reed Bunting was a nice patch year tick.
I visited again on the 14th to check the gulls which produced nice scarcities but did reveal a total of 17 Common Gulls, by far the largest count I have ever had on the patch. Common Gull is usually a scarce bird on the meadow and is frequently outnumbered by Yellow-legged Gull early in the season. For some reason they all seem to roost over at Farmoor, maybe the elevated water level has attracted them in. A group of 10 roosting Goosander, including 6 males, was another good record for the patch. So not the ideal start to the year but a few good birds on the patch list early which stands at a reasonable 43 species after only 2 species. If the floods drop in the next couple of weeks and I get lucky with a couple of scarcities such as Peregrine and Short-eared Owl then I think 115 is still in reach. I'm about to head out to the meadow to try and check the Gulls now, maybe this is the day my luck changes...