Monday, 20 October 2014

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th October

Stonechat (c) John Reynolds
Quite a contrast between the two days on Saturday I was dodging the showers and on Sunday I didn't need my rainwear at all. It certainly looks like autumn now, the mornings are dark, there is colour in the hedgerows and migration is under way......but it doesn't properly feel like autumn it is so mild and warm. It really sounded like autumn however. This weekend you could hear two of the sounds that most epitomise the season on Otmoor. One of them is the the wild lonely wheep of Golden Plover as they fly restlessly overhead in their loose chevrons. The other is the whistle of Wigeon as they call to each other, whether in flight, feeding on the grass or loafing on the water. Both of these species were very much in evidence this weekend.
Wigeon dropping in (c) Bark
It was a good weekend for raptors. A lucky observer might have seen eight species, but I was pleased to have seen seven. The most pleasing of them was a sighting on Saturday morning of a male Merlin hunting over Greenaways. It was on view for only a minute or so before disappearing over the hedge onto the MOD fields. It was astonishingly quick and flying so low that at times it disappeared into the ditches. After a gap of several weeks we have another Marsh Harrier visiting. The same bird was seen on three consecutive days. Very dark with plain wings and a very pale head, suggesting a juvenile.
Following a sighting of two Peregrines last week another single bird was seen over the reedbed briefly on Sunday morning. A Sparrowhawk has been attending the reedbed at dusk as in addition to the increasing number of Starlings coming in to roost there are at least one hundred and fifty Pied Wagtails roosting in the same area. On Saturday evening at one time there were forty nine individual birds on the island in front of the first screen. The Sparrowhawk has spent quite a lot of its hunting time pursuing them. Ravens were seen overhead on both days.
Common Buzzard (c) Bark

Bittern (c) John Reynolds
 Although I didn’t hear of a Bittern sighting this weekend it was certainly seen on Friday and it or they are almost certainly still here.
Ducks are beginning to moult out of eclipse and Teal are beginning to show their smart colouring. A single male Pochard will now come very close to the screen without being put off by people.
Pochard wash and brush up (c) Bark
There are quite  a number of Chiffchaffs in the hedges sometimes moving with the roving tit flocks and other times feeding independently. Stonechats are now beginning to stake their claims to particular territories and can usually be located in regular spots. The Cetti’s Warbler continues to call from the area around the second screen and perhaps another individual is in the vicinity of the Hide.
Reed Bunting blending in with dead leaves (c) Bark
A small party of a hundred or so Lapwings are present and as the season turn to winter their numbers will increase. There are now larger numbers of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks about, they are really only noticeable when they fly or call, the rest of the time they are down in the grass or out amid the freshly rotavated areas where they blend in perfectly.
Unusually there are still large numbers of dragonflies on the wing and on Saturday a Clouded Yellow Butterfly was seen in Sally’s field on the western edge of Big Otmoor.
Next weekend, if things continue much as they have, the moor will really blaze with a last stunning flourish of autumn colour. The first flocks of Fieldfares will arrive to join the Redwings that are already here and start to feed on the plentiful crop of berries. Superb colour and lots of action, what could be better?
The blaze of Autumn (c) Bark

Monday, 13 October 2014

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th October

Juv Goldfinch (c) John Reynolds
A still, moist and misty weekend. A birder I met at the second screen on Sunday described the atmosphere as ethereal. The fog never really lifted on Sunday morning and so finding and seeing anything was difficult. The misty view from the second screen was like a stage set for  a performance of Swan Lake, but sadly lacked the wild swans or in fact any swans at all.
A Short -eared Owl was seen briefly in the car park field first thing on Saturday morning flying and then perched in a bush. This is the first of what in some years can be a regular and reliable winter visitor. They are a beautiful sight when they hunt over the fields in late afternoons in winter, looking like great silent orange and gold moths. We can only hope that there will be more coming along to join it soon.
Male Stonechat (c) John Reynolds
One of the most noticeable species at present are the large numbers of Stonechats liberally scattered over the reserve and the MOD land. As there was no shooting going on we were able to head out to the Pill on Saturday morning where there were at least six individuals along the stream and out on the old bombing range. There were a further five or so out along the fence that leads to July’s meadow and at least four on the reedbed. This is a remarkable recovery by a species that, like Cetti’s Warbler, was hit hard by the very cold winter of 2011-12. I feel sure that we only recorded one individual in 2012. They are sitting up and hawking insects from prominent positions and from time to time flying up and hovering like a Sedge Warbler doing a display flight. I have no idea whether this is an insect catching exercise or some kind of territorial display. It will be worth looking at them very carefully for paler, frosty individuals that might belong to the newly split Siberian Stonechat group of subspecies. The October edition of Birdwatch has an interesting and very slightly confusing article on how to distinguish the various subspecies from each other.
Teasels full of finches (c) Bark

Reed Bunting ( c) John Reynolds
There are also larger flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets taking advantage of the teasels and other seed bearing plants on any patch of rough ground. The number of Reed Buntings also seem to be on the rise. A Bittern was seen at the northern reedbed on both days and seems to be favouring that locality.
Sprawk (c) John Reynolds
A Sparrowhawk has also been active around the reedbed and has been seen trying to catch both Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. There are large numbers of Skylarks on and over all the main fields. They are seldom on their own and appear to be chasing and disputing with each other while  giving their distinctive dry rolling call.

Webs (c) Bark
It never fails to surprise me at just how many spiders there are. It is only really on such damp still mornings that clinging water droplets reveal how their webs shroud every available surface with silk threads.I had hoped that such still conditions would make it easy to hear or see any Bearded Tits but sadly I didn't hear a “ping”. It is now about the time of year when they irrupt and if they are going to arrive it is likely to be in the upcoming weeks. The very strong winds and heavy rain that are expected this week will strip some of the leaves from the trees, recharge some of the scrapes and perhaps bring in some winter visitors. I look forward to finding something new next week.
Tall thing on the southern reedbed (c) Bark

Tall thing looming out of the mist on the horizon ( c) John Reynolds

Monday, 6 October 2014

Saturday and Sunday 4th and 5th October

Sometimes Snipe seem quite tall (c) Bark
 The weather has finally stopped dithering and we are now finally into autumn. On Saturday morning after a lowering start under lead grey skies, we had the first significant rain for weeks and on Sunday morning the grass was rimed with the first frost since the spring and the air was clear, bright, cooler and fresher.
After the excitement of last weeks Red Backed Shrike, the first on the moor since the spring bird found in 2005, we reverted to more familiar fare. It was no less interesting for all that.
There are definitely a minimum of two Bitterns present on the moor. The bird seen along the bridleway and photographed by Tim Clark is not the same individual that I saw in a sustained flight on Saturday morning over the reedbed and eventually landing in the ditch beside the track to the first screen. The Friday individual is moulting quite heavily and is missing a number of primaries on both wings. The Saturday bird was fully feathered and appeared slightly lighter in tone.
The Cettis Warbler is still present and was heard both days around the second screen area and a little way along the path. It was calling from both the hedge and from the edge of the reedbed. It does seem to be settled now for the near future.
Stonechat (c) Bark
There are at least ten Stonechats present, with five at the Noke end of the reserve both along the fence by the farm and out in the sheep fields, a further four were along the path to July’s meadow and a lone individual was out on Big Otmoor. The rifle range was being used so we were unable to check out the Pill Ground which is another favoured haunt.
There are increasing numbers of ducks on the southern lagoons in front of the first screen. At least two hundred of them are Mallard but there almost a hundred Teal and increasing numbers of Wigeon. There are still a few Snipe around although not in the large numbers we were seeing a month ago.
Pied Wags (c) Bark
Observers who have been coming down in the evenings, have noticed more than a hundred Pied Wagtails coming in to roost in the reedbed, where they have been attracting the attention of one of the local Sparrowhawks. As the season progresses this roost may well increase along with the Starlings and attract even more raptors.
There are now good numbers of both Meadow Pipits and Skylarks across the whole moor and they in turn should encourage Merlin to take up residence for the whole winter. These are surely one of our most attractive and dynamic raptors and a much anticipated element of our winter fauna.
Still on the post (c) Bark
There are still Butterflies and Dragonflies to be seen and on Sunday an uncommon “white” form of Clouded Yellow was found and photographed by Peter Law. The Hornets nest close to the first screen is still busy and very much occupied, it is certainly worth a look but from a respectful distance.
As we go through the next few weeks we should witness a huge influx of winter visitors, both winter Thrushes and wildfowl. The leaves will turn completely and the moor will blaze briefly with rich and stunning autumn colours, one of the most beautiful times of the year. I’m looking forward to it all.
"White" form of Clouded Yellow (c) Pete Law

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Otmoor Red Backed Shrike 1st October

Up in the hedge (c) Bark
Found by the pond at Noke this morning by Oxford United Paul. A very smart juvenile and as is often the case with these autumn juveniles, very confiding. It was feeding from the fence and the hedge near to the large barn. It was accompanied at times by a pair of Stonechats and a very smart Wheatear.
Please use good sense and discretion around the farm and avoid parking in Noke as it is very tight in the village. The easiest way is to park in the RSPB car park and then walk along the bridleway. There is work going on in the area of the cattle pens and the bridleway so leave access for heavy plant.
(c) Tezzer

(c) Tezzer

(c) Andrew Marshall

(c) Andrew Marshall

(c) Bark

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Monday, 29 September 2014

Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th September

Chiffy (c) Bark
Back after a fortnight and the Indian summer goes on. Its as if the season is teetering on the edge of change, like a swimmer on the edge of the sea dabbling their toes in the water but reluctant to dive in. It felt very much as if nature was holding its breath on Saturday and it was very quiet and still, by Sunday we were basking in warm sunshine from the start and there was much more activity to be seen.
It looks very much as if the Cettis Warbler that has been heard once or twice in the last month or so has finally found an area to its liking. It was heard on both Saturday and Sunday in the hedgerow and ditches near to the second screen. As well as calling occasionally with its characteristic shout, it could also be heard chuntering away with a complex and much quieter sub-song. It is so good to hear once again what had been a characteristic sound of the moor until the severe winter of 2011/2. 
and again (c) Bark
There are also a fair number of Chiffchaffs present with the tit flocks and at least two Reed Warblers are still here.
The bittern on flyabout (c) anon
The Bittern put on a splendid flying display on Sunday morning. It appeared to be mobbed by some Black headed gulls that put it up from the northern edge of the southern reedbed and then pursued it out across Greenaways as far as Ashgrave, it then turned back towards us and made a stately flight back towards the reedbed where it did a couple of circuits before vanishing into the reeds. It was beautiful to see it in such bright low sunlight and it was possible to really appreciate the complexity, subtlety and colour of its plumage.
There are a significant number of Stonechats on the reserve now with seven being counted on the path between the hide and July’s Meadow on Saturday and at least three on the way to the first screen on Sunday. There are still Wheatears and Whinchats to be found with several of each reported over the weekend. There was a Whinchat hunting from the heavily cropped hedge on the way out to the Pill on Sunday morning.
A Grey Wagtail landed on the mud bank in front of the first screen briefly on Sunday morning and then rapidly made off towards Ashgrave, it is always a nice bird to seen as they are not common on the moor. 
Geese on flyabout (c) Bark
From time to time all sounds are obliterated by the honking of the huge flocks of feral geese that are currently to found on the moor. They presage every move with a honking that starts off fairly quietly but steadily rises to a crescendo until they take to the air en masse. This happens several times each morning as they commute between the lagoons on the reedbed and their feeding or resting areas. Herons ,Egrets and Kingfishers continue to put on a great show at the first screen.
Grey heron (c) Mark Chivers

Little Egret (c) Mark Chivers

Kingfisher (c) Tezzer
There were still at east two Hobbies present on Sunday. On Saturday morning a Kestrel spent a long time persistently mobbing three juvenile Common Buzzards that were sitting on posts on Ashgrave. There was no sign of the Marsh Harriers this weekend and I did not hear of any sightings last week it could be that they have moved on now for the winter.
Seven Swans a'swimming (c) Bark
Two Redwings flew over on Sunday an augury of what is to come in October, while at least a hundred hirundines, mostly swallows, hawked low over the reeds on Saturday morning pausing only briefly before moving on.
The delight of autumn colour (c) Bark 
October will soon be upon us and winter visitors will start to flood in to exploit the bounty in the hedgerows. This weekend however it is the return of the Cettis that has given me most pleasure, it is always good to get something back where you feel it belongs.
Still busy Hornets  (c) Bark

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th September

Young Sedgie (c) John Reynolds
A rather quiet weekend on the birdfront. The moor was rather grey and still first thing but warmed up during the mornings. There is a quietness about this part of the season almost as if nature is taking a deep breath before plunging into autumn and then all to rapidly into winter. The hedgerows are full of fruit and seeds and leaves are just beginning to turn colour so the foliage is tinted with oranges and soft browns.
Haws (c) Bark
A Green sandpiper is still frequenting the second Greenaways scrape, which is now little more than a few muddy puddles and before the week is over will be dry. There are still several Marsh Harriers present and on Saturday at least three Hobbies were on and over Big Otmoor and Greenaways. A Peregrine was mobbed by corvids along the northern edge of big Otmoor on Saturday and there are a number of Kestrels over the whole reserve. A Honey Buzzard was seen on passage on Wednesday one of three seen recently in the county. It was also a welcome addition to the yearlist.
Noke Swallows (c) Bark
A couple of Whinchats  and a Wheatear were seen and up at Noke Swallows are gathering on the wires like musical notes on a stave. 
Greylags and Canadas (c) Bark
There are huge numbers of feral geese on the reserve with a count of over five hundred on Sunday.
Jays are much more noticeable around the reserve now as they move in to harvest the acorns from the oaks along the bridleway and roman Road.
Jay (c) John Reynolds
At the first screen a Kingfisher has continued to entertain both birders and photographers alike.
Kingfisher (c) Bark
Herons are stalking the shallows and Snipe can be spotted probing the large areas of mud that have now been exposed. Occasionally Water Rails, both adults and juveniles can be seen scurrying from one patch of cover to another. More often than not they are heard and not seen, squealing in their distinctive pig like way.
Water Rail (c) John Reynolds
There was still at least one Redstart still in Long Meadow today and one or two Lesser Whitethroats.
It was good to find a freshly emerged Comma Butterfly along the Roman Road this morning. It provided a warm splash of colour amid the cooler greens and a reminder of both of the summer that has passed and the colours of autumn to come.
A splash of colour (c) Bark

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th September

Bird of the week: Little Stint (c) Mark Chivers both pics
 Calm grey starts to the days this weekend but giving way mid morning to warm sunshine. The moor seemed very still with barely a breath of wind and as I arrived on Saturday morning all I could hear was a very quiet sub-song coming from a Willow Warbler feeding in the briars and a couple of Chiffchaffs calling along the Roman Road. On Saturday I had the place entirely to myself until mid morning, which was its own particular pleasure. As over the last few weeks, finding a mixed feeding flock is always rewarding and this weekend was no different. In amongst the Great Tits and the Long Tails were all the expected warblers including a Garden Warbler and several Blackcaps. Along the trail to the first screen I was pleased to find the first returning Stonechat of the autumn in company with a couple of Whinchats. 
Whinchat (c) Bark
It was a single male but by Sunday it seemed to have moved on. A Wheatear was on the large pile of manure just beside the gate onto Closes on Saturday morning. There were still five Redstarts and a single Spotted Flycatcher in Long Meadow.
Harrier (c) John Reynolds

Two over the reedbed (c) Bark

Lone male? over Greenaways
There are currently at least three and possibly four Marsh Harriers hunting over the reserve, at one time on Sunday morning three were visible at the same time and later a mature male was reported and none of those three were mature males....hence possibly four. At one time two Harriers, a Sparrowhawk, two Kites and a Common Buzzard were all occupying the same sector of the sky, and clearly from their interaction, not happy to share it.
The interest this weekend however switched away from passerines and on to waders. At least two
Common Sandpiper Monday (c) John Reynolds
Green sandpipers were present and most easily seen on the Greenaways scrape. On Sunday they were accompanied at times by a very inconspicuous Ringed Plover. There was still at least one Black Tailed Godwit favouring the lagoon in front of the first screen and also a Greenshank that came and went from time to time calling loudly. Two Ruff also dropped in on Sunday.
Calling Greenshank (c) Bark
The highlight was a Little Stint that turned up in front of the screen on Sunday afternoon. There was also a Little Ringed Plover with it that really served to emphasise the tiny nature of the Stint. On Saturday morning a Golden Plover was heard flying over yet another indicator of the changing seasons. I am sure that the passage of waders is not yet over, as the water evaporates more and better feeding areas will be exposed and so we might look forward to other passage visitors. Perhaps a Pectoral Sandpiper, a Lesser Yellowlegs or some other exciting and unusual American visitor will return and spend some time out on the moor.
Grey Heron (c) John Reynolds

Strike ! (c) John Reynolds

Heron (c) Andy Last

Little egret pics (c) Andy Last
Even without the waders there was a lot to see at the screen with Herons and Little egrets performing out on the lagoon and even the odd Bittern flying past. From careful observation there would appear to be at least two Bitterns present. The Egrets in particular are hoovering up the small fry in the shallows. The fish are also being targeted by several Kingfishers that are becoming increasingly tolerant of observers and taking advantage of the perches around the edges.
Kingfisher on a convenient post (c) John Reynolds
Over the next few weeks there will be lots to look out for and perhaps a few surprises, its a great time of year.
I'll be watching too (c) Bark