morning stroll

After spending all week staring at the laptop, I decided that it was time to give myself a break. That, and I had a specific destination that I needed going to. On Wednesday, Prof. Robert Merrihew Adams mentioned in the course of illustrating something or other in his seminar that he cared about how many species of white-headed gulls there are in the world (the number is under serious dispute, by the way). That comment confirmed that he was indeed a birdwatcher (I had a vague recollection of hearing somewhere that he was), so after class and after other students had finished talking to him about important things, I asked him for some recommendations about local places to find birds. Judging by the way his eyes lit up, he really likes birdwatching. So I got a quarter-hour personal tutorial at the steps of the philosophy building on what kinds of birds one can see here and where I might best find them. For example, there is a Grey Heron that occasionally visits Christ Church College’s fountain. Oh, and if I take the coach to London, there is a certain spot where, if I look out the windows to the north, I have a 90% chance of seeing Red Kites. Anyway, one of the places he suggested was Port Meadow, so I decided to spend the morning there.

Port Meadow, incidentally, has some historical significance. King Alfred apparently gave the depasturing rights to the Freemen of Oxford in return for fighting Danish invaders in the 10th century, rights which are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1066. Around here even grass seems to have a long history! The Freemen of Oxford (bold text indicates a link) still hold the depasturing rights, though grazing animals appeared to be vastly outnumbered by joggers today. Still, I did see some grazing ponies.

Google Maps has quite good satellite images of the area I walked, in case somebody, e.g., Erin, wants to trace the route I walked. I live just north of Polstead Rd. on Woodstock Rd. So that would be my starting point. Then I walked down Woodstock Rd. a little ways, turned right on to Leckford Rd., and then right again on to Walton Well Rd. At the end of Walton Well Rd., I tried following a little path right along the Thames, i.e., not either of the easily visible paths on the satellite image. It started out lovely, if a little muddy:


As you can see, though, the Thames was pretty high. Between the fact that there was water on both sides of the path and the fact that all the other people on this path were wearing boots, I should have suspected that this might not be the path for me. I got about as far as the end of what you can see in the picture before I decided that wading through water in sneakers did not sound appealing. So I had to backtrack. But I did see a number of birds along the way, including species I haven’t seen before. I have seen coots before, but there were lots of them here in close proximity and they were calling to each other so now I can pair sound with sight. Here’s one:


Not that their sound is quite what we might call pleasing. I’m not sure how to describe it. Nasal squawking, perhaps?

So my next attempt was the path right across Port Meadow to the Thames, one of the two paths easily visible in the satellite image. And then across the footbridge, also visible in the image, to the Thames Path on the other side, where I headed north. Not that the Thames Path started out being too visually appealing:


I had to read this sign a couple of times before I realized what it did not say:


I was initially quite puzzled why I should be concerned about a path liable to subsistence. I rather liked the idea of a path subsisting while I was on it!

Between the prison yard feel and the cautionary sign, the beginning of this path wasn’t too auspicious. But it did get better. Especially once I got to the Binsey Poplars. Or at least the replacements to the ones that Gerard Manley Hopkins lamented in “Binsey Poplars“. Hopkins used to walk here regularly when he was in Balliol College. If he is right, I came too late upon the scene: “When we hew or delve: // After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.”

But I did see some more new species of birds, including two large, rather dramatic flocks of lapwings flying over. At least, that what I think they were. I’ve never seen any water bird fly like that before, but I can’t think of what else they might have been.

The new camera proved to be quite useful. Trying to identify everything in the field is quite a nuisance when pretty much all birds are unfamiliar, the organization of the bird guide is unfamiliar, and you don’t have any idea what sort of fieldmarks to look for to begin with. I was impressed with how far away birds could be where I could still get pictures that allowed me to identify the birds. Not that the pictures are good pictures in any other sense:


That picture has a Pied Wagtail in it. Really.

Anyway, since I’m sure you’re all dying to know what species I added to my life list, here they are:

Great-spotted Woodpecker / Moorhen / Great Tit / Lapwing / Pied Wagtail / Redwing / Jackdaw / Redshank


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