Monday, 23 November 2015

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd November

Brambling (c) JR
Winter certainly arrived this weekend and the whole feel of the moor has changed. There are now large numbers of Fieldfares chacking and chortling their way along the hedges and hoovering up the remaining berries. They are accompanied by smaller numbers of Redwings.
Fieldfare (c) JR
There is a growing number of finches taking advantage of the seed being scattered along the path south of the main hide, and this number will only grow as the weather gets colder and finding food becomes tougher. There are currently at least sixty Linnets, a similar number of Reed Buntings, twenty or thirty Chaffinches and this week they have been joined by two Bramblings. The Bramblings bright orange and strong contrast certainly make the Chaffinches look drabber in comparison. There have also been a couple of Yellowhammers present but they have not been so regular. There is a report of a Corn Bunting on the board in the hide and it would be good to have some more information and confirmation of it. They used to be seen quite regularly on Otmoor but I cannot remember a sighting in the last few years, possibly because there is very little arable farming going on locally and also as a result of their declining numbers.

Linnet, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch and Brambling. (c) JR
The newly ploughed and harrowed strip at the southern edge of The Closes has been sown with a wild bird cover crop designed specifically to benefit threatened farmland birds. This could well encourage them back and also help to tempt back Tree Sparrows a bird that always used to be seen on Otmoor. It is well worth scanning through the feeding finches for these smart looking Sparrows because I believe there is a small population fairly near, further up the river Ray in Bucks. As usual the mixed finch flock has attracted its fair share of attendant small raptors including  the very familiar Sparrowhawk and the occasional visit by a Kestrel.

Sparrowhawk and Kestrel with prey. The Kes was seen to grab the bird out of a bush. Is it a Cettis? (c) JR
I led a guided walk out for the Starling roost on Sunday afternoon and the birds are still arriving in spectacular numbers. The current estimate is the largest yet, at somewhere in the region of one hundred thousand birds. There was a short, spectacular display by the first large flock to arrive but once they had decided where to roost the subsequent arrivals simply poured down into the reedbed in the same area.
Starling roost (c) Ben Smith
Several passes by one of the Marsh Harriers caused much consternation in the flock, flushing, flying and frequent relocation. Most notable is the sound they all make; their constant chattering, muttering and when flushing the whirring of so many wings is a sound unique to these great gatherings. The roost is also attracting a lot of human visitors and once again sadly, many were arriving well after the event. Parking is becoming an issue and it would be really helpful if people could car share in order to maximise the limited car parking spaces.
Shoveller (c) JR
Duck numbers are rising steadily and there are now many more to be seen from the main Hide as the water levels on Ashgrave start to improve. On the reedbed on Saturday there were at least seventy Shovellers, more Gadwall than of late and a small party of Tufted Ducks.

Goldcrests (c) JR
There has been a large influx of Goldcrests and as the leaves have been stripped away they are much easier to see, as they glean insects and spiders from the vegetation. They were described by a friend as behaving as if they were suffering from A.D.H.D (Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), they are always busy and never seem to be able to keep still for a moment. Their white eye ring makes their eyes seem too large for their heads and gives them an endearing clown like appearance. They often move about in company with Wrens and mixed parties of Tits.

Preening Wren and Mipit (c) JR
Bittern is still present and was seen while relocating within the reedbed on Saturday afternoon. There are still two Marsh Harriers here and one of them is a particularly scruffy looking individual in need of a good moult!

Scruffy Harrier and another below pursued by corvids (c) JR

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Midweek Starlings and Saturday 14th November

Confiding Goldcrest (c) Francis Joseph
A visit to the starling roost this week was not very different to the visit the week before. Once again the birds came in in quite large flocks of between two hundred and a thousand strong, but yet again they dived straight into the reeds without any skydancing spectaculars. Again the numbers were spectacular but not the display.
Highlights of my visit were two exceptionally confiding Goldcrests that were so close and so unafraid that no binoculars were neccessary. In addition a lone juvenile Swallow was also over the screen and the reedbed , certainly the latest record that I have ever seen. As we walked back along the bridleway a Bittern got up from the ditch beside the track and flew along the hedgetop and then out toawards the reedbed.
Kestrel (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Today the rain put a real damper on things but the morning was not without some sightings. Over eighty Wigeon are now feeding on the grass in front of the hide and the Linnet flock is growing rapidly and must number well over sixty. They are accompanied by good numbers of Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and one lone male Yellowhammer that stands out brightly from the rest.
Harrir Kite interaction (c) Derek Lane
The bittern flew across the reedbed and one of the unmarked Marsh Harriers patrolled the lagoons flushing up Shovellers as it went. A Kestrel watched lots of Fieldfares and Redwings in the hedge and Herons were seemingly on every pathway, clearly hunting small mammals.
Harrier over the reeds (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Monday, 9 November 2015

Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th November

Goldcrest (c) JR
Whilst the unseasonably mild weather continued the persistent rain on Saturday and Sunday was less welcome. Having said that it is important to get some water onto the moor and to start to refill some of our scrapes and pools which have been empty for weeks. The main pool outside the hide is still little more than a large puddle. As wildfowl numbers start to rise in the next month it is essential to have somewhere for them all to go.

Two of the Harriers (c) JR
Three different Marsh Harriers are present including the green wing tagged bird that originates in north or west Norfolk. It will be interesting to get some more information on this particular individual from the people running the project. The Harriers are ranging out beyond the reed beds and spend a lot of time hunting over Greenaways. There are sporadic reports of Short eared Owls but they are not conforming to any regular patterns or times. On Sunday there was a flock of about three hundred Lapwings feeding on the fields to the west of the path to the second screen accompanied by approximately the same number of Golden Plover.
Stonechat (c) Derek Lane
Duck numbers are rising slowly and this weekend I counted at least forty Shovellers on the southern lagoon. Several smaller groups of Gadwall are present and there were six male Pochard at the northern lagoon on Sunday. A female Pintail was seen on Sunday afternoon the first of this winter period. Bittern or Bitterns are being seen regularly commuting from one part of the reedbed to another.
Gadwall (c) JR
A couple of small geese gave me the opportunity to make a mis-identification on Sunday morning. They are Ross’s Goose, Greylag crosses and their heads look remarkably like Pink Footed Geese, with small pink bills with a little black nail. Having only seen their heads at first I fell into the trap so apologies to anyone who went down specially to see them.
Dodgy Geese on right (c) JR

Evening shots (c) Tom Nicholson- Lailey
The only unusual bird this weekend was a Grey Wagtail seen both over and in the field beside the reedbed, this is only the second to be recorded this year on the moor. Larger numbers of winter thrushes are feeding in the hedgerows and the number of finches taking advantage of the seed is continuing to rise. Some calmer dryer weather would be most welcome next weekend.
Feeder (c) JR
Food (c) Darrell Wood  

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Starlings November 4th

I felt that it was time for me to go down and witness the starling roost for myself. Over the last few weeks the reported numbers have risen steadily. The roost is now more than 70.000 birds and even without the shape shifting flight is a spectacle simply in terms of the sheer numbers involved.
I got out to the first screen by three thirty and already there had been large flocks patrolling the reserve, restlessly settling and chattering in the treetops prior to going down in the reed bed.
After twenty minutes or so, huge numbers of birds began to fly in from all points of the compass and start to settle in the reeds straight out from the screen. On the evening I was there they did not do their fantastic pre roost display. They didn't imitate whales or create swirling ellipses and elegant parabolas. There was one massive flock that came in from the west of over twenty thousand, like a low sweeping cloud. The whole mass swept down round and piled into the reeds. The sound of whirring wings was a loud thrumming.
Every so often one or other of the Marsh Harriers would pass low over the reeds causing a mass panic and a brief explosion of birds. It was impossible not to be awed by the sheer biomass. A Starling roost is a wonderful sight on a TV programme or a film but being there and experiencing it in three dimensions is incomparable. Both the sound of it and being surrounded by it adds massively to the experience.
By four forty five it was close to dark and the birds had settled onto their reed stems to roost, The sound now was a low sussurration as if neighbouring birds were having a quiet chatter before sleep. As I was walking back a met three people making their way towards the screen and sadly they had missed it. If anyone wants to go down to see it I recommend checking the sunset time and allowing for the weather. Also weekdays are much better than weekends when parking can be really difficult.
As one of the visitors on Wednesday said " this is one of the best free shows you can have".As I walked past the oaks along the bridleway what I had first thought were windblown leaves resolved themselves into bats spilling out of one of the hollow trees and as I reached the carpark field a Woodcock flew over heading out from its daytime roost to feed on Greenaways.
All Pics (c) Bark

Monday, 2 November 2015

Saturday 31st October and Sunday1st November

Fleet Snipe (c) JR
The sun finally came through on Sunday morning at about ten o clock after a very gloomy, dull morning on Saturday and a foggy grey start to Sunday.
We are beginning to get to the point in the year when the sheer number of birds creates a spectacle. It is already happening with Starlings, the roost would seem to have doubled in the past week and now is estimated at over fifty thousand. They are not often producing a classic shape shifting show but are mostly pouring into the reedbed like a thick stream of oil. Such a large number of birds is naturally attracting raptors and on Thursday there were two Merlins, two Peregrines, the regular two Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk and sundry Kites and Buzzards.
Marsh Harrier (c) JR
There are also reports of up to four Short-eared Owls. We saw one on Saturday morning being mobbed by several corvids. The crows drove it up high and eventually, after about ten minutes, they lost interest and once the coast was clear it made a slow careful descent onto the northern edge of Greenaways.
The other species that shows up in big numbers during the winter is Golden Plover and there have been several flocks of well over a thousand birds seen. They are not yet spending much time out on our fields but their distinctive and evocative call will often prompt a look at the sky. It is then you spot their large loose flocks high above with their shifting chevrons showing white and grey against a clear blue sky. When they fly low overhead, as a small flock did on Sunday, the sound of the wind in their wings is surprisingly loud. Lapwings numbers are also building with the resident population being supplemented by an influx from Europe.
There are many small mixed flocks moving about and there are many more Reed Buntings to be seen, especially around the path to July’s Meadow where the supplementary winter feeding has recently started. Linnets, Goldfinches and Chaffinches are also taking advantage of the seed and as the winter tightens more and more birds and other species will be attracted. A little group of highly mobile Goldcrests were one of the weekend highlights for me.
Hedgerow Robin (c) Bark
The Bittern put in one of its fleeting appearances on Saturday morning moving from one part of the reedbed to another.It looked to me to be a different individual to the one that we saw last week, being much paler, more sandy coloured and less rufous.
Cetti's (c) Bark
The Cetti’s Warbler that has taken up residence near the first screen is not quite as skulking and secretive as most of its family. It is often showing in the large bush to the left of the screen and also in the smaller bush to the right. As well as the more familiar Cetti’s explosive outburst it makes quite a variety of other different calls and sub-songs. Snipe are still present we saw at least thirty flushed up from Greenaways as one of the Marsh Harriers passed low over the field. Others were flying fast and low over the first lagoon and finding it difficult to find a dry area to land on one individual perching uncomfortably on one of the kingfisher sticks.
Snipe (c) JR
One Hen Harrier was seen last week and I hope that it wont be the last. The Great Grey Shrike found last week has not been re-located but these birds roam over large territories so it still may not have gone for good. It is the optimum time for irruptive Bearded Tits to arrive and I am still hopeful that we will find some in the next week or two.
Waiting for Beardies

Friday, 30 October 2015

Midweek Special 29th October

GGS (c) JR
A Great Grey shrike has spent a couple of days with us this week and may still be around. They do roam over large territories and so could still be on the moor. It favoured July's Meadow and hunted from the hedge surrounding the field. A great find by Tezzer.
(c) Tezzer

Whilst looking for it yesterday we had a flyover Crossbill that flew up into Sling Copse only the third I have seen on Otmoor. The Shrike and the Crossbill take the year list up to one hundred and fifty.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Saturday and Sunday 24th and 25th October

Redpoll (c) JR
Once again it was a Jekyll and Hyde weekend. Saturday cold, grey and wet and then on Sunday the most perfect autumn day, bright clear sunshine that lit up the orange, yellows and gold of the fading leaves. Over the next few weeks frost and strong winds will strip them from the trees but on days like Sunday they glowed with intense colour.
Autumn colour (Bark)
The annual College Lake and Otmoor Bird Race was held on Sunday and the winning total of sixty five species seen in four hours highlighted the good birding that can be had on the moor even at what can be a sparse time of the year. One of the highlights was a Barn Owl seen up at the Noke End of the reserve and also a fly over Siskin. I was personally pleased to hear that the record of seventy species, the winning total in a previous race was not bettered!
One of the Marsh Harriers over the reedbed. (c) JR
Marsh Harriers are still present with two different individuals, on Saturday they were seen to be interacting rather aggressively over Greenaways. Merlin was seen briefly on both days, as usual it flashed through low and at high speed.
Redpoll (c) JR
Redpolls are much more noticeable now and are taking advantage of the abundant seeding Rose-bay Willow Herb and other seeding plants along the paths and in the Carpark field. They can be very approachable once they settle to feeding and their small size and subtle plumage can really be appreciated. The numbers of Reed Buntings is going up rapidly and the mixed flock of finches beside the hide is largely made up of them, along with a few Linnets and some Chaffinches. As the winter progresses this mixed finch flock will grow and could well attract other seed eaters such as Bramblings, Tree Sparrows or even something more unusual.
Reed Bunting (c) JR
Bittern was seen again in flight as it re-located  in the reedbed, as the water level on lagoons rises it may alter its habits and be seen occasionally along the margins.
Fieldfares and Redwings, birds that epitomise autumn for me, are now well established in the hedgerows and the Fieldfares chuckling call joins the whistling of Wigeon as some of the signature sounds of Otmoor in winter.
Fieldfare (c) JR
Golden Plover were also around this weekend with several smaller flocks seen fast and low over the reserve and a much larger flock of approximately nine hundred seen high and to the west of the moor on Sunday.
Golden Plover racing through (c) JR
Both Snipe and Jack Snipe are being seen with at least three Jack Snipe reported on Friday. Short Eared Owls are also being reported  and we are hoping that this is going to be a year when we have good numbers of these birds over wintering. It seems that as the winter draws on they start hunting earlier in the afternoon and in the past have favoured the Carpark Field and Greenaways. It will also be worth keeping an eye on the scrubby area up towards the wood on the southern side of Ashgrave it looks like  a very happy hunting ground for owls.
Autumn colour (c) JR

Autumn colour (c) Bark