Monday, 14 April 2014

Saturday and Sunday 12th and 13th April

Lesser Whitethroat both pics (c) Mike Kosniowski

Busy Treecreeper (c) Pat Galka

L.R.P. (c) Peter Law

Goldfinch (c) Andy Last

Chiffy (c) Andy Last
Spring really came with a bang last week and migrants have arrived in numbers some sadly only on passage others for the summer.
One of our most stunning passage birds is fresh summer plumaged Redstart. The first one this year was found on Thursday evening in Long Meadow, a female. Although elusive it was great to see her trembling her red-gold tail in the evening light. It is easy to understand how they got their old country name of "fire flirt". It is also good to know that they will return and spend a bit longer here in the late summer. At least two males were flaunting their colours in the same place on Saturday and another probably seen on Sunday.
The hedgerows are full of singing Blackcaps and Willow Warblers. There are also good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats present and they are beginning to scratch out their finch like trills. We have not had a similar influx of Common Whitethroats and this is concerning as usually they arrive before the Lessers.
On both days there were large flocks of Sand Martins moving through and smaller parties of Swallows. A Little Ringed Plover was in front of the hide and two Oystercatchers were seen to fly out towards the flood field as did four Dunlin. The Ring-tailed Harrier is still present but raptor numbers have dropped off a little, a reflection of the fact that the big flocks of prey species have moved off.
While watching a very obliging and confiding Wheatear at Noke on Sunday we noticed it turn its head and look straight up. Badger followed its sightline and there was a Peregrine passing really high above us, extraordinary perception at such a distance.
Yet again our lone Beardie was on patrol and the best place to see her seems to be the "crossroads" where the bridle way is crossed by the path between the screens and the hide. Further along the bridleway Treecreepers are very busy and easily seen in the large oak trees.
With the first rush of migration over we can look forward to the stragglers arriving Garden and Grasshopper Warblers are due next and lets hope for a good but late influx of Common Whitethroats. More Cuckoos and our star summer specials of Hobby and Turtle Doves are to be looked for and looked forward to.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th April

Splendid Beardie (c) Andy Last

And again both pics (c) Bark

Singing Sedge (c) Bark

The froth of Blackthorn (c) Bark


and Free. (c) Bark
The weather this weekend flipped between grey then bright and damp and windy. At least it didn’t rain until later on Sunday.
New additions to the yearlist included several Sedge Warblers and a Common Whitethroat. There are now a number of Willow Warblers and at least two Blackcaps singing in the Roman Road. At this time of year it does live up to its other name among local birders of “warbler alley”.
The hedgerows are frothing with blackthorn flowers and it is quite wonderful to see such a profusion of blossom. It really is spectacular, I don’t remember it being so prolific in other years. Last years warm summer and the mildness of the past winter may be partly responsible.
Snipe are drumming over Greenaways and when the Ring Tailed Harrier passed over at least twenty birds flushed from the sedge beds on the western side of the field. The drake Garganey showed most of the weekend on Ashgrave, although sometimes it was distant or round the corner and out of sight. There were also up to three Oystercatchers around the main pool on Ashgrave. They are very mobile and have been seen over on Big Otmoor, Greenaways and Maltpit.
Our single female Bearded Tit was seen regularly and as yet there has been no further records of a male. She is very beautiful and has been much photographed, the photo by Andy Last  shows her fabulous subtle, ochre and red-gold colouration to perfection. She is regularly seen at the top of small bushes and appears confident and confiding.
Yet another animal rescue this weekend with a female Mute Swan having got entangled in some string. This rescue involved the use of the reserve boat and whilst paddling down the river both Zoe Edwards (assistant warden) and myself heard our first Whitethroat of the year. The swan duly swam off with only saturated primaries on its right wing to show for its misadventure. I later saw it feeding and then up on the bank preening.
Interestingly when we pulled the boat from its mooring and turned it up the right way there were a large number of leeches looping about on the surface, a good reason not to swim in the reedbed!
This coming week is often one of the busiest and most exciting, there will be more comings and goings and the pace of migration will really step up. What with the Red-necked Grebe at Farmoor and several Ospreys passing through I feel that we are due a something scarce or rare, we will be looking.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Saturday and Sunday 29th and 30th March

Common Buzzard lift off (c) Darrell Wood

Chiffy (c) Andy Last

Sparrowhawk (c) Peter Coombes

Redshank (c) Peter Coombes
Chiffchaff (c) Bark

Peacock on blackthorn (c) Bark

Courting Canadas (c) Bark

Sunbathing Hare (c) Bark
Suddenly its spring. The stop-start season finally arrived for real this weekend. The weather was warm with milky sunshine and the wind was light and from the south. Blackthorn has burst into flower everywhere and there is a fresh flush of green in the hedgerows. Everything is responding lustily to the change in the season. On the moor Redshanks are pairing courting and displaying almost everywhere and their voices are a major part of the continuous background soundtrack, which also includes regular Lapwings “peewit” call, Chiffchaffs saying their name from the hedgerows and the occasional bubbling Curlew. As the next few weeks continue more voices will be added to the sound mix and the chorus will swell.
A Cuckoo was heard by three of us on Sunday morning calling from the MOD land but it failed to call more than once. A Blackcap was singing in the Roman road area on Saturday and was the first record this year on Otmoor. Two Oystercatchers were in front of the Hide and a Common Buzzard is hunting from the posts along the path that goes towards July’s Meadow. Once again Reed Buntings seem to be the default bird along the paths, hedges and in the reedbed. They certainly seem to have had a good winter and should have a successful breeding season. There were three Wheatears in the sheep fields at Noke one particular individual was very confiding feeding on the short cropped grass with a Skylark and two Meadow Pipits. PeregrineSparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier and Hen Harrier were all noted over the weekend and a Kestrel was hunting at Noke. Several Sand Martins were seen but we have yet to record any other hirundines.
There was a Mallard on the southern reedbed on Sunday morning with fifteen ducklings in tow and elsewhere on Saturday we spotted a Mallard nest containing eleven eggs. Also on Sunday morning there were at least two drumming Snipe over Greenaways and another bird “chipping” from the sedges out in the field. The lone Bearded Tit was once again roaming in search of a mate and gave superb views to people in the second screen coming down to the waters edge to drink before pinging off on her search.
There are still six Pintail out on Big Otmoor and a number of Wigeon, but soon they will be gone, as will the one hundred or so Golden Plover. Fieldfares can still be seen from time to time in the larger hedges and out on the open fields but as they leave they will be replaced by many new arrivals. It really is one of the most dynamic and exciting times of the year and I can scarcely wait until next week.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd March

Male Chaffinch in carpark (c) Bark

One of many Wheatears (c) Bark

Great crested Grebe eating the fourth Perch it caught in fifteen minutes (c) Bark

My first Grass Snake this year (c) Bark

Passionate Pochard (c) Mark Chivers

Even more passionate Redshank (c) Andy Last

Little Ringed Plover (c) Badger
Chiffy (c) Andy Last
Despite the weather tending back towards winter, the birds were really getting into spring mode. The only damper on the weekend was the unfortunate incident with the Barn Owl. For a full account of this really upsetting event read Ewan Urquarts’ blog . He has written about the whole event very eloquently and intelligently, as he does about all birding matters. I am in full agreement with his view that ringing Barn Owls is an anachronistic and inefficient way of gathering data on these birds. This was a very popular and well photographed bird and will be missed. The whole sad business cast a shadow over the rest of the weekend, taking the gloss off the first real influx of spring migrants.
The year-list has surged forward this week with the addition of several resident species, including both Grey and Red-legged Partridges, Nuthatches on the edge of Noke wood, Mistle Thrush, Merlin, Marsh Harrier and the increasingly rare Lesser Spotted Woodpecker seen and photographed on Wednesday. In addition migrants are now starting to arrive in significant numbers. Wheatears were present both on Ashgrave and on the sheep field at Noke with up to eight individuals showing really well in their bright fresh breeding plumage. Small parties of Sand Martins were seen on both days over the reedbeds and on Saturday we found a Little Ringed Plover picking its way around one of the new scrapes on Big Otmoor. Out in the middle of the field were three Black tailed Godwits in full summer plumage their rich orange gold colour glowing in the sun. There are still in the region of four hundred Golden Plover on the moor and more and more of them are showing black bellies with the distinctive white edging. There are also still at least four Pintail and good numbers of Wigeon present. Pochard are displaying vigorously in front of the first screen. The eyes of the drakes are bright red and despite all their posing and their neck stretching, the females appeared unimpressed.
Little Egret numbers have risen sharply and there are now well over twelve individuals present. The resident Grey Herons are now sitting on the nest in the dead oak tree that can be seen out in front of the hide. Redshank seem to be everywhere, doing display flights and calling loudly. Some were seen mating and on one occasion, unusually, in the water. Peregrines are still making occasional lightning fast appearances barrelling through low and leaving consternation in their wake. Kites are once again attracting defensive attention from the nesting Lapwings. I found my first basking Grass Snakes on Saturday on the dead reeds beside the ditch near the wooden bench on the bridle way, another positive indication of how the season is advancing.
By next weekend even more visitors will be arriving and we will be out there eager to find them.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th March


Lovelorn Beardie (c) Bark

Shovellers over the reedbed (c) Bark

Oystercatcher (c) Badger

Shelduck (c) Badger

Amourous Grebes (c) Andy Last
Chiffy (c) Mike Flemming

Calling Curlew  (c) Mike Flemming

Singing Songthrush (c) Andy Last
Comma (c) Darrell Wood
Small Tortoiseshell (c) Bark
I was chatting to a friend as we walked round on Sunday. We were reflecting that there is a time early in every spring when it all seems to go quiet for a couple of weeks. All our excited anticipation of new arrivals and rarities seems to get ahead of events. It was a bit like that this weekend. There was stunning weather and perfect water levels but neither my anticipated Garganey or Wheatears showed up. It was probably more to do with my impatience than than anything else, I must learn to wait.
There was plenty to see, but only one addition to the yearlist, an Oystercatcher that was feeding around the pool in front of the hide on Saturday morning.  The carpark area is loud with birdsong in the mornings and Chiffchaffs are now adding their signature call to the soundscape. There are still significant numbers of ducks around but they are much more scattered over the whole reserve, large numbers are loafing out of sight on the Flood Field and only show themselves when flushed by one of the regular Peregrines. There were also a pair of Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlins amongst them. One of the Godwits was already starting to moult into its brick red breeding colours. Redshanks and Curlews can be heard all day calling and flying in display. There appear to be more Redshank present than I remember last year but that is speculative rather than definite. Five Shelduck were present on the lagoon on the western side of Ashgrave on both days.
Reed Buntings are prominent and again there seem to be really good numbers of them, it may be that the mild winter has resulted in a better survival rate. Several small parties of Tree Creepers were seen both along the bridle way and in the oaks behind the first screen. The female Bearded tit was seen regularly and appears to be on her own. She is very mobile and very vocal, which suggests a bird in search of a mate, perhaps the male seen earlier in the year has succumbed to a predator or has moved on. Both Barn and Short-eared Owls were seen over the weekend, I had a very close encounter with a Barn Owl which I flushed from bush, it was so close I could have touched it, I don’t know who was more startled me or the Owl. Two Otters were seen along the bridle way early on Saturday morning.
With clearer nights and no fog there will be more migratory movement and our summer visitors will start to arrive soon. I’m looking forward to next weekend already.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th March

Golden Plovers and Dunlin (c) Mark Chivers

Dunnock (c) Mark Chivers

Male Reed Bunting (c) Mark Chivers

Flyover Pintail (c) John Reynolds

Gadwall (c) John Reynolds
Amorous Toad (c) John Reynolds
It was hard to believe just how much the moor had changed during the last two weeks. Water levels have fallen and there are now plenty of clear dry areas where Lapwings are taking up territory and displaying loudly. I was caught out by the weather on Saturday expecting it to be much warmer than it was before lunchtime. Sunday however proved to be the warmest, finest day of spring so far.
There are still dramatic large flocks of birds present, both wildfowl, Lapwings and Golden Plover, the latter by far the most numerous. On Sunday against a clear blue sky they flickered across the sky above Big Otmoor like confetti in a strong wind. Amongst them were at least twenty Dunlin. Redshank are now adding their voices to the sound of displaying Lapwings and the occasional distant calls of Curlew. Two Shelduck were seen on Malt Pit on Sunday morning where there were also twenty Ruff.
At least four Songthrushes are singing on the reserve and it was the first sound that greeted me when I arrived on both mornings. The first singing Chiffchaff of the year was heard on Friday out on the eastern side of the reedbed. Male Reed Buntings are also very noticeable and appear to be taking up prominent songposts. There were also at least a dozen feeding on the scattered seed by the cattle pens.
Both frogs and toads are advertising their presence from the ditches and there are now three Little Egrets stalking the margins on The Closes on the lookout for careless amorous amphibians. There were four Grey Herons in the dead oak trees in front of the hide and bill colour and demeanour suggested that at least two of them were in courtship mode. Last year’s nest when examined through a scope had a female Mallard sitting on it.
Peregrines were very active again from their favourite perches in the hedge one field over from the path to the second screen. Flying together and on one occasion on Sunday swooping onto a common Buzzard that was drifting over the reedbed.
There were many Brimstones on the wing on Sunday, several pairs whirling frantically around each other in their nuptial ballet. There was also a rather battered Peacock nectaring on blackthorn flowers in the car park field just as I left.
There were no new additions to the yearlist this weekend but with fine weather predicted this week it will not be long before Sand Martins and Wheatears make their way northwards from the coast where they have already arrived.
As the month progresses the whole pace of the moor will quicken as both resident and new arrival alike, concentrate on courtship and nesting.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd February

Singing Chaffinch (c) Bark
Singing Songthrush (c) Bark

Reedbunt (c) Bark

Early Blackthorn (c) Bark
Barn Owl at dawn (c) Matthew Byrne

Dawn (c) Matt Byrne
Saturday carried the promise of spring but by Sunday we had reverted to this winters default mode of strong winds, grey skies and occasional rain. It was very noticeable however that the floods are starting to draw down. There was a significant difference between the amount of “dry” land showing, even over the two days of the weekend.
On the Closes the difference is most apparent and the Lapwings are already staking their claims to nesting sites and advertising for mates. Their looping and swooping display flight accompanied by their “peewit” call is one of the delights of early spring on Otmoor.
Other birds are anticipating the coming season, with Chaffinches, Skylarks, Songthrushes and Reed Buntings all singing strongly from prominent song posts.
The regular raptors were all seen over the weekend and the short eared Owls and the Barn Owls are becoming regular features of dusk in the carpark field. The Barn Owls are also hunting over the reedbed and along the bunds. There are still record numbers of both Wildfowl, Lapwings and Golden Plovers. There are now Curlew calling over the reserve and feeding on the northern edge of Greenaways. Redshank are evident both by call and in flight. There are still mobile parties of Dunlin and Ruff feeding on the areas that have recently been flooded and in amongst the commoner birds. On Sunday there were three Black-tailed Godwits feeding and roosting on Greenaways. Both Bittern and Bearded Tits were seen over the weekend but not by me. There were however a pair of Ravens over on Sunday.
There are at least four Little Grebes making their bubbling call from the southern reedbed and they have become the ninetieth species to add to the yearlist.
In the Carpark field there is a strain of blackthorn that always blooms early and this year it is even earlier than usual, there is also an early Hawthorn that is actually coming into leaf. Both of these bushes are very fortuitously positioned for sunshine and shelter. Seeing how far on they are really sharpens my anticipation of the excitement to come as we go through March and into April.