Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Otmoor and Notmoor early to mid May

Back for the Summer (c) JR
 I think that sometimes we take our wildlife and our wildlife reserves a bit too much for granted. Too often I meet people on Otmoor and when I ask what they have seen they reply.... “not much”. Reading the Bird Log regularly while I have been away has highlighted how lucky we are in Oxfordshire and the UK when compared with some parts of Europe and certainly some of the Mediterranean Islands. They can be great holiday destinations stacked full of history, with great food, warm seas and dramatic landscapes but they can be difficult places to find birds. 
There are of course exceptions Lesvos is superb and the birding in Majorca is good. Sicily however where I have just been is not such a destination. The birds that are there, apart of course from the ubiquitous Sparrows and Pigeons are very wary, hard to see and photograph. They are also spread very thinly throughout the landscape. Birding every morning from dawn for two or three hours failed to turn up much variety in the number of species or indeed actual numbers of birds.
Sardinian Warbler (c) Bark

A visit to the moor can produce sight or sound of ten warbler species in a morning. Most days I saw Sardinian Warblers, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler and heard Cetti's. Interestingly calling almost the same as ours but not quite.
Sicilian House Martin (c) Bark

Swallow and Sand Martin Otmoor (c) Mark Chivers

Hirundines resting on the moor (c) JR

There were indeed large numbers of Swifts both Common and Pallid and plenty of Swallows and House Martins. However I only saw three raptors altogether, one Kestrel, one Marsh Harrier and one fleeting flyover Eleanora’s falcon.
There have been regular reports of at least three Cuckoos on the reserve, but in Sicily I heard just one calling in the distance while up in the hills.
Cuckoo (c) JR
A single Woodchat Shrike was nice bird to find as was a single European Bee eater. I was visiting an extensive wetland reserve every morning and not just local farmland, so I had hoped to find more. Highlight of my birding was a Little Bittern that allowed a reasonably close approach and didn’t fly off the moment it saw me. Holidays are not just about birding and there was loads to compensate for the paucity of birds.
Little Bittern (c) Bark

On the moor there has been lots to catch up with. I am delighted to hear of at least three Turtle Doves calling from their regular spots. I did hear several calling in Sicily but Collared Dove was the commonest dove I saw.

Marsh Harrier interaction
The two female Marsh Harriers have continued to show really well from the first screen and there are still a smattering of passage waders to be found. Early indications are that the breeding waders, Snipe, Redshank and Lapwings are having a good season. Snipe are drumming in larger numbers than recent years and there are very many more pairs of Redshank present.

Over the next few weeks birds will be busy feeding young and then starting on second broods. Dragonflies and Butterflies will abound and wildflowers will bloom. There is never “not much” to see on Otmoor.
Amourous Tufties (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

May Bank Holiday Weekend

Sedge Warbler (c) JR

The weekend began early for me as I led a guided dawn chorus walk on Saturday, starting at 5 pm. Saturday became greyer and cloudier as the day progressed while Sunday morning was a wash-out. Monday however was perfect with a south easterly breeze and warm sunshine.
Dawn on Saturday flushed the sky with orange and pink and as if on cue a flight of six Mute Swans flew towards the sun each bird reflecting the the colours on heads wings and breasts.
Dawn swans (c) Bark
It was a great start to the walk on which we recorded over forty different species including drumming Snipe and and all the regular warblers except Grasshopper Warbler.
Drummer (c) JR
At least three Cuckoos were present adding their voices to the soundscape. Garden Warbler had arrived during the preceding week and there were at least three different individuals to be heard. Tawny Owl has been calling from the Roman Road early most mornings and several visitors have seen a Barn owl hunting in the car park field as it starts to get light.
Cuckoo (c) JR
Hobbies are now present in good numbers as they usually are at this time of year. There have been up to thirteen birds hunting over Greenaways and the reedbed during the afternoons and evenings. They seem to spend a couple of weeks here after arriving from migration before dispersing to breed, initially St. Marks Flies are a favoured food. On Saturday however we noticed the first of the large Dragonflies on the wing, which will soon become their principle prey while they are here.  We did not see the dragonfly well enough to identify it properly but the earliest large ones to emerge on the moor are the Hairy Dragonflies.
Hobby (c) JR
As I walked through the carpark field on Monday morning Sedge Warblers seemed to be rapping out their manic song from almost every bush, there must have been an influx overnight or perhaps the stormy weather of Sunday had pushed them down or at least blown them in.
Common Tern on the raft (c) JR
Another bird affected by the weather was a flyover Arctic Tern seen over the first lagoon on Sunday during a sharp shower. There were five Common Terns disputing ownership of the Tern raft on Monday morning, there should be no dispute as two pairs managed to nest on it successfully last year.
Lapwing (c) Mark Chivers
Amongst the non breeding Lapwings on Noke Sides were two Ruff one of which was showing his breeding plumage, the other pale individual I took to be a female. When all the birds flushed for a passing raptor we saw there had also been a Bar Tailed Godwit in one of the ditches, we failed to relocate it but it is probably out on Big Otmoor or in the flooded grassland to the north of Noke Sides.
Gropper (c) Nick Truby
A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling beside the path to the first screen on Monday and showing well at times in the low bushes beside the reedy ditch.
Intrusive drone (c) Early Birder
On Monday morning about ten o clock someone from a position somewhere north west of the reserve was flying a drone out over the moor and especially low and high over the reedbed. As well as the anti social buzzing sound it is quite objectionable to fly such a craft over an area that holds or could hold sensitive breeding birds. It seems likely that if we could not see the person controlling it then they would in turn not be able to see us, which itself is dangerous. There is in fact a low flying zone for civil aircraft over the reserve and we would hope that every one would respect it regardless of the size of their craft.

Shoveller and Wren (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Finally we are still hoping that the Turtle Doves are going to return in next few days. The north easterly winds of the previous couple of weeks may have checked their northward migration. It would be tragic if these beautiful birds dwindled and disappeared as did the Nightingales that used to be such a special part of an Otmoor spring.
Nature can be cruel:
Gosling (c) JR

Kite with breakfast (c) Mark chivers

Monday, 27 April 2015

Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th April

Drake Garganey (c) JR
Despite the cooler conditions this weekend, when compared with the week just past, change continues apace. Arriving in the carpark early on Saturday morning one was struck by just how many birds were singing full pelt. Blackcaps were most noticeable, but there were also several Willow Warblers giving their distinctive downwards song. Whitethroats gave their scratchy calls from the top of larger bushes and from the wires overhead and a Lesser Whitethroat gave its distinctive finch-like trill from the hedge on the southern edge of the Closes. Although a Garden Warbler was reported from nearby Stanton St. John on Saturday I have not heard one or indeed heard of one, so far on the moor.

Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler (c) JR

Reed Warbler (c) Nick Truby

Willow Warbler (c) Pat Galka
Waders are continuing to move through. Several Whimbrel have been reported and three very smart summer plumaged Black tailed Godwits have been around for almost a week. Three Ruff have alternated between Big Otmoor and Noke Sides where a number of non breeding Lapwing have been feeding still accompanied by four beautiful summer plumaged Golden Plover. On Big Otmoor on Sunday there were two Little Ringed Plovers and five Dunlin showing the smart black bellies of summer. Our breeding waders are busy mating and protecting eggs and chicks. On both days despite indifferent weather Snipe were drumming over Greenaways and the Closes. Squadrons of Lapwings went up to challenge and mob raptors including Kites and Buzzards over Big Otmoor.
Blackwits (c) Nick Truby

Mating Redshanks female unmoved! (c) JR
Whimbrel (c) Pat Galka
Marsh Harriers are still hunting over the Greenaways with three birds present for a while on Saturday morning. Although Hobby was seen last weekend it took until Sunday for me see one. There was a very smart individual sitting on one of the posts on the southern side of Ashgrave.
Marsh Harrier (c) JR
We finally found our first drake Garganey on Saturday and the same bird was still present on Sunday morning giving stunning close views in front of the first screen, a really superb bird. There had already been two females seen earlier in the week.

Pochard and Mallard (c) The Early Birder

G.C.G. (c) JR
Pochard are still courting avidly on the southern reedbed and there are still a small number of Wigeon that have yet to head north.
Cuckoos are loudly and obviously making their presence felt and I have heard both male and females calling. There were at least three individuals present on Sunday morning. We are still waiting for our first report of what is probably our rarest regular breeding bird. Turtle Doves do tend to arrive later than some of our other migrants and so we still hope that they will return. With problems on their overwintering grounds and rapacious, ignorant hunters on their migration routes it is a wonder that they still make it through.
Three Wheatears were near the farm at Noke on one of the sheep fields and four Whinchat were out at the Pill on Saturday. Wheatears have been fewer and further between than on previous years but we often see many more and for longer during the late summer early autumn period when they return.
There are still two Common Cranes in the vicinity and there may indeed be four. They are roving over the whole of Otmoor both Reserve, MOD and private farmland. There is no regular pattern to their feeding preferences and so their presence is unpredictable. They are more likely to be seen when commuting between areas and are probably better not being pursued as if undisturbed they might stay around a bit longer.
Cranes in transit (c) Nick Truby
Finally late stayers on the moor and early morning visitors are frequently seeing a Barn Owl hunting in the Carpark Field. This can often prove to be the icing on the cake to a visit, to what at the moment is a very exciting and “birdy” place.

Hunting Owl and Sunset (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Midweek Update Terns and Cranes

Black Tern (c) the Gunslinger
It has been an exciting few days on the moor. There have been some scarcer species seen and the visiting Common Cranes have thrown up some interesting information.
On Monday there was a Little Gull feeding with Black headed Gulls over the distant lagoon on Ashgrave, a species that has not been seen on Otmoor for quite a number of years.
There  has been a fine male Whinchat visible from the second screen. It has been using a willow to hunt from that just elevates it above the surrounding reeds.
Wednesdays Cranes (c) the  Gunslinger

Sundays Cranes (c) JR
The two Cranes present at the end of last week and over the weekend were replaced by a pair from the Slimbridge reintroduction programme. The more recent pair hatched in 2012 and are fully colour ringed and fitted with transmitters. The weekend pair were unringed. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks if any or all of these birds hang around.
Yesterday a Black Tern was found out at the  second screen .It was seen to be feeding on the abundant hatch of flies along with a number of Martins. I feel it is always better to see these beautiful marsh terns in what is their European breeding habitat. It was reputed to have bred on Otmoor in the 1850's.
Tern (c) JR

Tern (c)The Gunslinger
Finally the first of the Hobbies has been seen and hopefully over the next  few weeks we will have a good number of them arriving and feeding up before they disperse to breed. They often feed on St Marks Flies, so called because they always emerge around St Marks Day the 25th April. They are the large flies that meander across the reserve. The females are almost 1.5 cms in length and so for a hungry post migration Hobby they are filling nuritious and easy to catch.
Busy Redshank (c) JR

Kite and Harrier interaction (c) JR

Battling Coots (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey

Great Crested Grebe (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
All of this excitement has been accompanied by a regular cast of supporting players including Harrier, Redshank, Greenshank Ruff and battling Coots.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th April

Common Cranes (c) JR
A keen, chill easterly wind persisted all weekend, although the sunshine on Saturday did raise the temperature on that day.
Shortly after getting home on Saturday I had a text reporting two Common Cranes circling over Big Otmoor in the early afternoon. Later pictures were published and the birds had been seen to head off in a south westerly direction. It was with enormous delight that we found the two Cranes feeding and preening out on Ashgrave on Sunday morning. They are adult birds and bore no rings or tags. They are very elegant, beautiful birds to watch.

Cranes again (c) JR
At least two keen county listers managed to get down to the moor in time and add them to their Oxfordshire list. They moved towards the hide feeding and after a while took off and flew steadily in a north easterly direction. We are assuming that these were “bed and breakfast” birds, but there is certainly suitable habitat on the moor should they decide to hang around a bit longer.
All the regular warblers are in now, with just the exception of Garden Warbler. Whitethroats are scratching out their song in the carpark field and half way along the bridleway to Noke we heard our first Lesser Whitethroat. Four more were found by Roger Wyatt along with four Grasshopper Warblers during a complete circuit of the moor on Sunday.
Sedgie (c) Bark
Sedge Warblers are very vocal in the ditches and hedges advertising their presence and establishing territories. A smaller number of Reed Warblers can be heard singing their more regular and less manic song. Blackcaps appear to be present in larger numbers than usual although some of them may be passage birds. Two of them were having a major singing competition right next to my car when I arrived on Saturday.
Willow Warbler (c) JR
All the hirundines were present in good numbers both days this weekend feeding round and over the reedbed and lagoons. On Sunday JR pointed out a Swift amongst them, which may be the first record in Oxon this year.
New Occupants of Noke Sides (c) Bark
The Noke Sides field has been occupied by some black faced sheep that are very curious about people and on the far side of that field amongst some non breeding Lapwings were fifteen beautiful summer plumaged Golden Plovers. Three Black tailed Godwits were out on Big Otmoor on Saturday and either the same three or three others were reported on Sunday along with three Greenshanks. In the sheep fields at Noke there were three song thrushes and one Mistle Thrush.
Bathing Redshank (c) JR
The handful of Wigeon that remain are showing no sign of leaving. Two female Garganey were seen from the first screen during the week and two Mediterranean gulls were found amongst the Black headed Gulls on the same day. A male Redstart was seen in long meadow on Thursday and although I looked I was unable to find any at the weekend, they really do go through very quickly at this time of the year.
The “Lizard Lounge” by the first screen had at least ten basking Common Lizards out in the sunshine on Saturday.

Much to the delight of some of my friends there are more and more butterflies around including Green Veined Whites and Orange Tips. It will not be long before the first Damselflies and Dragonflies are on the wing and the first Hobbies are coming in to eat them.

Speckled Wood and mating Green-veined Whites (c) Pete Law