I may have mentioned the dire state of my patch a few times of late. My daily visits to check out Port Meadow have been a staple part of my routine for several years now and having no flood water (and consequently no birds) there is really getting to me. Having said that, even without the prospect of seeing anything, I do find that by the end of a long day sitting in front of a computer I really do need to get out and stretch my legs so I still grab my bins and super-zoom camera and go off for a yomp around the Meadow. In order to keep motivated I like to look out for rarer stuff even though the chances are extremely remote. One of the many walks I can choose from involves slogging across the dried up Meadow. I generally check out the grassy area looking to see how many Golden Plover have come in and whether there are any more interesting hangers-on within the flock (I dream of a Yank Goldie or even a Buff-breasted Sand perhaps) and how many Meadow Pipits and Linnets are now about (there could always be a rarer Pipit or perhaps a Twite). I then seek out the cattle and horses where with any luck I can find some Yellow Wagtails in amongst the livestock. I check these and the Pieds carefully for Citrines or Blue-headeds or Eastern Yellows. Then I'll walk along the river in case there are any waders about - I'll settle for any at present given the lack of floods. After that it's along the Castle Mill Stream which always looks good for a Yellow-browed warbler or perhaps even a Night Heron though I've never found more there than a Spotted Fly and a Marsh Tit. This brings me back to the Walton Well Road car park where its back home, usually with precious little to show for my efforts apart from some exercise and the harsh realisation that once again my birdy dreams have come to naught.
Wednesday afternoon was typical in this repect: I managed to find 120 Golden Plover (yes I did count them all) including one greyer individual which was worth a closer look though it was just a European Goldie. The Linnet flock was up to 75 or so birds and there were about 10 Meadow Pipits. I even managed to flush a Snipe from the grass - quite what it was doing there was beyond me. In amongst the cattle were five Yellow Wags though nothing out of the ordinary. The river and the Castle Mill Stream were both depressingly empty. I reached the car park and started back up the hill with my mind now firmly on this evening and what I was going to do.
As I started up the hill I was woken from my thoughts by the unmistakable call of a Yellow-browed Warbler really close by in the canopy of the trees to my right. Stunned and not quite believing it, I hurried across to where it had come from. It called again and then flew over my head into the pollarded Willows that run along the northern side of the road as it runs down to the car park. From there it proceeded to work its way methodically and reasonably slowly through the trees, mostly high up and in the middle. I soon managed to get good enough views to confirm what it was though to be honest there was already no doubt in my mind - the call is pretty diagnostic. There it was in all its glory with it's strong long super and the two wing bars, a little Siberian gem here in Oxford and on my Patch too!
What a stunner! This and all subsequent photos of the bird were taken by Roger Wyatt (c)
I called Ian Lewington whilst I watched it to tell him of my find and suggested that he put out a text message to the local birders. Unfortunately he couldn't come down himself and it was 6pm already so there wasn't going to be a great deal of light left anyway. Next a call to Badger who is the hub of all county birding info though unusually he wasn't answering so I left a message. After that a call back home to say that I was going to be a bit late for dinner - I was granted a twenty minute extension by my VLW. I spent this extra time savouring the moment and quietly watching the bird as it worked its way through the trees. The light was rather poor by now and given how it was hidden in the depths I didn't even attempt to photograph it. After some time in the roadside Willows it then flew to the back of the car park by the stream where I soon found it again. From here it flew back to the copse where I'd originally heard and seen it - I guess it was doing a feeding circuit. By now my time was up so I went back home to share the exciting news with my disappointingly uninterested family. I guess that they'd not been slogging their guts out around a waterless patch for months so it didn't mean as much to them!
The next morning before work I went back to the site where many of the county's keenest and finest birders were assembled. By the time I arrived at about 7:15am they were already on the bird and tracking it through the Willows. For all of the birders there (apart from the Wickster) this was a county tick though the more senior county listers (in birding terms) would have already had Yellow-browed from past occasions - the last was in 2003 apparently. We watched it for a while before I had to head off. Throughout the morning reports came in that the bird was still there though I didn't hear anything after midday.
Keen county birders at dawn (taken by me)
The next morning I was again up there shortly after 7am where I almost immediately found the bird and had it all to myself for the half an hour that I was there. Once again reports came in steadily all morning though by the afternoon it became very elusive and was only seen once for a couple of minutes with a roving long-tailed tit flock from about midday until 6pm. At the time of writing there's been no sign of it this morning so that may well be it.
It's been such a poor start to autumn in the county that it was about time that something decent turned up. Amazingly, on the same day Farmoor scored four Bonxies and Otmoor had a Great White Egret. Talk about being just like busses! Still, I still can't quite believe that I've actually managed to see a Yellow-browed warbler in Oxon (a very hard bird to see in the county), let alone to find one myself on my own Patch. It has rather re-ignited my enthusiasm for the Meadow though without any flood water that could dwindle again rather quickly. I wonder what else might be lurking out there? Red-breasted Flycatcher perhaps - one can dream!
Many thanks to Roger Wyatt (c) for the use of his fantastic photos