Monday, 6 July 2015

Saturday and Sunday 4th and 5th July

Spot Fly (c) Early Birder
A consistently calm and warm weekend with lots of avian and invertebrate interest.
I was again struck by the numbers of newly fledged tits and warblers in the hedgerows. This week I was noticing lots of busy young Chiff-chaffs foraging , picking around, over and under leaves and sometimes sallying forth to snatch a passing fly. There was also a juvenile Yellow Wagtail out on the Big Otmoor scrapes and a recently fledged Little Ringed Plover on Greenaways.

Juvenile Cuckoo (c) Tom Young
Sadly we could not re-find the young cuckoo that had been seen and photographed earlier in the week I feel it will not be long before we find another, as the adults were present in good numbers this spring.
Blackwits on Southern Reedbed (c) Tezzer
True to the calendar several Green Sandpipers have turned up the latest being on the Greenaways scrape on Sunday morning. Also on the wader front eight Black-tailed Godwits flew in to the southern lagoon on the reedbed on Sunday evening. As the water is drawn down onto Greenaways in order to allow later breeding by Snipe, so shallow muddy areas are being exposed, and these will encourage passage birds to drop in for bed and breakfast. Sadly the Terns on the tern raft lost their chicks, to some predator or other but are showing signs of mating and courtship so perhaps its not too late for  a second try.
Tern with a gift (very small pike) (c) JR
Spotted Flycatchers are being seen in the Roman road area and on Sunday morning we heard a male Quail calling out for a drink on the Hundred Acres field adjacent to the Pill. Two Grasshopper Warblers were reeling from July’s Meadow where there are lots of scrub and grassland Butterflies to be found including a good showing of Marbled Whites.
Gropper (c) JR
Both Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles were seen and photographed this weekend, and Black Tailed Skimmer was another fresh dragonfly on the wing.
Beautiful Demoiselle (c) JR

Banded Demoiselle (c) Badger

Black Tailed Skimmer (c) Badger
The Common Cranes are still being seen whilst flying between feeding areas and hopefully the long grasses will help protect them from predators and from disturbance. They are very wary and sensitive to people getting too close. It would be disappointing were they to be hassled into moving away. So should you be lucky enough to see them please admire them from a distance they look wonderful as they fly.
Cranes at dusk (c) JR

Over the next few weeks I am going to be giving the reedbeds a good “grilling”. With a number of rare and exciting herons and egrets in the country it can only be a matter of time before one or other of them turns up on the moor. Great white Egret has become almost annual and we have yet to see one this year, they are breeding very successfully in Somerset and there could be some young birds coming through. Perhaps even a Little Bittern or a Squacco Heron might appear and that would really make our summer.
Hurried Little Grebe (c) JR

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Cranes on Otmoor

Flying Cranes(c) JR

Anyone who regularly looks at the Oxon Birding site or at Otmoor Birding might well have wondered at the abrupt halt in reports of cranes on Otmoor. You may even have reported them to Going Birding and wondered why the report wasn’t mentioned. The reason for the information embargo ended sadly with a tragedy, but that individual failure conceals much broader and significant successes.

On Saturday 18th April two Common Cranes were seen circling Big Otmoor, they were still present on Sunday morning and were clearly un-ringed. On Wednesday 22ndApril a different two were found. Unlike the others they were seen to be carrying colour rings from the Cranere-introduction project on the Somerset Levels and Moors. 

They were spending time feeding out on quiet adjacent fields both on and off the reserve. Just to add a little more confusion three different Cranes from the Somerset Levels and Moors project were seen flying in to the Bicester Wetland Reserve, beforemoving on later the same day. So in the space of just a week we had had seven different Cranes in the county.

Ringed Cranes courtesy of  Geoff Wyatt
RSPB staff had been liaising with the Crane Project and we now knew that “our” birds were indeed a pair, the male known as “Wycliffe” the female as “Maple Glory". Their names were chosen by local primary school children as part of an engagement project; these children are now connected to 'their cranes' and will be incredibly excited that 'their' birds made a breeding attempt this year. Cranes form dedicated pairs and stay together all the time, except when incubating. At such a time the birds take it in turns to feed and to incubate. As soon as we started to see single birds feeding out on the fields or flying in and out of an area of the moor, our hopes were raised that they might actually be attempting to nest, despite being very young and inexperienced. We noted that one bird would fly in and then the other individual would fly out. At this time it was decided to minimise the information going out about them.

All was well for the next three weeks until the morning of Friday 12th June. The volunteers, who were watching the birds saw one fly in as usual and expected the other to fly out. Instead there was some commotion, some bugling and both birds flew up and off towards the east. RSPB staff talked to the Crane experts who said that if they didn’t return within two hours they would not return. This proved to be the case and so the RSPB staff went out to the location that the birds had been frequenting and found the nest. Sadly they also found a single egg that had been predated the culprit remains unknown although it is suspected to be a day time predator. The egg seems to have been close to hatching; there was sticky down on the inside of the shell.

Nest and egg pictures(c) Fergus Mosey
Thus the first attempt by Common Crane to breed in Oxfordshire for perhaps six hundred years* ended in failure. However I believe there are many positives to be drawn from this and they should not be underestimated. We now know that the site, despite its regular visitors, is quiet enough and large enough for these secretive birds to feel confident enough to make a breeding attempt. We know that they were finding enough food in the countryside and on the reserve and the habitat suited them. Although the birds had been hand reared they behaved just as naturally and warily as truly wild birds. Local farmers and landowners were thrilled to have such special birds on the land and took pride in them. The value of the habitat restoration and recreation undertaken by the hard work of RSPB staff and volunteers is highlighted when such rare and beautiful birds adopt it. Of course this is not in any way to minimise the value of the habitat for all of the other wildlife that is found here.

The Cranes may now remain locally and moult, during this time they will be vulnerable to predators but will be able to take advantage of the huge numbers of invertebrates that can be found in the grassland, especially grasshoppers. We can only wait now to see if they return and make another attempt to breed next year. They will of course be older, wiser and more mature by then.

*The Birds of Oxfordshire states:

Cranes were resident in Britain in ancient times, and Wilson (1987) reports bones of this species found in Oxfordshire dating back to Mesolithic, Romano British, Saxon, Medieval and post-Medieval times. Since then it has occurred very rarely.”
Cranes on Ashgrave (c) JR

Monday, 29 June 2015

Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th June

Marsh Harrier (c) JR
Saturday was one of the most beautiful days so far this summer, Sunday reverted to the damp grey norm that we have experienced over the past few weekends. The wildlife really responded to the warmth and the calm sunshine. There were lots of good birds to see and increasing numbers of interesting invertebrates.
The Turtle Doves are still putting on a great show near the pumphouse and another was calling from the Roman Road/Long Meadow direction. A Bittern flew out from the reedbed and flew along the broad ditch beside the path to the first screen landing near the bridleway after about ten minutes it took off and flew back into the reedbed. It was later seen making a similar flight from the second screen.

Bittern and Harrier (c) JR
The two resident Marsh Harriers were very much in evidence both over the reedbed and the adjacent fields, one of them showed superbly just to left of the hide, out on Ashgrave. We were pleased to see two juvenile Mistle Thrushes fly over our heads at the second screen. We could be sure of their youth because JR’s photograph shows the fringing on their feathers.
Juvenile Mistle Thrush (c) JR
There is still a very elusive Grasshopper Warbler reeling in July’s meadow, just once or twice it forgot itself and called in plain view. We found a Spotted Flycatcher in the Roman Road area again, whilst looking for Black Hairstreaks. The Flycatcher was very obliging showing well and using prominent perches.
Gropper (c) JR

Calling Gropper (c) Bark

Spot Fly (c) JR
The Hairstreaks were less obliging, flicking around the tops of the bushes and seldom settling in plain sight. They are becoming stars in their own right and on both days we met visitors who had come to the moor specially to see them and incidentally the other butterfly species that are more prolific and noticeable. We were accompanied by at least twenty Small Tortoiseshells fluttering ahead of us as we walked along the path to July’s Meadow.

Small Torts (c) Bark
On Sunday morning there were three leverets by the cattle pens on Greenaways all at different stages of growth. Another almost ran into us along the path to the second screen, as it fled ahead of two visitors coming from the opposite direction. The indications are that they have had a very good breeding season.
Racing Leveret (c) JR
For the first time this summer I noticed a mixed flock of juvenile Tits and Warblers and these parties will become more and more frequent as the weeks progress. The security of feeding in a flock with a multitude of eyes and ears cannot be underestimated.
Whimbrel (c) Helaine Cadman
A Whimbrel seen last week was a good record although not the first this year. It seems to be either very late going or very early returning. The Common Cranes were seen briefly both last week and at the weekend. Later this week I will be posting an extra supplement on here describing what they have been up to since April, I hope you will all enjoy it.

STOP PRESS: Steve Roby had a calling Little Owl in Otmoor Lane on Sunday evening.

Soggy Bullfinch on Sunday (c) Bark
Video clip courtesy of Paul Thomas of a juvenile Cuckoo 
being fed by its host parent a Reed Warbler.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Saturday and Sunday 20th and 21st June

Not here for much longer. (c) JR
We have reached the tipping point in the year, which seems to have arrived very quickly. Time does seem to accelerate the older one gets!
Damp and soggy on Saturday and something much more summer-like on the longest day. There seem to be young birds everywhere, some now independent and others still chasing their parents for hand outs. Lots of custard coloured Great Tits and Blue Tits indicates successful broods for many pairs. Several loud parties of Long tailed Tits were working the Roman Road area. Beside the hide there was a flock of well over twenty Chaffinches with a preponderance of juvenile birds. They were picking up the fine seeds that are still there from the winter feeding programme.

Whitethroat and Wren (c) JR
A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling in July’s Meadow on Saturday. The habitat there is similar to the way that the Carpark Field used to be, which they seem to have abandoned this year. Perhaps the younger lower briars and hawthorn is their optimal breeding habitat. Young Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats were also noticeable alongside the paths to the screens.
Reed Bunting (c) Bark
Out in the reedbed the two female Marsh Harriers are still carrying lots of nesting material and their “civil partnership” must have amassed a pile of haystack proportions. As they have been gathering twigs and grass for the last several months.
Civil partnership (c) JR
A pair of Great Crested Grebes have two stripy “bullseye”chicks on the southern lagoon. One parent hunts while the other carries them on his or her back. I saw one of the chicks eat a fish almost as long as itself, after several attempts to swallow it it finally managed it, only to have just the tip of the fish’s tail sticking out.
Cuckoos are still calling but will soon depart, in the next few weeks we can look for their progeny, being fed outside the nest by their long suffering surrogate parents.
Quail the last of our regular summer visitors were heard last week calling from the MOD and from Closes, I have yet to hear them this year but hope to soon. They bring our year list up to a respectable one hundred and thirty nine species. Looking back at the records from last year, exactly the same number as at the same time as last year.

Not a bad hare day (c) Bark
There are many young leverets around some of them still quite small. They are nothing like as wary as the older ones and if one stands still and quiet they will come very close, make a sudden noise and they will be off like a rocket.

Black Hairstreak (c) Bark

Perhaps the best find this weekend was a minimum of six Black Hairstreaks that we found at the northern end of the Roman Road. We watched two groups of three simultaneously hence the definite number. It was interesting to see them shuffling round on the leaves and then tilting their wings so that they presented them at ninety degrees to the sun in order to maximise its warmth. As it warms up this coming week there will be lots more fascinating invertebrates to look for. There is always something new to find.
What is this flower on the path from the hide to July's Meadow?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th June

Busy feeding young.(c) JR
To quote Sir Van Morrison (topical !) this weekend on both mornings Otmoor was “...all misty wet with rain..”. But despite the continuous drizzle on Saturday and first thing on Sunday there was lots of activity on the moor. Birds could be seen everywhere foraging for insects to feed their broods. Already there were newly fledged tits, wrens and warblers working along the hedgerows some still being fed by the parent birds. A hare bounded through the fields to the left of the footpath to the second screen, leaping above the wet grass to see which way it was going. It must have been completely soaked through.

(c) Bark
Tiny drops of water like strings of pearls outlined every spiders web, blossom and seed head. Snipe were still actively drumming overhead while their mates “chipped” from among the tussocks and sedges where they nest. For the first time they were displaying over Ashgrave which is not usually an area that they favour.
Drummer (c) JR
Two Turtle Doves continued to purr, one from the pumphouse area and the other from the edge of the MOD land and Long Meadow. As usual they attracted a lot of attention and admiration from visiting birders, further accentuating just how uncommon they have become in the UK.

Common Terns failing to mate (c) JR
There is evidence of success on the tern raft. two small fluffy chicks could be seen tottering around on the shingle surface. Elsewhere another pair of terns are also trying to breed but as yet we cannot work out where they might nest. They had an unsuccessful attempt at mating in front of the first screen which resulted in the male having a rather humiliating fall into the water. Undeterred he was later pursuing the female around in the air calling loudly and carrying a small fish in his bill.
Four Ravens flew over Greenaways probably a family party as two seemed slightly smaller than the others. It has now become as unusual not to see them as it used to be to see them at all. There now appears to be just one Marsh Harrier present, the one whose wing feathers are moulting.
Marsh Harrier over Greenaways (c) JR
It is no longer confined to the reedbed area and hunts a lot over Greenaways. A pale Bittern has been seen over the northern reedbed several times in the last few weeks and it may well be one of the individuals that wintered here one of those was very pale.

Grass Snakes (c) Bark

The weather improved by mid morning on Sunday and the watery sunshine encouraged the Grass Snakes out of cover to bask on and under the pollarded willows beside the track in the carpark field. On one stump alone at least five were showing several of them quite large
Hairy Dragonfly (c) Bark
. A very fresh looking Hairy Dragonfly landed just beside us and we wondered if the emergence of dragonflies had been delayed by the cool spring and early summer. Over the next few weeks we will be looking very closely at chaser dragonflies to see if we can find another of the Scarce Chasers that we found last year. There is always something to look for on Otmoor.

Sedgie,  Whitethroat and Wren (c) JR