Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th April

Juvenile Spoonbill (c) Carl Gray
It has been a very exciting week on the moor with many new arrivals to add to the year list and two of them species that were not even recorded last year.
I only managed to get down there on Saturday due to family commitments on Sunday. The Roman Road held my first singing Willow Warbler of the year and a singing Blackcap. Chiffchaffs seem to be calling from all of the hedgerows. We also heard our first Sedge Warbler shouting its song from the reeds near the second screen. I wanted to try to find the juvenile Spoonbill that had been seen late on Friday. It had flown up from one of the ditches on Greenaways and been watched heading westwards.
Spoonbill heading west (c) Carl Gray
We were unable to find any sign of it so perhaps it was a very transient passage bird. On Thursday a Hen Harrier was seen over the MOD land and then later over Greenaways. We must hope that it continues further north than the English grouse moors, where its future would be all too uncertain.
Wheatear (c) Badger
There has been a major movement of waders through this weekend. As new birds have been arriving so our wintering Golden plovers have finally departed. On Saturday afternoon four Ringed Plovers were found out on Big Otmoor along with a single Sanderling. The latter being the first record on Otmoor for a number of years of this largely coastal species.
Ringed Plovers and Sanderling (c) Badger
Green Sandpiper and Greenshank were also found over the weekend. There are still three Oystercatchers present and our other breeding waders are very obvious and very active. Snipe are drumming, especially over Greenaways and Curlew are calling and displaying over the same field and over the MOD land.
There was a drake Pochard seen last week with a coloured and numbered“saddle”on its bill. Clearly part of a population monitoring project in France. Badger has e-mailed the project leader in France and it will be interesting to find out some more information about this individual bird.
Banded French Pochard (c) Badger
There are still no Garganey on the reserve that we have seen. Sadly due to emergency repair work on a badly leaking bund water levels had to be dropped in one of their favoured areas, we must hope for some rain to top it up but not so much that our ground nesting birds are flooded out.
Sand Martin (c) JR
There are increasing numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins hunting over the lagoons and along the hedges taking advantage of the gnats and flies that have been encouraged by the change to warmer weather. The first Yellow Wagtail of the year was found on the Oddington side of the moor on Sunday. Herons are going to and fro in the reedbed with nesting material and hopefully soon with food for youngsters. Over in the sheep fields there is still a flock of over forty Fieldfares and adjacent to the hide the Linnet flock still numbers over fifty.
Grass Snake (c) JR
Grass Snakes are being seen frequently in what can only be described as mating bundles. We are very fortunate in having such a strong population of these beautiful reptiles. It will not be long now until we will be able to spot Common Lizards in the “lizard lounge” and on the pollarded willows of the Carpark Field.

Herons with nesting material (c) JR

The Blackthorn is now fully out and frothing over the branches, it will be great over the next couple of weeks to pick out the singing warblers amidst the blossoms and to search for passage Redstarts, surely one of the most beautiful of all our birds.
Wren in the blossom (c) JR

Update Tuesday 14th
Yesterday afternoon a Ring Ouzel in Long Meadow and late report of House Martins on Saturday.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easter Weekend 4th - 6th April

Barn Owl (c) Pat Galka
What a difference  a week makes! Spring is really taking over now and we have had the first period of sustained warm weather so far this year. The wildlife responded instantly to the calm warm conditions.

Curlew, Snipe Lapwing and the three Oystercatchers (c) JR
Our breeding waders are now impossible to ignore; with tumbling Lapwings, displaying Redshanks, drumming Snipe and every so often the plaintive call of Curlew. There were still at least five or six hundred Golden Plover present on Saturday but their numbers seem to fluctuate daily. It may be that different parties of them are using the moor as a staging post on their northward migration. The birds we see one day may have moved on and been replaced by others overnight. Almost all of them are now in their crisp summer plumage. In amongst them are one or two Dunlin and on Monday a single Black tailed Godwit. There was a Little Ringed Plover on Big Otmoor on Sunday morning. It was very restless and seemed to be chased away from almost everywhere it settled, by either Redshanks or Lapwings. Three Oystercatchers moved between the lagoon on Ashgrave, the sheep fields and Big Otmoor. Last year they managed to hatch eggs but failed to reach fledging, perhaps this year they will be successful.
Singing chiffy (c) Bark
Chiffchaffs are calling all along the bridleways and from the Roman Road, the sunshine had certainly encouraged them to sing. Beside the path to the hide the same Song Thrush that has been calling there for the last three weeks was putting on a virtuoso performance.
Virtuoso Songthrush (c) Bark
There are still good numbers of all the regular species of duck present across the reserve. There are now only fifty or so Wigeon to be found and perhaps fifteen or twenty Pintail. There are much higher numbers of Shoveller many of them paired up and the unpaired drakes avidly pursuing unattached females.
Windswept Tufty (c) JR
There have been up to three Shelduck on the reserve, they are fond of the big lagoon on Ashgrave and are consequently often overlooked but are more often seen while commuting between feeding and loafing areas. With Garganey turning up all over the county it has been disappointing not to find any on the moor yet but there is abundant cover and a multitude of suitable pools so they could even be there without our knowing it.

Shelduck and below the first Swallow (c) JR
Hirundines have now made it onto the yearlist. Sand Martins were first seen on Thursday last week and two Swallows were over and around the first screen on Saturday. Since then there have been several other records.
It now seems to be that we have two active Marsh Harriers on site. Whether they are a pair or not is clearly critical, but were they to be and were they to breed it would be the first record in Oxfordshire since the early nineteenth century.
Barn Owl (c) Pat Galka
There have been a couple of Barn Owls present both around the reedbed and in the carpark field, always early in the mornings. Ravens are now seen so regularly that it seems likely that they are breeding nearby.
Sparrowhawk over reedbed (c) JR
The sunshine has encouraged our large population of Grass Snakes to emerge from their winter torpor. On Monday morning I was lucky enough to find a slithering heap of at least seven individuals at the base of one of the pollarded willows in the carpark field. Whether this was a mating ritual or just a crowd trying to exploit the warmest spot, I don’t know, but it was a real treat for those that saw it until the loud frightened screams of a small child sent them gliding off into cover. There were another ten seen between the cattle pen and the Roman Road by “the snake whisperer”(Pete Roby)

A slither of snakes  above (c) Bark    below (c) JR

The sun also coaxed a number of butterflies out of hibernation including several Peacocks, a Brimstone and a couple of Small Tortoiseshells. The Peacocks feeding on fresh bright blackthorn blossom. By next weekend that blossom will have become a great froth of white and the trickle of new arrivals will have become a flood. What a wonderful time of year!
Peacock on blackthorn (c) Bark

Monday, 30 March 2015

Saturday and Sunday 28th and 29th March

Raven (c) Tezzer
Winter seems reluctant to release its grip on the season and spring migration appears to have stalled. Equinoctial gales were very much the order of the weekend and heavy frequent showers meant I only managed a couple of hours on the moor on Sunday. There was still a lot to see and enjoy despite there not having being a flood of incoming migrants.
On Saturday morning we were treated to brilliant views of a sustained hunt by a Marsh Harrier over Greenaways. The bird wheeled low over the ditches, hanging almost motionless on the strong wind occasionally landing among the tussocks when only its pale head would show. A Peregrine set all the birds on Big Otmoor up on several occasions and a Sparrowhawk was also noted.
Goldies among the tussocks (c) Bark Phonescoped
There are still over two hundred and fifty Golden Plovers present on Big Otmoor. Many of them are almost completely moulted now into their smart summer plumage. They are restless and vocal, hunkered down on the edge of the pools facing into the wind. Careful scoping of them shows lots of interactions and frequent changes of position within the flock. There is one aberrant bird there. It is a partially leuchistic individual, its primaries and secondaries are almost white on their upper surface and it can really only be picked up when in flight. Had the flock been properly out in the open it might have been possible to locate it on the ground, but they were mostly hidden by the sedges.
It seems likely that Ravens are breeding close by the reserve. There were two over big Otmoor on Sunday I saw another in the same area and heading purposefully in a similar direction on Sunday. Their deliberate powerful flight, the heavy bill and shaggy throat make them very distinctive.
Snipe are present in very large numbers we counted one flock of forty plus coming off The Closes. On Saturday morning at least three were drumming but the sound was carried away by the wind and only their roller coaster flight betrayed their purpose.

Heron and Harrier interaction (c) Tom Nicholson Lailey

The Grey Herons that have taken up residence in the reedbed are getting increasingly sensitive to the presence of potential threats. On several occasions during the weekend they mobbed and challenged the Marsh Harrier if it strayed into the airspace above the area they have laid claim to.
Chiffchaffs are calling in several locations now and can also be seen feeding quietly and busily in the hedgerows. Perhaps if the weather mellows by next weekend, they might be joined by other warblers and fresh incomers. I was however, privileged and delighted to be shown the newest Otmoor arrival on Sunday. In the back of a trailer in the farm at Noke was the very first of the season’s black mountain lambs, attended by its mother and no more than a few hours old. Spring moves on despite the weather.
Blackthorn Flowers (c) Tom N-L

Friday, 27 March 2015

Midweek Extra 27th March

Shoveler pair
I am really hoping that this weekend will see the first real influx of migrants and what has been a trickle until now will become more of  a flood.
There were two Little Ringed Plovers seen on Big Otmoor this morning but we are still scanning the skies for our first hirundines. Sadly the weather doesn't look too promising for the weekend to come.
All pictures today are courtesy of Tom Nicholson-Lailey. The sunset pictures were taken last Sunday.

Harrier over the reedbed

Sunset 22nd March all pics (c) T.N-L. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd March

Male Linnet All pictures this week courtesy of JR
This weekend the weather flipped between warm and chilly, windy and calm and sunny and drear. The pleasant qualities present on Sunday the negative on Saturday. I went down with high expectations of picking up newly arriving migrants, such as Garganey, Sand Martins and perhaps Little Ringed Plovers, but sadly they all failed to show up. On both days however the reserve was full of avian activity.
Lapwings are now holding territory calling and swooping. They hurtle recklessly towards the ground above their chosen plots before pulling out of their dives at the last moment, like stunt pilots in an airshow. RSPB staff who are monitoring nesting success have already found over fifteen Lapwing nests
Redshank numbers have continued to rise and my subjective judgement is that there are more present this year than at the same time last year. It may be that last year’s successful breeding season has meant that more birds are returning to breed. There are at least twenty out on the field to the west of the visitor trail to the second screen. They are chasing about and calling a lot but have yet to settle into full breeding behaviour.
Redshank and Dunlin,  Noke Sides
They are accompanied by twelve Dunlin. One of which appeared to look larger than the others and caused some interest, the bird concerned was bathing and preening and probably looked larger and whiter because it had fluffed up all its feathers and was not creeping about as it fed. It was nonetheless a Dunlin. A single Black Tailed Godwit was seen on both Friday and at the weekend commuting between different field to feed. There are very large numbers of Snipe out on Greenaways. It is almost impossible to count them as they hunch down in the tussocks or relocate from time to time. On Friday a flock of sixty two were seen flying between the Closes and Greenaways.
Heron with nesting material
Grey Herons continue to show signs of breeding out in the reedbed. There may in fact be three pairs present, several different birds were seen carrying nesting material out there and were quick to respond to any threats from raptors or other Herons.
There are still well over a hundred finches and buntings coming in to feed on the seed near the hide. Many of the male Linnets are coming into breeding colours and are looking very smart.
There are still a small flock of Golden Plover present I counted one hundred and forty on Saturday morning. Wigeon are also still present but again in much smaller numbers, there are always a handful that linger on until late spring, a few even stay the whole year. Twenty or so Pintail are out on Big Otmoor and one very obliging pair were feeding in the pool in just front of the hide. Two Shelduck were present on Saturday but gone by Sunday. Shovelers are all over the place and busily engaged in courtship with parties of bachelor drakes chasing individual females around the sky and then splashing down onto the lagoons where they indulge in a frantic, head bobbing display.
Pintail pair in front of the hide

It was a quiet weekend for raptors. The Marsh Harrier appears to have moved on as it was not seen or reported. The Merlin was again seen further up Otmoor lane but I had no reports of Peregrines.It may be that as the large numbers of prey species have diminished so they have moved on or have gone somewhere else to breed. Last weekend an Osprey was seen moving northwards over the reserve which has added yet another species to the yearlist. It now stands at ninety seven species and hopefully by next weekend will top the ton.

Stop Press Great news four Bearded Tits were found by Stoneshank this morning near the kissing gate close to the hide and Marsh Harrier was seen this weekend on Sunday and so was Peregrine on Saturday.
Several Song Thrushes are holding territory over the reserve.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th March

Amorous Shovelers (c) Tezzer
A nagging north easterly wind made for a cold weekend even when the sun made its occasional appearances. However the momentum of spring and the urge to reproduce was not held up by the weather. Lapwings and Redshanks were the principal players this weekend. The Lapwings were disputing territory amongst each other, looping and calling to attract a mate and occasionally chasing off invading birds from their chosen area, whether of their own species or not. Redshank numbers have gone up massively over the last week and on Saturday and Sunday there were at least twenty individuals feeding on the flooded field to the west of the path to the second screen. That is not to mention many others scattered over the other fields in singles and pairs. Their ringing calls were certainly the default sound of the weekend.

Redshank on Ashgrave (c) Bark (phonescoped)
Amongst the Redshank at the side of the trail were fifteen Dunlin and a further smaller number were feeding amongst the, by now much diminished group of Golden Plover. There are now only a hundred or so on the reserve where three weeks ago there were over two thousand. On both days two Curlew were feeding on and flying over Greenaways calling loudly. At one time on Sunday morning they landed relatively close to the bridleway, giving excellent views to some visitors. A single Oystercatcher was on Big Otmoor and later relocated to the lagoon on Ashgrave. Two Shelduck also were there on Saturday.
Little egret over reedbed (c) Tezzer
The first Wheatear of the year was found on Saturday morning in the sheep-fields to the west of the reserve but sadly by the time we arrived there en masse to see it it had moved on. There will hopefully be many more through in the coming weeks.
Wheatear on sheepfields (c) Pete Roby (record shot)
What appears to be yet another different Marsh Harrier was present this weekend. it was hunting over the whole reserve and on Sundaywe saw it unsuccessfully try to take a Teal. We also saw it in a dispute with the larger (presumably female) Peregrine of the two that were around on Sunday. Sparrowhawks, two different individuals and two Kestrels were also seen on both days.
Great Crested Grebes preparing to breed on the northern lagoon. (c) Tezzer
There are surprisingly large numbers on Herons on the moor. I counted ten on Greenaways alone. They look as though they have abandoned the nest site directly out from the hide and would instead appear to be preparing to breed in the reedbed. They did this a couple of years ago. They are certainly defending an area in the reedbed both from raptors and also other Herons.
The reserve is currently holding high numbers of Shovellers both on the reedbed and on Big Otmoor. The males are particularly handsome in their brightest breeding plumage and often groups of males pursue lone females in low fast flights. There are still a good number of Wigeon present and at least twenty Pintail are still out in the middle of Big Otmoor.
Francis Rossi still here with Old Lags (c) Badger
The path south from the screen is still attracting lots of birds to feed on the seed that is being spread there. Although the large numbers of Linnets have declined there are still well in excess of a hundred other finches feeding, particularly Reed Buntings. Most attractive are the stock Doves that are taking advantage of it. On Sunday morning there were fifteen of these subtly beautiful Doves feeding quite close to the hide.
Stock Dove (c) Tezzer
A walk along the Roman Road on Sunday yielded four Tree Creepers and a number of Goldcrests. In four weeks time it will be ringing with the sound of Chiff Chaffs and Willow Warblers it really is a most exciting time of year.
Song thrush (c) Bark